5 nice Frenchies… 1 Day…. C’est pas possible!

Here it goes. Yes another French administration post. I am sure you all love reading these as much as I love going to these places but hey, its part of the experience. Whenever anyone asks me with that sparkle in their eye about moving to wonderful and romantic Paris, I can’t help but ask if they are ready for the year of impossibilities that lay ahead in trying to get a visa. Don’t get me wrong, my life kicks ass… but I definitely could do without this nonsense. However, today was pleasantly surprising. That’s right boys and girls… something seemed to go well. Shocker.

I had to go the Office of Immigration (OFII) because after your get your visa you have 3 months to have a medical visit and be approved by this office. When you return back to Paris, you send in your paperwork and they give you an appointment. Simple enough, right? Well yes, if you ever get that lovely appointment time. I am 12 days away from being here 3 months after getting my work visa. And I have no appointment.

I did the usual take-matters-in-to-my-own-hands sort of thing and decided to brave yet another journey to OFII. I first went to the office in Paris. It corresponds with where I live so that supposedly is the office. The first time I came here was when my encounter with the CERFA rouge devil happened. Optimistically, I had higher hopes today because I did in fact come equipped with my CERFA rouge!! (Yes, I somehow managed to track down this stupid paper in the labyrinth of French administration. Props to me.)

My hopes stayed on track when I entered the building and after a quick smile (smile! from a French person!) from the security guard, looked up to see the CERFA rouge devil was not working today. Instead, a young man with a pleasant demeanor stood behind the desk giving information that looked to be very helpful for the people in front of me.

When it was my turn, I carefully explained my situation in the best French I had available. I have to say that explaining your legal status of immigration is not the easiest subject matter in a foreign language. However, I got my point across and the young man was more than patient when I had to search my brain for a word. At the time, I thought he was being helpful and after looking at my papers, told me I needed to go to another office located in the outskirts of Paris. I double checked asking him if it was correct that the office associated with my work and not with where I live. He confirmed this, gave me directions, and I was on my merry way.

After a long metro ride, I found myself lost. Of course. I wandered around and wasn’t all too unhappy since the sun actually has shown its face today in Paris. Finally, I decided to ask someone. Luckily that person happened to be unbelievably nice and helpful man who gave very clear directions (even someone like me could figure it out!). As I made the short walk to the next OFII office, I chuckled and though, “3 for 3 on nice French people. Today is a miracle.

Once I entered the office there was a line but at the front of the line was a short, middle-aged woman behind the desk speaking English to the person she was helping. Score! A little weight was lifted off my shoulders. When it was my turn, I carefully explained my situation. She kindly looked up my file and asked me questions to make sure she understood. She then looked up at me and told me I was in the wrong place. I needed to be at the office in Paris.

Well.

I explained to her I just came from there and they had directed me here. Dumbfounded but still polite, she told me to wait for her colleague to help me.

4 for 4 nice French people.

Next up. A nicely dressed man came over to me to discuss my file. I again explained my situation and he was just as confused as me and the path of people I had encountered prior. Eventually he had me follow him to his office. There, he copied my file and sent it electronically to the Paris office. He then tried calling them but of course they didn’t answer. He said even when you work together you can’t get anyone on the phone in France.

I still haven’t decided if I love these comments or hate them. I love it because then I know it’s not just me. I hate them because it is ridiculous that I live in a place that doesn’t believe in operating efficient businesses.

Anyway, he told me I should hear from them within a month for my appointment and if not he gave me his direct number and email. Where has he been my whole struggle through this process? Why can’t this wonderful man work in every single administrative office in Paris? 5 for 5 today! I left the office happy that I am one step closer to getting what I need.

Not a complete success but a step closer. And in Paris, I take that as a win.

I am so excited [No French translation]

I think I overuse the phrase “I am so excited.” This realization came about when I floundered for French words to explain my emotion because the direct translation of it is far from what I mean. Part of me thinks it is because French people don’t get excited. Why have a way of saying something that doesn’t exist, right? Another part of me thinks it is because everything has to be complicated in this language. For example, I asked my colleague what the correct way to say how I was feeling and it actually turned into a 10 minute conversation. End result: no, there is no way to say I am excited just like you can simply say I am happy. Alors, je suis impatiente de prendre mes vacances…

When I sat down to write this post, I didn’t have the purpose to comment on language or cultural differences of the French (seems to turn into that quickly all the time though!). The true purpose of this post was to get my intense excitement down on paper and hopefully relieve some of the built up energy inside me. I want to scream. I cannot wait for the next few months. I am finally using my holiday to travel and not to visit home to fix visa issues. Not that home is a horrible vacation; I am just looking forward to getting to spend weeks traveling. I usually have to fit my adventures into a long weekend but now I get to actually take a proper holiday… a few actually!

And what is even better is I am going to places that have been on my dream list. I never could have imagined this year I would be traveling to a new continent. I have cut out pictures from travel magazines and carelessly day dreamed of the moment I would be sitting on the unmatched beaches of Southeast Asia. In two weekends, I will be snapping photographs of the infamous canals of Venice (and filling my tummy with delicious Italian food!). In just a few months, I finally will get to head more east in Europe and see the magnificent cities of Budapest and Prague.

It is too much to handle. I cannot believe how quickly everything is approaching. As a sacrifice, I know that I will be sitting at my desk during the busy summer months for over 40 hours a week while all the French vacate the city. But at least I will have pictures of my recent adventures to longingly gaze at!

So countdown.

8 days until Venice.
3 weeks until Thailand.
2 and a half months until Budapest and Prague.

Hey readers! Does anyone have any suggestions for these places? I would love to hear your thoughts if you have been to any of these cities. Thanks 🙂

Speaking French, Saying Goodbye, and My Future

Life has been crazy busy lately. And I love it. I have always been someone who thrives off of being busy. It is incredible the limited amount of time you have when you work 40 hours a week. I alluded to it in a past post but I honestly do not have time to do laundry/clean my flat/go grocery shopping… you know the basic necessities of life. And now that I am friends with au pairs again it seems I have fallen into the routine of being responsible during the week and acting like a 20-something during the weekend. Two lives are quite tough to fit into one week. On top of this, I am now going to French class 3 times a week. Although my schedule is tiring, I am excited to get back into class.  My French skills are splotchy… I thought I wrote better than I spoke but my enrolment test told me otherwise. Probably because my specialty is business emails. I just need to have confidence in my speaking. It will come. But class will also help with the rules I don’t get when speaking at work or with my French friends so I am looking forward to it. I do have to say I am quite impressed how far I have come. From knowing nothing to being able to understand and hold a conversation without taking very many classes is pretty good I think. I do wish that my last year was more like the how it is now because then I would be much more progressed. I would say 90 percent of my French ability has been achieved in the last 6 months. So it is a bit of a shame that the other year I was here lacked in very much progress.

It is really weird to think about life any other way now. I think that is why I have so much anxiety about going home. I really, truly love it here. It just feels right. And I love all the people I meet and all the things I am learning.

The more I hang out with and interact with the French, the more I like them. The American culture and the French culture are so very different—which at first can be quite difficult to get over or understand. Even people that come here for a short time get their opinions based on the limited interactions and make their generalizations (which in French people’s defense, it is unfair to base all your opinions on Parisiens—they are not the vrai français. I have to say it did take a long time. I have always loved France but the differences in culture made warming up to the French a difficult task.

A few of my friends are leaving this week. Goodbyes are something you have to accept as an expat. And as much as I wish they got easier, they don’t. Because I am one of the rare few that has decided to stay longer than a year, I have had to go through various waves of goodbyes. Each one just as difficult. Two of my friends that are leaving was not by choice but rather by the iron fist that France has around issuing visas right now. Although I have been through a rocky road and worked my ass off to get where I am now, I still feel lucky that it managed to work out. It is awful to get something you want to get taken from you with no control over it. I guess this is the reality of trying to live in another country. It still is really sad how incredibly difficult it is to move here or find a job.

My good friend was asking me what I think I will do after this. I have a work visa for a year and I have the option of extending it. But, as sad as it is, I am not sure I have the energy to go through another visa process here in France. I think the last time just about destroyed me. I am not sure. I have no idea where I will be in a year. As of now, I love my life here. I am enjoying it so much and I would never change it. But, I know this isn’t a forever thing. I think next year I want to move somewhere else. I haven’t fully decided what continent I want that somewhere else to be but I think I will be ready to move on. Not because I don’t like France, but because this experience was so rewarding and I want another opportunity to do it again.

I have been looking in to a bunch of things—nothing too serious yet. Masters programs, immersion programs, jobs, etc. I actually even looked into jobs in the states. If I move back, I want to do something that involves travel. I was researching international event planning and it seems I need to know Spanish for the most part. Now, I do know a bit—as in I can get by or tell my friend Christy that the Spanish bartender is actually hitting on her and not just being friendly—but clearly not enough to land me a job. So, I think that’s my next endeavour… anyone in for a Spanish immersion program?? But really… how cool would it be to put French AND Spanish on my CV… German next…

The point is. I am not done experiencing things before settling down. And I don’t just mean the whole husband, house, kids sh**. I mean I am not ready to go back to what I know. I want to be challenged more, learn more, grow more.

So where am I going to be next year? No clue. But I am sure it will be awesome 🙂

La Rentrée

Life has seriously been in fast forward lately. When the hell did it get to be September? The good thing is although life is flying by quickly, it’s also flying by amazingly.

Paris has gone through la rentrée and everyone, for the most part, has returned from holiday. This is awesome and horrible at the same time. Lets get the bad news out-of-the-way first. Now if all of my readers lived in Paris, I could explain the problem in 2 words: RER A. However, for clarification purposes I guess I will delve into this a bit more. Basically all the suits that work in La Defense take the RER. Now this experience was really not bad in August when the suits had taken there ninos and left the city. But now they have returned. And although there is an RER about every 2 minutes, it still does not seem to be enough. There are actually human beings employed to push people on to the RER and attempt to close the doors. So there I am, among all the sleepy-eyed yet rushed business people with BlackBerry (or iPhone) in hand praying that I will manage to squeeze myself on to the next RER. Although completely used to this fact, it will never be enjoyable.

Now, for the good stuff. As I said, life has been seriously great lately. With la rentrée, comes the return of my friends who actually got a proper holiday during the proper holiday time, unlike me. It also brings in the new swarm of au pairs. So to say the least my social calendar has made a sudden leap from low-key alone time to too busy to do my laundry/grocery shop. I am loving it though. I have to say it is quite strange to be a “veteran” compared to all the newbies rolling into town. It seems like last week I was in their shoes but when I look back I realize how much I have grown. It is incredible. Although I really loved the experience, I am so happy where I am now. I love that I can look back and finally laugh on the series of unfortunate events that occurred or reminisce about the fun times I had with my fellow au pairs. I love that now I am not afraid to break out of my little au pair bubble and that I actually have French friends and go on dates where the language spoken isn’t always my own.

I am happy that I am spiralling toward a new chapter in my life. Everything seems to be working out lately (shocking I know!!) and I hope this continues. It has taken so much to get to this point of being content. A lot of people will comment on how lucky I am with my current situation, and while yes I did have my fair share of luck, I always worked my ass off. There has been many days of tears; stress, and uncertainty, to get me to this place. I have loved the journey and cant wait to see what is ahead.

On a side note, I am finally taking a holiday. Place of choice: CALIFORNIA. I haven’t been home in 10 months. Almost a year. I can’t believe it and I am so ecstatic to be back… but also terrified. It freaks me out I don’t know what to expect when I am returning to a place that is my home. In the whole scheme of thing I know that 10 months isn’t all that long but it is long enough to forget what used to be normal and mix it up with what is normal now. I am only saying this because there are seriously moments in my life that people back home question why I do something or say something and I have to think why. I know I have changed but I feel like some program has been rewired or something. I can’t find the words to explain. Instead, Ill let you know how it goes.

I’m going going back back to Cali Cali 🙂

Fail: Journey to the Doctor’s

I needed to go to the doctor. Because the French has something terribly against working, the hours of operations of things are never convenient. I mean why would a doctor’s office be open on the weekend? No one would ever imagine to get sick on the weekend… Anyways, I decided to wake up early and try to squeeze a visit in before work. I knew this was overly optimistic but I thought since I had no other choice I would give it a try. I went exactly where I needed to go and stared at this large building with a sign in front for the Cabinet Medical. It was there. There was a sign. After careful examination of the outside of the building, I finally figured out how to get it. Once in the building, I was led into a huge open courtyard. No doors unlocked. No signs. Not a human being in sight. How very French. I finally found stairs and walked up to the 1er etage. Now I was in a place that resembled an apartment building. Reluctantly I gave up. There truly was no other ideas I could pull from my hat. After having searched for doctors online, I remembered seeing another place a few streets away. I proceeded to go to that one. I managed to get in, but same issue–all locked doors, no humans, no signs. So I went back to the front of the building (can i just add in that it is pouring rain at this point?) and called the number listed for the doctor. I called and did my utmost to speak in the best French I could master at that point. The dialogue went something like this:

 

Me: Bonjour, le cabinet est ouverte? Hello, is the office open?

Awful witch on the other line: Oui, vous avons un rendez-vous? Yes, do you have an appointment?

Me: No, je n’ai pas un rendez-vous, mais je suis ici maintenant. Je ne peux voir un docteur maintenant? No, I do not have an appointment but I am here now. Can I not see a doctor now?

AW: Vous devez un rendez-vous. You need an appointment.

Me: D’accord. Quelle heure? Ok. What time?

AW: (She then continues in rapid speed French to word vomit out a ton of times)

Me: (I managed to hear a few and chose the one closest to the time it was.) Excusez moi, je suis tres desolee parce que je parle un peu francais. 9h20? Excuse me, I am very sorry because I speak a little French. 9h20?

AW: (Screaming at the top of her lungs now in a voice similar to what I think Satan would sound like) MADAME. 9h20. VOUS DEVEZ UN RENDEZ-VOUS. 9H20. (then inaudible angry french.) MADAME. 9h20. YOU NEED AN APPOINTMENT. 9h20.

Me: Desolee. Je ne comprend pas. 9h20 est correcte? C’est bon pour moi. I’m sorry. I do not understand. Is 9h20 correct? It is good for me.

AW: (yelling. screaming. anger.)

Me: (hung up.)

 

At this point, there was truly nothing I could do. She was clearly upset and I could not understand why or what else I could do to express I wanted the appointment at 9h20. As I am pulling the tears back from the frustrating conversation that was unsuccessful, I get a call from an unknown number.

 

Me: Hello?

AW: pourquoi voulez-vous raccrocher? qui est si impoli. pourquoi voulez-vous raccrocher maintenant? (yelling.screaming.anger.hang up.) Why did you hang up? That is not polite. Why did you hang up??

 

The tears poured in. A Frenchwoman had the nerve to call me back just to yell at me. Really? Confused, upset, and defeated I got on the metro and went to work.

France 74682532546 Coco 0

When I got into work, I told my French colleague (and good friend) the story. Not only was she sympathetic, but she also managed to get me an appointment on Monday at an office close to our work within about 2 seconds. She printed a map for me, highlighting the directions and wrote down all the information needed. Why is there not more Estelles in this country??

 

Lesson of the story/ongoing theme of my life: I hate the french. I love the french.

French Summer= Rain for Days.

I am having quite a hard time believe that this is July. The July I am used to is full of BBQs and bikinis, not rain and jackets. Apparently, because we had such a good spring… we are paying for it now. That doesn’t make sense in my head but hey Ill let the French justify their crappy season.

On a high note (well I dont know if this counts as a high note but ill take it), today I noticed myself wearing the same outfit as about 70 percent of the women on the metro today. Beige raincoat, scarf, dark skinny jeans, heels. Have I been here too long? Am I slowly disappearing into the 20-something crowd of commuters on the metro?

I mean, I guess it is about time. I am living here. I have been for quite some time. I know what metro to take when the usual one is too crowded and what lines to avoid. I know where the best falafel in town is and where the best spot is to sit on a sunny afternoon. I now have no fear to ask the sales guy in the tech store if these speakers work with my Mac… in French.

Now, these all may seem like little thing… and they are. But they are little triumphs and that is what matters. In France, I have learned you have to take what you get and enjoy ever second of it. This year has been a test–and one I have struggled to get good grades with I might add–but slowly I am starting to get a few questions right.  And it feels good.

I was talking to an old friend of mine the other day and we were talking about growing up. I have known him since 5th grade… so it was easy to be nostalgic. We were wondering when this whole grown up thing happened. Here I am. Hardly a grown up, yet technically living that life. I have a real 9 to 6 (ish) job. I pay my own bills. I do my own thing. But I still feel like I waiting for it to get real. But it is real now. Am I making sense at all?

Sorry for rambling on but it is still crazy to think where I am and what I am doing. Honestly, I would be happy where ever life took me next. After this, I feel ready for anything. Preferably on a year-long travel adventure… but hey whatever works 🙂