Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top five: first impressions of France

I was in France for two weeks in November, and there were some things that really struck me about the country and the people. I'm sure there will be many more cultural shocks to come once I'm actually living there, and I guarantee they will be documented on this very blog, but I thought I would introduce you to the first things that caught my eye.

View of the Rhone, Lyon

  1. Everybody smokes. OK, not literally every single person, but waaaaay more people than in the US. (Those gross PSAs here must be working!) There are cigarette butts everywhere on the street, and hanging out with my boyfriend and his friends felt like being in bars before they banned indoor smoking. I even started smoking - minimally, I assure you - while I was there.
  2. Razor scooters are everywhere. In fact, they are a legitimate mode of transportation for people of all ages. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to see a grandma scoot by me on the sidewalk on a Razor scooter! I get it - the sidewalks and streets are narrow (see #5), and you can fold them up to take into work or onto the subway - but man...I laughed so hard when I saw people commuting to work on those things. 
  3. I am overweight. Time to address the elephant in the room (pun intended). French women, and men, are generally quite thin. I found myself constantly comparing my physique to the women around me, and I lost the contest every time but maybe twice. I don't know if it's lifestyle, genetics, diet, or what, but I definitely intend to find out, and then use it to my advantage. It's no fun being the "fat American."
  4. Damn you, delicious French pastries!

  5. Toilets are in the closet. I'm not exaggerating. In the homes I visited, the toilet was in a tiny little room that doubled as a storage closet. I peed next to vacuum cleaners, old books, and cleaning supplies. It was...interesting. 
  6. The streets are TINY. I didn't realize just how wide our streets are until I saw European streets. Like, wow. Most of them can't be much more than just one car width wide! And people ask if I'm going to drive over there? Aw hell no!!
I only have two more weeks to enjoy genuinely American things in their natural habitat, such as ubiquitous commercials for fast food and delivery pizza, supermarkets open until midnight, massively wide streets, and 8-lane freeways, so I better make the most of it!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

France, here I come!

Well, it's official: I'm moving to France in January!! Hooray!!! I just got my passport back from the French Consulate, complete with visa inside. It's taken several to-do lists and a few sleepless nights to get here, but today I can claim success.

So now I get to finish my preparations for the move, safe in the knowledge that I have permission to stay in France for a year. I haven't been blogging about the process of getting the visa - I found a VERY helpful blog that told me almost everything I needed to know, so I don't want to reinvent the wheel by repeating everything here - but I will tell you about the most important things that I learned.

  1. Be prepared. I made sure to have all the paperwork and documentation that I would need for my application, even to the point of excess, so that I would have a complete application packet when I arrived at the Consulate in Chicago. For example, for my proof of income/support, I submitted six months of bank and investment statements, instead of the typical three months of statements. I also brought copies of my marriage certificate and divorce papers in case they wanted proof of my marital status. I'm sure it bordered on paranoid, but I was not about to take any unnecessary chances.
  2. Be patient and polite. When I arrived for my appointment at the Consulate, not only was I called to the window nearly an hour after my scheduled time, but I was also told that I had the wrong medical insurance coverage (the requirements were not anywhere on the website that I could find, so it was an unpleasant surprise). I was super stressed out and ready to put my bitch face on, but the Consulate employee was just doing his job, and to be frank, I needed something from him and his office. I kept my cool, remained polite, and thanked him very much for explaining the requirements...and then started bitching as soon as I left the building.
  3. There are very specific requirements for the International Medical Insurance you carry. I needed a zero deductible policy with at least $50,000 coverage, and repatriation expenses fully covered. I had already bought a policy through Cigna Global Health, so I had to change the policy. Of course, I freaked out about getting my Certificate of Insurance quickly enough, but Cigna offered exactly what I needed and they issued my updated certificate in just a day or two. (Sidenote: I highly recommend Cigna if you are looking for expat medical insurance. Great customer service, tons of policy options, and you can do everything online OR via phone with their fabulous employees. Hi Scott!)
I also have to say thank you to all my amazing peeps who are supporting me through this process. It happened crazy fast - I decided to move just two months ago! - and if it weren't for all these wonderful people around me who I get to call my friends, I would be a hot mess. Y'all know I love you!!

So now my preparations enter Phase 2: The Moving. Anyone want a crock pot?