We bought an apartment

Frenchman and I are officially homeowners!

After months of apartment hunting, filing paperwork, and waiting for French bankers to come back from vacation, it’s finally official.

We’re key-carrying owners of our very own place.

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We bought a place in France!

We just barely made it by the skin of our teeth, thanks to the banks losing our paperwork and not mentioning it to us until 3 days before the signing. After running like crazy to get them new papers in the mail, and a few angry emails and phone calls from Frenchman and our notary, we made it just in time, with the expedited wire transfer arriving in the account about an hour before our appointment. Phew.

After all that stress and living in various states of temporary, I’m very much looking forward to having a permanent home with my own stuff and no deadline of having to move out.

saint-germain-en-laye-apartment

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Quick Trip to the Opéra Garnier

One of the cool things about living in Paris (rather than visiting) is that you can take the time to explore hidden gems and smaller sites you wouldn’t otherwise have time for on a Greatest Hits tour in a week-long or weekend trip.

I’m lucky in that my office is centrally located in the heart of Paris, surrounded by some of the swankiest areas. I can see La Madeleine from our windows. Since we moved to this location back in October, our gregarious Office & Happiness Manager (official title, and it suits her!) has organized a couple of quick lunchtime trips to cool things to see nearby.

Unfortunately I missed out on the first one (to the Chapelle Expiatoire – where Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette were originally buried and now a museum about the darker sides of Paris’ history through the Revolution and the Reign of Terror. It’s now closed until May). I refused to miss out on another one, this time to the Opéra Garnier.

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The Palais Garnier

Just up the street is the magnificent Opéra Garnier. I’ve been wanting to get inside for ages, but had not yet found the time. Theaters are always spectacular anyway, but this one is high on my list for musical theater nerd reasons: Phantom of the Opera (dun dun dundundunnnnnnn)

It. is. breathtaking.

I am so glad I went. I uttered little “Wows” repeatedly as I turned corners and caught first glimpses of each part of this building. You enter through the back, and go through this big rotunda before you even enter the impressive part. Once you actually enter the ticketed area, you climb grand staircases loaded with marble and lined with gigantic mirrors up to the incredible painted ceiling. Everything is gilt. Everything shines.

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We went to Barcelona!

Barcelona has been on my list for a long time now, and I finally got to check it – and a new country! – off as visited. Originally, we had planned to visit Barcelona in the summertime, for the prime-time experience of beaches, sunshine, all the good stuff. Unfortunately, life got in the way and by the time we were in a position to plan a trip, we were looking at mid-November. We decided to head on down to Barcelona anyway, even if we wouldn’t be splashing in the waves this time of year. (Spoiler alert: toes were dipped).

A long weekend in Barcelona

We left bright and early in the morning for our short flight – less than 2 hours – to Barcelona. We were in the city and checked into our hotel before it was even lunchtime.

We set out for a walk to get our first taste of the city, both metaphorically and literally, as our plan was to find a place for lunch. We hit our hangry limit just after 1:00 and the (quite touristy, but convenient) restaurant we chose was practically empty. I was aware that people generally eat meals later in Spain, and yet it’s still sort of odd when you get there, it’s 1:30 and this large, popular restaurant is a ghost town.

Anyway, over our meal of essentially high-end fast food, we planned a bit of how we wanted to organize our few days; when to visit the Sagrada Familia basilica, when to see the beaches, and most importantly, when we were going to hit Frenchman’s favorite tapas place.

The answer to that question was: that night for dinner. And two more times. Shh don’t judge us.

Frenchman found this place (Cerveceria Catalana) a couple of years ago when he came to Barcelona with friends. On that trip, they returned daily for their entire stay. I thought they were silly for not exploring more of the food scene, but after trying to explore other options around the city, we just kept coming back. The food is, hands down, better than any other place we tried. Plus, their prices are shockingly reasonable in a town where a tiny plate of mediocre tapas can break the bank. We went all-out on our first dinner – delicious sangria, all the tapas we could handle, AND dessert. We returned for breakfast another day (actually the exact same menu, plus coffee) and dinner again for our last night in town. We just had to get another of those beef tenderloin tapas! So, so good.

But back to the city.

I had a rough list of the things to see, and in the end we managed to get to almost all of them. The advantage of visiting a beach city off-season is that you miss the huge lines most people complain about. What you don’t manage to miss, however, are the prices. Honestly, my main takeaway from this trip was how outrageously expensive everything was. Not food, for once, but actual tourist sites. The Sagrada Familia? 14€ just to go in. 35€ if you want to go up one of the towers. The Gaudí-designed Casa Batlló? 22.50€. Even the cathedrals charge. 6€ here, 9€ there… I watched them turn away an old Spanish woman who just wanted to pray. By the time we had paid for one or two things, our wallets were feeling a little bruised. But in the end we saw a lot, did a lot of walking and plenty of good eating.

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Second Thanksgiving in Paris

Last year, I got lucky. I had moved abroad, but I was still working for an American company. The result was that I had Thanksgiving day off as a holiday, just like always,  allowing me to focus my time on cooking way too many mashed potatoes, picking up our fresh-ordered pumpkin pie, and generally lazing around the house to the smell of a feast in progress.

This year, I officially work in France where they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. In theory I could have taken the day off and, honestly, I had fully planned on it. But between our recent long weekend in Barcelona (which I will tell you about soon), plus being in the middle of a HUGE project at work, plus needing to take scattered days off soon for signing on our apartment and moving and all that good stuff, well, it just wasn’t feasible to take my Thanksgiving day.

So here we are, working on my treasured American holiday.

Thanksgiving in France

I cannot count the number of times in the past week that I have had to explain any of the following:

  • When is Thanksgiving?
  • What is Thanksgiving?
  • What is that thing you’re drawing?
    • Answer: This
    •  thanksgiving-abroad-cornucopia
  • Where’s the turkey?
  • Are you going to eat macaroni and cheese?
  • … among other confused questions

The French, as it turns out, are very unaware of ‘Thanksgiving’ as a concept. When I was in Wales, I had found that most people were vaguely aware of the idea of the American holiday and that it was, in fact, an official holiday.

My French coworkers, on the other hand, have been saying things like “people are really into Thanksgiving!” with a bemused look of someone who doesn’t understand, but won’t question, a silly thing they see someone doing. I’ve found myself repeatedly explaining that Thanksgiving is, actually, a major national holiday and that it’s actually illegal(?) for offices to be open and that it is not, in fact, just a made-up occasion driven by marketing for Americans to stuff their faces.

They’ve all been pretty surprised.

Apparently, the French more or less think that it’s like Halloween, where it’s a made-up excuse to eat a lot and that, as adults, it’s silly and/or optional to participate. Cue sadness.

Thanksgiving is the best holiday, and it’s a real holiday and I take it very seriously. Ok, yes, it’s 90% about food but I love it.

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The Paris Catacombs (Happy Halloween!)

Did I tell you about the time I visited the Paris Catacombs?

We stood in line for hours. No, that is not an exaggeration for dramatic effect. Literal hours. We made a bad choice.

Poor, patient Frenchman stood along with me, our feet dying (ready to be put out of their misery and left with the rest of the skeletons down below), wondering why in the world this strange American wanted to do this so badly. If only he knew then what kinds of crazy antics he’d be roped into for all eternity when he decided to marry me. #SaintFrenchman.

It’s not always like this, apparently. We just got very, very unlucky

The Paris Catacombs

The concept of the Les Catacombes is pretty creepy, just at face value. A labyrinth of underground tunnels walled with the scattered bones of millions of people? Shudder. I HAD TO SEE IT.

In effect, what happened is that after centuries and centuries of Paris being a hugely populated metropolis, the city’s cemeteries were filled to the brim. Like, bodies were piled up so badly that they started to wash up in heavy rains, since they could no longer be buried deep enough to stay buried. Seriously: In 1780, a “prolonged period of spring rain caused a wall around Les Innocents to collapse, spilling rotting corpses into a neighboring property.” 😨 Even in the 1700s the smell was, apparently, unbearable. Plus, the city could use some extra land that was otherwise occupied by people who really didn’t seem to be needing such prime real estate.

It was decided: the dead would have to be moved. There was already a warren of tunnels under the city dating from the 13th century, a perfect storage space. Les Innocents cemetery was the first to be emptied, soon followed by all others in the city. An estimated 6 or 7 million skeletons were moved to the new Catacombs. It took 12 years.

The fun part? They didn’t just toss them all in piles. They decorated. A far more dignified way to have your bones dug up and relocated, I suppose. The catacombs have intricately stacked and designed walls, with zillions of femurs all laying one way, toothless skulls all facing front or organized into crosses and patterns. It’s super weird.

Additional fun fact: starting with the French revolution, the deceased were moved directly to the ossuaries, without making a pit stop in a traditional cemetery. They didn’t stop adding bones to the Catacombs until 1860.

Spooky Scary

We finally, finally got to the front of the line to go down into the mysterious catacombs. We slowwwwly snaked around this little garden and around to the main entrance, which looks like a tiny house, painted black. Inside, your ticket is scanned to count the number of people inside (presumably to limit how many enter, as well as to make sure the same number also exits) and down you go!

First, you come to a little exhibit room. I feebly looked at the signs and descriptions on the walls but, after hours of waiting I was here for the main event!

paris-catacombs-gate-to-hell“Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort! / Stop! This is the empire of death! “

Really sets the mood! You enter through this doorway and immediately a weird sense of awe, fascination, and creepyness hits you. It’s chilly and damp. You are literally surrounded by skeletons. Underground.

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The Fête des Vendanges

Last year, I just missed the Fête des Vendanges. It ended the 9th of October. I arrived the 10th.

This year, there was no way I was going to miss this!

La Fête des Vendanges 2016

A “fête des vendanges” is a wine harvest festival. THE Fête des Vendanges is a wine harvest festival in Paris itself, in Montmartre. Because there’s a vineyard in Montmartre. Did you know that?

montmartre-vineyard-paris

So this particular Fête isn’t just any wine-soaked fête, it’s a wine-soaked fête perched atop the highest point in Paris, surrounding the iconic Sacre Cœur and overlooking the rest of the city. So you can see why I was determined to go to this year’s event.

Many towns and regions have their own Wine Festivals, as you can imagine, being in France, the Land of Wine. Small or large, they consist of booth after booth hawking various wines, red, white, varietal blends, local specialties, etc. Intermixed are, of course, plenty of booths also selling delicious foodstuffs to help support your wine tasting.

Unfortunately, this year’s Fête fell on a complicated weekend, and we were in Ven-Danger of missing it. Again.

We were both sick, and exhausted from just moving into a new (temporary, furnished) apartment with a small and uncomfortable bed, leaving us both cranky. But on top of that, this was also the very same weekend as Paris’ Oktoberfest, yet another event that has been on my list since last year. And on top of that, it all happened to fall on the same weekend as a family birthday, resulting in an obligatory family gathering. We were down to just one day we could use to attend one event. Obviously we chose wine. Frenchman doesn’t like beer (I know. I know) and we’re so close to Munich we can practically smell the real Oktoberfest, so it just made more sense to pick the event that France is sure to do well. I’d rather go to the real Oktoberfest anyway! (Germany, get ready – l’Américaine is coming for you next September!)

Sunday, the very last day of the event, we made it up to Montmartre.

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Polling the People

When I started this blog, oh say 18 months ago, I had a lot of grand ideas about what I would do with it. Clearly I was going to be a blogging rockstar, gain tons of followers, get invited to cool exclusive Paris things, and post all the time about my oh-so-cool life.

I had so very many plans for themed posts, series to maintain, and fun blog updates. Sticky notes galore. And, for a while anyway, I actually kept it on track! I posted frequently, I had a surprising number of visitors that weren’t my family, and I was feeling good.

But then, of course, real life got in the way and it became very hard to juggle all the things.

all-the-thingscollage

I dropped the ball on blogging and let it take a back seat to, well, everything else. Somehow immigration paperwork, a near-3 month stint back in the US (away from interesting things to blog about), followed by resume- and interview-packed unemployment before starting a very busy brand new job all took priority over writing about where I went to brunch.

But! Now I’m newly motivated to get this thing back up to speed. And so, without further ado, I present to you ::drumroll::

A POLL!

Here are a few of the ideas that were bouncing around my brain at some point in the past year+ of things to do with the blog. Vote for the type(s) of posts you think would be most fun to read!

Also, to stay on theme (who am I to say no to such an easy double entendre, eh?)… I voted! I went to the digital polls and cast my absentee ballot from abroad. #America 🇺🇸

voting

I don’t get a sticker this year, so here’s a whole roll of ’em

Friendly Expat PSA: There’s just 2 weeks left before Election Day – Whatever your political persuasion, make sure you get your butt out to vote! It’s a super cool thing to do AND you get a sticker!

But no really, tell me what you want!

I can’t wait to see what you all have to say about what you want to see from me here. I’m excited to write and post fun things again. Crossing my fingers that more than 2 people respond, and that the responses are better than “Other: please stop. Just, stop.” Be cool, guys, be cool.

Fall in full swing

I’ve had so many things to say – and so little time to say them.

First and foremost… It’s my France-iversary!

Well, almost. Technically it was last week but I didn’t post about it here (just on Instagram). I’ve officially been living in France for a full year, minus those couple of months at the start of this year. But my stuff has been here for a full year and that’s what counts. Home is where the heart your stuff is.

It’s amazing to me that it has been a year already. This time last year, I was just moving into a freezing apartment with no heat, nervous to try the metro alone, and starting a long, strange few months working from home. I can’t believe how much has changed since then. Travel, engagement, married (twice), working, feeling settled… I couldn’t have asked for more.

As for recent events…

The last few months have been quite a blur. I know I managed to finally post something in early September after the summer, but I know I’ve been neglecting you all. It’s not like I haven’t been doing anything to write home about, I definitely have! But that’s exactly the problem.

Since the start of June I have:

  • Started a new job, that keeps me out of the house and busy from 9am-7pm at least
  • Flown to Boston and back for a dress fitting
  • Visited dozens of apartments to buy or rent
  • Got my Titre de Sejour! It only took 3 attempts to get into the Prefecture de Police to pick it up
  • Flown to Boston and back for our US wedding
  • Moved
  • Actually put pen to paper to buy an apartment
  • Spent half a day at the OFII (immigration office)
  • and tried to have some semblance of a life outside of paperwork and real estate

So you can see why it’s been tricky to squeeze in time to write about the various goings-on around Paris. I had hoped to write a post all about La Rentrée here in France, because it’s a really interesting phenomenon. After all the Parisians abandon the city in the month of August, everyone comes flooding back for September 1st in what has been aptly described as a sort of second New Year’s. Everything’s fresh, a new start after a healthy break from school, work, city life, and hustle and bustle. There’s just no equivalent in the US. We have “back to school” season, of course, but the world doesn’t stop turning during the summer quite the way it does here, so it’s not as much of a shock when it all starts up again.

But now, we’re officially into fall, and life and business is completely in full swing. I’ve even started seeing Christmas decorations in a few stores, but don’t get me started on that. We think it starts early in the US, but in my experience, countries that don’t really celebrate Halloween in the big way we do or have a fall holiday like Thanksgiving to take the edge off tend to dive head-first into Christmas wayyy too early. For us, we can look forward to Thanksgiving – the food, the fall colors and atmosphere – to dip our toes into the ‘holiday spirit’ before the full dive. Here, there’s no barrier. It’s holiday anarchy.

But, I digress.

The point is, I’ve neglected you all and had a lot of things going on and haven’t been sharing it all with you. Here’s my apology, in the form of a collage of delicious things:

If that doesn’t make up for it, here’s (as we say on the internet) a cat tax:

American in Paris Cat Tax.jpg

Next up: I’ll tell you all about my thrilling visits to the OFII – Office of Immigration and Integration – visits to the Prefecture de Police, and on a more exciting note, our upcoming trip to Barcelona! (Surprise, family! I don’t think I told you about this yet…)

Oh, hello. Remember me?

(For the record, this was written August 4th… true to topic, I forgot to post it)

I know, I know. It’s been forever.

And I’m sure you’ve been sitting on the edge of your seat, near tears, just waiting for the next post from l’Américaine.

Well, here it is. So sit back, worry no more, your favorite expat has finally gotten her sh*t together enough to write you a story about what’s been happening… more or less.

But let me tell you, it’s been a busy few weeks (or months? I don’t know how long its been since I wrote anything). I started a job and got busy and got tired from all the French being spoken at and around me all day every day. I took a whirlwind trip home to Boston and back in the span of what felt like 2 days (it was 4). I did lots of wedding planning and preparation for September, and move/house planning. And then every day les français at work ask me when I’m going on vacation and I have to sadly say I’m not, really (as they leave for 2 week trips to Sri Lanka and Norway, lamenting how short it is).

Buckle up, this is gonna be a long one.

Euro 2016

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So the Euro Cup soccer/football tournament happened. 1 full month of noise, flags, traffic disruptions, and soccer talk. It was inescapable. And technically fun and interesting, except for the part where the Fan Zone was set up down the street from my apartment and it prevented me from walking by the Champs de Mars without going 20 minutes out of my way on a big loop. Sucks for any tourists who came through during those weeks, as the obstructed view of the Tour Eiffel from that street is normally beautiful and very very popular with tour busses. And for those who live right next to the Champ de Mars? Don’t ask how that went (right Jayne?). Just assume it was terrible, having to argue with security to be let through because you live there and no, you do not have to throw away the groceries you just bought.

euro-cup-2016-paris-final

Les Soldes

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Ah yes, THE SALES! As an American who likes to shop, this was my Christmas in July. Les Soldes are highly anticipated every year, since big deals and deep discounts are rare in France. Essentially, each summer, all stores everywhere put their stuff on sale, in incremental reductions every 2 weeks or so. Windows are plastered with 2EME DEMARQUE (second reduction) signs and this many percent off, and GET ‘EM WHILE THEY’RE HOT-style advertising. Les français love it.

I, doing my expat duty, decided to join in the fun to see what all the fuss is about. Reporting live from Paris, I can tell you it’s mostly just fuss. But! I did learn some tricks to get the most out of it, depending on what you’re looking for:

  1. A Specific Item: If you have your eye on one thing in particular, go ASAP. Prices do decrease 1, 2, 3 or even 4 times over the course of the month+ that the Soldes runs, but stock runs out so sizes and colors become scarce. If you want something specific that you’ve had in mind, go early and take the first price. If you wait, it’ll likely be gone.
  2. Anything Else: If you’re just out to scout for deals on random things that are pretty, wait it out! The first round of discounts isn’t that impressive, so if you don’t need that one blouse you saw, you’re better off waiting until later reductions to peruse the racks and see what kinds of bargains you can find on all sorts of tops, dresses, pants, shoes, household items, etc. you see when you get there.

Summer Happened!

paris-summer-parc-andre-citroen

Finally. It took forever but it finally started to feel like summer here by mid-July (after the rainiest, worstest spring ever). I had to fly home to Boston on July 14th and the day I left it was 50-something degrees. 4 days later when I returned it was nearly 90. Color me confused.

But I won’t complain because summer is great and it meant lots of long, sunny walks around Paris to get back to what Frenchman and I love to do best, and couldn’t do much of when it was between drizzling and pouring for months on end. We even caught a bit of the Tour de France when it came through Paris, which was a neat surprise. We weren’t expecting to see it but happened to be walking by when the caravan came through by the Tuileries.

Apartment Hunting

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that Frenchman and I have been looking for an apartment to buy, as he greatly prefers to own than to rent (you know how accountants are with that “saving money” and “paying for an investment not throwing money away” stuff). I can’t say that I disagree. So we’ve been spending the summer trolling every apartment listing we can find and making our Wishlist for size, location, features and whatnot that we’re looking for.

The bad news is that we learned we have to be out of our current apartment at the end of September. Time, crunched. So suddenly we have far less time and flexibility than we thought to find our perfect apartment. Now instead of just looking for a place to buy when we find the right one, we’re doing that in hyperdrive plus hedging our bets by looking for a new place to rent come October 1st.

Busy busy busy.

Between doubling down on apartments, sneaking off at lunches to go all over creation to visit places we may or may not like, AND coming into the home stretch of planning a wedding on another continent, it’s been a busy summer.

Stay tuned for how it all turns out – where we’re living, how the wedding goes in September, whether I make it through it all or just fall asleep on the floor somewhere…

paris-tuileries-sunset

(Editor’s note: I have updates! Since I wrote this a full month ago I actually have new things to share. All my notes are safely stored for a next post, But you’ll have to wait 🙂 )

Thoughts from Paris, Spring 2016

A lot has happened in the last couple of months, and I haven’t written about any of it.

It’s not like I didn’t have the time. For almost all of April and May, I was home just about every day. With exceptions of course for that time I got married and the week I showed my parents around Paris, I’ve had a pretty wide-open schedule. I’ve filled my days with job-hunting for hours on end, cat-snuggling (a full time job on its own, really), and going for really long walks to get lost and find my way home again. And yet somehow, I never found time to tell you all about it. Or maybe I just wasn’t inspired after several days straight on the couch.

Human contact is a funny thing. Too much of it and you’re dying for some alone time in your jammies with a snack and your favorite shows. Not enough, and you start to become a bit too attached to your Netflix account, who is always there for you and would never do anything to hurt you.

Over the last couple of weeks though, things have been looking up! Good stuff has happened, the weather got better (briefly), and I started to spend more time with fun people other than my cat. Lunches here and there with friends, shopping trips, and – most important of all – I found my people in France for weekly Game of Thrones viewing. It does a person good to find their fellow nerds.

Anyway, I’m bouncing back with a few random thoughts from the last few weeks of “Spring” here in Paris:

  1. Happy birthday to me! I got to celebrate my birthday in France this year, which was neat. After a couple months of boring unemployment, realizing you don’t have to go to work on your birthday is a nice perk. I got to sleep in and hang out. I also got to go to the Prefecture de Police, in an odd twist of date fate. See #5 for more info on that – this one’s about me. After a nice dinner out with my Frenchman (and gifts that included both popcorn AND maple syrup! what a man) My fellow expat friend Jayne was nice enough to organize a fun dinner at Ober Mamma with a few great people.
  2. French banks are even worse than originally thought. You can set up a personal account and a joint account, but the joint account can only have one name on it and one card… Then, you can receive your cards for those two accounts on the exact same day, with no way of knowing which card goes to which account, and even when you activate them on an ATM, the view is identical so there’s still no hope. And then, just when you think you’ve hit the peak of French banques, you find out you are not allowed to change your randomly-generated pin. You just have to memorize this string of numbers, plus the random numbers for the other card, plus the 10-digit numbers-only password you had to create to access your online banking. Ugh.
  3. There is a speakeasy through the freezer at a pizza joint. No, really. No, this is not Brooklyn circa 2010. There’s a pizza place near Bastille that has a hidden bar in the back that you access via a giant freezer door, and it’s speakeasy themed with jazzy music, ceiling tiles, and awesome cocktails. I didn’t take pictures when I was there, so here are some I grabbed from the internet: dragonfly20131119-23145-1tqsv2qThe Beef Club Ballroom, Paris, France
  4. There is no summer in Paris. While everyone else at home was posting beach pics and talking about how hot it’s been, we were here in Paris wearing sweaters and coats and talking about how we got more than a month’s worth of rain in just a few days. There were floods and the Seine was overflowing and the Louvre had to move their precious art. It was all very exciting except for the fact that it’s not summer which is a real bummer, you guys. Paris floods SeineParis flood Seine EiffellParis flood Seine swan
  5. I got (and started) a job! As I mentioned in my last post, after what feels like a year of job hunting here in France, I finally landed an offer. I couldn’t be more excited, both for a reason to leave the house every day and to have income, but also for the job itself which seems like exactly what I was looking for, on either side of the Atlantic. The only hitch was that I still didn’t officially have the right to work in France despite being married to a Frenchman, as I was on a visitor visa. I had a date at the Prefecture of Police, scheduled coincidentally on my birthday. I gathered yet more paperwork, including as much government-approved proof as possible that I had lived together with Frenchman in France for a minimum of 6 months. Oy. But ultimately the appointment went fairly smoothly, and I was granted the right to work, effective immediately! As soon as I realized I could start ASAP, I panicked a bit. It all seemed too soon! But it was fantastic news, so I enjoyed last few days of funemployment and jumped in feet-first into all-French, all-day.

And that about catches us up to today! It has been a nice few months back in Paris, giving me the opportunity to relax, explore, and get more familiar with this city I now call home. I’m excited to see what the next few months bring as I transition from existing here in a semi-vacation state to really, truly living here and participating in the day-to-day. Stay tuned for a post all about commuting on the Metro, I can only assume I’ll have stories to tell.