Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Planning and stuff

Life is still pretty calm here.  We've made it past the freezing cold temperatures we were having and it has been very warm for January for the past two days.  Unfortunately this unseasonably warm weather is only going to last through tomorrow and then the temperatures are going to plummet and snow is expected again this weekend.

Lionel and I have been busy working on moving preparations and plans.  I shipped out the first of many boxes this weekend, but I am really trying to limit myself on the belongings I bring back with me this time.  We won't have all the international travelers helping with extra suitcases so I'm trying to keep it at only a few (4-5?) boxes shipped over the next few months and then the suitcases we will be able to bring on our flight.  It's tough though as I find it hard to part with every memory from my former American life and I have a serious problem parting with books.

We've also been trying to finalize our plans for the last month before we move and hope to have an official departure date in the next 1-2 weeks so we can buy our extremely expensive one-way flights that involve 18-25 hours of travel time (how is this even possible!!!!).  From the way it's looking we will probably be officially moving sometime around May 22, though May 16 would have been better because flight prices jump up on the 17th and don't come back down.  But because of complications with my job my last day probably won't be until April 19 or 22 and we are planning a road trip west right after that and then hopefully Lionel's parents will be coming to take the cat back and they want to travel a little too.  So we have to fit in 2 trips, packing, final preparations and goodbyes in a very short time.

Since none of these plans are completely sure at the moment and Lionel's parents are still hesitating on coming, we can't pick our official date yet, but with any luck this will all be figured out in the next week or two and then we will be able to really make some concrete plans.  Except, of course, for the complications of my job and not knowing exactly when my last day will be.  But since that question can't be answered until the day I give my 2-weeks notice, we have to assume I'll be working through April 22 and plan from there.

Other than that, we are getting out of town this weekend for a skiing trip in West Virginia.  A group of 10-15 of us are renting a cabin in the mountains for a long weekend and just getting out and relaxing.  Lionel and I won't be skiing though.  I've never skied and I'm not ready to try now and though Lionel loves to ski, we don't want to spend the money on ski pants, ski coats, etc to use for 2 days when we will never be able to get them back to France with us.  So I'm hoping to spend one day snowshoeing in the mountains and enjoying the scenery and another just relaxing, enjoying the hot tub at the cabin and visiting the nearby "village".  We will be leaving on Thursday night after work and driving back on Sunday (hopefully making it back in time to watch the Super Bowl!), so we only have two full days in the mountains but it should be a fun and relaxing weekend full of good times, good food and good friends.

I probably won't get around to posting again till we get back, but then I should have lots to share about our weekend trip.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The most boring post ever...the weather

Other than starting to prepare ourselves for the move back to France, not much has been happening.  Of course, I guess you could say that preparing for an international move is already quite a bit!

The weather has been freezing here in Ohio the past few days, adding to the lack of activity.  Though we have had some nice, sunny days with beautiful blue skies, the temperatures ranging from a low of 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 Celsius) to a high of 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 Celsius) really keep you from wanting to go outside unless absolutely necessary.  So, other than work, we have mostly been in hibernation mode while we wait for the considerably below average temperatures to pass.  Luckily things should be "warming up" in the next few days, and by that I mean getting closer 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius).

Until then, there won't be much for me to post about because I definitely won't be heading out in that cold except to go to work!  And I will certainly be looking forward to winter in Bordeaux next year with generally warmer temperatures!

the view from my work today...sunshine and beautiful blue skies, but frigid temperatures!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Our nouvelle vie in France

Despite the fact that in my recent post, about all the things I have been missing about France, the majority of the points I brought up were Paris-centric, we are NOT moving back to Paris.  We are staying far away from Ile de France, in fact.  We remember perfectly well how unhappy we were living in Paris, and before deciding to move to the US, we were already talking about leaving Paris to go elsewhere in France, and we were making plans to that effect.

Now that we are going back to France, we know that no matter how many things there are that we may miss about Paris, we definitely don’t want to move back there now.  I’d be very happy to visit, and we certainly will take trips to Paris from time to time to visit good friends and old haunts, but we are not willing to move back there at this time.

So, we are giving another part of France a chance and moving to the Bordeaux area.  We chose Bordeaux primarily for practical reason…Lionel was born in the area, a lot of his extended family lives there, my in-laws live only about 45 minutes away along the Atlantic coast, and most importantly, we have the opportunity to take over Lionel’s grandparents’ house.  I didn’t mention this at the time, but right before I started my job, Lionel’s grandfather unfortunately passed.  It wasn’t a surprise or anything; his health had been drastically declining for about a year.  It was still very hard for Lionel, especially since he was unable to go back for the funeral.  Anyway, the house passed on to the family and while everyone would like it to stay in the family, no one actually wants to live there, and my in-laws are the only ones who care to do any of the upkeep.  So, Lionel and I have found ourselves with the chance to take over the house, which is what we plan to do.  Hence our decision to move to Bordeaux.

While we are very lucky to have a house lined up (albeit an older house that is going to need some work and remodeling), we are still a little concerned about the move to Bordeaux.  We don’t know the city at all.  Though Lionel was born in the area, he didn’t spend much time there at all because of his dad’s job.  And even though a lot of his family lives in the area, none of them actually live in the city.  They are out in the countryside near Bordeaux.  So when we would visit them we didn’t really see the city.  In fact, I have only been in the city center once, for a few hours one afternoon.  But on the bright side, we will get to have the opportunity to explore and discover the city together!

Also, other than Lionel’s family, we don’t know very many people there.  But we are very lucky to have one of Lionel’s closest friends who moved to Bordeaux from Paris shortly after we moved to the US.  So at least we know him, his wife and their two children.  Plus Lionel’s family, who I do genuinely like.  But it will be starting all over again, trying to meet new people and make friends. 

But our single biggest concern is definitely the job search.  Bordeaux is not Paris, and I know there won’t be as many job opportunities.  And that scares us both because we would both like to be able to find decent jobs, and we don’t want to spend months searching.  And I’m doubly terrified because looking for a job in France has always scared me, and this is even worse because there will be less available jobs to choose from.  I’m just hoping that with all of Lionel’s family in the area, they might have some leads for us too.  I know I won’t be able to be picky, especially in the beginning, but it would be nice to find something I like from the beginning.  Though realistically, I know I’m going to have to keep English teaching on the table because we will need at least one of us to be working as quickly as possible.

However, despite our concerns, we are overall looking forward to the move.  We are excited to explore and discover the Bordeaux area, to be closer to family and to settle in to Lionel’s grandparents’ house.  We are looking forward to having our own house, rather than an apartment, though I’m a little intimidated by the size of the yard.  And we are excited to start fresh and new in a place where neither one of us has really previously lived (because I don’t count the first 3 years of Lionel’s life as having really lived there).  At the moment I’m feeling pretty positive about the move, and, though I know there will be challenges along the way, I’m hoping it will overall go smoothly.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The ugly side of the retour en France

Inspired by Crystal's comment on my last post, here is a random list of things I am really not looking forward to with the move back to France.  This is the dark side of France, what it's really like underneath all the romance and glamour.  Once again, they are in no particular order and just off the top of my head.  But these are some of the things that I really dislike about life in France:

1. La Préfecture– Not surprisingly, I am dreading having to return to a life of frequent visits to the préfecture. The lines, the unfriendly civil servants, the lack of organization and efficiency…let’s just say I could have done without ever stepping foot in a préfecture again in my life!
2. La Poste – Not that I’ve ever really managed to get away from my old enemy, La Poste. Even in my current job in the US I am constantly haunted by their inability to perform any of the basic tasks that a post office/bank should be responsible for. They mess up our clients’ payments and fail to consistently fail to deliver mail we send to France. The fact that Lionel and I still have our bank accounts with La Banque Postale scares me to death and I’m definitely not looking forward to dealing with their inept bank and horrid postal service again.  I have posted too often about my hatred of La Poste to be able to link back to them all, but if you're curious about my various experiences with La Poste, feel free to hunt them down on the blog!

3. L’administration française – Let’s just be honest really. I’m dreading pretty much every aspect of l’administration française. The inefficiency, lack of organization, long waits, incompetent and unfriendly civil servants, well it never was a pleasure and it certainly never will be. On the bright side, at least I already have my French driver’s license, social security number, etc, so I will have less administration to fight with, at least upon first arrival. I am pretty much terrified of the headache that will certainly be the entire process of applying for citizenship.  And let’s not forget, my favorite part of every process you have to go through with French administration, my best friend in France, le justificatif de domicile.  Oh, how I have absolutely not missed French bureaucracy!

4. Crowded public transportation – As much as I miss having the option of les transports en commun, I’ve never enjoyed crowded trams, metros and buses and that certainly hasn’t changed. It’s especially bad in the summer...

5. Toll Roads – Also in regards to transportation, I certainly haven’t missed having to pay insanely high tolls to use les autoroutes in France. It irritates me so much that you have to pay so much for the privately owned autoroutes, but then women have to pee in a hole in the ground if they need to use a restroom along half of those same, expensive highways.

6. Taxes – I know there has been a lot of talk about taxes in France recently, especially with Gérard Depardieu’s announcement. A lot of this talk centers around how paying taxes is part of one’s civic duty and show’s your national pride. And I agree. I don’t mind too much paying higher taxes in France. What I really don’t like is the way the tax system works. I’ll certainly be signing up for my income taxes to be taken monthly cause those lump sum payments just seem so much more painful. And I’m dreading the local taxes we will be paying on our new “digs” (more on that coming soon).

7. Lack of customer service – Oh, it has been nice to be back in the land of customer service. I love being able to get answers to my questions, to get help without a fight, to never be hung up on or glared at or ignored. It’s just amazing to not have to bend over backwards, jump through fiery hoops and wait half your life to get the customer service you need. And on top of the speed, efficiency and willingness to help, you also often get a smile. 

8. Les Grèves – I certainly have not missed les grèves and the headaches they often cause. And now I realize I get to look forward to a lifetime of strikes – transportation strikes, teacher strikes, postal worker strikes, etc, etc ,etc. It’s just another one of the things I’m just going to have to take with a Gallic shrug, but it will be hard.

9. High prices on household products – While food and wine are generally cheaper in France, a lot of household products, especially kitchen appliances, consumer electronics, etc, are considerably more expensive, which always kept me from buying a lot of the kitchen appliances I would have liked to have had.  I mean, I went for over 2 years without even getting a microwave!

10. Unfriendly, unsmiling and rude people – I’m also really not looking forward to the joy of being constantly surrounded by angry, unfriendly, unsmiling and rude people. From stores to public transportation, while walking in the street or eating at a restaurant, so many of the people you encounter are just so impolite and unpleasant. Once you get to know someone better, this usually changes (at least a little) but it does get very tiring to never get to see a smiling face in a store or on the metro.

11.  Lower salaries – Not that I’m particularly earning an incredible salary here, but the fact that chances are I’ll be earning less there, like before, is quite intimidating.  But at least Lionel should be working full time again which will help.

12.  The job search – I hate searching for jobs in general, but doing it in France intimidates me more than a job search here.  I feel like I’m being judged on everything and then the interview…I forget my words when I get nervous and can barely speak, not to mention my accent…it’s a wonder I ever found a job in France at all!  And my biggest fear is that I will end up trapped in English teaching again because we needed money and it was the job I could find the fastest.

13.  Leaving my friends and family – I have gotten used to being around my family and American friends again and I know the move back is going to be very hard in that respect.  While in France I had gotten used to not seeing them all the time, so it’s going to be a big adjustment.

14.  How doing simple things can be such a big hassle – So many simple things are so much more difficult to accomplish in France, often because of shorter business hours, lack of service, inefficiency, lack of organization, unclear explanations, lack of simple logic.  Life in France can be just plain exhausting sometimes!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Quelques things I miss about France

I actually originally wrote this post over the summer, but never actually posted it, so I thought I would do so now.  This is by no means an extensive list, and it is in no particular order.  It just represents some of my random musings one day when bored at work.  While I do miss all of these things, there are a lot of other things I miss too (and quite a few things I don't miss at all...can we say La Poste and La Préfecture!).  But this is not to say that there aren't tons of things that I miss about the US when I am in France, as anyone who has read my blog should know!

1. Wine – tons of good and inexpensive wine everywhere. Here in the US I find the wine to be much more expensive and generally not as good. Not to mention how lost I feel here in the US when it comes to wine…I know my wines by regions of France not by grape varietals!

2. Cheese – even though I always miss cheddar when I’m in France, and sometimes cave in and buy it at the supermarché even though it costs a fortune, here in the US the cheese selection is so limited and so disappointing. I miss choosing from hundreds of different cheeses in the supermarché. In an American grocery store I feel like the only real choices are between cheddar, Colby and Monterey jack, with some basic Italian cheeses thrown in the mix. It’s impossible to find a good French cheese unless you want the crappy, flavorless brie or camembert that they try to pass of as cheese here. I’m missing all the wonderful chèvres, le comté, les bleus, St. Marcellin (one of my personal favorites), Rocamadour, etc.

3. Charcuterie – as healthy as this list is sounding right now, I can’t help but mention how much I’ve even been missing charcuterie. In the US there is nothing that even compares, hell, I can’t even think of a good translation for the word. Sure we have some Italian salami and we sell sliced meats, generally for sandwiches, but where is all the saucisson sec in tons of different styles, the pâtés, the dried chorizos, the dried hams, etc. This is making me hungry!

4. Vacation – I miss having a decent amount of paid vacation time that is not actually “PTO time” which is a mix of vacation and sick days. I miss having interesting, exciting and culturally diverse places to go. I miss being able to take a weekend trip that doesn’t cost a fortune because there are no real “budget” airlines in America and hotels always cost a fortune. Lionel and I are both dying for a vacation as this is by far the longest we have gone without at least a week off! Sometimes I really have to wonder what is supposed to be so great about the US!

5. Travel – I definitely miss the easy and inexpensive travel opportunities both around Europe/North Africa and around France. The US just doesn’t interest me as much and it is so expensive to travel around here. I’m really missing cheap flights with the likes of Easyjet, Ryanair, etc, the convenience and ease of train travel, the possibility of finding inexpensive hotels and the fact that almost anywhere you go is interesting culturally, historically, architecturally or in some other way.

6. Public Transportation – I know, I said time and again that I hated the metro, but in all reality I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the metro. I hate it when it’s crowded or not functioning properly or during an RATP strike or when I have to spend about 24 hrs per week on it, as I used to do as an English teacher. But I love its speed and convenience, not having to own cars and deal with all the associated expenses, being able to sit back and read a book on the way to work rather than fight my way through traffic while listening to crappy talk radio and dealing with incompetent drivers. I also sorely miss public transportation at night when we want to go out for drinks. We don’t want to end up with a DUI but we also all want to be able to have fun. Not to mention all the environmental benefits of public transportation…

7. Picnics on the Seine – need I say more?  Springs and summers in France are always made better with a bottle or two of wine and an impromptu picnic on the banks of the Seine!

8. Bercy Village – anyone who has followed my blog for awhile knows how much I love Bercy Village.  It’s one of my favorite places in Paris, especially Nicolas, my favorite wine chain store/wine bar in France!  This particular Nicolas has a great wine bar with excellent deals on bottles of wine to be enjoyed en terrasse, often with a delicious cheese plate, good friends, great conversation and incredible people watching.  

9. BBQs at my apartment – I love entertaining and having friends over for good food, drink and conversation.  It’s a lot harder for me to pull anything like this off in the States ever.  I haven’t even been able to host my own barbecue since the last time we had one in France…

10. My Apartment – I actually really miss our little apartment with it’s private garden and French quirks.

11. Variety and Low Cost of Food – Lionel and I are both missing cheaper the cheaper fresh food we could find in France and the large variety of different foods from all over the world that were available to us in Paris.  Not to mention missing the large variety of different cheeses and kinds of meat.  Let’s just say that here in Ohio finding duck or lamb or anything more exotic than chicken, beef and pork is really difficult and if you do succeed, the price will literally make you cry!

12. Good Coffee – I have spent the past year and a month dreaming of espresso.  As much as I would drink Starbucks in France, mostly as a comfortable place to kill the time between English lessons, I really enjoy the espresso whether out of a machine at one of the company’s where I was teaching or in a café or after a good meal.  Now I just dream of espressos and every morning when I go to the miserable coffee machine at my work and fill up my mug with the nasty coffee, I think about how much I would kill to have a strong, thick little shot of caffeinated heaven.

13. Our Tiny Old Car – I don’t know why but I do really miss the beat up little old thing.  Every time I get into my Ford Fiesta (one of the smallest, reasonably priced cars on the American market) it just feels overwhelmingly big to me and it seems ridiculous to be driving such a large car just to get myself to work every day.  And every time I look at it I can’t get over how big it seems.  Now keep in mind, I have had this car for over a year now and this still strikes me as weird.  You would think I would have gotten over it by now, but nope.  I guess I got more used to small European cars than I had originally thought!

14.  Our Family and Friends – While I love and care deeply about all of our family and friends here, I also miss our family and friends there.

 So what do you miss most about your home country or your adopted country when away?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mowed down par ma voiture...

Here it is, New Year's Eve, and instead of reflecting on 2012 or talking about what's to come in 2013, I'm going to write about my stupidity.

Thursday night I managed to get run over, or rather mowed down, by my own car.  That's right, hit by my very own little car.  I pulled into my parents driveway, which is on a bit of a slope, and must have been so tired that I forgot to put the emergency brake on, so as I stepped out of the car and stood gathering my things with the door open, my car started rolling back down the driveway.  The force of the car's movement caused the door to knock me down and I found myself trapped between the door and the body of my car.  I was rolled/dragged most of the way down the driveway before I managed to understand what was happening.  I finally processed it and luckily thought to flatten myself to the ground so the car door would pass over my body, rather than taking me the rest of the way down the driveway and into the mailbox post and trash cans that it eventually crashed into, stopping it.

Luckily, though I was freaking out and shaking at the time, I wasn't really hurt.  I've been sore the past few days, but all I've really got are nasty bruises all over my body and a huge and painful scrape on my knee.  I'm very lucky that I didn't end up under the car or have any part of my body run over by the wheels.  Give it another week and all I should have to remind me of my lack of smoothness will be a scar on my knee.

Also fortunately, my car didn't even suffer a scratch, despite crashing into the mailbox and taking it down and riding up on top of a trashcan.  The real sufferers of my stupidity were the mailbox, my watch which is scratched to hell, and my Longchamp bag which is also scratched and torn.

Not the best way to end 2012, but at least I'm ok and didn't end up in the hospital!

Have a great New Year's Eve!