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Back in Paris! (temporarily…..)

I’ve found a job in Paris, and we’ve moved back to Paris. Except that my visa still hasnt been finalised. So I will have to go back to London for that. But then I’ll be back! And then, after a very long time of waiting and wanting, I will be living and working in Paris permanently. That’s right per-man-ent-ly! Yay!

Kristie Away From Paris

I have moved to London. I will be moving back to Paris. Or France. One day. Soon. I hope.

I’ve been too occupied with this new cultural transition to go back to my draft blogs that I wrote when I was last living in Paris. But they deserve to be published. They will be.

I also thought that I wouldnt have any new French cultural insights while living in London. But I am still living with a Frenchman, visiting his family and my friends back n France, meeting French people at work, so the insights just keep coming. I hope to find the time to draft up some more posts. Should I give myself a goal, like in the film “Julia & Julia”? Hmmm…..

This was intended as a blog just to share with my family and friends back in Australia, but it seems that the stories and sentiments are meaningful for other expats and people in regular contact with Frenchies. On that basis, let the blog continue in the spirit of fun and understanding!

French Fairyland

Sometimes when I walk down the street, (probably more often when I walk around here in my suburban ‘hood actually), I really do believe that I’m walking through the opening scene of Team America.

That’s the scary thing about this film –  just far away enough to be a joke, just close enough to be almost true – brilliant!

There are people who DO dress like the French people in the film (including the little boy in the sailor suit), there ARE butterflies fluttering past (I had 2 fly in through the window of our apartment last week), and the street-scene is pretty much spot on (except that the Eiffel Tower isnt close enough to crush the Arc de Triomphe).

If I walk to our  local shops in the afternoon,  I step out onto the footpath into a sea of beautiful green leafy trees lining both sides of the street. Garden beds are built into the “nature strip” (as we call it in Australia) with a range of plants, shrubs, colourful flowers, the occasional vegetable (who knew that rhubarb and spinach make great decorative plants?) all arranged in an artistically natural landscape design (which is changed with the seasons).

I walk 50 metres, and pass by a public garden/children’s playground. It has a gate surrounding it so that parents can let their toddlers run around in relative safety. This garden encourages kids to run on the grass, lie under the big shady trees, and there’s a big sandy section with heaps of kids play equipment.  Every afternoon the park benches are full of nannies, parents, grandparents watching the kids play, breastfeeding their bubs, rocking prams, and generally chit-chatting with all the other care-givers. As parents and kids leave the playground, the kids are encouraged to say good-bye politely, and as they go their separate ways, the kids yell back to their friends “see you tomorrow! goodbye!”.

This is usually the point where I start to feel like I’m a marrionette in the Team America movie: the sun will warm me, dappled light filtered by the green leaves, a cool breeze will caress my face, I’ll inhale deeply the smell of beautiful damp earth, fresh grass, slightly perfumed flowers. Children will walk hand-in-hand with their grandma, skipping and laughing, old men will pass old ladies in the street and say “good afternoon, girls!”. It’s all 100% true, I’m living it – but how can this be real?

Next, I pass the Town Hall. This is the most imposing building in the neighbourhood, especially with the big manicured garden out the front. Here’s a photo of it: it really doesnt do it justice, but you get the idea.

Its just beautiful. Not too brash, not too cutesy, not a 1980’s architectural disastrous interpretation of a shed (like the one in my hometown). During winter they drape kilometres of white fairy-lights over the windows and around all the manicured trees – a real winter wonderland.

Continuing down the road, I arrive at the commercial section of the “village”. It’s a cute little strip of the main street with a posh supermarket, chocolate shop, a few “old men” cafes, a jewellery store etc. Every thing you could need.

There are a few fruit and vege shops, including my favourite  semi-organic one, that only sells things that are in season. The owner writes up receipes for the fruit/vegetables that are in their peak that week on the blackboord out the front. She always seems to be spending a whole lot of time chatting, and not much selling, but I get the feeling that this is the reason people keep coming back to her shop :-)

There are 3 butchers in the strip, which sounds a lot, especially when you consider that there is also a supermarket a few steps away. But the French dont believe in skimping on quality for the sake of a few centimes, so every butchers shop is full of people (and the meat aisle in the supermarket is, accordingly, very small, and only used by old age pensioners and Australians who dont know any better…..). The “worst” butchery on the street (so I was told) is actually, probably my favourite because it’s so quirky and strange. It’s run by a son (in his 60’s) and his mother (in her 80’s). He runs around the shop (there’s no “counter” as such), and out the back in the fridge, rummaging for the perfect piece of meat or whole guinea fowl that someone has asked for. His white apron is usually covered in blood smears. He has an old (REALLY old) wooden (!!!) chopping bench. It’s probably 10cm thick or more, but it’s been used so much in one area that it’s created a big sloping hole, where the thickness is noticeably less. I’m totally sure that an Australian health inspector would shut the place down, but hey, we’re in France, and they’ve been selling meat like this for years and no one died (that they know of). Once he wraps your meat, you take it over to a little cash register, where “maman” (Mum) is sitting patiently.

“How much is it?” she yells to her son.

“Ten euros.”, he replies.

“HOW much?”

“TEN!”

And she rings it up on the register calmly. “Ten euros, please, Mademoiselle.”

On the same strip, in a covered hall, there’s the indoor market three times a week, where I have been known to cry over salad leaves.

There are 3 boulangeries. One of which I have refused to return to because their bread tasted like cardboard (of course, they are the cheapest in the ‘hood). The second, well, it does a nice sesame seed baguette, but everything else is just so-so (not enough salt I think).

The last one, and my favourite, always has a queue winding out the door. It has the best bread: lovely, sour crusty baguettes, soft on the inside, with just enough salt. Our neighbour has boycotted them because they use a coin machine connected to the cash register. You order, they ring it up, you put your coins in the machine, et voila! He refuses to accept the industrialisation of a (in his opinion) basic human interaction. If he cant put coins in the hand of a human for his baguette, its NO ‘PAIN’ FOR YOU! (Of course, he loves ordering rugby jerseys and Nespresso coffee capsules over the internet…..).

And the dodgey tea shop that I’ve so far avoided, turns out to be a coffee shop as well, which buys and roasts it’s own beans, in shop. I passed the other day and watched as the owner stood out on the footpath and sorted through his latest delivery of coffee beans to pick out the imperfect ones, and smell that smokey, musky odour of roasting beans.

By the time I’ve done my shopping, I’m usually on a ‘France-High”. I’m sure I float back home and up the stairs, a slight smile on my face, and the beautiful Zen forehead and eyebrows, relaxed and smooth.

90 euro massage v daily trip to the shops? Same effect.

Somebody pinch me. Do I REALLY live here?

Am I ever going to bloody-well fit in?

Sorry for the EXTREME Australian-isms today, but I’m feeling very homesick (it doesnt happen often) and having another round of culture shock (yes, it is still possible to suffer from culture shock a year and a half after arriving).

I was so pathetic this morning that I texted my sister in law and asked her to send me a quick film from her iphone of my little niece, even if it was just 20 seconds of her asleep in her cot.

God, I’m such a sooky-baby-with-a-dummy-spit-out today.

So, what was the trigger?

Well, 2 things.

One was the dinner we went to last night.

All of M’s work colleagues have been trying for ages to get them plus partners all together socially, but there’s always someone who cant come. Last night was the first time that EVERYONE could be there.  I was so excited that M was going to spend some time with mates, and I could meet all the partners (I already know his colleagues, so this would just deepen my knowledge and the connections – and maybe I’d make a new friend or 2).

So we arrive early, and it’s summer, it’s hot, we’re in a bistrot and damn if I dont need (want?) a rasberry mojito from their blackboard menu to quench my thirst while we’re waiting for everyone to arrive. Then M reminds me: it’s considered rude in France to start eating/drinking before everyone arrives. NOOOOOO! I wailed and pouted and said “But I’ll die of thiiiiiiirst!”.

OK, disaster averted when the waitress asked us if we’d like a drink while waiting and M said “yes”, but, argh, when you grow up in a culture where it’s just natural to grab a drink while you’re waiting and relax into the evening, having to put the brakes on, in summer especially, it just seems kinda painful.

Then everyone starts to arrive, about 10 of us in total. The boys all chat, laugh, smoke, drink heartily and generally relax and enjoy themselves. I make a suggestion to put all the colleagues together and all the partners together and then realise this means separating into a group of boys and a group of girls. This, I am NOT a fan of, and thankfully, no one else is either.

But I’m sitting right at the end of a long rectangular table. And when the female partners get bored of listening to yet another work story, they yell down to me to ask things and start a conversation (which is lovely and very inclusive). Except, with all the noise, I cant hear them very well, so cant understand very well, and they cant hear what I’m saying either which is even further distorted by my Aussie accent. We all seem to just give up a little, because it’s just too hard. Conversation comes to a halt. And I’m back in my little isolated corner again.

Then the boys start telling stories we are actually interested in, and the whole table is listening, but they’re speaking so quickly and in slang, and mumbling, I barely even work out what the topic is. I lean over to M a few times to ask for an explanation, but this pulls him away from the group vibe, so I just stop asking and sit there not understanding.

Even when I did have conversations, ok, they were alright, but there was always this invisible wall that came up. I tried my best to be “me”, while still being within acceptable “French” boundaries for dinner-table conversation. I dont know, just when I thought I was making inroads, SHAZAM! and I’d get the wall again. Sometimes this manifested itself in the person physically turning away from me mid-sentence, or before the natural conclusion of the conversation. Yes, I talked to the back of quite a few heads.

One of M’s colleagues insists on lighting the girls cigarettes for them, even though the girls already have a lighter in their hand….yes, it’s gallant, but when he has to lean all the way up the other end of the table to do it? Slightly impractical, non?

Time to pay – I pull out my wallet and M gives me the “put. your. wallet. away.” look. Yep, that’s right, it’s only the men who pay. (And yes, in very posh restaurants in France, the waiters do still give the menu with the prices to the “men” of the table, while the women get just the menu with the dishes, no price.) Yes, yes, it’s gallant, blah blah blah, but all the girls at the table were working women (well, except me, but then I’ve got my own finances to rely on). Sigh. I put my wallet away….

Then we were all leaving, and after we kiss on both cheeks with each person, one might say “oh, it was lovely to meet you, I hope that we’ll see you again soon?”, to which I reply “yes lovely to meet you too! and of course we will see you again because….” but at this point, the person has moved on to give kisses to the next person and isnt listening to a word I’m saying. New cultural lesson: saying goodbye isnt an opportunity to talk more, it’s just for saying goodbye. Anything else you wanted to say should have been said before, or should be left for another time. Yes, it took me 3 “goodbyes” where I ended up talking to myself before I realised what was happening.

How could I have forgotten that in Paris, one must remember that one is just a very elegant chair? (see my first few posts). Does anyone talk to a chair? No. Does anyone expect to have a conversation with a chair? No. You just sit elegantly, listen, and expect nothing.

As we were walking back to the metro, M asked me if I had a good night…..and I explained that yes, I did, but it’s just still so hard for me to fit in, even though I try really hard. He gave me a big hug and said that he knows its hard for me, but that I’m doing well, and that he will always be there for me, regardless. Yes, his support encourages me to keep going, but geez, it’s bloody tough.

And then the second trigger is that M’s family is coming down from Dunkerque tonight and we’ll all be eating dinner together at his aunt and uncle’s place around the corner.

I love his family, but when they’re all together, they all speak a million miles and hour, tell jokes that I dont understand (sometimes at my expense, which is actually a way of saying they like me), and I, almost always, get left behind in the conversation. And again, yes, hello, that’s me, the mute foreigner in the corner, smiling like an idiot and hoping that I’ll understand something soon.

And I’m still not really family. Yes, they’re accepting and welcoming, but I dont have the shared history and connection. Which I understand is normal when you’re just starting to get to know the in-laws, but when there’s a language barrier in there as well, it just takes twice as long to make those connections.

Maybe I’ll have a little nap before we leave for dinner, so that my concentration powers will be at super-maximum-strength?

Maybe I’ll just play Foreign Mute Girl again.

Anyway, as I was writing my other post today about health insurance (ooh! exciting!), I started thinking about the overall experience since I arrived.

When I left Australia, I dont think I thought that all this uncertainty, the frustration, the surprises, would be so much fun.

And I really mean that. This adventure has been, and continues to be fun.

And it stays fun – as long as I keep it all in perspective.

I always wanted to be a “child of the world”, to live and work in various countries, to fully experience different cultures so that I could be more enlightened and aware and less narrow-minded.

These experiences, these hurts, culture clashes, homesickness – it’s all bending me and moulding me into the person I wanted/want to be.

It’s making me more compassionate.

It’s making me think outside my narrow understanding of “society” and “community”.

It’s making me think more about what our commonalities are, and what it means to be humain.

This is one, long, interesting game. The objective of the game is to understand as best as I possibly can, and that’s something that cant be done over the course of one dinner.

Administrative Blah Blah Blah (Health Insurance) aka “How come I’m still here?”

I wrote this on a meetup message board today in response to a question from an Aussie moving to Paris with his family.

Buddha, it just brought me right back to the moment when I bought my own travel insurance back in December 2008, thinking “I’ll just get it for a year, because if I dont get a job in Paris then I’ll be back on the plane to Sydney“.

Oh my lordy. Isnt it just amazing how, once you let life take you on a journey, it bloody takes you all over the shop and around the corner to a secret door-behind-the-bookshelf that you didnt even know was there?

March 2010 was my “d-day” for success or pack up and go home. And here I am, in July, engaged to a Frenchman and about to move to London for 2 years for work. How did I get to this place in my life? I cant help but smile and say “well, you wanted the adventure….YOU GOT IT!”.  lol.

Anyway, I wrote this response and I thought, bloody hell, if only someone had given me this information before I left Sydney, I would have had so much less drama. OK, yes, it was challenging (in a fun way) trying to weasel my way out of having to create more documents and come back to the prefecture again, but really, it was drama that wasnt really necessary. And this guy has a family to bring over with him – he DEFINITELY doesnt need more drama!

So, I have copied the response on my site in the hope that it is useful for someone, someday, who is also making the leap of faith to France.

Enjoy!

*   *   *

Hi Ron

Congrats on making the decision to move to Paris! A decision that you and your family wont regret :-)

I have a long stay visa “visiteur”. I only really planned to be in Paris for a year and if I didnt find a job (that would provide me with healthcare), then I would head back to Sydney (and, whoops!, I found me a French fiance in the meantime and well, I’m still here…).

ANYWAY back to the point…..

I took out a one year travel insurance policy through my Travel Agent from Heaven (see below). This covered me for everything, including all health issues and expenses.

This worked fine with the consulate in Sydney, but wasnt so well received at the prefecture here in Paris. The biggest problem (and I know, this sounds dumb, but that’s France for you), was that the certificate of insurance (a) didnt say “health insurance” or “sickness insurance” and (b) didnt specifically list all the medical things it could cover me for.

The prefecture told me it wasnt sufficient, because it was “travel” insurance. I had to be quite forceful (in my most polite and smiling and charming way) that travel insurance by nature covers you for medical expenses, and that just because it didnt say “sickness” or “health” anywhere, didnt mean it wasnt sufficient to cover me if I have a problem here. I really pushed this point because (a) I didnt want to have to get MORE insurance (b) I didnt want to have to make ANOTHER appointment at the prefecture and (c) I didnt want to get ALL the terms and conditions of the policy translated into French because translation services, by “official” translators cost a bomb, and I’d already spent a fortune.

In the end, she spoke to her supervisor and then continued to process my carte de sejour without me needing to do anything more.

BUT if you want to have a more smooth transition at the prefecture, and you are planning to stay in Paris for longer than a year, then I would recommend getting some proper health insurance designed for ex-pats. I’ve been in contact with Steve McGrady, an English insurance broker, who was recommended to me by another Aussie. He can point you in the right direction and give you lots of options and different price ranges.

AND if you can ask your translator to make sure the words “Assurance Maladie” are in big bold letters at the top, then that would also help!

Good luck!

Kristie

*   *   *

[b]Travel Agent from Heaven[/b]

Fabian Cannavo
fabianDOTcannavo AT flightcentre DOT com DOT au
Flight Centre Mosman
717 Military Road, Mosman, NSW 2088
Phone: (02) 9942 8988 Fax: (02) 9942 8999

[b]Nice Insurance Broker Man in London[/b]

Steven McCrady
International Sales Advisor
APRIL Medibroker Ltd
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)191 296 6140

Fax: +44 (0) 191 257 6272

Direct line +44 (0)191 270 3035

Skype: medibrokerstevenmc

E-mail: stevenDOTmccrady AT medibroker DOT com

Web: www.medibroker.com

Two steps forward, one step back….

The dream isn’t over. It’s closer than ever. I just need to take one more step backwards before I can go forwards.

This is me in my most positive moments.

The rest of the time, I feel like my heart has split open and blobbed on the ground in a big blubbery mess.

I have found a job in London, with my old employer from Australia. The reality is that I need an income, and I need to keep my career on track.

Yes, I could earn some “unofficial” money in Paris (thereby getting around the “no work permit” issue), but everything that I’ve looked at will barely earn me enough to pay the rent (on a good month). That’s not even thinking about travel around France, or around Europe or going back to Australia for a visit. OK, maybe travel around Europe and France isnt a necessity, but a trip back to Aus is. And as for trying to make back the money that I’ve spent this past year while out of work? Huh. Yeah, right.

I have seriously questioned whether my motives are all about money. Shouldn’t I just be happy to be in France? Even if I’m living below the poverty line, isn’t the joy of Paris enough?

The fact is, I have the option to have the dream, the whole dream. I can have an income, I can enhance my financial security, I can continue my career, I can (at some stage in the future) move back to Paris and into a fantastic job. I just cant do it right now. Can I do it in 2 years time? In 2 years time, hopefully things will be more stable in the global economy, my French will be better, I’ll have European experience, I’ll have more European business contacts (that can possibly give me access to jobs in France) – all things to enhance my ability to get a job in France.

And my new employer has just acquired a new European business, almost doubling their staff numbers – including in the Paris office. Two of my new superiors said to me in my interviews that in 2 years time, the Paris office may well be big enough to warrant my transfer over there. No guarantees, but still, it’s possible!

And also, by then, I should have the right to work in France because M and I have tied the knot.

The other major thing to consider is that, as a couple, life isnt just all about me and my needs. Every decision needs to be beneficial for both of us, or an agreed compromise “win-win”. Yep, we could stay in Paris, M could continue working in his job, we could have a great life. But where does his career lead to from here? He wont be able to progress in France unless he is bi-lingual French/English at a minimum (there are so many jobs now that require you to be tri-lingual, usually with Spanish or Italian as the 3rd language). We want to live in Australia one day, so how will he be able to settle comfortably if he cant communicate? And even more importantly, how long is it going to take before he will be able to have a fantastic conversation with my family and friends (without me having to translate)?

Learning a language when you’re not immersed in it every day is really hard. I know – I spent years and years studying French on Saturday mornings and still found it hard to put a sentence together. M spent years at school learning English, but can still hesitates when introducing himself. And now that I’ve spent a year in France, I’ve been able to hold job interviews in French and crack jokes (probably the most important aspect of language!). Moving to London is actually his best opportunity to get his English fluent while he’s still at an early stage of his career – and, so that he can start speaking with my family asap.

This is a good move for the both of us.

So I will console myself with the fact that Paris is literally just a short train or plane ride away.

I can come back as often as I like. And of course, we will need to come back to France to see M’s family (which, in a strange twist, works out well because London is actually closer to Dunkerque, than Paris is to Dunkerque – bizarre).

I can even continue my French lessons while in London, and speak French with M at home (when he’s not practicing his English).

It all sounds really great. It IS great.

It’s just not like walking out the door in the morning and feeling the rush of French language around me.

It’s just not like living in Paris.

Today, I cried over salad.

My name is Kristie. Not only am I a baguette-a-holic, but I am also a market-a-holic.

The first step to recovery is admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion.

I admit that I have a big, BIG problem with markets.

Today, at the market, I cried over salad.

Yes. Salad.

M and I were at the Italian stand, trying to work our what type of fresh ravioli we would buy, when a radiant green flashed in the corner of my eye.

A row of different types of salad leaves, in separate wicker baskets.

The first, carrying baby spinach leaves, even more beautiful than their name in French: “Jeunes pousses d’epinards”. How can I explain how perfect they were? Tender, fresh, without a single blemished leaf? How is it possible to have a whole basket of delicate leaves without them looking a little transport-weary? I could have sworn that he had picked each leaf by hand and carried it delicately to rest in the basket.

The next basket was full of fine tendrils of rocket. Not the big, burn-your-mouth-out leaves that I used to buy in Woolworths supermarket in Sydney. These rocket leaves were elegant, fine, gently curling, as if asking to be placed on your fork.

And the other baskets – salad leaves that I have only seen in France, like Mache.

It was a moment of amazement and wonder and I actually welled up. How can you live in a big city, and yet have access to produce that you would normally have to go to the country to find, or grow in your own backyard?

And we’re not even in Paris central. We’re in a little suburb just outside of Paris, and yet the market is open 2 or 3 mornings a week.

This market is undercover, in a big hall on the main street. I walked past it’s grimey doors a million times, thinking it looked too ugly to warrant a visit. The supermarket was just fine by me, and if I wanted a proper market experience, then I would just join my friend, A, at the organic market on Rue de Rennes, in Paris.

But one day, M suggested we make a quick Sunday trip to get a few things before all the shops closed on Monday (yes – in most suburbs, all the shops and restaurants close on Mondays. If you dont have anything in the fridge to eat for Monday night’s dinner – you’re stuffed).

Wow – from a dingy entrance, into a fabulous market atmosphere inside. There are:

  • 3 cheese stalls (including my favourite husband and wife stall, where they always seem to be bickering and laughing together)
  • one basic butchery, one butchery selling offal, and one butchery selling pate, terrines, pre-prepared meat dishes etc
  • 5 fruit and vege stalls, with one particularly raucous Italian fruit and vege stall where the owners always seem to be doing more talking, giving kids strawberries to taste and general frivolity, than selling. I dont know how they do it, but they always have a crowd.
  • 2 fish stalls (I avoid these like the plague – the smell for me is just too fishy!!)
  • 2 flower/plant stalls (you name it – they got it)
  • one wine stall (poor guy is always lonely. Everyone prefers the cute man in the bottleshop across the road)
  • one cured meats stall (cured meats from everywhere – Corsica, French mountains, Italy, yum yum…)
  • one italian stall, with mozzarella de buffala, fresh pasta, fresh pasta sauce, salami, proscuitto and delicious antipasti
  • one stall that just does olives, tapenade and antipasti – thats it.
  • one stall that just does potatoes and herbs – and salad…..

Now,  every Sunday, I promise myself that I will only buy the necessities: the things that we have run out of from our 2 weekly supermarket shop, or the things that we cant get anywhere else. I promise myself that I will only buy the items I have written on the list. This is partly because the market is more expensive than the supermarket, but also as a way to control my addiction.

Some weeks, I succeed in only buying the things on the list – hurrah!

Other weeks, I just lose myself in the whirlwind of delicious market goodness; the people, the dogs, the banter between stallholder and local – and I want it too. I want to be given chunks of cheese to taste by the cheeseman, I want the fruit and vege man to greet me with a smile, I want the potato man to say “oh well, its better to have a big tall fiance with a big appetite than a small weedy one!” as he piles an extra couple of spuds in the bag. If I pass a fresh and beautifully pink pork fillet that has never seen a styrofoam tray or chemical preservatives – how can I leave it behind? I imagine that everything I buy from the market is full of vitamins, minerals and health-giving properties, and will without doubt be more delicious than anything I can buy from the “Auchan” supermarket (whether that’s true for everything in the market, I dont know, but the placebo effect works fabulously on me!).

Sometimes, the market isnt even about me, it’s just about watching how other people interact, watching how they choose their produce, listening to the conversations two women are having about their husbands and their work. I listen to the politeness, the protocol of the market, how things must be displayed, the interaction between stallholders who discuss whether it’s time to start packing up or if they can put aside a fillet of salmon for a customer who has just bought some fennel and lemons. This is the true France, the true meeting point of the neighbourhood – and I love it.

If there is such a thing as heaven, I am absolutely positive that there will be a market there.

France now rests even more firmly in my heart

Hold onto your seats people, because there’s an announcement that will make you say “what the fuck??” at your desk in your open plan office space and make you spit coffee over your keyboard….

M asked me to marry him. And I said yes.

Uh huh – you still said ‘what the fuck’, didnt you?

In an unexpected (sort of) turn of events, M decided that now was the best time for us to get sorted out, relationship-wise. And I thought he had a pretty good point.

So, the basics: how, when, why?

So, he was at work, and hurt his back, badly. He went to the Dr who gave him some super-strong painkillers. He finished work early, and was driving home when he thought that actually, he would take the opportunity of the early mark to go and check the size and order a ring he had picked at the local jewellers  (and which he had already shown me).

He came home, and told me that he was just going up the road to get some deodorant and Orangina (French ‘Fanta’, except with real orange pulp). He occasionally gets Orangina cravings, so I didnt think anything of it.

He arrived at the jewellers. He wasnt sure of my size, and asked if he could come back another day. The assistant suggested that he just buy the ring now, to make sure it didnt get sold to someone else, and come back to have it resized if it didnt fit. (Note to self: OK, I think this is the stage where he started to get all a little bit too excited about things. The super-strength pain-killers may have played a part in this next decision). So he bought the ring, and together with the roll-on and fizzy drink, brought it home.

I was in the kitchen, getting dinner ready when he came back.

In his mind, he was just getting prepared. He thought he’d just buy the ring and ask me later, potentially  at our friend’s wedding in 2 weeks time, or for our one year ‘meeting’ anniversary the week after that. But he said he kept thinking about the ring, sitting in his chest of drawers He thought about going to sleep that night, knowing that the ring was just 1 metre away. After about 30mins, he said he just couldnt wait. (Note to self: I wonder which drawer he put it in? Undies? Tracksuit pants?)

He came into the kitchen and asked me to come into the lounge room to clink glasses on our red wine before drinking (a firm tradition between us). I thought it was just going to be a 2 second thing, so I didnt even wash the lemon juice off my hands. So we said “Sante”, and drank.

Then he pushed towards me a wetsuit material stubby-holder with the Australian flag on it: “It’s for you.”

I  was like, um, yeah, great, a stubby holder, that my Mum sent over for your birthday, and now its a gift for me – excellent. Then I saw a beautifully wrapped box inside.

I thought it was a chocolate.

It was a ring.

I asked him what he was trying to say (goddamnit, I’d waited my whole life to hear those effing words!! I was gonna hear them no matter what!). He said “Will you marry me?”.

He started crying, so did I.

I said yes.

We took some photos of the ring, the moment, the stubby-holder. We hugged, we were a bit shell-shocked, we laughed.

After a few minutes I said “Well, I’m hungry, better get back to the dinner!” And headed back in for some more lemon juice extraction.

We spent the next couple of days just digesting it. Just spending time together, talking. We didn’t tell anyone.

We finally told his parents, and then his aunt and uncle who live around the corner.

I couldnt get hold of my Mum on skype until the weekend (time difference, M working, my Mum working etc). I didnt want to tell my Mum by text message, or just on the phone by myself. I wanted us both to tell her, and for her to see us both. It’s hard enough for her to be so far away from me, and I really wanted to make a big effort for her.

Finally, a week later, I announced it on Facebook (the official record of all relationship status).

The reactions were mostly in the theme of “oh my god!” and “what the fuck?”.

I asked him why he wanted to ask me now, and not later. He said that he didnt want me to question his commitment to me in the (becoming more likely) event that I had to move to London for work. He didnt want to lose the opportunity.

From my perspective, I think we had already committed ourselves emotionally a while ago. The formal engagement was just an outward expression of what had already been decided.

I think I realised when I was on the plane back to Paris after visiting my family for the birth of my gorgeous niece. During the flight, I finished reading “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. The heroine explains her love for the hero in words and actions particularly well at the end of the book. And as I thought about her type of love, I realised that there is one feature that stands out: she has no questions about their relationship. No “what if?”, no “maybe if things go like that then we can be together?” etc etc. And I think that’s the flip-side of people saying that they “just know” when they’ve met “The One”.

When I thought about all my friends who are in fantastic relationships/marriages, that’s one feature consistent in all of them. They dont have any more questions or uncertainties about their relationship. Even if they fight, disagree, argue. They just know.

And I realised that I didnt have any more questions about my relationship with M. No more second guessing, no more doubts, no more “if only he’d just do this“,  or “if only he’d be more like that“, no more insecurity.

For me, this is a logical, unquestionable, next part of the journey for us as individuals and the journey of our relationship. This is very personal, deep, and intimate.

I didnt think about what ‘this’ looks like from the outside, until it was announced and people started sending their congratulations.

And then the cliches started to roll in: “You’re engaged to a hot, romantic Frenchman, he proposed in Paris, in the springtime, with a French red wine and candlelight. And how romantic will it be to have a wedding in Paris!

Yes, it’s true. But I never thought of it until people mentioned it. This was never an element of my French ‘dream’. Ok, I always thought that I would like to find someone who either was French or who loved France like I do (or was willing to experience it for a while). But to actually fall in love and want to commit to someone, who is French, and who loves Paris, well, that’s just a bonus.

I think I need to put my ‘Little Miss Logic’ in the drawer for a while, and allow myself to get carried away in the romance a little. After all, it’s not that often in your life when you can truly let your heart go all mushy.

There was a time, not that long ago, when I really thought my life had reached a dead end. There was no going forward, no side-paths, and not even the ability to just stagnate where I was. I found this quote (the author changes depending on which website you view), and wrote it on the inside of my diary. I couldnt see how it could be true. I couldnt see what my life could possibly be like. But it gave me hope to keep going, and to keep searching for a future.

There will come a time

when you believe

everything is finished.

That will be the beginning.

And I recently found this verse from a Sufi poem about marriage:

A new hope is born in my heart.

Because of this trip to Paris, because of M, a new hope is born in my heart. This, is just the beginning.

D Day

I’m sorry that this post has to be all in past tense. I was just so emotionally all over the place that I couldnt bring myself to post it at the time (even though I jotted down the draft). I need to post it though, because it is a turning point in my life in France, and explains all that is to come. So here it is, warts and all.

*   *   *

Things were not looking so good workwise in March. After being completely screwed over by Big French Bank (names not mentioned to protect the guilty), I then spent 3 soul-destroying days in London pimping myself around to all the recruitment agencies, where I was again told “Not a Chance – No Aussies Considered – Get Back on Your Ship to the Colony, Criminal“. Add that to a particularly cold and long lasting winter, and my spirits really were at an all time low.

Yes, there were more and more ads for jobs in France that seemed suitable for me. Yes, my French was improving to the point that I could probably just scrape through as “fluent”. But the rejection emails (or no response at all) came in as quickly as the jobs did.

The only real possibility, seemed to be an opportunity to work for my old employer, in their London office (an opportunity discovered thanks to the powers of wine! I’d organised drinks with my old work colleagues and, voila!, a job opportunity raised it’s head).

One day not long after, when I was explaining to M about the job ads that I’d seen that day, and all the “non” emails I’d received, he just stopped me suddenly and said “You know what, this is doing your head in. Yes, there might be more jobs coming in but you, emotionally, cant keep going much longer. Why dont you just draw a line under the jobs that you are currently working on, stop looking for more, and if none of them work out, then we just take the London job?”.

This suggestion was a relief, a reassurance, but also, a path that I didn’t want to follow. I did not want to admit defeat. I did not want the dream to end.

I kept the basic list of job opportunities, but I kept looking, just in case.

I found one job that looked perfect, but required someone with fluent French. The headhunter ended the interview quickly once she realised what my level was, and we thought it was dead, but she called back the following day to say that her client was really interested, and could she take more details.

This, is the one. This is the job that is going to allow me to keep the dream alive.

The day of the interview, everyone sent me text messages wishing me well, telling me that I was going to kill the interview etc. I was so appreciative of the support and encouragement, but it just increased my level of nervousness an extra few decibels. And those extra decibels can kill a cool calm and collected vibe at an interview.

M was rattled as well. His family had been ringing in the morning asking how it went – but of course, the interview was in the afternoon. A whole day of stewing.

It also brought home to me that this really was a deciding moment in my future in France. My own personal D Day. And I just really didnt want to think about that.

I just needed to get through the interview in the most fabulously spectacular “you would be crazy not to hire me” way.

I was fabulous.

The interview was a disaster.

I wont bore you with details, but lets just put this into a short paragraph: My interviewer, one of the principals, arrived back into the office late, forgot that he had an interview with me, couldnt find my CV (despite the headhunters sending over a full file on me), he hadn’t read my CV,  didn’t know who I was, typed away on his laptop as I was speaking, didn’t ask any relevant questions, told me that they didn’t even know what they wanted from the role and that if he was me, he would just take the London job.

I rang M straight after interview. He said: “It’s dead”.

So I managed to hold back tears until I got home. M took me in his arms and let me have a big ol’ cry.

In fact, I think the hug was for his benefit as well. This has been an amazingly challenging situation for him as well. Who would voluntarily choose to have a relationship with someone who doesnt have the right to work in their country? The emotional drama is SUCH a stress on the relationship. And he’s had to completely re-think his life and his future because of me. And now it’s likely that we will  have to move country.

People called through the evening, sent texts to ask how the interview went. M didn’t feel like talking about it, so just said “We don’t know yet”. I was a little more resolved, and explained the whole disaster to those who asked.

I’ve had this big weight of frustration and continued disappointment sitting on my shoulders and heart, particularly for the last 6 months. And now to have this one more boulder placed on top….

Lets just say it wasnt a particularly jovial evening.

What I suspect is that they actually have already found someone, but that person is a foreigner like me, who needs to be sponsored. To be sponsored, they need to prove that they cant find anyone else in France or the EU to do the job, and hiring a recruitment firm to send through “dummy” interviewees is just what has to be done.

I dont know. Maybe that’s not the case. I guess I’ll never know.

The morning after I got up and got back onto pushing the London job forward – testing, formal job offer, salary, benefits etc. It’s a great offer and a good job. Hopefully it will all go well and I’ll get a formal offer (although, it’s pretty sure).

And we will come back to live in Paris one day.

I have good feelings about London and still feel positive that I will be able to “live the dream” in Paris again in the future. I guess I just need some time to grieve for this first dream lost.

“The Unemployed Dilemma” and “How to live like a Pauper”

When you’re unemployed, you have all the time in the world – but no money to do anything.

When you’re employed you have money to do the fantastic things you’ve dreamed about – but no time to do them.

People say “oh yes, but you’ve had a year off work, that’s a good enough holiday”.

Well, yes and no. Yes I’ve had some great leisure time, and have enjoyed time with friends. But I’ve had my job hunt looming like a big black cloud over my head, ready to rain on any parade in which I choose to participate. Previously exciting things just dont rate as highly on the hype-o-meter. Oh how I dream of being able to take the TGV to Lyon and eat myself into a delicious food coma, spend a weekend in Bordeaux and make friends with a wine-producer…..

But when you dont know if you’re going to get a job this month, or next year, financial resources need to be conserved = NO FUN.

The fun I have these days is a daily game to see how little I can spend. It works. Sometimes it works too well.

I have spent the past year living a non-buying mentality. This is actually quite a trendy thing to do at the moment. The anti-consumerism and anti-waste movement is growing in popularity daily. Some people have written books about how they spent a whole year not buying anything. They made their own clothes from curtains, made manual repairs to things that broke, recycled gifts, etc.

OK, I havent been that strict, but I did give nearly everything I owned away before I left, and my clothes purchases have pretty much been restricted to replacing things that had become to old to wear (eg pantyhose with holes) or essentials (more jumpers and some woollen pantyhose for winter). I have given up my expensive makeup in preference to some nifty maybelline (with one exception – I refuse to give up my expensive face cream, but have at least saved some money by asking visiting friends to buy it for me duty free).

Now that I think of it, the only treats I’ve really bought myself have been books, and I plan on passing them on – giving them away once I’ve finished with them anyway.

[Side note: This is something else I discovered as I was packing up my life last year. I had SO many books, that I’d read once, and left on the shelf, never to be touched again. When I had my “open day”, when friends came around to take anything of mine they liked, I was amazed at how much joy was created around my book collection. Even after I left the country people mentioned how much they loved reading one of the books they’d selected. So my new philosophy is, unless it has REAL sentimental value or its a book I will re-read more than once, then books get given away or sold to second hand stores. This one little gesture will make a difference to other people’s lives and will cut down on the number of things I have to pack and move when I change apartments!]

Most days, I dont even bother looking in clothes stores, Sephora etc. If I do, it’s usually because I’m with a friend from overseas who wants to spend up big on something fabulous from Paris (or because I’m with M, who is a terrible shopaholic when it comes to jeans, t-shirts and Nike trainers).

But even when I’m in a shop, I might see some nice things, but I just cant bring myself to buy anything. I have officially switched off the “buy” button in my brain. Whats the point of having a gorgeous pair of red stilettos if I dont have enough money to eat at the end of the month?

Speaking of eating, I have changed my eating habits dramatically as well. In Sydney, I didnt think anything of buying my lunch every day and eating out with friends in the evening. Now eating out is a luxury and I have discovered the joys of the 1 euro, 3-pack of canned lentils! Delicious with a blob of sweet chilli sauce mixed in! Dinners and lunches out are saved for when I have overseas visitors (or for when M is paying!).

Yes, it has been an exercise in restraint for financial purposes, but not spending money has really helped me to understand the difference between “want” and “need”. And it has made me stop and think before buying.

I havent changed my attitude in general though: I still believe in generosity, I still believe that I will receive what I need (through my own efforts or the generosity of others), I believe that there is more than enough of everything to go around without me being a stingy old scrooge. And generosity is not just about material things – it’s about generosity of time, effort, thought, assistance.

I think this is one of the greatest benefits I’ve had over the year: I’ve stopped thinking that I can just buy something and offer it as a gift as a display of generosity. Dont get me wrong, I LOVE to buy presents for other people, especially when it’s something that I know they’ll really love. But with my spending capacity severely limited, I’ve really focused on ways to be generous without buying. Like ironing M’s work-shirt for him when he’s really tired, writing my Nana a big long letter, making a batch of my famous eggplant pasta dish for friends when I know they’ll be arriving home late and starving from a weekend away.

Arent these the best gifts of all?

PS I found this story about  a now unemployed food-critic is learning to live off food stamps – oh the similarities in the way we approach food!