03 April 2010

One Year In

We're now solidly into year 2 of our French adventure. This comes as a bit of a surprise, since when we arrived we were not sure that we would be here beyond 6 months. But with enough chaos after the merger, and the fact that the incredibly slow and cumbersome French bureaucracy is finally working for us, it looks like we'll be able to stay here through 2010.

So where are we? In many ways, about where I imagined we would be in April of 2009, not April 2010.

Cycling: Rolf arrived in Paris with newly broken ribs last year. The original plan had been that he'd be riding a lot, exploring the area around Paris and figuring out the best routes, which he could then take me on over the weekends. It took awhile to heal, we figured out some of the roads, after ribs healed then knees became an issue, but it has really been in the past few months that Rolf has been spending a lot of time riding around and really checking things out. We now have a bunch of good ways to get out of Paris by bike, and nicer rides to do. I'm starting to at least recognize places I've been through before, though since I usually don't go out by myself I still don't really know where I'm going most of the time. I did one long ride alone last year with the GPS, and when it freaked out and kept sending me in circles, I just followed the signs back to Versailles (on a highway that at least has a bike lane) and from there the GPS knew where it was, and even I had a pretty good idea of where I was and how to finish the ride. We've finally found a really good bike shop in Paris, and just in time, as bike parts seem to be falling apart right and left.

Cell Phones: I really really wanted an iPhone last year, but when we arrived it made little sense to buy one for the 6 months we'd be here. This year, we're in a better place with our cell phone supplier, having already fulfilled a year's service contract, and iPhones are better and cheaper. When my iPod died a week before we were to go anyway to renegotiate our contract (to arrange for fewer hours, since we never talk on the cell phones) that sealed the deal- I was getting an iPhone. It was the same price as a new iPod- what else could I do?? Rolf decided to go for it as well and got his own. And amazingly, here the monthly service is the same as what we were already paying for ordinary phones, and in 6 months we can get them unlocked, which will make them usable back home. Cool.

French language: I had a fantasy that somehow just being in France I'd pick up the language by osmosis. Since I spend all of my work day in an office on teleconferences with people in English, it hasn't happened. We made several half-hearted attempts to look into formal instruction, but Alliance Francaise, Berlitz, etc, were painfully expensive. I'm still on Rosetta Stone Level 1. I do read the free papers every day (Metro, Direct Matin/Soir, 20 Minutes, etc) and I'm able to understand a lot more both reading and listening. But my spoken French is abysmal.

Getting around Paris: I am now getting a much better sense of the city- of the different neighborhoods (Arrondissements) and where they are in relation to each other. The problem of getting around by Metro is that you go underground, travel, emerge somewhere different, and really don't know how you got from point A to point B, or what was in between. The layout of Paris doesn't help either- with lots of streets radiating from multiple circles or public squares- no grid. And the long streets change names repeatedly.

Living in Paris: We've got a pretty good grasp on Paris with regards to the things that make life comfortable- we know the best bakers, butchers, vegetable sources, fish markets, etc for specific food items, we are getting a better handle on how to negotiate day to day things, what are the French equivalents for what or how we do things, what to take advantage of in France (eg, Salon des Vins, Moroccan and Tunisian food), what to avoid in France (beer- go to Belgium; Indian food- UK; coffee- Italy or UK). Some things are still mysteries (can you get any restaurant type take out food delivered in Paris??) We love not having a car to worry about. Even with the frustration of constant strikes, my commute to work is much shorter and more convenient than in the US. I don't have a gym membership, but can easily run, and can ride most of the year before work to keep some marginal level of fitness. I can not get a good haircut in Paris- I've given up on the second salon I tried here, and am working instead with Rolf's haircuts in capitals of the world plan (next up- Berlin in May). I'm enjoying clothes shopping again, and may not dress nearly as well as your average French woman, but am generally much better attired than my previous US comfort-focused (aka frumpy) wardrobe. We're still exploring restaurants. There are only a few we've been back to more than once. For the most part, every Friday night is exploration night.

We're hanging out in Paris for the Easter weekend this year (I only get Monday off instead of both Friday and Monday this time around), but there's a whole bunch of travel (both for work and fun) coming up in the next few months. So more adventures to come.