How Long French Meals Made Our 10-Week Quarantine–Dare I Say It–Nice

If you’re new here, then you may not know that all of France has been confined to their homes since mid-March, and that my husband and I sneaked out of Paris the day before the mandate so we could spend our quarantine with his family in the countryside outside of Toulouse. Our apartment is tiny, so the option to spend two months in a large house with huge yard and vacant roads to walk down was a luxury we couldn’t pass up.

Mind you, that meant we’d have to share our quarantine with four other people: his parents, sister, and her boyfriend. They’re all lovely people, but I’m never too thrilled at the prospect of having to spend more than a few hours with any living human under normal circumstances, let alone an open-ended period of government mandated isolation. Given the apocalypse and all, I decided to chill-out on my misanthropic inclinations for a while and be the most generous and flexible version of myself I could be to hopefully make it through. Feeling bored, isolated, or irritated is after all the least of anyone’s problems right now.

I knew myself well enough to know it was of the utmost importance to spend as little time as possible with anyone in order to help keep the peace. I’m not that grumpy, but I need a lot of alone time, and I didn’t want our quar to turn into a groupthink, cruise ship itinerary, team sport situation. I was glad then when from the very first day everyone would retire to a different part of the house to work, intentionally reducing facetime with one another to avoid annoyance, perturbation, confrontation, or any variety of friction that might arise from this social experiment. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

But then lunch came along. Typically, my lunch consists of a few scraps of whatever, stuffed between what bit of baguette is left, eaten unceremoniously as I hunch over my laptop. The whole affair takes 12 minutes and is executed in total privacy. Therefore I was very uncomfortable when during our first quar lunch, all six of us sat around a table and went through at least four courses of food, while holding conversations. It was a Tuesday, a weekday lunch, and they seriously did the whole plat, fromage, yaourt, fruit, cafe, dessert thing together as a group, having full-fledged conversations all the while. I was tired from our journey to the countryside, confused and stressed from the pandemic, embarassed that I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and flabergasted at the pace of the dejeuner. I couldn’t wait until lunch was over to tell my husband “we can’t do that everyday, we’ll kill each other.”

After a few days of this, rules were put in place that stated that lunch would be fluid, would be BYO, DIY, eaten at one’s convenience. Clearly others in the party had felt similar feelings of claustrophbia at the thought of performing this hour-plus long ceremony twice per day. Dinner was likewise confining and was revised so that it would be cooked by 8:00pm but could be eaten in shifts at whatever time felt right for each couple. I felt the grip of French social norms loosen from around my neck.

couscous
Slowly but surely, hot sauce began to appear at every meal.

But. But. We didn’t actually change our patterns. We tried for a week or two to make space for variety and independence, but it just didn’t take. The urge to rebel against the practical dinner norms subsided, and once week 3 began I actually started to look forward to the group lunches and dinners. I don’t think I was the only one. I don’t know if it was Stockholm syndrome, an appreciation for the little things in the face of adversity, or a true heroes journey character arc, but I began to love exactly what I’ve always hated about the long French meal.

The promise of an uninterupted hour of peace, commeraderie, stories, and tasty treats actually began to be a welcome beacon on the horizon of each morning’s work. The “best practices” of my in-laws’ dining routine went from being mysterious, to irritatingly enforced, to understood and appreciated. The chocolate and biscuits taken with coffee after each lunch went from feeling excessive and calorie-ridden to delicious rewards. I was even sad on the few occasions my husband and I ate a quick lunch apart from the others if one of us had a work call during the lunch hour.

We took turns cooking each night, and it was interesting to try one another’s creations, praise their creativity, choke through their failures. I learned to love a lot of new French products I’ve never heard of, and I demonstrated to them the full range of foods that Tobasco can be enjoyed with (they had never put it on pizza before oh my god can you imagine).

The biggest benefit of these long meals was to our sense of time. Our strict adhesion to a one-hour lunch each day at 1pm and dinner at 8pm served as a clock for our quarantine, helped us stay productive and generally oriented in a world where there were few demands on our time, nowhere to be, and no norms to guide us. I’ve seen in my friends and experienced myself how this ordeal has played with one’s sense of time. I spent an entire day thinking it was Tuesday when it was in fact Thursday. I feel like I’ve been in this house for just two weeks but maybe also six months. Every day is the same yet somehow it’s gone from winter to early summer. But these two daily meals helped me organize myself, forced me to do yoga at 6:30pm otherwise I’d run out of time and never do it, force my husband to finally stop working for the day, forced daily walks and showers to be taken. As a freelancer, I work from home, eat at odd hours when it’s convenient, and never know what time I should work out because I have almost no constraints to work around. Without a nice little constraint, where does one even start?

The meals also gave us a moment to exchange news and updates about the world and ourselves. Did you hear the new rule about flying internationall? Did you know the Mairie is giving out masks? Did you know I won a new contract? We could “echanger des banalites” in this designated window, and leave each other the hell alone the rest of the day to preserve the afforementioned anti-tension measures of the rest of the day.

When we drive back to Paris on Thursday, back to our tiny apartment and tiny table, I will not miss having to devise a menu for six people some of whom are picky, I will not miss the hard mattress that’s been attacking my back for ten weeks, and I will not miss worrying that I cooked something too spicy. But I just might miss that sense of commeraderie and order we were able to create together twice each day.

All the New French Products I Tried While Quarantined With My French In-Laws

On this, the 7-week anniversary of our confinement here in France, I’m taking stock by thinking about the highlight of each day–meal times. Okay, for me it’s meal times and the walks because I’m trapped in a countryside town you’ve never heard of before called Bazus where the walks are lovely.

Because of the 1km rule, my walks don’t feature much variety, but the meals definitely do. This is because we’re quarantined with my French in-laws, my sister-in-law aka ma Belle Soeur, and her boyfriend. They all do the shopping because I wouldn’t trust the lone American in this quar to shop for five Frenchies if I were them, and thus, I have tried many new foods.

Back in Paris I freelance, and therefore I tend to do the shopping and cooking. I’ve been buying a lot of the same things over and over because A. I’m a taurus and I know what I like, and B. familiarity of products gives some structure to my confusing expat life. As a result I’ve been embracing this month of mystery meals by keeping my expectations low and my mind open. This is good advice for life in general these days.) Here’s a list of some of the discoveries I’ve made while being outnumbered by French eaters five-to-one for a month…

Danette

Expresso Danette
Expresso Danette

I can’t say I’m totally new to the glorious smoothness of Danette; I’ve had the pleasure of trying their pistache flavor which I highly recommend. My French family can’t really say what these are. I used the word pudding and they gave me a funny look, so they’re not pudding. They call them “creams” which might be a less gross word for pudding. Either way, they are devoid of nutritional value, smooth as a baby’s bum, and full of flavor. I still prefer the pistache to the expresso, personally.

Le Petit Basque – Caillé Vanille

Le Petit Basque – Caille Vanille

I still can’t say with authority what this food actually is. I know it’s a yogurt-like substance made of sheep’s milk. Like so many French products, it’s named after where it’s from, Le Petit Basque. It’s far lighter than typical French yogurt though, almost crumbly and a little watery. This one was allegedly vanille flavor but honestly it kind of tasted like vanilla yogurt water, but not in a bad way. It was interesting for a snack, not too rich, and anything of sheep’s milk is tasty. I don’t quite understand why it exists though and when one is supposed to eat it.

DeliChoc

Delichoc French cookie

I thought these were going to be like those beautiful, thick, decadent LU biscuits, because that’s what they look like. Don’t be fooled though. The biscuit attached to these isn’t that great and is pretty small. The chocolate isn’t nearly as decadent, and is kind of a crispy rice chocolate, like a Krackle if you will, which personally I find distracting texture-wise. Hard pass.

Lu Napolitain

Lu Napolitain
The more than adequate Lu Napolitain

Unlike the DeliChoc, this treat didn’t look that great but ended up being delicious, especially with strong coffee. Imagine if a Twinkie had slightly more texture and some splashes of chocolate, that’s what this Napolitain is like. I usually hate sprinkles also because they add no flavor to a food, and therefore only contribute a weird texture like tiny plastic pellets. These don’t have that affect.

Panier de Yoplait

yoplait de Panier
Yeah, it’s essentially just normal strawberry yogurt.

Something about the French that is consistently true but little known is that the whole country is obsessed with yogurt. They eat it at almost every meal. There are more yogurt options than cheese options in the grocery stores. They love this stuff. I’m constantly trying new yogurt in France, and I can never find the like of it when I’m back in the US. This Panier de Yoplait however is not unusual if you’re used to American yogurt. It’s kind of crappy plain yogurt with fruit on the bottom, just like Yoplait at home. It just looks special because the container is clear. It’s fine, it’s just not a crazy new discovery because we actually have this, just uglier.

Tuc

Tuc French crackers
Tuc crackers, like more polite Ritz.

These crackers are bomb! While the French are generally way more pro-carb than the US, it’s still amateur hour here in the cracker and chip department. I am not a sweet snack person, I like something savory, and I’ve really been missing my Wheat Thins. These Tuc crackers are more like a light and less flaky Ritz, and would go amazingly well with crappy cheddar cheese.

Carre Frais

Carré Frais french cheese
Carré Frais, a great substitute for cream cheese.

This one was perhaps my favorite food discovery of the quarantine–Carre Frais. It’s taste and texture are extremely close to that of good-quality cream cheese, and it comes in cute little individually wrapped cubes which are great for packing in a lunch. When spread on a piece of bread or biscuit the mouthfeel was very much like whipped cream cheese more than a more dense cream cheese; now all you need is a bagel.

Vandame

Vandame cake, very unnecessary fruit cake.

I’m not quite as enthusiastic about this Cake Vandame which is essentially just a smaller, longer fruit cake. No need to spend too much time here.

Chamonix

Chamonix, a little bit fruity, a little bit crispy.

This cake by comparison is a tasty revelation. I thought it would be like an orange-based Fig Newton but honestly it’s kind of it’s own special treat. Nice and tart orange filling, with an outer shell that is crispier than it looks on the package. Would recommend.

PiM’s

PiM’s, yet another LU creation.

Are you noticing the trend in goute treats this household purchases? Lots of LU products. I am not a huge fan of anything that mixes chocolate with raspberry–I can’t say that I’ve ever met anyone who is honestly. No one in this house is yet still someone bought these because we needed a change and they’re truly not bad. As with most LU products, the chocolate is almost better than the cookie deserves, which increases the flavor value for me a lot. Worth a try.

Delisse Yourt du laid du Chevre ~nature~

Goat yogurt. Goagurt.

For months now I’ve been purchasing plain yogurt brasse because I could trust its heavy texture. But our quar has been all about changing up the yogurt offering every week and truly exploring that yogurt aisle at the Intermarche. I’ve discovered the tasty lure of all yogurts from goat and sheep’s milk–they’re freaking delicious. More tangy and savory than cow’s milk yogurts, they’re a nice change of pace. Some are even offered in vanille which I also recommend.

Bonne Maman Tartelettes: Chocolate Caramel

Dessert in a tiny cup: Bonne Maman Tartelettes Chocolate Caramel

These little wonderful morsels are like if you turned a Twix bar inside-out. Wonderful cookie on the outside, filled with caramel covered in a chocolate shell. They’re perfect little individually-wrapped specimens. I recommend trying one with strong coffee then hiding the rest so no one else in the house can find them.

How Being An Expat Made Me Uniquely Adapted to Our Current Mandated Confinement

Every morning for two weeks now, I wake up and have to pause to recall where I am, why, and if this is–as a wise child after the dentist once inquired–real life . I’m not in my own bed, I’m at my in-law’s house in the French countryside. I’m here because we got out of the city before Macron made confinement mandatory–we wanted to spend our quarantine with a big yard, not in our tiny Paris apartment. I don’t know how long I’m here for. But I’m not annoyed at this, because it could be worse. So I go get some coffee.

It’s a very disorienting situation, especially so because our collective reality shifted so fast, major changes upheaving everything day by day. On Wednesday, March 11, I was planning to fly to LA that weekend. On Thursday, March 12, I woke up to find Trump had banned travel from Europe, but I could still get into the US as I’m American. By Friday, March 13, I’d resigned myself to staying in France because it seemed too dangerous to travel through two international airports, and California would be under quarantine soon anyway. Saturday we shopped for more provisions. Sunday we heard a rumor that confinement would soon be mandatory. Monday we drove seven hours to Bazus, a tiny villiage in the Southwest of France where we can go on long walks and not see another (potentially infected) soul.

My home state of California followed a similar pattern, just four or five days after, so my family and peers there are feeling a similar type of disorientation, made worse by sudden and total isolation.

Traffic outside Paris
It was a little chaotic getting out of Paris ahead of Macron’s announcement on Monday, March 16.

While I’m worried and stressed–especially with Trump seemingly mis-leading the US over a cliff into ruin–I must say that I think I might be less disoriented and lonely than many people I talk to. My friends are experiencing anxiety just by virtue of being stuck at home and not having many human interactions. This type of anxiety has been the last six months of my life having picked up and moved to France without an apartment or job waiting (well, my husband had a job, I planned to and do consult on marketing). Us lonely and floating expats are vulnerable to stress that comes from a worldwide epidemic, but less so to the uncomfortable cure of social isolation. Expats are already dealing with multiple layers of isolation, cocentric, nested bell jars that have helped us to perfect our loneliness, a skill that wasn’t important until about two weeks ago.

When we decided to move, I knew the hardest thing to face would be the isolation. I was ready to get rid of the rest of my life: sick of my corporate jobs, my desk, my commute, having money but too much depression to enjoy it, getting chubby in my middle from all the sitting, waiting five days every week to live for two. But the friends and time I spent with them were what I knew I would miss most, and would be the most difficult to recreate. And I was right.

The expat life is a double-walled isolation as you are in a city where you know no one, and potentially don’t know the language either. I know a little French, but not enough to connect fully with people I encounter everyday. I made one good friend while here, and we’ve bonded mostly around the fact that we are English speakers, and that the French are not very generous with non-French speakers.

house in the countryside of Toulouse
Our quarantine headquarters. Much larger than our tiny Paris apartment

I added one more wall of isolation because I’m an overachiever: I freelance and I work from home. I initially had a really nice coworking space, but the French transportation strike made it impossible to get to, and I also got tired of spending the money on a nice chair and view. So my days are already spent working from home, and then if I go out, I don’t know anyone and I couldn’t talk to them if I did.

Then there’s the time difference. We had a big goodbye party when we left LA and at one point I counted that at least 70 people passed through our house that night. I assume at least a few of those people like me. But they are nine hours behind Central European Time. When I think to call them after lunch, it’s still the middle of the night for them. When it’s evening for me, they’re still at work. I could try harder to call them, but I’m worried I’m bothering them. So the people I do know and love actually exist, but are in a reality that is nine hours behind mine, making me even more removed from them.

Every once in a while, this level of isolation really gets me down and I have a little cry and wonder why we did this. But then I remember how much I hated my last job and how good baguettes and free healthcare are and I chill out again. And that’s been my life for six months.

But now. But now! Things are exactly the same except I’m in a big house in the countryside with five other people, instead of a 450 sq ft apartment alone for most of the day. And everyone I know is also stuck working from home, too. And they’re all climbing the walls like caged animals and I’m like “this is my life, welcome.” Except for the whole pandemic thing. That’s a whole other matter…

I don’t really have any tips for getting over the isolation blues, even after taking a 6-month masterclass on solitude before this pandemic. I took an actual class on happiness as part of my MBA, and the main takeaway was that human contact just plain makes us happy, there’s no way around it. So except for video calls, we’re all kind of screwed. But only temporarily screwed! This isolation won’t last forever… unless you were already an introvert, or an expat who doesn’t know the language and works from home.

100 Random Tips For Living In Paris and France in General

I love listacles and I hate listacles. List articles aka listacles are a blast to read and write. But sometimes, some media companies rejoice in writing very vague shadows of listacles that are filled with glittering generalities. It’s like they just googled a thing and used the first ten google results as the content of the article.

That’s not what this is going to be. This is going to be filled with some niche-ass Paris and France tips that I worked hard to learn. There is literally blood, maybe a little sweat, definitely tears in the earning of this knowledge. And because I’m trapped in a house in the countryside during the coronavirus forced isolation, I’m emparting this expat wisdom upon you without context or explanation. Just accept it or learn the hard way, as I did.

  1. Learn to enjoy straight whiskey (if you haven’t already). This is because it’s hard to find a Manhattan here, and if you do find one, it’s probably in fact a not-very-good old fashioned. Sometimes if you ask for a Manhattan the waiter looks at you like you just asked for a MkhtbGk30&%AJD+
  2. Also true of dirty martinis.
  3. If you get on the metro and it’s quiet inside, the riders have all made a social pact to ride in quiet. Don’t be the dude that starts talking all loud.
  4. Always wear clean, matching, hole-less socks. Paris is dirty, so if you go to someone’s house for dinner, you’re probably going to have to remove your shoes.
  5. Carry a reusable bag at all times. Find one that folds up real tiny and stuff it into your bag whenever you leave the house. You’ll find out why.
  6. Speaking of carrying, you’re only going to wear cross-body bags of a certain size here. There’s too much walking and thieving for anything larger or smaller.
  7. Speaking of speaking of carrying, handguns are illegal here. So relax, that pop you just heard wasn’t a driveby.
  8. Take calculus in 11th grade. That way you can figure out which Navigo or set of Metro tickets to buy. If you don’t go to work or school every day, the monthly or weekly passes aren’t worth it. You get over $4 off of a pack of ten when you purchase at once. Do the math, take the ride.
  9. There’s things called “Ticket Resto” and they are amazing. Basically, via your job, you get coupons for $8 to use on lunch (you pay into the program), but they’re also good for grocerie$$$$$$$$ (except on Sunday, because there’s no working on Sunday so you can’t use your work lunch ticket that day).
  10. The grocery stores have either no produce or crap produce. Shop at the marché once a week for the best and cheapest produce.
Tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, vegatables at a French market
Our neighborhood marche on Rue Ordener
  1. At the marché, skip the vendors with the prettiest displays, they’re trying to create an illusion of value to justify higher prices. Price hunt hard, then stick to those vendors so they become your friends.
  2. Speaking of the marché, get your cheese there too. The cheese store is great but they also overcharge. Eggs, yogurt, creams, all at the marché.
  3. Get to restaurants at 7:45. You’re hungry by then anyway because you’re not actually French. This helps you beat the crowds and secure a table sans reservation.
  4. Make brunch reservations or else you won’t be eating brunch.
  5. If the brunch spot doesn’t take reservations, make sure there are other brunch options nearby because there will be a line at Season in the 3rd and you’re too old to wait in line for brunch. Brunch lines are for the 2011 version of you living in West Hollywood.
  6. Just assume that every step you take could be into a pile of dog crap. It’s a minefield out there, be poo-vigilant.
  7. You can’t get wine at Monoprix on a Sunday. They physically block the alcohol aisles. But you can at Franprix, Intermarche and Super U.
  8. People cut in line, especially cute little old ladies. It’s not like the US where line ettiquite is sacred. Therefore you must guard your line spot like a bulldog. Make yourself big.
  9. Always carry change. You’ll need it to buy a baguette, pay to get into a public restroom, or reward the single accordion playing dude on line 12 who has any talent.
  10. Don’t get cravings out of season. Like Trader Joe’s, groceries and farmers markets here only carry what is in-season, which is a good thing except for when you want bruschetta in winter.
  11. French people don’t use Yelp, therefore any Yelp reviews for a resto are from an American tourist who thinks the restaurants near Sacre Couer are legit. Either use the Tres, Tres Bon! app, or word of mouth.
  12. Using your phone in the company of real people is like 4x more rude here. Also no one uses social media which is a bummer, but good to know so you don’t play on Instagram at dinner and piss everyone off.
  13. Don’t ever take line 13 between 4pm and 8pm on a weekday. Or just don’t take it at all.
  14. Velib bikes with seats turned backwards are signalling to you that something is amiss with the bike. You can also turn the seat akimbo to signal this to others if you notice it’s funky.
  15. Use an agency to get an apartment. No matter how hard you hustle, how many you visit, the system is literally against you if you’re an expat or just arriving.
Parisian youths lining up to view an apartment.
Parisian youths lining up to view an apartment.
  1. When you are renting an apartment, higher floors get more sun and less noise, but consider how many flights you feel like climbing (unless the building has an elevator). In my experience, 4th floor is the limit before it gets ridiculous.
  2. Get everything delivered to a Relay point. Delivery guys don’t even try to follow your delivery instructions to get into your building let alone find your door. EXCEPT for Ikea and Zara for some reason. They’re great.
  3. Oh yeah, Ikea hack for Paris only: because the Ikea is outside the city and few people have cars, they deliver to your door for very affordable prices starting at around $5 and the service is exceptional.
  4. House plants are slightly overpriced here. Find affordable plant stores away from super posh or touristy streets, I saw some good ones a few blocks from the Chateau d’Eau stop on line 4.
  5. Speaking of line 4, it’s always busy and crowded as it stops at Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, Chatelet, Les Halles, and touristy areas like Cité. If you must take it, sit or stand in the accordion-like area between cars where few people dare to go.
  6. Need to get some groceries but you’re tired of interacting with people and being reminded you suck at French? Monoprix usually has self-checkout stations for human contact-less trips to the store.
  7. Wondering why your baguette is dry and airy? It’s because it’s a baguette ordinaire, not traditional. Learn more from my biased paris bread guide.
French baguette and brioche
Baguette Tradition and a weird brioche puff that I don’t really like but my husband buys them.
  1. Almost no apartments have dryers, so get used to hanging things on one of those drying rack things. Pro Tip: think ahead and wash sheets when you’ll be gone so they dry by the time you get back, and wash things you don’t plan to wear the very next day.
  2. The Local France tends to have very up-to-date news, if not without typos and some odd writing styles. I got over the erros during the metro strike when I was just happy to get the news in english.
  3. I feel like concerts start a little earlier here and don’t last very long. Rumor has it that the French want to get out and get back to the cafe or bar, or even a late dinner. Sometimes the time printed on your ticket isn’t doors, it’s when the opener starts.
  4. Place de Clichy is an absolute disaster zone during rush hour.
  5. If you have to go to the doctor for something not terribly life-threatening, your bill will likely be under $100. Mine have been around $30.
  6. However, if you need to see a specialist, you’ll need a recommendation from your doctor and then will have to wait a long time for an appointment.
  7. Amazon is a little slower in France than it is in the US, and the selection is also a touch limited.
  8. If you’re packing to move, keep in mind that towels are freaking expensive. In fact a lot of common homegoods seem to cost a lot more. I’ve been shocked at the price of toasters, towels, underwear, cutting boards, cups, table cloths, and hangers.
  9. Wondering how movers will get all of your shit into your tiny apartment? If your stairs are narrow, they put it on a weird lift thingy and toss it through the window. If your stairs are wide, one old dude might carry it all up by hand, one box at a time, as they did at our apartment.
  10. Don’t leave things on the landing outside your door or in public spaces, it’s frowned upon.
  11. There’s a store called Picard that is like if they made the frozen food section of Trader Joe’s an entire store. Food is tasty, prices are fair.
  12. You can still see movies in English! Most films are shown either in their original language with French subtitles, or in French. Look for “VO” in the description (version original).
  13. Many cafes, especially more traditional ones, are anti-laptop. Some more modern spots advertise free wi-fi. Check out expat groups on social media to find one near you. A few that I know of are Cafe Pimpin and Le Recyclerie in the 18th, Comets Cafe in the 11th, and all Wild and the Moon locations.
  14. If you want a sure bet spot to work, try coworking places like Hubsy that come with coffee. They charge hourly though, so a day of work can cost over $25. Drink your weight in lattes to make it worth it.
  15. Any medical-related groceries will not be at your grocery store, you’ll have to go to the pharmacie. I’m talking ointments, vitamins, tylenol, cold meds, anti-bac anything. I have seen bandaids at a grocery but that’s it.
  16. Thus far, we’ve only been able to purchase the 2mg version of melatonin. Grab the 5mg or 10mg good stuff when you’re in the US.
Get familiar with French skincare at Citypharma in the 5th.
Get familiar with French skincare at Citypharma in the 5th.
  1. No one here uses conditioner, and there aren’t many options at the grocery store. You may have to try bigger beauty-focused pharmacies like Citypharma if you really need conditioner to live. Also in France it’s called “apres shampooing” lol.
  2. Speaking of Citypharma, it is a gem. Great prices, amazing selection. It’s overwhelming, that’s why they have white coat-clad employees on the floor. They’re friendly and full of information. They’re probably also making sure you don’t steal.
  3. Coat check is a big deal here. It’s freezing outside and hot inside. You don’t want to hold your jacket through that entire Angel Olsen show like I did, do you? That’s why there’s a long line at the coat check.
  4. That reminds me, some venues only take printed, paper tickets. They won’t scan the PDF from your phone. Maybe I need an article with tips for concert-going.
  5. Vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, and brussells sprouts for some reason are preceded by the word “chou.” So they are chou broccoli, chou romanesco, chou fleur, and choux de Bruxelles. Just telling you so you aren’t humiliated at the cafe at your French school like I was.
romanesco
Not Romanesco. CHOU Romanesco
  1. Release tortillas from your heart if you move to France because tortillas here are… odd to say the least. For some reason they aren’t stretchy, they kind of just tear. And taste wrong. Even at Chipotle.
  2. If you bring a US lamp to France, be sure to only use French bulbs, otherwise it will smoke and probably explode.
  3. Pace yourself at the French wedding. It will last until 5am, so you have to as well. Also read this guide to what French weddings are really like.
  4. The climbing gym on Blvd. de Clichy in Pigalle is tiny and people are oblivious to personal space. It’s a bit of a journey, but the Arkose location in Pantine is huge, and the extra space helps people act like humans.
  5. Parisian faucets and water fixtures are always cloudy and covered in some kind of deposit that resists all scrubbing and cleansers. Apparently it’s calcium, and requires an anti-calcaire product you can get at the grocery store.
  6. It’s really hard to find ziploc bags here. Randomly, Ikea sells reall good ones, two sizes in one box.
  7. If you like a claw clip for your hair and you have thick or curly hair, stock up in the US. Claw clips here are all very slim, and I have yet to find larger or wider options.
  8. Finding a good fitness class is hard, not gonna lie. Supply is low and expensive, and classes get booked a week or more in advance if they’re actually good. Many are not good. Parisian fitness classes are scorned as being low on rigor. I recommend Fit Ballet and Casa Yoga.
  9. You can ask for more bread at a restaurant if you run out, and they’ll just give it to you! It’s not like LA where they give you some bread with the tapenade and you run out and they tell you they can’t give you more for free. The bread keeps coming.
  10. Many French TV networks are free, and you can stream them online. They’re paid for with our taxes or something like that.
  11. No one really tips unless the service was great, maybe the server accomodates you after you were a pain by adding two more diners or something. In tourist areas, servers sometimes pressure you to tip because they know you’re American. Only do it if you want to.
  12. In customer service, “no” is just the gateway to further negotiations. If you’re at La Poste and they say your package isn’t there, but online tracking says it is, just keep politely prodding. Maybe they can check again? Can they kindly find out where it is perhaps? After a few rounds, your package will magically show up.
  13. Keep a physical and digital file of all of your utility bills, identification documents, anything else that seems useful. You’ll need it to open a bank account or something else important at some point.
  14. Say “bonjour” to everyone. Passing someone on the stairs? Bonjour. Cashier makes eye contact with you at the register? Bonjour. Asking a rando on the street for directions? Start with bonjour.
  15. Eat slower. Everyone here waits until everything is “pret” to start eating. Then they don’t eat and speak at the same time. If you are American, you’re going to need to eat slower than usual.
  16. Don’t use up all of your stomach space on the plat. Dinner, and sometimes also lunch, is like a 4-course situation, and not all the courses will be out at once, so you won’t even know how deep in you are. There’s the main, then cheese and bread, then maybe yogurt or fruit, AND THEN also dessert. AND THEN coffee or tea.
  17. You know how entree is the main course in America? I don’t know why, because it means entry or to enter. Therefore in France it’s the appetizier–this actually makes perect sense. Plat is the main, or plate.
  18. That reminds me, cheese is eaten AFTER the meal in France, not as an appetizer like in the US. Sometimes if you’re doing a planche or a more chill grazing situation, the cheese will be out. But for a seated dinner, cheese is after.
  19. There’s a great dining area on the 8th floor of Printemps with beautiful views of Paris. It has several gorgeous restaurants at varying price points, and a terasse where you can dine. It’s not terribly touristy, even given the area.
View of eiffel
View of Paris on a pre-spring day on the terasse of Printemps. We ate moules frites.
  1. Don’t ever order a smoothie, it will be warm and watery. If I find a good smoothie option, I’ll let you know.
  2. No one carries their coffee around in to-go cups, it’s always enjoyed in place. It’s weird at first, but then who would really want to consume anything on a metro, blegh.
  3. There are no stop signs in all of Paris. As a pedestrian, you might have the right of way, but that car isn’t slowing down the same way it would in the US where it may have to stop regardless. Every intersection is a game of chicken.
  4. If you’re crossing a one-way street, still look both ways for bikers who might be riding the opposite direction. They’re silent and deadly.
  5. Restaurants typically only anticipate one seating per evening. If you see a full restaurant, it doesn’t mean a table might open up in twenty minutes. That table is going to be full all night. People literally leave all their stuff at the table and leave for a smoke twice in one sitting.
  6. You have to wave and say excuse me and ask for what you need at stores and restaurants. It’s actually rude here for the server to keep stopping by and asking if you need anything, therefore it’s not rude to wave them down and ask for the check.
  7. I’m not sure, but I think that the dynanmic in #78 is because nothing is more important in French culture than the current conversation. Meals will wait for someone to finish their story. Lines at the store will stand still until the conversation between cashier and customer is over. Sidewalks will crowd in service of two people talking.
  8. No one wears sunglasses but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. The sun is harsh, protect your damn eyes.
Shelby wearing sunglasses and holding baguettes
Me, refusing to be daunted by the number of people who give me funny looks when I wear my sunglasses on a cloudy day.
  1. If you’re on the metro and it’s crowded and you have a suitcase and you need to get off, you’re going to have to be a real bull about it. No one is going to budge for you unless you very loudly yell “PARDON EXCUSEZ MOI” and push through with all of your might. I’m not exagerating.
  2. There are signs on busses and metros reserving seats for the elderly, injured, or pregnant women. People actually heed these signs very observantly so you should too.
  3. The Left Bank of Paris or La Rive Gauche seems far away and maybe lame. It’s across the river after all. It’s actually a very nice place with beautiful parks, museums, trendy restaurants, and historic streets, don’t be biased because it seems far from the action.
  4. Stop and buy a baguette on your way home. You’re going to run out soon anyway, and you’re not going to want to go back down and up the stairs in two hours. Just buy the baguette.
  5. Paris is not an avocado desert! You can actually buy avocados, though some are kind of flavorless and watery. At stores, the origin of the avocado is usually stated, and those from Mexico are frequently tasty.
  6. That said, avocado toast here is somehow middling. No matter how well intentioned it is on your brunch plate, it usually needs salt and some additional fat or spices.
  7. Verbal contracts here are binding. If you get a job offer, you don’t have to wait for the contract and all of that to be sure that you actually have it. Also true in house buying, etc.
  8. Don’t go to Fountainbleu or nearby Barbizon on a weekday, it’s empty and sad. Save it for a weekend.
  9. That said, do go to Fountainbleu or Barbizon on a weekday if you’re trying to rock climb or hike, it will be empty.
  10. The green trashcan is for bio trash, yellow is for all packaging, white is for glass. Don’t take an apartment within earshot of the white trashcan otherwise you’ll hear glass breaking nonstop.
  11. People try to pickpocket you right as you pass through the metro gates so that you can’t turn around and chase them. Hold on to your shit as you swipe into the metro.
  12. If you use the wrong gender when you say “one,” you will throw a French person off. Sure sounds the same to us, but they will not meet you half way on this. If it’s a feminine noun, use une. Masculine, un.
  13. Haribo World Mix is the best Haribo assortment, followed by Happy Life, then Schtroumpfs. Polka is the worst assortment.
Haribos at grocery store
The best aisle of the grocery store: The bonbons.
  1. Every non-French person I know who moves to Paris has developed severe eczema, including myself. Correlation is not causation, and it might not happen to you, and it’s not the end of the world, but something to think about.
  2. Pack, buy, or bring more socks than you think you need. This is a closed-toe shoes city because it’s wet and dirty.
  3. Paris shops are small and specialize almost exclusively in one type of thing. EXCEPT FOR Fnac and the behemoth BHV which sell everything.
  4. You’re not going to wear heels in Paris.
  5. No one is going to speak more slowly or clearly for you, don’t be offended, I’m just letting you know.
  6. You’re also not going to wear shorts unless you’re in an exercise setting.
  7. Everyone who recommends a Mexican food place to you is wrong.

What’s The Deal With French Breakfast AKA Petit Dej AKA Petit Déjeuner

If you’re an expat, there’s a chance you’re like me and have a love-hate relationship with expat groups on Facebook. Yes, you get tons of great tips and ideas for where to eat, how to not get arrested, doctors who have mercy on non-French speakers, etc. But, the price of such compatriotism is dealing with dumb questions. And yes, there is such a thing as a dumb question, and in expat Facebook groups, the dumb questions are the ones asking why things aren’t like they are at home. One I saw recently that chafed me was “why don’t the French eat a proper breakfast?” which usually comes more from Brits than Yanks.

Proper is of course, a relative term, because to me, the French have a far more proper breakfast than I had as an American. As a 9-6er with a commute, my breakfast was a coffee and a scream session at other cars on the 110 South. This would be a crime in France, where breakfast AKA petit dejeuner is a ritual that is necessary in order to get out and greet the day.

For the uninitiated, French brekkie is more of a moment in the day than it is a gastronomique experience. As with so many things in France, it can only be done in one way: some type of bread, most likely a baguette with butter and/or jam (confiture), potentially a croissant, coffee or tea, and a very tiny juice. Walk from cafe to cafe in search of more, you won’t find it. If you’re in a tourist zone, you can find some cheese omelette options, but they won’t be egg mountains filled with ham and peppers, saddled with hashbrowns and two strips of bacon. In fact, now that I’ve been here for a few months, I’ve kind of forgotten what else people used to eat for breakfast–cereal, oatmeal, overnight oats (I’m from LA), a breakfast sandwich maybe? More like whatever I can grab as I run to my car, if even that.

Literally my breakfast today. Not pictured: croissants.

So in a way, the French do have a proper breakfast, it’s just not warm or fried or meaty, but they are extremely dedicated to it in all its bready glory. Running late? Doesn’t matter, they will still eat their petit dej. Have nothing in the frigo to even eat? No worries, they will find something to gnaw on; you can spread jam on almost anything if you’re desperate enough.

It’s understandable for a Brit to want more, as they’re as dedicated to a specific breakfast style as the French are, albeit a much meatier, beanier, warmer style. But when you go to a new country, it’s probably safe to expect that they do meals differently just as they speak differently and dress differently and greet differently. Maybe that’s what is irksome about the “where do I get a real breakfast in Paris?” question; it assumes there’s one way to do a thing, and if you start with that nonsense you’re going to get real pissed real quick. The irony is not lost on me that in this foreign land, there actually is one way to eat breakfast.

McDo even has a breakfast formule in keeping with French tradition, to which one might add a McMuffin.

However, huge disclaimer that weekends are another thing altogether where a brunch style straight from America reigns supreme. That’s when three course, hollandaise-christened, syrup-drenched, egg-topped extremes are reached, if you’re savvy enough to have made a reservation, mind you. Then you can get your sausage and potatoes. But Lundi a Vendredi, it’s just bread and jam and if you’re hungry, you’ll eat it.

Waiting Four Months For My Boxes To Arrive to Paris From Los Angeles: I Lived It

When we began planning our move to Paris, my husband and I were all about that minimalist life. We were going to unburden ourselves of so much random stuff we had accumulated having lived in the same city–in my case–since birth. We were going to keep things simple, be less materialistic, spend less, pick up and go where we want, when we want. We felt smugly weightless, relative to the LA versions of ourselves anyway.

1/3 of our earthly shit went to friends and Goodwill. 1/3 of it, mostly my antiques and random old stuff I couldn’t let go of (if you’ve ever sent me a holiday card, it might be included in this category), we sent to Make Space, a service I highly recommend. The final 1/3 was going to come with us to Paris, first into a truck, then onto a boat, then onto another truck, then to an apartment we didn’t yet have. This was mostly my clothes, cooking stuff, books and records we deemed essential, and decorative pieces I liked enough to bring. Oh, and a couch, coffee table, and two chairs, because we were going to have to buy those anyway so if we’re shipping stuff, why not go for it.

I am not known for being an optimistic person. I had a friend in 8th grade who deemed me a pessimistic optimist at best, which I suppose is a more nuanced way to say I am a realist and reality kind of sucks, doesn’t it? That said, I had some kind of psychic hunch, maybe a naive hope that our boxes would arrive NO LATER than two months from the time we saw the moving truck drive away. It was September 16, and I was even a little bit nervous that the movers might arrive in Paris while I was back in LA for Thanksgiving. This is an actual thing that I worried about.

We packed only clothes, a few toiletries, four plastic plates, two tin mugs, and a camping knife to hold us over until our boxes arrived. It was 100 degrees in LA in September, but we packed some winter options because Paris is cold. I packed LA winter clothes because I only know LA winters. I packed the backless black mules I lived in back in LA, as well as some rattan mules that went with every outfit. I packed high heeled boots that were a mainstay for me the previous winter. I took a few sweaters out of my suitcase because it was getting heavy, and I could live without them for two months. I was a fool.

Fall hit Paris two days after we arrived. I realized all the trends the girls my age were wearing were composed of articles of clothing I owned that were now on a boat, so I pledged not to buy anything. By the end of October, I had to break my resolution because it was already low-forties and none of my jackets had seen 50F before. I held out on buying more than one coat though, because of my feeling that the container would arrive by mid-November.

The plastic plates that we brought to our partially furnished apartment got us through several months.

Then on November 1 I received an email from a clerk in Holland that said our stuff had left New York ten days earlier. I’d assumed it was already being offloaded in Rotterdam, but no, it had been sitting back in the US as the seasons changed in Paris. Quick mental math of ocean travel + customs + truck to Paris + bureaucracy meant we would not have our things until the end of winter. I just wanted a jacket. Maybe some books. A proper spatula. Some more scarf options.

I went back to LA for Thanksgiving, and the irony of traveling from LA to Paris, back to LA before any of my things arrived was not lost. It was such a joy to have extra blankets, more than one coffee mug, scented candles at my disposal. To be honest, it was a joy to find joy in such simple things. There’s probably a lesson in here about appreciation, family being all we need in life, but I’ll tell you there is also a lesson about how much a good a ladle is worth.

Two months crawled by with very few updates, so it was only natural to assume the container would arrive while we were out of town for Christmas, because that’s just how the universe works; it messes with us. The next mental milestone was the four month mark, so I just assumed for the sake of comedy that anniversary would come and go without a word from the shippers. A friend told us his stuff was gone for four months and he had to hassle the moving company for an update on his shipment, which had been lost. Clearly we were in for the same lot.

As soon as I reconciled myself to this sad reality, we of course received an email that our things could be delivered in three days if we were available. Hell yes, we were available. One mover carried up all of our boxes, one by one, and in just three hours, it was done. We had salad bowls and full-sized towels and sheets.

I’m whining, because I whine, but honestly at worst it was just a bit uncomfortable and cold. I had two sweaters that were adequate for the weather, and now I’m wearing a black mock-neck sweater in all photos of me from the first four months we were in Paris. We dried off with hand towels because I wasn’t going to spend full price on bath towels when we had four in the container. We used one camping knife for everything. We ate salad from a pan. People are dying of that Coronavirus in China, so I won’t complain at length for the amusing inconvenience that is moving internationally, just provide some level-setting of expectations and tips. The situation was a pebble in our shoe, inconvenient but livable.

Having lived through this mild quarter-year annoyance, I’ve compiled a list of EXACTLY what you should bring with you should you be moving long distance and waiting for your belongings to arrive. Some are self explanatory, others not so much, so I will elucidate:

  • Clothes/Jackets: you do you, but bring less than you think you need and be realistic about weather. You won’t regret only bringing neutral colors, and you’ll be the smartest person in the room if you only bring black
  • Shoes: Again, be realistic about weather and bring less than you think you need
  • Bags: Again, you do you but don’t forget shopping bags since plastic bags are illegal everywhere and you’re going to hate buying a new reusables when you have 28 of them packed in your moving boxes
  • Skincare and meds: You’re also going to hate spending money on this stuff which is likely packed in a box that says “bathroom” on the side. And your skin will freak out as soon as you move
  • Plastic or tin plate, cup, mug, and one set of utensils per person to hold you over until your stuff arrives
  • Pillow cases: will you be shuffling between Airbnbs for weeks when you arrive? Is that pillow you’re using actually clean?
  • Corkscrew, scissors, screwdriver: or just bring a single Swiss Army Knife or a multi-tool. You won’t regret it
  • Hot sauce: if you’re moving to Europe or to a place that does not typically use a lot of hot sauce, bring hot sauce
  •  Patience, lol

For Us Americans: What Is This Paris Transportation Strike, AKA La Greve

I used to keep diaries growing up and would fail to write in them for extended periods of time, then I’d come back and say, as if my diary was sentient, “sorry it’s been like two years, I was super busy with school. I still don’t have a boyfriend.” That kind of just happened with my posts here. Sorry it’s been 20-ish days, I got really busy with work, had an extreme allergy to my apartment, took a trip back to LA, then landed on December 5, the first day of the strikes in Paris.

Right now, I have a limited, outsider’s awareness of what the current strike is about, but plenty of knowledge of its effects. I’m going to write a biased, only slightly researched account of the whole thing to deliver an American in Paris’s perspective, and if I’m wrong on the facts, oh well because perception is reality.

The Backstory

It’s hard to fully understand the gravity of the strike and transportation shut down because the French are pretty blasé about them, some of them even accepting it as part of life like the weather. Leading up to December 5th, anytime someone talked about the strike at dinners or parties, they’d shrug and essentially say “yeah that’s really gonna suck” while I pried for more details of how bad it would suck, and why it was even happening. The only explanations I was able to get offhand were that the Metro workers were all striking, something to do with pension reform, which needs to happen, but they deserve to strike, it’s their way to show their opinion–all spoken as if they were reading tomorrow’s forecast. My French teacher said he supported them because the French have to be united in these moments, otherwise we’ll just be like America, and I guess he has a point. I didn’t google for more answers until I was at my wit’s end, because I’m selfish.

When I finally did hit up the google, I learned basically that the French pension system is bizarrely complex, too complex for a non-French to wrap their head around, and Macron’s reelection is hinging on whether or not he reforms the system and ends this strike. Macron and team are trying to consolidate 40-something pension codes into one, which would standardize all systems at the expense of many special allowances some unions, like metro and rail workers, enjoyed, like early retirement. That’s really all any of us need to know if we can’t vote and aren’t RATP employees.

What’s the Real Situation With Airports?

The first day of La Greve, I was flying back from LA. My flight was cancelled, then replaced by another flight at the exact same time for some reason. The van I hired to take me to Paris (because the RER and Metro weren’t running) decided not to wait for me, so I yelled at them and took an expensive taxi; not the end of the world. I thought I was going to have to drag my suitcase down the highway to get back. The first few days weren’t bad because lots of folks worked from home. The real shit hit the fan on Monday, December 9. Since then, I’ve heard folks taking three hours to get to the airport due to so many cars being on the road. So yes, getting to your flight is possible, just hard and expensive.

Saint Placide Metro Stop
Crowds at the Saint Placide Metro Stop

90% of Metros Out of Service

The reason Paris can get away with being so small is because it’s dense AF, and if any type of matter that needs to move here isn’t able to in due course, it creates epic bottlenecks. This is true of humans, waste, trains, cars, dust, bikes, mail–there’s literally no room for anything to fall behind pace. So with 90% of metros and busses closed, nothing works.

As a result, I saw some things. I saw intersections with cars woven together like giant latticework. Empty rack after empty rack of Velib bikes save for one with the wheel dangling from its maimed frame. Seasoned bikers (they’re the ones with helmets, not riding Velib) crash into inattentive pedestrians or impatient vans. People screaming at each other as they try to squish themselves onto an already full metro car on the 4 which is still running every few days. A girl riding a Lime between two busses who might have just gotten herself a nomination for the Darwin Awards.

I started classes at L’Alliance Francaise at the start of the strike, which is clear across town from my apartment. I thought I’d take a nice relaxing bus ride since the 4 line was closed, and gave myself two hours to get down to the 6th just in case. The bus was crammed full at 11:30 am, and Ieven saw a woman onboard crying because she was so squished, meanwhile the driver was a human shrug. I biked part of the way, walked part of the way, and it was fine as long as this thing ends soon.

35 Days In

Once we passed the one month mark, this became the longest transportation strike in French history. Right now we’re at day 35 and the constant inconvenience has become a manageable, throbbing pain as compared to the excrutiating spiles of the first few weeks. I’ve just accepted it begrudgingly until I see something really stupid like an ambulance that can’t even get to where it needs to be all so that a very small percentage of the population can maintain a special exception in their pension plans. At moments like that I get salty, but otherwise, I just keep accepting the inconvenience one day at a time, slowly becoming like everyone else around here.

And So…

I think the reason my friends here are so blase about the whole thing is because maybe strikes here aren’t like a fact of life, they actually just are a fact. If you want to attempt a system that represents everyon’s best interest, these things have to happen. Also, like many things in Paris, all your normal activities are still possible, just hard.