At Home in Paris

Written by admin on January 30, 2010 – 3:18 pm -

People mean well, but if one more person asks me how I’m spending my time in Paris, I’m going to scream. It’s wonderful to be home. But that catapults me into a different reality zone. I am not complaining; it’s a statement of fact.

I’ve attended lectures including a reading at the Village Voice Book Store that detailed the extraordinary journey of the English language translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex” by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. I was riveted by a presentation given by the wife of the Ambassador to France from Afghanistan Khorshied Samad and laughed through Born to Shop Suzy Gershman’s show & tell at The American Library in Paris.

I’ve eaten a couple of memorable meals and even managed to stick my head into a few stores with signs touting Les Soldes at more than 60% off. Because it’s freezing cold, I bought a knit cap for ten euros and have already amortized the purchase.

But the reality is I’ve been living in the Métro (and bless Bienvenuë, its visionary chief engineer), going from one appointment to another. Doctors with four different specialties have had the pleasure of my company. My lawyer, who also does my French and U.S. taxes, was a must-see, as well as a quick visit to the bank of course and renewing my French press card that has to be done annually. This is called real life and taking care of nitty-gritty necessities.

It’s been wonderful being reunited with friends, and last week’s Bonjour Paris get-together was a true highlight. Meeting the site’s readers was important in more ways than you can imagine. Living in cyberspace is isolating, and spending time with people who are BP (not British Petroleum) faithfuls has fueled my motivation to continue writing and adding additional information to the site.

I’m amazed by the number of writers I’ve met who want to contribute and am delighted to read what they write (most of the time) since they have different perspectives on living in and visiting France.

May 1, 2010, will mark my 22nd anniversary of moving here and how things have changed—for better and for worse. I suppose it’s a sign of the times and expanding globalization. When I recount how my hands were slapped when I had the audacity to touch a peach before buying it, people laugh. Don’t get me wrong—it still happens. But, there are more supermarkets where the owner isn’t surveying each time a client approaches a vegetable.

Tasks that were impossible to accomplish 20+ years ago can now be done via the Internet. People can buy groceries, and for that matter nearly everything else, not to mention record their electricity and gas usage and conduct their banking online and even renew their cartes de résidence. Considering how resistant the French were until fairly recently about computers—this was, after all, the home of the Minitel—this is almost as amazing as fondling vegetables without fear of corporal punishment.

But it’s mystifying that if you want to talk to a real person, there’s a charge. This is not simply for tech support, but for purchasing a product. It’s not the end of the world. But it’s irritating when you’re required to call a 08 customer service number to reset a PIN code on a bank account.

It’s an enigma that if you want to buy an item, you’re charged for the pleasure. When inquiring why this is the case, the voice on the other end of the phone explains you wanted help and that’s what you’re receiving. Excuse me? You’re selling a product and what’s happened to the concept of marketing?

It’s Paris, and with Paris comes houseguests. I’m delighted if they stay a few days and are well trained. If they want croissants for breakfast, I’ll direct them to Maison Kayser a block away from the apartment. It’s come to my attention that you-won’t-know-the-difference bakery items are available frozen at Picard and they’re more than delighted to deliver.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to sightsee unless it’s something I want to see—and invariably write about. The same is true when I’m in Washington, D.C. My days of playing tour guide and docent are over.

When I try to qualify (or quantify) what makes Paris so special, it’s that I’m not forced to get into a car to accomplish the most mundane chores. This is true about New York City and many very small towns, but New York is very big and small towns (for me) are very dull.

It’s early afternoon and I’ve already bought some fruit, stood at the bar of a neighborhood café for a coffee and skimmed Le Figaro, took a three-minute walk through the Luxembourg Garden and bought some flowers. All of this was accomplished in less than 30 minutes.

If there’s a real down side to Paris, it’s that my granddaughters aren’t here. But, we said Bonjour this morning via Skype and they’ve already gone to buy doughnuts (thank you Facebook for the information). Undoubtedly their parents and they are in full gear!

But when I go back to see them (sooner than later), I’ll have a stash of croissants and a baguette with which to greet them. The girls are fully aware there are advantages of having a grandmother who lives in Paris. They get to visit and see the city though my eyes.


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Paris Dreaming

Written by admin on October 1, 2009 – 7:34 pm -

People always ask me why I love Paris. I’ve lived in other places, and seize every opportunity to hop on a plane and explore the world. But Paris is the place I know and the one where I feel the most comfortable.  My French is less than stellar, so I don’t opt to make France my home because I’m not language challenged.  Because I am.

Now that I’m relatively footloose and fancy free, I could move anywhere. The world is my oyster. Ah hum. It’s a funny situation to be in as I’ve always considered myself the “responsible one” who has been at other people’s beck and call.

Now I read books and more books and surf the Internet about places to retire. The more articles and books I read, the more convinced I am that Paris is the correct place for me. It’s home—at least, I ‘m beginning to believe that.

It’s wonderful being able to walk out of the door and be in a café within minutes. Being able to buy a baguette and be sitting in the Luxembourg Garden in five minutes is a treasure. Not being responsible for the extensive plantings and always being surprised by the gardens’ constantly changing beauty is such a gift. I’ve lived in the same apartment for nearly 20 years and am always discovering new things since Paris is full of eye candy.

Not being tied to a car is the ultimate freedom.  Excellent public transportation and the availability of clean taxis make life so much easier. I feel safe walking home from a neighborhood restaurant alone at night and even though I always use big city caution and smarts, I don’t feel if I might be robbed if it’s after dark.

Before waxing poetic, there’s plenty wrong with the City of Light. Taking care of the most mundane things, such as having a phone installed, can assume monumental proportions.  It used to be obtaining a high-speed Internet connection was next to impossible. Those days are over and happily the French have become pros when it comes to the Internet.

People can now cyber-commute to their jobs and there’s no reason you can’t live one place and work in another. Plenty of my friends do precisely that and their professional colleagues are in the dark as to where e-mails, reports or phone calls are generated. It’s a whole new world, barring some of the nitty-gritty realities that rear their heads, when you’re least expecting them.

It helps if you’re independently wealthy and clip coupons. If you need to renew a visa, set up a business or even open a bank account, import a giant bottle of Excedrin from the U.S.—where it costs relatively little—money helps. And those pills will come in handy when you’re navigating the quagmire of red tape, where French government officials need and want everything translated yesterday (well, within the past three months) and S’il vous plaît in triplicate and you’ve forgotten the most important form, je suis désolé, madame.

Money helps because French bureaucracy can be daunting. If you’re not willing (or able) to do battle yourself, find someone who will assume that responsibility. For example, renting an apartment isn’t a slam-dunk. You’re required to furnish more paperwork than most Americans can fathom. U.S. residents are getting a bit of a taste now that it’s more difficult to get a loan for whatever.  But if you’re not clipping coupons, count on spending a lot of time, learning to intone Ommm, and practicing counting from one to ten.  But the time is most important.

Even though many people assume I’m an expert because of my years of writing about France on Bonjour Paris, the reality is that the longer I’ve been a French resident, the more aware I am of the need for professional advice in certain situations. Real estate, wills and anything that might be considered an inheritance is out of my comfort zone.

Paris is by no means cheap and the cost of living keeps many people from relocating to the EU if they’re dependent on a dollar income. Few economists forecast that the dollar will rebound enough to make Americans feel rich any time soon.  What I’ve discovered is that even though Paris is expensive, most people are willing to do with less. They may go out to restaurants less frequently, but my friends limit their clothing expenditures, and few people move to keep up with the Jones.  Few crave the equivalent of a McMansion—and there aren’t any, anyway. They may buy a run-down château, but do it as a long-term project. Few people expect it to be renovated and decorated yesterday.

The French are taking shorter vacations and they’re staying closer to home. But each week when the travel specials come flying across my computer screen, it’s so apparent that travelers can be in so many different countries and cultures within a few hours and package deals are really deals.

Some people are out of their comfort zones if they move from one state to another. And then there are those of us who are born part-gypsy.  Which type of person are you and why?


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