Expat Life: Three years in Paris

Bonjour mes amis,

It’s the truest saying that time flies when you’re having fun, well three years has passed in a blink of an eye so here’s our annual expat update.

To be honest I have had the worst case of writer’s block imaginable. Ever since the first quarantine that began three days before my birthday in March 2020, I have been pretty depressed (as much of the world, I’m sure). Without being able to travel, most restaurants are closed and we have no idea when we will get our vaccines, we have been staying home as much as humanely possible. Olivia has been handling this limited lifestyle like a champ (her attitude is much better than mine). She now has ballet class via Zoom and plays video games with her friends online.

We are currently in our third (semi) lockdown in Paris. This means only essential shops are open, schools and workplaces are still open and there is a citywide 7pm curfew. You still need an attestation (permission slip) to travel outside the house. The government has allowed up to 10km for exercise but due to the warmer weather and longer days many Parisians are spending more time outdoors despite France’s Covid numbers remaining alarmingly high.

My second birthday in lockdown!

Our family has been inside our apartment since my birthday (my 4th 40th was last Saturday) for no reason other than we are playing it safe. January 2020 we officially were granted the privilege of paying a whooping 22% of Antz income into the French social system (medical, retirement and social charges) but we still haven’t received our medical cards. Which puts us in a vulnerable situation if any of us get sick. We have been trying to get our cards but the insurance office has been excruciatingly slow. Thus far only people over the age of 70 are eligible to get a vaccine and President Macron just suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine so we have no idea when we will get the shot. The US is finally gaining traction on getting everyone vaccinated at record speed (thanks to President Biden) but sadly now that more American states are lifting lockdowns and relaxing mask usage, there has an uptick in Asian American/Pacific Islander hate crimes and mass gun shootings. Sigh, lame white supremacy is thriving more than the virus.

Thank goodness we live in a golden age of filters

After what felt like the longest, weirdest year of our lives, we finally got some snow that I was secretly wishing for. It’s still fun for us Californians to wake up to falling snow. We can’t be the only ones because many people were outside playing in the snow with us.

Last night I rebooked our planned trip to Copenhagen for the fourth time and now I’m optimistically hoping to go in spring 2022. Que sera, sera. I wish the US government would extend everyone’s passport for an extra year since we haven’t been able to travel.

I don’t have much to update you on other than an entire year of puzzles, going viral on TikTok and baking more banana bread than I ever want to eat, I’ll share a story that happened a short time ago.

We survived a fire in our building!

You guys, it was so scary but also felt like we were in a movie. I was awake around 1:45 am (thank you, insomnia) when I heard a commotion upstairs in our building’s hallway. This is pretty frequent occurrence because there are some young neighbors who throw house parties that get a little rowdy late at night. This sounded like many people falling on the ground so I went to our door’s peephole to see if someone fell down the stairs. I saw the hall light was on so I opened the door just as I heard our neighbor saying “They don’t speak French.” she looked at me and said “There is a fire!” I immediately woke up Antz and told him the building is on fire! I woke up Liv and she immediately started crying and asking where’s Lola? I was running around the apartment while throwing on my coat screaming put on your coats and slippers. I grabbed our bag of passports and my backpack and threw in my laptop. I couldn’t think because my heart was in my throat. I didn’t know how bad the fire was at first but I smelled the smoke and started to see red embers from above our stairway. Antz tried to put Lola in her carrier but it wasn’t zipped so she just walked right out the other side so I gave him my backpack and took Lola. By the time we made it out our door (this all happened in less than a minute) there was a ton of people in our tiny stairwell. I couldn’t see what was blocking everyone but I also saw something falling in the hallway so we squeezed pass some slow moving folks. Then we saw some guys holding the ends of a blanket that was carrying the elderly woman who lives above us and were struggling to get her downstairs BECAUSE SHE WAS NAKED FROM THE WAIST DOWN!) I pulled Liv into my coat and they told us to go ahead past them. Antz offered to help but there was no room and they shouted in French to just go. I saw one guy in nothing but his underwear and sneakers. By the time we got to the ground floor I was able to get a sense of how many people were in our building. This was the middle of the night on Sunday morning so our street was deadly silent. I ran across the street with Liv and Lola and sat on the curb trying to catch my breath and calm Liv down. She was upset but also incredibly astute given the circumstance. Antz was hanging out in our lobby trying to offer help or see if anyone else was coming down. Liv started to panic that the building would collapse so he came outside. It took about 10 minutes before the fire truck arrived and I just sat on that icy curb holding Lola and Liv in my lap praying the rosary over and over while crying. It was surreal. I knew we had renter’s insurance but I wasn’t prepared to lose everything we owned. Liv kept crying and laughing saying how lame it would be to lose her newly-started manga (Japanese comic books) collection. Lola was surprisingly calm and didn’t try to escape my grasp. I was trying to offer whatever I could to some of my unfortunate neighbors, one who was heavily pregnant and barefoot in the 30 degree weather. I am lucky I keep my gloves, a scarf and water bottle in my bag. Our immediate neighbors who we are close with happened to be away on vacation so I left him a voicemail letting him know what happened. Turns out the pregnant woman is married to a fireman and he was the one who knocked on everyone’s door and got the firemen so quickly. She told us he was supposed to work that night, I was so grateful he was there with us (guardian angel). When the trucks arrived, they moved us into an apartment lobby across the street. We couldn’t tell if the bright glow from our apartment windows was the fire or Liv’s colorful nightlight. We waited in the lobby for about an hour when the police came and took everyone’s keys so they could check our apartments. Based on Olivia’s translation, the fire started by the elderly woman leaving a candle unattended. Her caretaker/nurse was fully dressed but barefoot (we asked Liv to translate what she was saying but Liv said everything she said sounded like gibberish). The elderly woman has terrible dementia so the fact that the caretaker didn’t notice the candle had me fuming.

After what felt like forever the firemen told us we were being moved to a hotel nearby. We all walked around the corner, my family all had our coats and our slippers but I don’t know how the other neighbors walked in pajamas with no coats, in socks and some barefoot on the filthy and wet ground!

Firemen gave us masks while were stuck in the dark hotel lobby for hours with no idea how our building was. Fortunately for us, we met a few of our English speaking young neighbors and said hello to some of the quieter ones that I’ve never seen before. Turns out the pregnant lady had her cat in a carrier box, she found some socks and her husband got her a coat too. One of our neighbors (who reeked of cigarette smoke) told Liv his two kitties hid under the bed and he couldn’t reach them. I took some random photos during the ordeal but they were all blurry because my hands were shaking so hard. Afterward I posted an Instagram video on my account when I was finally able to compose myself. I talk about the neighbor who lives upstairs in more detail and incoherently ramble while my adrenaline wears off.

Lola the grumpy cat has never behaved so well in her life, she was literally hugging me the whole time. This was our first encounter with a fire other than the wildfires in California which never were a direct threat to us. By 5 am the firemen finally told us we could go back into our apartments. Hooray! When you get that close to possibly losing your life’s possessions you start reflecting hard. When we were fleeing this dangerous situation, I thought, it’s just stuff but I was also regretting not grabbing Liv’s baby shoes (right there on my shelf) Antz getting his work laptop, and Liv was devastated thinking about losing all her stuff, it’s heartbreaking. Our tiny Parisian apartment has become the epicenter of our entire world and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing all the things we’ve collected over the years. Antz irreplaceable artwork and all my little keepsakes I’ve hoarded mean so much to me. I kept hugging my little family of four and reaffirming to myself, as long as we are safe, things will be fine.

The police drove us back to our building in their cool SUVs (our driver drove down the street backwards at a high speed as if we didn’t have enough adrenaline pumping that night) and tried their best to speak English to us. They assured us the building was safe and told us the firemen would return the next day to check the smoke levels. I was terrified our ceiling would collapse since the fire started right above our living room. We could see a huge pile of burnt wood on the sidewalk and the upstairs neighbor’s window was broken. The smoke wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be but it was too cold to sleep with the windows open. The damage wasn’t that bad other than the hallway carpets being soaked, the stairwell walls and floors were dirty and our mailbox door somehow ended up damaged. I was worried about our building’s tiny elevator but it just needed sweeping. Later we discovered our main door was broken so we can’t buzz people into our building again (see my last post about the door drama).

The firemen were super cute! I was blown away with how young they all were. When we got home we saw they had a table set up outside and they were drinking coffee (or wine?). They were pleased to find out we were Americans and they kept trying to speak to us in English. They measured our ceiling (definitely didn’t notice those sagging beams before) and we saw all the doors had codes written in chalk. Our elderly neighbor must have been taken to a hospital because she was taken away on a stretcher (with a blanket wrapped around her unclothed body!) and we haven’t seen or heard her again.

Now that we’ve been through that melodrama, I feel like veteran Parisians. The next day we washed and vacuumed everything in our place. I packed an emergency bag and Liv baked us a delightful cake for Valentine’s day. We were ecstatic to have a roof over our heads!

I finally got my visa renewed in February (Whoo-hoo!) and we are coming up on French tax season (d’oh!). We are going to try to take Liv to a park in northern Paris to see the cherry blossoms this weekend but I’ll have to confirm we are within our allowed 10 km. After a year of being quarantined, sadly we are kinda used to not going out and socializing. Liv and I are gamer/TikTok buddies so we are excited for all the new Animal Crossing New Horizons updates.

How has 2021 been for you so far? Any life-changing events? It’s so weird that I don’t have more to share but Covid has made everyone slow down and chill out on the hectic schedules we were so accustomed to. This has been my greatest achievement this year so far. We completed it in three days, a new record!

Au revoir!

2 thoughts on “Expat Life: Three years in Paris

  1. This might be too late or outside the 10 km zone (or it might not even be open during covid), but the Jardin Anne Frank (14 impasse Berthaud) has beautiful cherry blossoms. So sorry about the fire– glad you’re all okay.

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