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

Decorating a Parisian apartment with color!

Coucou,

It has been awhile since I have posted an update on our Parisian apartment. I have gotten so many compliments from visitors who tell me that our place looks so LA. Yet, I didn’t plan to go for a Californian vibe intentionally but I suppose you can’t take the LA outta ya girl.

Searching for an apartment in Paris can be as competitive as getting into an Ivy League university. There is so much demand and very few places available within an affordable price range so many people have to make compromises when apartment hunting. We were in the same boat so when we saw our place, I had to look past the messy girl who was living here at the time. We needed a place fast and we were only planning to lease for one year so we weren’t too picky over minor details. For example, I really wanted our place to have ornate crown molding and a quintessentially French chandelier. Well, the light fixtures in our place are pretty much non existent and we have basic crown molding with just the tiniest amount of French charm for me to be happy. I asked our property manager if they had time to paint a fresh coat of white but they said we could paint it ourselves, at our own expense. Another reason we chose our place (besides the location and the size) was it came fully furnished.

I should say I feel very lucky to even have white-ish walls because many apartments we looked at were very orange, red and lime green. We were happy we didn’t have to spend a fortune on basic pieces of furniture and I can’t believe the Maison Chateau Rouge x Monoprix home line released the same week we moved into our place. I bought many accessories to add a much needed punch of color. I love the light we get from our gorgeous floor to ceiling windows and the layout works perfectly for our family of three. Antz and I still can’t believe we got this place in our dream location!

There are two choices when renting in Paris, furnished or unfurnished. The latter is not what you may be used to in the US. An unfurnished apartment means there is no kitchen. In most cases that means no sink, no appliances and no cabinetry. Oui, you will find an empty room with pipes coming out of the wall. However, a furnished apartment is equipped with everything you would need down to your dishes, forks, spoons and knives. Our apartment had obviously been rented by students due to the choice of furniture and the wear and tear of the inventory. We happened to end up with some Asian style pieces that I would never in a million years choose for our place but I knew I could tolerate it for a short term stay. We moved in under the impression it would only be for a year and then we would move back in our lovely, newly renovated house in LA. So we packed away a majority of their kitchen items and the linens and bought our own basics from good ole’ Ikea. If I knew we would be staying here permanently from the start, I would have invested in higher quality dishes and cookware but we shipped as much of our things from LA as we could fit in a shipping pod, what we bought is fine. Poor Antz had to account for hundreds of items from a list I sent him and sort them by what to ship to Paris, what to store at my Mom’s house in California and what to sell or donate. When it got down to the wire, not everything I wanted made it to Paris (I really wish our Christmas decorations were shipped but we really have no room to store them) and more items ended up being donated than I would have liked but he had such a huge undertaking, I can’t complain about the results. Thanks sweetheart!

So our pod shipped from LA in September and didn’t arrive here in Paris until late January. It took the longest around-the-world journey but we are grateful it arrived in relatively great shape. During the months of waiting, I would have panic attacks that our ship would be invaded by pirates (they still exist right?) or a giant rogue wave would knock our container off the ship. I know, I watch too many movies but my life’s precious treasures were packed in that box so I imagined the worst case scenario. Only two pieces were damaged during the move.

I still don’t know how Antz and I managed to unload 60 boxes into our place in less than an hour but I will admit that I could have kissed our building’s elevator that day.

So, after a year of living practically out of suitcases and decorating our apartment without spending much money, we were finally able to start making the place more like our permanent home. I relied on covering the bad furniture with as many colorful textiles and accessories as I could.

Our apartment was quite bare bones on the day we moved in. There was an inventory of all the items and furniture the apartment came with. I was so giddy about moving into our version of a Parisian pied-à-terre, I barely paid any attention to the condition of their old stuff. As soon as the rental company girls left I literally threw all the stuff into boxes and shoved it into our only tiny closet.

We went from having three closets and a two car garage to this one walk-in closet for all our storage. It’s a miracle we are able to figure out where to put everything. When we first moved in, we could tell the last tenants did not clean at all. Guys, I’m not even joking there was a cheap TV that wasn’t plugged in attached to a freaking VCR! They also had a Sony radio set up that did not work. Too bad I didn’t bring my old CD collection with me.

I can’t stand the couch that our place came with but that’s what you get with a furnished apartment. I threw some blankets and pillows over it and try to ignore it’s existence. The bare walls made me a little crazy so I put up my Rifle Paper Co banner just for something to look at. I had to use the hooks that were already in the wall so it says “jolie maison” which means pretty house.

Our hallway/breakfast bar is a convenient space for Liv to do her homework and a crafting area but there isn’t much I could do with those contemporary stools. They are not very comfortable but nothing else really fits in the awkward space and if I replace them I would have to leave the new stools in the apartment when we move.

The shower head in the bathroom was broken and barely any water pressure. There is no hope for this tiny bathroom. We scrubbed it clean as best we could and I added a few bins to store my hair and beauty products. The only redeeming quality it has is the heated towel rack which is lovely in the winter.

It still hasn’t been properly repaired but at least Antz found a way to prop it up so we don’t have to hold the showerhead (when I see bathrooms with a handheld shower, I’m always curious to how they manage to bathe like that). I was super annoyed that whoever designed the tile in the bathroom for chosing a beige grout that appears to look dirty. I bought a cool shower curtain from Etsy but we can’t figure out how to install a curtain rod around that useless glass partition. I also couldn’t find any bleach to properly scrub and sanitize the weird toilet. We even had a maid come in to clean but this room needs a complete renovation.

Our living room is a comfy spot (not you ugly couch!) Lola loves to sunbathe next to the windows. I am so happy Antz brought some of his artwork because it really transforms the space. The only two pieces of furniture we shipped was our gray armchair and a bedside table. Our books are everywhere but I don’t mind books as clutter. It gives us a reason to look at them more.

The kitchen is the most eifficient room of the apartment. We are happy that we were able to fit most of my dishes and kitchen stuff in the little space. Antz brought my crockpot and waffle maker from LA but we have only used the waffle maker so far. I’m scared to plug in the crockpot with an American adaptor because… fire. I bought the cutest Smeg tea kettle for Christmas although Liv is the only regular tea drinker in the family. Our egg rug is still holding on almost fourteen years later.

I will say, the best investment we made in our place was replacing the washing machine. I can’t wrap my head around the French people who dry their clothes on racks. We had to do it for a few months and I almost went crazy with having to iron everything and our towels would never fully dry. We spent almost €40 everytime we went to the laundromat to dry our clothes. We bought a dual washer/dryer and although it takes forever (the French do not like wasting too much water so every appliance is eco-friendly) it’s a million times better than going to the laundromat.

Antz works in an office space in Liv’s room which is great because if he has a work call, he closes the French doors and shuts the curtains. We were lucky that the last tenant left an office chair so we didn’t have to buy a new one.

Here is the before and after of Liv’s room. This was my favorite room to decorate. Eventually I want to change out the mirror to a more French style.

Her room looked like this for the first year before we got our container from Los Angeles. Now her room looks like this. All the colors!!

It was easy to inject color in Liv’s room. We bought some yarn from the lovely craft supply store La Droguerie and Antz and Liv made these colorful pom poms for her Ikea lamp shade. The Thundercat figures are from Antz office, he has many more toys and collectibles but there was no space to display them here so they are in our storage shed at my Mom’s. We stacked her books in front of her fireplace because we have no bookshelf space. I bought her blanket from Anthropologie last Christmas. It was drama getting that package and the import fees were insane but I think totally worth it. I was happy to replace the broken bedside table with a white table from Ikea that just fit the tight space. Now her Miffy lamp has a home. Her grandma sent some gifts last Christmas and the whale nightlight fits right in.

I bought this gumball rack from Domino when we still lived in LA but I never had enough wall space to use it. It fit perfectly next to her armoire and she has a place for her cute bags.

There wasn’t a curtain in Liv’s room so I used my beloved Rifle Paper Co tablecloth and it has worked well for the past two years. The owl lamp is from Ikea. Olivia is going through a Japanese kawaii phase (check out her tiktok) so she has requested a makeover of her room for her birthday this year. I have started ordering new bedding/accessories and I’m excited to give her room a new, fun look. There is a shop here called Hema that has really affordable items.

Our bedroom has made a big color change too. I wasn’t able to pack to all my bedding from our house in LA so I have been taking advantage of the soldes (sales in January) from my favorite shop in Paris, Merci. I want every color of the rainbow in their linens.

I liked the minimalist design of our bedroom at first, however, not having a headboard wasn’t comfortable. We also lacked storage. I couldn’t take the empty walls and shelves much longer. I ordered a new bed frame that has storage inside to hold all my bedding and a larger mattress.

I am not an interior designer, I just like to be surrounded by pretty things. I have so many challenges like hiding Lola’s huge litterbox or finding places to store all our suitcases, so I use bins and crates for everything. I found these adorable, collapsible bins in pastels colors.

These bins now hold my clutch purses, my camera accessories and I got some bigger ones for Liv’s craft supplies and Antz felting wool. I am obsessed with them.

Well, tomorrow is my birthday which also happens to be the first day of spring. We are on day four of a fifteen day quarantine in France so we spent the entire day doing some major spring cleaning. Since we are stuck inside our apartment for another week or so, I put our new spring bedding out and it has cheered me up so much!

Thanks for checking in and I hope everyone stays safe and positive during this tough time.

a tout!

Expat Life: Two Years Abroad

Bonjour,

Today marks our second year living in Paris! It is still surreal that we have packed up our life in Los Angeles and moved into a 700 square foot apartment in beautiful Paris. At the beginning of the year we met with our immigration attorney to apply for a Passport Talent, which is a four year residency card that would allow Antz to work as a freelance artist. Another benefit of this card is we will receive access to French healthcare. The hard part for us is we will start paying French social services (just like the US public programs, the French pension which is similar to social security) which will be 25% of our income. Our long term goal is to apply for a resident card so we have to show proof of paying these taxes anyway. Antz and I will have to take a French verbal and written test so we will have to crank up our studies. We won’t find out if we got the Passport Talent until April so for now I am crossing my fingers and toes and asking for all the good vibes we can get!

In the meanwhile, we are still loving life in Paris. 2020 has been the warmest winter in France so most days are sunny even though we still have to wear our coats and scarves. I don’t think we will get snow but hopefully we will find some during our upcoming trip to Copenhagen for spring break.

My birthday is in a few weeks. I am super stoked because my favorite video game ever Animal Crossing is coming out with a new release on the same day! It’s called New Horizons and it looks so awesome.

I have played Animal Crossing ever since the first one came out on Nintendo GameCube back in the old 1900s!!! I was so bummed when I couldn’t hook up our Nintendo Wii to our computer monitor but we decided not to buy a TV because they actually have an annual tax on TVs in France. We use our iMac computer to stream TV on Sling, Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu and Amazon Prime so we don’t need a telly at the moment. Nintendo is releasing a rad Animal Crossing limited edition Switch so I pre-ordered one for my birthday gift. Liv and I are so excited to play! Let me know if you play too, I will post my friend code on my Instagram. Antz drew a cartoon me with my favorite Animal Crossing villager, cute Bunnie.

Occasionally he takes commissions so message him on Instagram Anthonyconleyart

I asked Antz to weigh in on our two years abroad and this is what he had to say:

✌🏽So two years have passed and these are some pluses and negatives.

😉Our door buzzer works now and it is great! No more running down stairs to open the door.

🤗We’ve discovered bacon exists at Marks & Spencer (a British grocery store).

🎨I am now working from home as a freelance artist which is nice because I can spend more time with the girls.

🤫We are on a path to getting a passport talent but I don’t talk too much about it cause I might jinx it.

😊I’ve been cooking a lot more (he’s an amazing chef!)

👎🏼 Negatives include, we’ll be paying french taxes soon.

👎🏼 Our plumbing in the shower still sucks!

Liv is in her third term of public school. She started in 2nd grade and is now in 4th grade. She loves her school and last week her class started swimming lessons which she really enjoys. I can’t believe California doesn’t offer swimming lessons given we live in such a sunny climate. Every French student learns to swim and that is such a great life skill to have. Extracurricular activities are included in the school curriculum and it is so helpful to no longer have to rush Liv to private swimming lessons and spend hours in traffic. Liv has started a new hobby on weekends, in French it’s called le roller. So many Parisiens skate, I bought her these peach Moxie skates.

We feel like we have a solid daily routine. Antz takes Liv to school and I handle pick up and ballet. We eat at home more than we did our first year which is saving us money. I recently went to an event at The American Library in Paris because a few of my expat friends were talking on a panel about what it’s like to be an expat in Paris as a person of color. It was so enlightening. I was happily surprised to see a crowded room full of Black expats, some who have been living here for decades and some who just arrived for a semester of school. It was cool to meet people who were going through the same challenges I have been through. I also was happy to venture across the river into the 7éme after dark alone. Lucky for me, my friend happened to be there and she took the Metro home with me.

I was so happy to join this illuminating discussion hosted by beautiful, intelligent ladies and I met a lovely reader of my blog 👋

It is so nice to have two whole weeks of school breaks instead of one week we had in LA. We just returned from a road trip in Germany (I’m excited to share a post from our Valentines day soon). Our next trip will be to Copenhagen which I am super excited about. I have always wanted to visit the Scandinavian countries and we are going to drive into Sweden for a day. I have so much planned!

It’s weird how fast these two tumultuous years have gone by. I have become accustomed to living in Paris yet I still don’t speak French fluently and I encounter issues that I have no control over.

Here is my list of great and not-so-great things about living abroad:

  • I feel like I have endless opportunities living in France that I no longer had in Los Angeles. I guess growing up in LA, I feel like I had been there, done that so many times that I got bored. Here, everything feels new and exciting. I still haven’t visited every museum, cafe, shop or park in Paris so there’s always something new to explore. I feel so much inspiration being here. I recently bought these gorgeous art supplies from Paper Fashion that I plan to use this spring when it’s warmer. I rarely draw or paint so this is outside of my comfort zone.
  • I love the freedom from being car-dependant. I occasionally miss my car because of the convenience and especially during colder days I would prefer my heated seats but our lives revolve around walking, public transportation or renting an e-scooter. I don’t miss the traffic or stress of the LA lifestyle. It’s refreshing to walk to Liv’s school and say hello to the guy who repaired my broken necklace, or stop and chat with the local baker. I never had relationships with locals on this level in LA because everyone was in their own busy bubble. There is a sense of take your time here and I notice more camaraderie among strangers because everyone walks. In LA, you spent so much time isolated in your car it wasn’t healthy. I breathe so much better and get more exercise (even though I hate sweating) taking a walk is so beneficial for your psyche.
  • Our finances have completely shifted. In LA, we were homeowners, we had two cars, we paid tuition for an expensive private school and we had to save for a short vacation once a year. Travel is such a priority to my well-being that I was depressed about not being able to travel more often. Now, we don’t have the burden of debt, mortgage or tuition, we are able to afford to travel more frequently. The best ways we can afford to travel are two factors; swapping our apartment and using my credit card points for car rentals. I still can’t believe I booked our flight to Copenhagen for €15 each.
  • We discovered Circus bakery! Their cinnamon buns are life-changing.
  • I wish I could figure out a solution for getting packages in a timely and drama-free way. This is something we Americans take for granted. I have pulled my hair out trying to track down lost packages, waiting weeks (sometimes even months) to get a package from the US. There is no system of accountability (May I speak to your manager only works in America) and the customer service here is close to non-existent. It was more stressful around the holidays because I paid so much money to ensure I would get my packages on-time but Paris had a transportation strike that made things difficult. A few days before Christmas I almost paid a taxi driver to drive me to the UPS facility outside of Paris just to pick up my package. The items were delivered two days after Christmas but I ordered them December 3rd with a arrival guarantee of December 15th. Nothing is on-time here and I’m still adjusting to that.
  • As many friends as we have made here, we spend more time together as a family than before. We really enjoy hanging out together. Liv and I share the same hobbies, we play Pokemon Go, hunt for Invaders and we like going to shops in Paris that sell cute kawaii items. We are already planning Liv’s kawaii themed 10th birthday party because I have learned my lesson and I am ordering all the supplies months in advance.

  • The language barrier, it isn’t really an issue in our daily lives however when it comes to administrative things like dealing with our landlord or visa stuff, it can be a nightmare. Google translate isn’t helpful when I really need to use it. You see, the French language is very idiomatic which can make translating it difficult. Imagine having to read the fine print in a contract written in legal terms. It’s English but I still don’t understand what they mean. All I hear is how adults talk on Charlie Brown cartoons.

    I translated a recent email and was left utterly confused. I get what they are attempting to say but it feels like it’s written by a robot.
Dear users,

No containment measure now applies to people who have stayed in risk areas (northern Italy, China outside Hubei, Iran ...).

Indeed, these stage 1 measures, intended to avoid the entry of the virus into France, are no longer useful according to health authorities as soon as the virus circulates in France. Only returnees from Hubei province or one of the two "clusters" of French territory (Oise and Haute-Savoie) are subject to such measures as a precautionary measure and until further notice.
 
Students living in Creil, Montataire, Nogent sur Oise, Villers Saint Paul, Lamorlaye, Crépy en Valois, Vaumoise, La Croix Saint Ouen and Lagny le Sec are therefore asked not to come to the conservatory until further notice and to inform the tuition department for the reasons for their absence.

These measures obviously apply to conservatory staff.
 
Thank you for your attention and the spirit of responsibility that you will be able to demonstrate alongside us.

The Directorate of Cultural Affairs


I endure this often and it leaves me feeling like a frustrated child. I also find it challenging the way Liv’s school communicates with the parents. I have such limited contact with the staff that I have to use a notebook to send and receive messages. This means Liv has the burden of giving us information from school and you can guess a nine year old isn’t the greatest at remembering things. I feel so out of the loop compared to how overly involved I was in her previous school. We rely on Liv for translating and that can be stressful for her. I feel so grateful that she is so mature and can take on such a task for her immigrant parents.

  • Sometimes I find myself annoyed with the French logic. Now that I’m an expat, I am more aware of cultural differences I never paid attention to before. For example, I observe people set you up for failure here rather than help you succeed and it feels frustrating to fall into these traps. We wanted to sign Liv up for her roller club. We were told by the skate shop to call 48 hours before the class to register. I called them on time and we were told the class was already full and we should have called sooner. Well, I followed the instructions on the class brochure so… sigh! When I signed Liv up for ballet, I asked several times how much would her lessons cost. For me, this is a big factor when I do anything, how much will it cost? Well, turns out the cost is determined by your tax level, ours being tariff 6 out of 10 (which is on the high end) so I had to go to city hall to get a form that proved our tax tariff. Once at the town hall, there was no one available to give me the tax letter. I had to go to another town hall to get it which was really inconvenient. I tried to set up an account online but there was a glitch in the system that no one could help me with. Weeks later, I finally got the tax letter and submitted the form in person. I was told I’ll get a bill in January and they didn’t know how much it will be. This all took place in September. Liv was in ballet class for four months before I even found out how much her classes were! I was relieved to finally get our first bill but I still have no idea how long we will be billed or what any future classes will cost. This is baffling to me but totally normal to French people. There is no real direct answer to questions. I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone at times but it’s manageable. Maybe I need to relax and go with the flow more but I am so accustomed to planning ahead and not being so last minute.
My sweet Mom sent us a care package with some fun toys inside 👽
  • Whoopsie! I forgot to update you on how Lola is doing. Grumpy old Lola is content as can be. She sleeps all day and drives me crazy because she’s up all night, meowing and using her litter (which is in our bedroom because it doesn’t fit anywhere else) 😩
    Lola has her own Instagram account now leavemealola she says to please follow. I am looking for a cat hotel to board her during our trip to Copenhagen in April.

Overall, as weird as this may seem, the annoyances are worth it. I know I appreciate simple things more. I encounter more friendly people than not. There are times when I tackle it like a game and I am determined to win the person over. I still am at odds with our apartment manager, she is the hardest nut to crack. I am so proud of our kid for her ability to adapt and thrive in an environment where she is often left to her own devices. I am tremendously grateful for Antz for making sacrifices left and right for us to have this incredible life. He left an amazing job, financial stability, his family and friends to move to this foreign place all to make us happy and if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

So again, thank you to my kind readers who have followed along on this journey with us. We feel supported and in good company. It really warms my heart when someone says to me they read my blog. I love making this connection and I hope to spark the expat fire in you! Throughout all the challenges, we only have this one life to live and I’d rather try and fail then not try at all and never open the possibility of succeeding.

Have a rad day!

Lizzie