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!

What is the hardest part about living in Paris?

Bonjour,

You may be thinking my answer would be our struggle with the frustrating French bureaucracy? Nope, to be honest if you have all your paperwork in order and are 110% mentally prepared to deal with whatever type of drama they throw at you, you will be able to get what you need done. Additionally, we pay a fortune to have a lawyer accompany us to our appointments which takes most of the annoyance off our shoulders. Well then, it must be not being able to speak French, oui? After almost three years living here (in March 2021) we have gotten by fine with our basic French and lots of sign language. Most French people speak more English than they let on. Plus our ten year old translator has made things a piece of cake!

So what could be so hard about living in the prettiest, most sentimental city in the world?!

Something I completely took for granted when I lived in our home in Los Angeles…DELIVERIES!

I have been an avid online shopper since Amazon only sold books! I ordered everything from our weekly groceries, all our clothes, to Antz contacts online. I enjoyed the convenience, was able to hunt for great deals and I admit, nothing felt more satisfying than getting a package delivered. It totally feels like Christmas. Our house in Los Angeles had a locked gate so the delivery person had to ring our doorbell to deliver a package. This was how I received 75% of my packages. In the rare instance I wasn’t at home, they would just toss it over our fence (which was covered in ivy) in our front yard so the package was hidden and even though they tossed a few fragile items into our thorny rose bushes, we rarely lost a package. I have to say, nothing prepared me for how the delivery system worked functioned in Paris. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t!!

Our first two months in Paris we were staying at a temporary house swap so I wasn’t shopping online as often as I normally would. The few times I needed to order a package, we discovered that the post office wouldn’t leave packages unattended at our building if they didn’t fit inside the mailbox. So I would have to take the note the postperson left to the post office around the corner, then show my passport to pick up my package.

The apartment we were staying in was in a gated building on a private street so we didn’t encounter any issues with accessibility. We benefitted by getting friendly with our awesome next door neighbors who would take our packages for us if we weren’t home. The few times we had to pick up packages from La Poste was exciting for Liv and me (at first). Then, I started shopping online more regularly and instead of having to go to the post office, we had to go pick up our packages from shops in the neighborhood (in French a package is called a colis). These places were usually Mom and Pop businesses (like a shop that repairs cell phones or a print shop) that would hold packages as a side business. The shopkeepers we encountered were disorganized and slow. Most of the stores had erratic business hours so if we went after school to pick up at package at 4:30, they would already be closed for the day. The problems really started when I would get an email saying my package was attempted to be delivered but it wouldn’t say where, only saying it was delivered to a local business with no address. Thus began the package scavenger hunt. There was even a few times Antz and I had to make a long trek outside of Paris to the UPS distribution center to pick up my package even though there was no attempt to deliver to our address. Fed Ex packages were the easiest to pick up because there is a store in Opera that was a nice bus ride away and they have the best customer service and tracking system. However it’s the most expensive shipping option.

Then we moved into our apartment. We don’t have a concierge which is someone who handles issues of the building. So everything was a learning curve to figure out how to get our packages. It took several trips to the three post offices in our neighborhood to find out which one we were assigned to. Then we discovered that our packages were being delivered to the store on the street level of our building. We built a friendly rapport with the African couple who owned the business and the woman was nice enough to wave to us everyday. Sadly, last summer they closed the business and a new owner moved in that didn’t take packages (to our dismay) and even though they were just as friendly, we had no idea where our packages would end up. My Mom sent us a huge care package that cost me $100 to ship from LA. It took almost a month to arrive and tracking the package was a joke. The US Post office website said the package arrived in Paris customs but I couldn’t track the package beyond that. The package was no longer tracking from the USPS service once it arrived in France and La Poste did not have any record of where it was because it didn’t have a French tracking number. My Mom would ask me everyday for a month if the package had arrived. You guys, the frustration was at an all time high!

When I finally tracked down the package I was shocked to have to pay a huge import duty fee! My Mom didn’t know at the time but she declared an extremely high value of the items she shipped. She thought the higher the value the more insured it would be in case it was lost and that ended up costing me another $100 for maybe $40 worth of items. It got even worse when I shopped my first Black Friday online. I was thrilled to find my favorite US stores were now shipping to France, so I placed big orders since we were furnishing our new apartment. However I was not paying attention to detail during checkout and I seemed to overlook the disclosure that import duty fees were my responsibility. I was hit with over €300 in import fees when the packages finally arrived months later. There have even been a few occasions when the delivery person require a duty fee at our door in cash. A few times I had cash on me but if I didn’t have change, the delivery person would smugly keep the rest as an involuntary tip. Now I keep change in a bowl with our keys for deliveries.

So, you must be thinking, yeah Liz everyone has their own delivery horror story, it’s not as bad as you describe. Let me tell you the most recent tale of the lone yellow sneaker.

But first let me tell you about the evilest, most vile company to ever exist…Chronopost. Our first Christmas in our new Parisian apartment was festive, perfectly wintery and my most miserable time because of the stress stupid Chronopost put me through. I thought I had learned from my past shipping mistakes so I ordered most of my gifts online months before December. I even paid extra for insurance because I knew my packages had a tendency to disappear. This particular package I ordered from a shop in LA, only allowed priority shipping to guarantee it would arrive before Dec 15th. It cost me as much as the items in shipping but I was determined to get my package in time. Other packages began to arrive but this was still during the time we had no working interphone (the outdated phone that allows us to buzz people into our building) so when a delivery person rang our bell, we would have to throw on our shoes, and run downstairs before they left. I had a 79% success rate.

Yep, there goes one of my packages because our dumb interphone didn’t work and I missed them. The worst part was they never leave a note saying when they will return so I would have to wait days and hope I don’t miss them again. Once I missed a delivery and they shipped the package all they way back to my Mom in LA!! I ended up losing $60 in shipping costs and my understandably irritated Mom told she was going to stop sending us packages.

As you can tell, I was getting at my wits end with these packages. I continued to track the expensive package with Liv’s Christmas presents which was promised to arrive in early December (no later than Dec 15th). Around that same time France’s bus drivers and Metro staff decided to go on strike (La Grève during the holidays, perfect timing). For weeks public transportation came to a halt and so did most deliveries. La Poste has a company they outsource to deliver packages called dumb Chronopost. The delivery guys are (how can I put this delicately?) the worst at their job ever!! They obviously give zero fucks about their job and it shows. They don’t wear uniforms like La Poste employees do so it harder to spot them. They are so hard to deal with, even if you speak French it’s nearly impossible to get your package. They will leave your package with any random person and be like I delivered it. I am not joking, I have walked down our street and went into every single shop asking if they had my package. Ask any French person what do they think about Chronopost, I bet you $100 they will roll their eyes. So I see my package had arrived in Paris on-time but it was sitting in customs for a few days. Understandably, customs is like the mafia, they need their cut so they hold packages hostage until you pay a ransom but they release the package usually about a day or two. After Dec 15th came and went I started getting nervous so I asked Liv to call to see what’s the hold up. Guys, the Chronopost people on the phone yelled at us, hung up on us, literally asked me “What do you want us to do about it?” and I got into a screaming match with a horrible woman on the phone after she raised her voice at Liv. I was losing my mind because I spent so much money to make sure this package would arrive before Christmas and no one would help me get it. Finally one person took pity on me after days of abuse over the phone. She suggested I go to the distribution center and pick it up myself. Sure! Great idea, however there was a strike so I couldn’t take public transportation. I had to go to Gare Nord train station and find a taxi driver willing to drive me half an hour outside of Paris and back home. After frustrating negotiations I finally talked the driver down to €100 (insane but I was desperate) that I would pay upon our return home (I didn’t trust him to wait for us and I didn’t want to get stranded). In the taxi on our way there, the Chronopost person called me to tell me my package may not be at the location after all. I was only a few blocks from the train station so I explained to the driver the trip is cancelled. He pulled over and locked the doors and said “€100!” in French. Olivia and I were pretty much being kidnapped in this taxi driver’s smelly car until we paid him. I was raging internally but I politely explained, he only drove us 5 blocks and I wasn’t paying him €100. I tried to compromise and said I would give him €20 because of the inconvenience and it was all the cash I had on me. He called his boss and yelled into the phone while I called Antz and told him I’m probably going to be on the news that night if this fool wouldn’t let me out of the car. After arguing with his boss and himself for a long time he snatched the €20 out of my hand and let us out but can you see how absolutely livid I was at this point. I called Chronopost again as it was now three days before Christmas and that’s when I snapped. I threatened to sue, I asked to speak to everyone’s manager, I Karened like no Karen you have ever seen before. I was walking home during the call so Liv had to ask me to calm down because people were staring. Long story short, the lady on the phone rudely asked me “What you gonna do there is no way you will get it before Christmas?” and I just started crying. Liv had no idea why I was so upset because I couldn’t tell her it was her Christmas presents. The store that charged me the ridiculous shipping fee really felt bad about it but they shipped the item to France on time as promised and they had nothing to do with customs or Chronopost’s bullshit. So Christmas came and went without the package. I had other stuff for her to open on Christmas morning and she didn’t show any disappointment about the package finally arriving three days later. I learned a valuable lesson to never trust companies that say they will get a package to you in time overseas but I’m still raw about the whole ordeal.

My friend Leslie in LA has sent packages to me and most of the time it was surprisingly hassle-free! I really need that teacup. My sweet kid wearing her late Christmas gift (a kigurumi in Japanese) pajamas that she hasn’t taken off since last year! My spirits were lifted by the beautiful gift wrapping skills of my endlessly patient husband who has to hear the brunt of my rants. F-U Chronopost, you are trash!

So back to the story of the missing shoe! Last month I couldn’t help but do a little Black Friday shopping. I know, I’ll never stop putting myself through this drama. I had a credit with Madewell that was expiring soon and they were having such a huge sale, I decided to order some things for Antz and myself. Well, I knew if I shipped it directly to France it would take forever and cost me an arm and a leg so I decided to send it to my bff Aimee’s address. She got the package in LA and was able to send me some things I needed along with some stuff for Liv. I was feeling good about it because I knew I saved so much with the sale and Aimee shipping it, I was finally coming out ahead. Plus there was no pressure to get the package in a hurry. Well, one morning our doorbell rang which was strange because it wasn’t our building’s loud interphone buzzer that is from outside the building but the doorbell inside the building. Antz answered the door and it was our upstairs neighbor (who we never met before) with a package saying it was ours. This has never happened before but he accepted it and the neighbor left before we could inquire further. It was the box Aimee sent a few weeks earlier and it looked like this.

We have seen damaged boxes before but this one takes the cake. There was a bunch of stuff inside and luckily nothing was damaged however when Antz was taking everything out he noticed there was only one of my New Balance sneakers in the box. I told Aimee to just send the shoes without the shoebox so it would weigh less. Just like Cinderella, I took off downstairs hoping to find (not my Prince) but the Chronopost delivery guy while holding my one yellow sneaker. Of course, he was nowhere in sight (not like I could tell since they don’t wear uniforms) but I did bump into our postman so I tried to explain the story in my terrible French and showed him the shoe. He kindly made a call on his cell phone (it sounded like he was calling the delivery guy). He asked me to text the photo of the shoe to him along with my address which I did. He told me to go home and wait for the delivery guy to return. Hooray, I was feeling hopeful!

This was about three weeks ago and I’m still waiting to hear from the delivery guy. I know I will never find my lost shoe so I had to call (with Liv’s help) La Poste and file a claim (which I seriously doubt they will reimburse me). I guess I’m going to start a new mix & match sneaker trend with my lone shoe. I was more amused than upset about it and luckily I got the shoes on sale for $40 so it wasn’t that huge of a loss. I was more excited that my Hello Kitty mask survived in the destroyed box.

Aimee has been regularly sending us packages since we moved here. I jokingly call her my mule because when she comes to Paris to visit us, she brings an entire suitcase full of stuff from LA. She has been my Target shopper for things I can’t find anywhere in Europe (my particular deodorant brand, Liv’s multivitamins and seasoning Antz cooks with have been our top requests).

I have been fortunate enough to find items like my natural hair shampoo and conditioner at beauty supply shops near our apartment (even though they are much more expensive for smaller sized bottles). We also found a few American specialty stores in Paris. One of our favorite is called In Good We Trust located in le Marais where we shop for things like baking soda, cake mix and hard to find American grocery items.

I made a TikTok video about the shop that got over 11,000 views so the shop owner gave Liv a free gift (red velvet cake mix) for promoting his biz. BTW, Follow me on TikTok!!

In Good We Trust
67 Rue Quincampoix
75003 Paris

11:30am – 8pm (Closed Mondays)

We don’t buy ranch dressing but I know many expats who can’t live without it. About once a month we go to stock up on items but it’s quite expensive so we try to stick to necessities (no $14 cereal for Olivia!) There is another American shop on the Left Bank called The Real McCoy. We have gone there three times and it was only open once. They said they closed early due to the Yellow Jacket protests but I was annoyed they don’t stick to their listed hours.

As much as I am grateful for these type of shops I would love to help them out with their inventory because they often stock candy that is readily available in all Parisian grocery stores (Americans don’t just eat M&Ms). I would be elated if they carried Secret deodorant and Aveeno daily moisturizer so I wouldn’t have to ship it from the US.

The Real McCoy
194 Rue de Grenelle
75007 Paris

11am – 7pm (Closed Sunday/Monday)

There are some things I have yet to find in Paris even though folks insist are available. For instance, liquid vanilla extract. I was only able to find it in powder form but it tastes too grainy when I bake cookies. Speaking of baking, there is no baking soda or baking powder. I have tried to substitute with the French biocarbonate and it failed miserably. I am lucky that my amazing friend Leslie sends me a supply from Trader Joes and Japanese snacks for Liv!

There are somethings I can go without but Ziploc freezer bags isn’t one of them. I packed a bunch when we first moved here but we used them up right away so I had maybe five left to last us for months. I also couldn’t find scotch tape with a dispenser that actually worked. I bought a 10 pack from Amazon for double the price but French brand tape annoys me! These are the real issues expats face abroad (along with double tax returns, constantly adapting to a new culture, being thrown into a way of life that is often impatient and confusing).

Well, this has been theraputic. I always feel like I need to add the disclaimer that I am beyond lucky to live in this wonderful city with all it’s charm and faults. I would love the French to get their delivery system under control but as the song says…

Bonne soirée