Tag Archives: expat

Our apartment in France, here’s what a typical South of France apartment looks like


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Thanks to one of my French teacher friends back in St. Louis, I’ve finally made a video showing our apartment in Béziers!  She is soon going to be beginning a chapter on different kinds of places to live in France, so she asked me to help out and make her class more interesting.  I decided to share this video on Skype, and also on my blog.

We’ve only been living here for two weeks at this point in time, so everything’s not quite perfect, but we don’t have to be perfect to be happy!!  I hope you enjoy this tour of “chez nous”, and don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have!  I remember when we were getting ready to move to France, I loved looking at International House Hunters, so here’s my version 😉

 

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On my way to pick up the kids from school in France


Every day, I have the great pleasure (and I mean it) of walking my kids back and forth to school a total of four times a day.  That’s 8 trips, at about 15 minutes each.  I absolutely love it.  I bring them to school and walk back home in the morning at 8:00, then I pick them up for lunch at 11:45, bring them back at 1:45, go back to get them at 4:45, and then walk back home.  When I pick them up for lunch, we stop at the nearby bakery for a baguette, and this is a really good bakery, by the way!  Then at 5:00, we pick up another baguette for dinner.  The kids know it’s a special treat when I let them get a snack in the form of some type of pastry at 5, just to tide them over until dinner time.  This is one of my greatest pleasures, being able to walk to and from school, bringing them home for a healthy lunch and family time at noon, and getting freshly baked bread for each meal.  It’s a much slower pace than what we’ve ever known, and much healthier as well.  I’m happy to get in two extra hours of walking each day, not even including walking round and about town while they’re in school.  I recorded the following video while walking to pick them up from school at the end of the day today.  I hope you enjoy the new video format… Just wanted to do something different for a change!

Pictures of our apartment in Béziers


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Wow, Paris sure has changed since last time I was here!


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Don’t worry!  I’m just kidding!  So I got to the airport to take my flight from St. Louis to Chicago today at 1:30, and the flight was supposed to leave at 3:30.  Apparently, if there’s any lightening within a five mile radius, the ground crew can’t fuel the plane or load the luggage.  To make a very long story short, we sat in the plane until almost 6:00.  My flight from Chicago to Paris was at 5:55, so that means I get to have one more night in the US before leaving!  That’s why I’m sitting at a table in Bar Louie with about fifty televisions, a bunch of people wearing hockey jerseys, and Blondie blaring in the background.

While I was still in St. Louis I used one of the red courtesy phones provided by American Airlines and I called to rebook my flight.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that there was no way I was going to make that flight.  No problem, I was able to book the same flight for tomorrow at the same time.  I was assured by the gate attendants that American Airlines would provide me with hotel and meal vouchers.  However, when I arrived in Chicago, I learned that it’s their policy not to provide vouchers when delays are caused by bad weather.  The lady working at the gate was very nice to me, and I was also very nice with her (it’s certainly not her fault).  I politely asked if there was someone else I could talk to about the situation.  She told me that if she called over her supervisor, he would most certainly say no.  She suggested I go to the ticket counter outside of security because the supervisors over there are nicer.  I didn’t need more encouragement than that, so off I went!

When I got to the ticket counter I saw a supervisor, and I told him my story.  He told me I’d have to talk to a different supervisor about this.  I asked if the other supervisor was nice, and he told me that if I flash a big smile and talk with a Southern accent that maybe I’ll have some luck.  Indeed, he was very nice, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t work.  I got a voucher for a hotel and three meals, and that explains why I’m sitting in Bar Louis at a hotel near O’Hare and not on a flight on my way to Paris.  I’ll just consider this evening of hockey, Blondie, and quesadillas a little bonus and a last call for Americana.  I do feel guilty though.  François and the kids are at home sleeping on air mattresses that deflate during the night (b/c we shipped all of our furniture last Friday) and I get to sleep in a comfortable bed.

Moving day has arrived, and the container is here, but will it all fit?


20 Foot Container…We Need A Miracle to Make it all Fit!!

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This may look like a lot of stuff, but let me tell you, this is only the beginning!  As we carefully packed, bubble wrapped, shrink wrapped, numbered and inventoried every single item in our house, the total number of items came out to 203.  The sofa counts as 1 item just like a trashcan does, so you have to consider that.  It’s been one heck of a week trying to get all of this done by today, Friday.  François and I ended up going to bed at about 3:00 in the morning, deciding to wake up early  to finish up the rest before the movers would arrive.

1010452_10151640711113374_1425742124_nWhen the team of three movers arrived, they took one look at all, and first told us that it’s “the best wrapping we’ve ever seen.”  I asked if I could quote them 🙂  But then they told us that in their opinion there’s “no way that’s gonna fit in a 20-foot container, so you should start to consider what you would like to leave behind.”  What???  That’s not what they told us when we reserved this thing!  After about fifteen minutes of real stress, mostly from my sweetie, I went out and had a look at the container.  The thing is huge.  As of right now, the movers are still here and trying to load it all up.  I’ve decided to remain optimistic (is this a trend?) and believe it will all work out.  I’ll keep you posted, but for now I’m sitting here on my living room floor blogging away while I watch them try to fit the sofa through the front door.  This is the first time we’ve ever had movers do the work for us, and I would highly recommend it.  I can’t help thinking about when our container arrives in France and we have to unload it without a crew.  Every time I packed a box, I imagined that the next time I would see our things would be in our new apartment in Béziers.  By the way, we decided on the first apartment!!!  We listened to what all of you said, and took the plunge.

I’ll stop writing now so that I can go and see the progress, but for now, everyone repeat after us:

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“We believe it’s all going to fit!!”

We may have found an apartment in Béziers!


I’ll begin the  official 10 day countdown tomorrow, but for today, it’s worth noting that I’m leaving for France in 11 days!  I’ll be there for about a week before heading down to Montpellier to start my summer job with Oxbridge Académie de France.  François and the kids will follow, but not for a few weeks.  They’re staying here to tie up some loose ends and to deal with the shipment of our container.

Originally I thought the container would take months to arrive in Béziers, but now they’re convincing me that it will be there in 30-35 days (!)  and they need an address for delivery.  We were planning to take the month of August to look for an apartment, but now it looks as though we’d better have one by August 1 when our container arrives.  This may seem a bit stressful, but it’s not!  It’s really very exciting, and this is when I realize (once again) how very fortunate we are to have family who are happy to help.

My sister-in-law in Béziers has found an apartment for us, and it seems like it will be the perfect place.  What’s really nice about it is that the owner’s are friends of friends, and they’re willing to reduce the rent by €50 and not charge us a deposit.  That’s great news, and the apartment is in a nice and safe part of town.  It’s right across the street from the university and médiathèque, and it’s only a 12 minute walk from the school where our kids will go.

I asked my sister-in-law to give me the not so good news about the condition of the apartment first.  Basically, there is a lot of painting to be done, and some of the windows don’t close very easily.  But now for the good news!  It’s HUGE!  The apartment measures 167 square meters, or 1800 square feet.  There are four large bedrooms, an office, living room, dining room, kitchen, three small balconies on the back side and one large one all across the front.  There’s only one “toilette”, and it’s separate from the bathroom, and that’s all fine with us.  There’s a nice size kitchen, but it doesn’t come equipped with a stove or refrigerator or any of that good stuff.  From what I hear, that’s very typical in French apartments, and it’s what we were expecting.  There are fireplaces in all of the rooms, and though I’m sure none of them are functioning, they’re still pretty.  There are 13 foot ceilings.  Yep, that’s right.  When you walk into the apartment, you enter a large (wide) and very long hallway, and you enter all of the rooms from either the left or the right of this hallway.  It’s big enough to furnish and serve as a sort of foyer.  The “toilette” is at one end, and the bathroom at the other.

To give an idea of what the place looks like, I’ll show a few pictures.  It’s obvious in the pictures that the place needs some sprucing up, but at the same time I can see it’s charm.

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Here’s a picture of one of the bedrooms.  This one is on the front, and the windows open up to a balcony and view of the university and library below.

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This is the big hallway that I mentioned earlier.

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This is the living room, the picture’s taken from the balcony.

It’s all very exciting, especially now that we can visualize our new home.  Having spent a lot of time in Béziers, and with the help of Google Earth, it’s easy to imagine exactly where the apartment is located.

Moving to France in 21 Days: The Why and How?


I was recently invited to write a guest post on a fellow blogger’s website, and as I was answering her questions I realized that I’d never shared much of this information on my own blog.  I’ve decided to post it here, exactly as it will appear on her blog, and I’ll share the link once she publishes it.

Question #1:  A little about yourself, where you are living now, what you do now, children etc..

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Jennifer, and I’m a mother of three and wife of one.  I’m originally from Louisiana, way down south in Cajun Country.  My whole family still lives there.  My parents have told me on numerous occasions that they don’t know how I turned out the way I did because I’m so different than my brother and sister.  So far I’m the only one to have been bitten by the travel bug, but that may change because we have decided to uproot the family and move to France one month from now.  My sister and cousin from Texas used to tell me I was adopted, and that was why there were no pictures of me as a baby at my Granny’s house, but I know they were teasing and I have my mom’s skinny legs and freckles to prove it.

Question #2:  Where are you from originally?

I’ve been living in St. Louis, Missouri ever since I came up here seventeen years ago for graduate school to study French literature.  It was only a year and a half later that I met my Parisian husband, François-René.  People love to ask me if we met while I was studying in Paris, but I never studied there!  We met by chance in a 1997-style Internet chat room, way before the days of Match.com.  I was there to practice my French, and he was there to practice his English.  One year, many transatlantic flights, and many dollars spent on long distance phone calls later, we were married and off to live in France for a year while waiting on his Green Card to come through.

At that time, back in 1998, we decided that even though he was from Paris we would settle down in the South of France.  We moved to Béziers in the Languedoc-Roussillon region where his sister and her family were living.  We stayed there for one year, and decided to move back to St. Louis so that I could finish up my MA in French.  We told ourselves that we would move back when I’d completed my degree.  Now here we are 14 years later, still in St. Louis.  I’ve been teaching high school French all this time, and to an amazing bunch of young men

François started out in the corporate world since he’d studied business administration, but after ten years of that he decided to make a career change.  He went to work as a teacher in a French immersion school in the city.  We have enjoyed every minute of living here, and it’s a wonderful place to raise a family, but that’s no reason for us to feel stuck.  And a year and a half ago we started to feel stuck.  That’s when we decided to sell the house and move back to France.

Question #3:  When are you moving to France and with whom?

Before we had come to a complete decision, we did ask our children how they would feel about it.  At this point it is important for me to say that being teachers, we’ve been able to spend two months in France every summer for the last 14 years.  Our children are all completely bilingual with no trace of an accent, because we’ve only spoken French with them since they were born.  Compared to our American friends, we lead a very “French” lifestyle already in terms of every day family life.  We have three children, but only two still at home.  Our eldest is now 22, and though he plans to eventually come to France to study the culinary arts, he will stay here for now.  We also have a 9-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter.  They are very excited about moving to France, and naturally a bit sad to leave behind their school and little friends.  We will be moving back to Béziers, where François-René’s sister and her family still live.  The kids will go to the same school where our older son went when he was in first grade.  We will live fifteen minutes from the Mediterranean coast and one hour from the Spanish border and the Pyrenees.

Question #4:  Where are you going to move?  Why did you choose that area?

While considering where to move in France, at least for now, there are only two real options.  There’s Paris, where Grandma and Tante Guénaëlle still live, and then there’s Béziers.  We want to be near the family (a luxury we’ve never known), and honestly, choosing between hectic city life and the good weather and serenity of the South, it’s not a difficult decision to make.  All said and done, it took us a year to get our house on the market and sell it.  For now, we are planning to rent in Béziers.  I’m kind of hoping for an affordable little house, or “villa” as they call them, but we’ll see what we can find.  We won’t be in a huge rush to find something because it will take our container up to two months to arrive.  In the meantime we can stay with the family in July, and in August they’re going on vacation so we will house sit.  We usually stay with them for about six weeks every summer anyway.  Plus they live in a house surrounded by vineyards with horses and a swimming pool.  It’s a pretty sweet deal, and all the more so because they are 100% adorable and we don’t seem to get on their nerves too much.

Question #5:  Why are you moving to France?

We have not decided to move to France for an awesome job offer, nor have we decided to move there because we’re independently wealthy people.  Why have we decided to move to France?  We are schoolteachers.  We work hard and want to enjoy our lives as much as possible.  We want the very best for our children.  I’m sure that turning 40 had a lot to do with our decision to move to France, and why not?  I don’t want to wait until I’m retired to live the good life.  St. Louis has been great, and so will be France.  I’m looking forward to the temperate summers and winters.  I know it gets hot there in the summer, but you don’t know hot until you’ve lived in hot and humid Louisiana and St. Louis.  I’m also looking forward to learning how to slow down.  Relax.  Take a load off.  Enjoy life.

I’m looking forward to summers at the beach and winters in the mountains without having to spend an absolute fortune like we would have to here in the States.  I’m looking forward to not having to worry about the cost of health care.  And what about the food, the wine, and yes…the French people!  I’ve found the people we’ve met in the South of France to be very genuine and caring people.  I’m also very much looking forward to raising our children with a strong sense of “politesse” that is becoming harder and harder to find in the US.  We’re doing our best, and they’re very polite and sweet, but I can remember how much easier it was (when my eldest was a little boy in France) when it wasn’t considered an abnormality for children to be polite.  It was the norm.

Question #6:  What will you do when you arrive in France?

Upon arriving in France, I will be working for 5 weeks in Montpellier as Summer Program Dean for Oxbridge’s Académie de France.  It’s a summer French immersion program for teenagers from around the world.  Though I’ll be living on campus during that time, it’s only about a half an hour away from Béziers, and that’s where my husband and kids will be.  They can come to see me, and I also will have one day off every week.  I’m very excited about this position, as I usually spend a month every summer traveling around Europe with my students from St. Louis.  I am also hoping to make some good connections.

After that first month I will return to Béziers with my family, and we will await our container while searching for a house or apartment to rent.  From that point on, all we will need is a strong Internet connection, a willingness to work hard, and a bit of good luck to launch our online language academy.  I’ve been working very hard for the last nine months or so to get it up and going.  I will teach English and French via Skype  (I’ve already started), together we will create podcasts, videos, free French and English lessons, we’ll maintain several language related blogs, websites, and Facebook pages, and continue to expand my YouTube channel while attempting to make a living from it all.  Aside from that, we’ll be spending our time living out a dream.

Question #7:  Have you a blog?  Facebook “Like” pages?

I have a personal blog, C’est la Vie! and it’s all about our original plan to move to France and the steps we’ve been taking to get there.  Once we’re in France, I plan to blog about daily life in the Languedoc.  I also have a blog to help people learn to speak French, Learn French With Jennifer, and one to help French speakers learn to speak English, Apprendre l’Anglais Avec Jennifer.  In addition, I have a commercial website that I’m working on (it’s not 100% complete) to promote the Skype lessons that I mentioned, and it’s called Love Learning Languages.  Anyone who is interested can easily access my Facebook pages, Living in Languedoc , Love Learning French , and Love Learning English.  In case that’s not enough, I also have a YouTube channel to which I upload videos to learn French on a daily basis.

Thank you so much for inviting me to write a guest post on your blog.  I wish you all the best in your return to Ireland, and hope that you will keep nothing but fond memories of your 11 years spent in France.  I dream to one day go to Ireland, the homeland of my ancestors.

I take that back. Long-stay visa… no check.


UnknownWow, two posts in just one day, this must be juicy!  Only four short hours ago I was sitting at a Starbuck’s (don’t hate) wondering why I hadn’t brought my jacket with me to Chicago, with a big smile on my face in honor of La Journée de la Joie.

While waiting for my 5:15 train back to St. Louis, I received a phone call from the lovely lady at the consulate who helped me so much to locate all of the documents that I need for my long-stay visa.  She called to tell me that, unfortunately, my passport will expire NEXT April (2014).  The problem is that the visa I need is valid for one year.  See the problem?  My American passport absolutely must be valid for one full year from the time that visa is validated, which will be June 18 when I arrive in France.

My first reaction?  “Darn it.”  I meant it, and that’s a strong reaction from me.  I don’t curse, but “darn it” is a pretty close euphemism to what I really wanted to say.  I’d just come all the way to Chicago, spent the night in a hotel (spending money that could have been better spent on a wonderful dinner in Carcassonne, for example), gone through all of that just to have this one little stress completely off of my  plate.  And here it’s been regurgitated, right back onto my plate.  But I have to remember that if I were in France right now, it would be National Joy Day!!  So I’m taking my husband’s advice, “Jenn-ee-fère, zen!!!”  Ok.  I’m zen.  No really, I am.  I’m on the Amtrak, the “high-speed” Amtrak with free WiFi, and they have a bar.

I called the National Passport Service to see what could be done.  It seems that the expedite process to receive a new passport takes 2-3 weeks if done by mail.  If I get an appointment at the regional office in Chicago and go back there to get it, it can be done in a day.  I think that’s what I’m going to have to do, because I’m leaving for France on June 17, and the visa could take up to 21 days to receive.  I know from last year, when I did the same exact thing, that I got it back in one week.  Zen.  I’ll get an appointment to get an expedited passport, and once I have it I will hand deliver it to the French Consulate.  Zen. Then I’ll certainly receive it by mail before my departure on the 17th.  Zen.

I don’t want to do the trip alone again.  I’m going to have to find a friend to come along.  Then there’s the problem of work.  How can I take off another day when there’s only one week of school left?  Can’t miss Wednesday afternoon, though.  My colleagues in the Foreign Language Office are taking me out to a French restaurant for lunch.  Happy Joy Day!!

“Honey, Could You Get The Phone?” or “How to Avoid Answering the Phone in France”


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The first time we moved to the South of France was about fifteen years ago.  François and I had just gotten married, and I had a BA in French and was about halfway through an MA in French, so I thought I would be fine.

And now, everyone who has lived through a similar experience takes a moment to chuckle.

How was I supposed to know everyone would speak so fast, and I sure didn’t know the people who live in the South have an accent!  This Louisiana girl was doomed.  Not quite doomed it seems, because it was that year in France that allowed me to gain the confidence to believe in myself and speak.

During the whole year that we lived there, I never got used to speaking French on the phone.  I would take off running across the apartment to lock myself in the bathroom, forcing my sweet husband (or even my seven year old son who was just learning French) to answer anytime the phone rang.

Does anyone else have a story to tell about speaking “book French” once you arrived in France for the first time?

 

 

 

Yoo-Hoo, Expats? I Need Your Advice.


Unknown-1If you’ve even started to read this post, I’ll assume       you’re willing to maybe give me a little advice.  As the title suggests, it’s mostly for people who have had the experience of moving abroad.  However, I would sure like to know how you all feel about this.

Last summer (when we THOUGHT we were moving to France, but it didn’t work out:   Putting France on Hold…. Hanging in there in St. Louis), we reserved a 20-foot container:  What we’re going to put in our 20-foot container .  We put down a deposit, and it will be applied toward our balance even a year later (it doesn’t expire).  The problem is that it is still going to be very, very expensive.

Now we are just wondering if we really need a 20 foot private container.  Would a shared container be enough?  It sure would be a lot cheaper.  If we shared one instead, we would have to be very selective with what we bring, and we hadn’t planned on that.

UnknownHere’s the big question:  

Should we bring less (and pay less), ultimately having to purchase a lot of what we will need once in France?

Should we pay more and have pretty much everything we will need to set up house?

Please tell me what you think.  It’s a hard decision to make on our own, so I’m depending on you 🙂

Here’s a short list of what we were planning to bring: What we’re going to put in our 20-foot container .