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Finding yourself after Finding Yourself + A Life Update

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Life Update

So my life has gone through… changes.  Where am I now, almost a year ago since the last post?

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On a recent trip to Amsterdam – Photo by Marilyn Suarez

  1. Got a new job nine months ago!  At a French company!  In French!  So my French speaking abilities have gone from “poor” to “workable but still shameful”. ;p  Seriously though it is going very well.  Another new intense challenge but worth it.
  2. Everyone in my family ever is getting married.  Which is awesome.  And that means trips back to the US to see them.  We have another this coming October!
  3. I am in the process of finalizing the buying of an apartment. *fingers crossed*.

Honestly, with how stressful and insecure things were for us for so long in France (whether I shared them on the internetz or not) I was not sure I would ever find this stability again.  And WHAM now after a lot of hard work I am on stable ground. *touch wood – as they say here*

 

Selfie after my last Visa Renewal.  Eiffel Tower in the back, if you squint.

Selfie after my last Visa Renewal. Eiffel Tower in the back, if you squint.

And I am happy.  Obviously we are also planning on sticking around for the long run.

Next Steps – Refinding Yourself

When you move to a foreign country (or anywhere) to find yourself, often you find yourself… in respect to your native country.

Self Questioning as an Expat

For at least the first two to three years you have one line of questioning…

How does this new experience compare to my previous in your old country?  And how should you react?

This post needs more photos, so there you go. Photo by Marilyn Suarez

This post needs more photos, so there you go, me and my husband on a train.
Photo by Marilyn Suarez

You are not finding yourself, but finding who you are as an expat from your native country and who you should be in your new country.  You become a walking stereotype and diplomat.

Then you either go home, move on to a new country or stay.

Moving on to the root question, “Who are you?”

if you stay, it is at this point (which you will reach at least by the 3 year mark as we all know Love Only Lasts 3 Years), where you start to sift through all the noise, stereotypes and confusion to figure out who YOU are and not who your country is (the new or native).

I am there now.

I love my life, my friends, my city and still appreciate my roots.  But I have taken on too much and I also have taken on too much the persona of an ‘Expat’.  Which was useful and necessary for the original transition but now is old and tired.

Photo by Corey Maynard

Photo by Corey Maynard

While being a transplant will ALWAYS affect me.  I do not want that to be me.  When I am introduced I do not want to be, ‘Sheila the American who lives in Paris’.

I want to be ‘Sheila the mobile application designer’ or ‘Dancer’ or ‘Poet’ or ‘Lover of fine cheeses’ or ‘Life Long Learner’. Or whatever I find to be my true focus. It could even be ‘Sheila the woman that loves Paris’

It is not a shedding of my national identity because I am ashamed, it is just not hiding behind it.

Plus it’s too easy

To say… I reason like this because I am American.  Yes, I am sure that is true to an extent.

But why?  Not all Americans think the same.  So why in particular do I reason like this?

Because I am me.

But who am I?

Photo by Marilyn Suarez

Photo by Marilyn Suarez

And that is nothing an astonishing view of the Eiffel Tower or a buttery croissant can tell you.  Unless you find time to self reflect while enjoying them.

– S

Author’s Note:  It may seem contradictory to post this sort of post on an Expat Blog. And you are probably right.

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Paris Tips – Internet Access – Free and Not – For unfortunate souls like me

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So… in the nonstop sitcom that is my life (minus the laugh track and the ability to change the channel quickly) I currently am with out electricity at home for an extended period of time. This means no internet as well. Which is definitely not the first time I have encountered a long period of no internet since moving here due to my many apartment moves.

But you get to profit from these experiences with my list of suggestions for: If you are traveling in Paris or live in Paris and need that sweet sweet internets.

Free Internet in Paris

That’s a keyword phrase for ya!

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.

  1. Libraries – You do not have to be a resident to enjoy the perks of libraries. Not only can you get a library card without live in Paris but also there is free good internet access, desks, serenity, power outlets and the ability to brag you were in the library all day. If possible, always check the opening hours as they can vary (usually closed sundays and mondays and open afternoons only during the summer).
    Library Locations (in French)
  2. Parks and other Public Places- You heard it. Free wifi in the what seems to be most the public parks in Paris plus some other spots. No power outlets but lots of basking in the grass like a vrai Parisian.
    – Parks such as: Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and Tour de Saint Jacques – Full Park Listing Here (in French)
    – Listing of all Free Wifi Spots and Instructions thanks to the Marie Here (English)
  3. McDonalds – Okay, not free as you SHOULD purchase something but you can always sneak in there and show it to the man if need be. I hate to admit it but McDonalds has saved my life as a traveler several times.  Toilets, food, cheap coffee (actually not too bad espresso in Paris), a rare power outlet and internet is nice.
  4. Apple Stores – Rumor has it offer free internet and computer use… if you can squeeze your way into one.  They are always crowded so no porn perusing!

Free (with purchase) Internet in Paris

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.

  1. Some Cafés – You gotta keep an eye out but some cafés and brassieries advertise free wifi (usually posted on a small sticker on their door) like my favorite café L’Assassin in the 11ème. Be sure to buy something though! Also power outlets will not always be available.  If you are only going to buy a drink, be sure not to sit at a table with dish settings as to not raise their ire. The best perk if you come there enough you may reach the coveted “regular” status.
  2. Starbucks – Depending on the branch, you need to use a code on your receipt to activate an hour or more internet use.  Power outlets sometimes are available. While not as common as in the US, you also can find Starbucks in Paris, mostly in the center of the city a.k.a. the business arrondissements/quarters.
  3. FreeWifi and Other Citywide Wifi Telecom Providers - FreeWifi is not free. It is woefully/trick-fully the name of a company. You in fact need to have an account or a very nice friend with an account, BUT if you can score one, these providers do give city/country wide wireless codes with most telecom accounts. Let’s say you actually live in Paris but are awaiting or internet carrier to hook things up, ask them what your citywide Wifi login details are to get a jump on things.  In fact that is how I am typing/saving this article. right. now.
    You can also connect to their services “SFR”, “Orange”, “FreeWifi”, etc and see if you have the ability to buy a day pass.
  4. Internet Cafés – All around the city you can find internet cafés with computer/internet booths, usually indicated by a neon glowing @. In addition there is the chain called Mlik which is open 24/7. These places are also useful if you need to print, fax, scan something (paperworrrrkkkk?) or call someone. I tend to price shop (walk and look at the menus of several I pass) before I decide who to patronize as prices will vary.
  5. Coffee Shops with Work Stations or Internet Access – I do not know many but I do see them starting to pop up, like Craft.  There is sometimes a minimum order or fee, such as, 9EUR at Craft.
  6. Coworking Spaces  – Coworking spaces or labs are where you can collaborate with other professionals or work on your own personal projects privately at a big person desk or on a cool person comfy couch.  They include places like Super Belleville, La Mutinerie and La Tank,  La Cantina and La Rouche. Some do require a pre-application or monthly signup.  While others you can rent hourly or use the space for free during certain periods and networking events.
    – You can find a list of coworking spaces on the TechList for Paris – here.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?

Even this little dog has internet - Paris Subway Add

Even this little dog has internet and electricity – Paris Subway Ad

So in my recent move to a new apartment I messed up in signing up for electricity. They shut it off August 1st… and the first appointment we could make because our neighborhood/arrondisement’s office is on vacation is August 16th. No joke. August in Paris is the worse.

Let’s take this as a learning lesson. When you move into an apartment you have two months to change it to your name after the old tenant has cancelled it and be sure to VALIDATE our contract.  I messed up the steps and did not reply to a text that was sent to me to validate the contract (EDF is the carrier), hence the shut off.

C’est la vie. - S

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Now where were we? – Paris Life – Season 4?

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[Insert another Blog start opening blurb]

Introducing my newly branded (rough-draft) and moved expat blog (albeit in potentially perpetual beta mode). Really only the logo design is done. ;p

oooo look at that logo

Translation: American Flowers in Paris

First you must know that the Learning Machine, still exists but will be solely be professional or nontravel/expat ramblings. While this new little niche shall be my hide out for all the things I find fit to share in my growth as an American abroad in Paris.

While I have not been writing here for months now… I have been digesting and figuring out life in Paris.  It has been a labor of love which I am becoming ready to share.  So we will see how these little writings will make their debut to the world and how often.  But we might as well get started.

Carpé journée.

Life Update

Now where were we? Season 3, looking back at the archive.  I have now been amid what I would consider Season 4 for quite a while.

Austin is in a new job.  We have moved at least two times since last time I wrote, now living in upper 11th of Paris or lower Belleville neighborhood.  We were able to take our first real vacations in years, traveling to the Mediterranean and Sweden.

Stockholm was pretty - August 2013

Stockholm was pretty – August 2013

I took a professional pause to work on my French and some personal projects (including a non-profit dance exchange in Paris which welcomed over 200 dancers from around the world). And now I am back on the “find a job I can be passionate about (preferably in French)” train. Going well despite I decided to board this train in the summer time a.k.a. unemployed deadman’s land.

Still I am optimistic and have been talking with a couple exciting companies that hopefully I will get to announce in the coming months once the living return to Paris.

Overall life as an expat (especially in the last month) has semi-smoothed out, especially due to my gained proficiency in French, seeking stability and simplifying my commitments.

And of course we love Paris more than ever.

Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)

Napoleon graffiti agrees (spotted in Paris)

Though we have not had electricity for the past week and a half… but that is a post for another time.

After School Special

What have I learned so far this Season? Let’s make this semi-educational.

EXPAT LIFE LESSON #121: Hey man, you are already an expat… do not take on the rest of the world as well.

Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.

Not a fancy picture but a genuine one. Taken when we decided one night to take a break, picnic on the Seine overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and take a moment to appreciate what we have and why we work so hard to keep it.

Simplify, delve into your new life and concentrate on some (read: not all) positive and productive activities!

Because this is not your past life, you have a new obligatory hobby: Figuring out a new culture, language and way of life.

Until the next post – S

 

 

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Ode to My Husband – Love Nest Abroad and Some Fish

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Love Expats Style

Some might say that moving aboard can be the worse thing you can do for your relationship.  Or really any major move or life change is tough in a four-legged race… let’s be fair.

For me it has been the best thing I could have done.  As I now appreciate my husband more than I could ever express in a silly little blog rambling.  I am learning to trust in him, see him for the man he is and not take him for granted, not even for one second.

I am so ever grateful that I made this move with Austin.  He is my constant (Lost style ;p).  Life abroad is not all travel, cheese and ease.  I have my down moments of self doubt where I cannot tell the paperwork from the oak trees.  But he always seems to find me no matter how low I get.

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Harry and Sally Meets Good Wine

We had worked together before but moving to a 27 square meter apartment, working at the same long hour jobs (two now), teaching dance together (in french) and relearning to how to live (french style) definitely has been a challenge.

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Our first real apartment in Paris.

I have now reached the point where I see my fellow expats leave, those that came around the time we came (my “expat class” as I call it).  It is sad though we all have our reasons.  Some came planning only to stay a couple months.  Some have found better opportunities. Some just do not like it. And Paris is definitely not a city to stick with if it is not the right fit.  I am not too sure I would still be here if I did not have Austin. (And a few dozen friendly french strangers and friends a like).

Had to keep your head low in our little studio.

Had to keep your head low in our little studio.

We definitely have progressed greatly since our arrival in Paris, in our temporary 17 square meter apartment or when the machine ate my credit card on the first day.  We have progressed enough so that I can fondly look back at some of our earlier now-funny struggles.  I will not say we have stability now but we are gaining comfortability… and we have come a long way.

And I am glad this has been a partner marathon.

Thanks

Austin and I moved to France 6 months into our marriage and 5.5 years into our relationship.  For those who know our wedding date (the binary for 42), you know we love Douglas Adams and our wedding abounded in references to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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Shot near Notre Dame from our honeymoon visit to Paris. Where we continued to fall in love with each other and this city.

Today I stumbled upon a reading that I had to share and my relation to it.  It is a mix between how I felt: the first time we kissed, at our wedding and during our first year in Paris (in the apartment where you could barely swing a cat).

Enjoy and Thanks Austin.

From Douglas Adams’ “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”

There was a sort of gallery structure in the roof space which held a bed and also a bathroom which, Fenchurch explained, you could actually swing a cat in, “But,” she added, “only if it was a reasonably patient cat and didn’t mind a few nasty cracks about the head. So. Here you are.”

“Yes.”

They looked at each other for a moment.

The moment became a longer moment, and suddenly it was a very long moment, so long one could hardly tell where all the time was coming from.

For Arthur, who could usually contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone long enough with a Swiss cheese plant, the moment was one of sustained revelation. He felt on the sudden like a cramped and zoo-born animal who wakes one morning to find the door of his cage hanging quietly open and the savanna stretching gray and pink to the distant rising sun, while all around new sounds are waking.

He wondered what the new sounds were as he gazed at her openly wondering face and her eyes that smiled with a shared surprise.

He hadn’t realized that life speaks with a voice to you, a voice that brings you answers to the questions you continually ask of it, had never consciously detected it or recognized its tones until it now said something it had never said to him before, which was,

“yes.”

– S

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The relaxation amongst the nonrelaxation and a typical French dinner

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A quick update

The last four months have been hectic stressful to put it mildly.  I must say the 2nd year is proving to be harder than the first, luckily I feel we are emerging from the worse of it. Or as Austin and I joke… “Presque y la ‘.  Almost there…  (That is the joke. Also that is improper French…)

 

Almost there… this time.

 

Now as the smoke clears so does my vision and I realize I am stronger and more resistant than ever (like a flu strain ;p).  The first year it was a funny dream not a reality.  Second year you realize the work you really have to establish yourself.  And you get to it! Though sometimes round about…

We are more in love with this city than ever and determined to make it work.  Our french has drastically improved.  And so has life. :)

The importance of just sitting

So part of what I have learned in my time in Europe…

Learning to just sit… and relax… quality time.   Sure during the day all is crazy and chaos. But especially at night I have spent more hours than ever in my life around a table… drinking, laughing, talking, eating and eating some more. No TV, no computer, just each other.

Tartiflette… this be mountain food

Especially in Paris, the café culture of sitting on a terrasse (café patio) and philosophizing with an apèro (pre drink) is amazing, though not always great on the wallet. ;p  Luckily “happy-hour” borrowing from the english term is also popular.

Or in the case of summer time: “pique-nique” and laughter on a bridge, along the seine, in the park.

Picnic on the Seine

Paris Shoreside à la Seine with a good friend and one legged man

This is where relationships are formed, movements made (impressionism for example) and smoking habits are procured!  Plus, odds are it’s a bit too tiny in your apartment for guests… In a way this is the Parisian form of the American sitting on your porch with a beer, chewing the fat and watching the grass grow (if we had a porch or grass).

The Average French Diner

Is long.

I have gotten used to scheduling at least an hour and a half for dinner, but have surpassed this up to three plus drinks.  This is something that I got so used to that upon returning to the US, I was stressing over having a 1 hour dinner with friends before an event as I thought it just wouldn’t be long enough.

  1. Apèros – a Kir (sweet wine), a martini rouge, a small beer or perhaps a Ricard (licorice old man drink).  Sometimes drinks come with some olives or peanuts so you don’t pass out.
  2. Ordering – Order all in one go (barring digestif and dessert).  Most places offer a formule or formula where you get a better price on the culinary gauntlet you are about to run. At this point you order a carafe or bottle of wine.
  3. Entrées – A small dish such as a hard boiled egg and mayo, some paté with bread or escargots
  4. Plats – Main dish usually soaked in butter plus some raw protein

    Austin ready to eat a whole lot of cheese… This is Raclette a main dish from the mountainous regions. Yes, that is a big melting slab of cheese.

    Yes… he and our friend whimped out at the end. But still… he ate his head’s weight’s worth.

  5. Cheese platter? – It could happen.  Cheese is for afterwards to nibble on.  Just be sure to cut the cheese correctly and respect the rind to cheese ratio!
  6. Digestif – a shot of liquor or coffee.. or both

    Digestif after math

    Digestif aftermath

  7. Dessert – Usually combined with the last step
Follow up drinks are possible… See a pattern here?

Aftermath from one of my favorite French family dinners I had.

Dinners in Italy can be even longer…

I am not the best but getting better

I can’t say that I am the best at relaxing… A constant planner with wheels always turning am I!

But with the help of long dinners and new found friends I am learning to sit back and laugh at the day.

And this is the essence of Expat-hood.  

No one country or person has it all figured out.  But often it takes a move and a new perspective to really learn more about yourself, where you come from and where you are setting out next to explore (because seriously who actually knows where they are going?)

To the moon next! Or Mars… In Vars Summer 2012

Strong Better Slower Frencher – S

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“Paris, Mon Amour” – A Poem about the Paris Love Affair

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So come Christmas I started a poem and today I dragged it back out and finished it.

I started it in one of my many moments of being struck by the beauty but the struggle (emotionally, financially, etc) within Paris that people experience as the make their place here.

Paris is that city/that relationship that you hate to part with.  With all its beauty and grandeur, there is raw grittiness to it that can be harsh. As like any big city you want to make it in, I suppose, just with thousands of years of love, life and art behind it.

Austin and I are epic-ly lucky and not on the streets.  But there are many here that live on the beautiful streets of the most romantic city in the world.

Honestly this is just a poem about love and life.  And what we put up with to be where we need to be.

——————————————————————–

Paris, Mon Amour

J'adore Paris

Paris, Mon Amour
My mistress and my wife
My dirty little secret
I cannot afford, so keep me

You’re deep among my pockets
You’re streaked upon their face
They’re weary and uncertain
Except where they want to be

They come to you in droves
Then sleep beneath your clouds
Bundling the cold in
Thick life coats your street

You snarl but entrance
You love us all the same
We want only to sit and watch
As the rushing tides retreat

The tear stained entries welcome
And in century old puddles we reflect
I reach out to clean your cheek
Smearing mascara upon your face

I love your curves and hollows
I twist come every turn
With a swift drop I soar
Then down into a dive I race

If I wanted to leave your arms
I could not find the door
For with the long walk out
We are always turned within

But I am okay with wandering
As long days turn to longer nights
In shadows I still find shapes
The light persistently dim

I hunger for you but when I tire
I need not sleep but wake
Regard the sky completely
And breathe in all the more

You’re sexy but lethal
We want to swallow you whole
You build us, break us, feed us
We are for you…

Paris, Mon Amour

Sunset from Belleville

Or in other sung words:

– S

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TLDR? – 8 Bits of Advice for Your 1st Year Abroad

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This is my summary of what if anything I would suggest to do/or would have done differently approaching my 1st year abroad.

1. Learn the language right away:

Just rip that bandaid off… do it.  You will want to eventually, and its way worse the more you wait… It’s less cute when you have been here a year and you ask your bank representative “Can I have elephant?”. Even for a short stay this is worth your time and in addition will help you understand the culture (as language is often closely tied to cultural view).  This is part of your epic story abroad! I discussed this in my last post… Plus, I like you so much… here jump to the good meaty advice parts about how to approach learning the language. Basically start speaking and learning the language (and only that language) right away, no matter how short or long you will be there.

2. Research living needs, visas & important stuff yourself:

I know its boring… I know you may trust your employer/university/family to help you out with this.  But who is best to take care of your life but yourself?  You can ask for their help but in the end you need to research, double check, & triple check all facts.  Go to the closest embassy (even if the closest is far away) and then call a couple others around your country  until you get conclusive answers (a rare beast!). Contact locals you may find on social networks.  Contact future colleagues.  This is especially important when it comes to visas… living needs… apartment finding… contracts/your rights as a worker… etc. Do your research and peer review it and you will be happy for it.

3. Take care of it before you come:

Austin covered in stuff...

Austing all packed up and ready to move to Paris… wearing 4 layers of clothing and electronics so he does not trip the weight limit.

Piggy baking on the last advice, your life is not permanent here until you have your visa… so know you cannot get settled until then. In addition, there will be important things you need to settle in your home country pre- travel, so just get it done.  Flying back to settle it is expensive or dealing with it abroad sometimes impossible/stressful. So get your visa and important stuff settled before hand. 

4. Come early, give yourself time:

This may not always be possible.  But come early and resist starting work/school right away!  The difference between us and some of our colleagues is we had a month to settle our affairs in the US and then a week once we got here.  We spent that week looking into apartments, settling our bank account, getting to know our neighborhood and recovering from jet lag…  Meaning we had an apartment, where another colleague was staying at a hotel for a couple months…  It will be hard for you to get this stuff done after you start work/school, so give yourself space if possible.

5. Meet as many people as possible: 

Pizza maker in the 11th

One of the friendly locals we have met at the delicious Pizzeo in the 11th. Picture by my mother.

Fraternize with coworkers, talk to your local baker, join some meetups or learn to dance!  You will not feel like one of the people until you meet the people. 

Plus it takes a village to raise an expatriate… 

6. Find connection back home and in your new home:

Weird Cat Judges You

Our first home purchase… We did not feel quite okay until we had a weird cat perched upon our shelf. A creepy family tradition!

Conversely… still take time for yourself.  Nurture both sides: the new one and the old.  You do not want to get to the point where you are burnt out AND homesick.  Take the time to still call home when you can.  Be okay with spending a Sunday in cleaning your house. Even if a temporary home, decorate it some. Basically find some regularity in the irregularity. Dumping a fish into new water will cause shock, same will go for you.

7. Go with the Flow: 

Weird stuff will happen… be okay with it and learn. 95% of all weird/uncomfortableness/confrontations will be due to culture differences.  Observe first before reacting. Once you understand the complete situation then you will know what to expect and when you need to stand up for yourself.

8. Enjoy your time!:

On the Seine at sunset

Us Week 1 in Paris. Sunset on the Seine.

You will be stressed at points… you will be lonely at points… You may think that you will not be able to make it work!  All the more reason to try to just enjoy where you are… right here and now.  This is a once in a lifetime chance for many people… so try to sit back and enjoy it as much as possible.
So… Carpe Expatum!
- S
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Life in Paris Season 3 – Living the American Dream in Paris

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On the Seine - Picture by My Wonderful Mother

Us - Season 3

So here we are!

Parisian life Part/Year Deux.. but we in the Suarez-Flores household call it Season 3, as far as Parisian life changes go.  We have been back around a month now, after our trip to the US, but with the flourish of guests… our work schedule… and settling back in, I have barely had a moment to breath let a lone write.

Season 1 was our first job. Season 2 was the move to unemployment and then quickly luckily into new employment.  Season 3… is what I shall call… actually settling into Parisian life.

But first some reflection and advice… Primarily: Learn the language.

So what is life like?

  • We work a lot.
  • We eat a lot.
  • We walk everywhere.
  • We teach dance weekly.
  • We travel when we can.
  • We fumble around with French.

Really not much different from Season 2… but it feels different.

The Difference

Well, the big difference is where my head is at. I am fed up.

Before, with so much uncertainty, it was okay to be confused at all times… It was okay to frown but accept weird charges on my phone bill.  It was okay, to be at odds at all times. It was okay, to accidentally order three soups instead of two. Why? Because we were new here and this is what we took as the cost of being an expat in a country where the language was not our native one.

My mother and I sont les ignorants.

"Les ignorants voyagent à Paris!" - My Mother and I posing for our favorite inside joke.

In fact, being back in the US for those 3 weeks it felt WEIRD to finally not be uncomfortable at all times  (which is a post for another time).  Not a complaint… but it made me laugh how used I had gotten to being uncomfortable.

And now I am back.. and I no longer want to be uncomfortable… I am sick of being apologetic and akward. I want a “normal” Parisian life (which will always include apology and formality I realize, as is their way).  I want my old confidence back in my surroundings… I want..

I want the American Dream!

The American Dream in Paris is to blend in.  To order wine with ease.  To meld with your sometimes bewildering French colleagues (because trust me… working in a different country is well, different). To be able to complain about the weather with your fellow boulangerie patrons. Perhaps, it is not the dream for some of the famed ugly american tourists, but it truly is for us Expats that have fallen in love, figured out how to move here and now call this mystical/sometimes mythical place home.

We want to be French.

Karma.. Karma... Chinese Lion

Me, as the social chameleon.

Or at least succeed at becoming French for our time here.

And right now, despite the support of my French and international friends I have yet to achieve that comfortability.

And its my fault.

Í have yet to achieve it because I do not know the language fluently.

There are jaded and not so jaded expatriates that will tell you otherwise about achieving this dream of fitting in… They will tell you that Paris is for the French.  That you will never fit in. I have heard this on several occasions.

Well, first of all I do not want to fit in with those types of exclusive Parisians, which I know those exist.  I just want to be able to live my life normally and interact with them if need to but otherwise interact with the awesome accepting/welcoming/funny French/Parisians that I have met.

But I will never feel at ease here until I learn the language…

Until I see a charge on my phone bill and then can call up and speak in French and explain and get although probably begrudging… but at least palpable… assistance to fix it. Or at least understand what they say when they hang up on me.

My cable has been on and off broken now for a year… And I live in fear of speaking to a human to fix it.

This is not I!

So I must learn French… I want to… I always have… but with not working in French, I have not made the effort enough outside of work to become fluent.  I am fine… I can mumble out some food words… or talk to a foreign french speaker.

But that is not enough.  As I live in fear of probably 95% of potential interactions I may have with the populace on a given day.  I need to get this down to at least a solid 25%.  Because it is isolating and damned uncomfortable.

SO THAT IS MY VOW.

So young... so strong...

Us on our Honeymoon 1.5 years ago at Place Saint-Michel - Ready to conquer... So young.

I will conquer you Paris… and your beautiful mystifying and sometimes odd sounding but beautiful language.  I will gnaw on the metaphorical skull that is your language.

And how! No really… how?

I have some tools I want to share in detail later but basically:

  1. Devouring all culture possible in French only.  Bought us an unlimited movie pass for two people for 35EUR a month!
  2. Only French spoken now at home (no joke).
  3. Flashcards… lots of digital flashcards.
  4. Reading fun stuff in French on my kindle, thanks to the help of a french dictionary I installed on it. Should probably switch to a French to French dictionary…
  5. Actually talking to people in French. Like a real person!
  6. Listening to podcasts as much as humanely possible, all in french.
  7. Hope to start journaling in French soon.
  8. Finishing my grammar lessons at home… (also a pending todo)
Really just making myself do it.. And already only a week into it.  There is a difference.
Another great resource and guide that has shaped my plan is this article on life haker by Gabriel Wyner “I Learned to Speak Four Languages in a Few Years: Here’s How”.
Any way here I go…

Allons !- S

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Pre-Travel: Have You Talked to Your Bank?

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As family has been asking for travel financial advice, I thought I would share what I have been sending them.  I assume this advice can go for any destination you are traveling too.
The question is: What is the best way financially to go about money conversion/banking overseas?

Ask the right questions to your bank.

There are no pictures that will make talking to your bank fun... SO HERE IS A BIG PHONE!

As all banks differ, I suggest you call your bank and do the following:
    1. Tell them the exact days you are going to be overseas and any countries you will be in.  This will not keep them from shutting off your card… as we have found but makes it less likely.  Ensure they put this note on every card that you might use.  Be sure to bring back up cards.
    2. Ask them if they have any sister banks in your countries of travel.  I know in France there is BNP which is a sister bank of Bank of America, so they do not charge BOA travelers there a fee to take out money.  BNL is the BOA sister bank in Italy. There are more…
    3. Ask about the different fees on your different cards in different situations.  For example, if we needed cash we used our debit as our credit card charges a big premium.  BUT, if we went out to eat, our credit card was cheaper (probably has more security on it too).
      Fees could include:

      1. Conversion fee 1-3%
      2. ATM retrieval fee $5-40ish per take out from an atm.

      In our experience, we found it best to go to an ATM of our sister bank and take out as much cash as possible.  If it is a sister bank, there is no fee per take out but still we were afraid of taking money out too many times, in turn making them freeze our cards.  We then stashed most of it in our hotel.  This also means we can take a certain amount per day and keep us on a budget.  Cash is accepted everywhere (more places than credit card) in most countries.

    4. Ask what your limit for taking out is in 24h, then see what that is in the local currency.  That lets you know how much you can take out in a day.  You may want to raise it if its super small (less than 300).  Also, this way you know not to request more than this limit, that way you lower your risk of getting your card frozen.  Couples with joint accounts know that your limits are separate, yay!

Get Currency Pre-Trip

See if you can order currency ahead of time from your bank!
 This will be your best conversion rate also it ensures you have some local currency before you come here.  You may have to do this in person at the bank, where the above you could just call about.
You need some lead up to this because the bank will have to mail away for the currency and you come pick it up.
Be sure to not store the money though in your baggage and put them several places on your person, in case of theft or baggage loss on your trip overseas.

What else?: Other financial todos/notes…

  • Take at least two photocopies of your passports, drivers license and credit cards you are taking with you. Store these in two different places in your luggage or on your person.  This way if something gets lost you have copies and can report them lost with the exact information.
  • If you have a credit/debit pin code over 4 digits, go and change it to 4.  They do not accept more than 4 digits in most countries (especially Europe).
  • For Americans in Europe, your card will not be usable at all places as European cards have a chip.  So notabley at the train/metro station, unless you go to a person teller.  So when ordering train tickets online, make sure you can go to a teller as you will not be able to get them from the machine (also allow time to do this before your train leaves).
  • Do not get money from the airport/mall money exchange people.  And if you do, make sure they charge you what they advertise as they will tack on fees and not tell you.  Really  just avoid any conversion shop.  Comes down these people make their money on urgency… so try not to put yourself in a place where things are urgent.

Feel free to comment if you have further suggestions or questions!

And now for something completely different:

 

Bank on it – S

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A New Beginning, A New Poem, & Home

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Where is my mind?

So I have been absent from the blogosphere but this is all due in fact to diving into another product management position at another startup: TravelAvenue (new site coming… very very soon).  Starting first as a consultant, I was offered a permanent position which I gladly took!

So life?  Well, life is hectic.  But recently on a train to Lyon, I gave my self a moment to reflect and I wrote… a poem.

I am a Poet

For those who know the Sheila of… maybe 6 or 7 or 8 years ago. Even further… I used to write.  A lot.  And some of them?  Not so darn bad, I do think.

In fact, my tattoo on my foot is dedicated to my passion for writing.  I really. really. enjoy it.  And I once took solace in the fact that no matter what life path I took, deep down they would all be ok, because I knew who I was.  A poet.  Melodramatic, huh?  I even have a t-shirt commemorating the epiphany! I may have been a strange teen.

But I have not truly written consistently in at least 5 years… Why?

Trouble was I was often fueled by turmoil, usually romantic.  As any 17 year old is. And well, 6 years ago I met Austin.  I wrote a couple of my best poems after meeting him, sometimes because they were not so raw but matured, and perhaps not even about emotion. But honestly, I just never was truly motivated, to get it all out unless I had a crisis that forced me to NEED to get it out.

I just did not make time, sadly.

That Brings Me to Today – At Home?

Things are good just sometimes overwhelming, as to be expected with any Expat.  And this will be the first Christmas I miss spending with my family.  So in a moment of quiet reflection, I produced a poem.

Introducing my first poem in at least three years:

Home

IMG_8276

While sitting at home
I wonder
Where is home?
I ponder

Is home with my family?
With unconditional smiles
Drawing me back
No matter the miles

Is home with my love?
An embrace that enfolds me
Closer than my skin
Attached and cannot flee

What of friends?
Expectations none
Strangers now familiar
Fashioned by camaraderie and fun

Of substance or immaterial?
This place called home
We buy, we rent, we build
Fashioned of our own bones

And when work is fun?
And colleagues your mates?
Long hours immersed together
Longer than at your estate.

And of common man?
Of doors held open
To experiences, to compassion
Without trying to condemn

A country? A city?
A province? A state?
Branded upon your soul
Where you were born by fate

Delve deeper
If home is where the heart is
Is it in my chest?
Surely not among that bloody mess.

Home cannot just be a collection of arteries
Or only of another’s love
Nor constructed purely out of time
But home is all of the above

Home is now
It is me
It is you
It is where you feel truly and completely…


Free

Author’s Note:

A little cheesy, but satisfying and true.  I know both Austin and I truly relate to it.  So this is of course dedicated to our entire family: friends, coworkers, & kind strangers included.  But especially our family, in this holiday season. ;p

Now I am free to, go to bed – S

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