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.

There’s a VIP Option When You Apply For Your French Visa

You have to know a thing or two about the French to make it through the visa process without losing your shit. That could be an alternative title to this entry. I’m now somewhat initiated to the ways of the French bureaucracy after the paperwork scavenger hunt that was required to get married in Bazus last year. Hoping these callouses will last long enough so I can hold it together once we move.

I will say, the online experience was actually extremely quick, clean, friendly, and clear–none of these adjectives typically describe a French experience be it a security line or a dinner. After some googling of things like “how do I even get a French visa,” the French visa website will direct you to a third party handler who facilitates the visa appointments for the Embassy, VFS Global. This was a cinch, perhaps because VFS has cornered this niche market and is doing this for several countries. Make an appointment, VFS tells you what to bring, boom. Privatization isn’t always bad.

I knew better than to believe that the simplicity of these initial steps would be a predictor of the ease of the rest of the process. I knew better but I believed it anyway. But of course once I physically got to the VFS Global office things started to get… FRENCH AF.

I arrive at a weird, boring, midcentury building on Wilshire near the Flynt building that I’ve probably driven by at least 200 times. It’s not the French Consulat which my husband visits for his visa, it’s the home of this third party handler. FYI, they only have valet so park around the corner if you don’t want to get shived for $12. The tiny VFS Global offices are on the fifth floor, where I was searched by security, then sat in a room that’s set up like a tiny but much less depressing DMV office: windows at the front, rows of seats, myriad signs with directions, French tourism posters.

For some reason there is a VIP waiting area that is behind a glass partition, almost half the size of the whole waiting area, without anyone sitting in it. The room is decorated like a tacky Americna living room with a couch, coffee table, and television. As I stared at it, grasping to comprehend its existence, I was thankful that I didn’t have to sit in there and signal to the rest of the room that I self-identified as a VIP.

Anyway, my turn came and I gave the dude that spoke English all of my documents, which I knew would be sufficient because I followed the instructions from the French Consulat and VFS Global. However, I was informed that the copy of our French marriage certificate that I’d brought was too old–it was less than a year old, but it needed to be less than three months old. Of course, none of the instructions specified how fresh these docs had to be, one would assume they just had to be real. Nope, I have learned that the French have a thing for super fresh docs: when we got married last year I had to procure a NEW birth certificate for myself as the one I had from 2006 somehow might not reflect new information about the date and location of my birth. Whatever, I told him I’d send a fresh certificate.

Nearby I overheard a woman asking how she was supposed to complete the online visa application with the address of where she’d be staying in Paris if she needed a visa to secure a place to stay in Paris. This is classic French bureaucracy, and the only way around it is to fudge a little, put your Airbnb address even if you’re only staying there for a few days, and cross your fingers. This is essentially what the Visa dude told her. The bureaucracy famously moves at a snails pace, and is greased by these small fudges, otherwise nothing would get done. To this day I feel like someone is going to realize we didn’t provide the right paperwork to get married, but most likely no one even cared.

For anyone reading because they actually want to learn about the visa process, the next step is you go into a tiny white room, give them your finger prints and take a photo. I made the mistake of wearing a bun that day, so now on my visa I look like a 12 year old boy. When I left the little white room, someone was sitting in the VIP area.

As expected, I got an email from the French Embassy stating additional documents were required. I needed to send a copy of my Livret de Famille (family book), and a copy of our marriage license that was less than TWO months old–VFS Global had told me THREE months. See, this is why people talk mess on French bureaucracy. Also I had provided the copy of my Livret de Famille at the appointment, but because of the certificate situation of 2018, I just kept my mouth shut and sent another copy. Grease the system with fudge. My husband’s family had to mail a fresh copy of our marriage license to prove we hadn’t gotten a divorce within eleven months of marriage. My passport was returned to me with visa about two weeks later.

See, I told you it wasn’t that bad, especially not if the system has beat you up in the past. But as an American, getting conflicting info from the powers that be is maddening–what is reality if the system isn’t in agreement. But now, I know you just kind of split the difference, smile at the visa dude, don’t argue about the conflicting info, and it all turns out okay.

Pre-Move Bias: French Weddings

We have exactly one month before we move. To calibrate the changes in myself that may or may not be coming based on this intentional French displacement, I’m jotting down some strongly held opinions I’ve developed of France from my current, extremely American perspective. The goal is to better track where I am now vs. where I’m heading, and where I end up in terms of Frenchness. It’s a calibration exercise.

The first thing I’ll tackle is something that Americans don’t seem to know is completely different in other western countries: the French wedding. My calibration can also serve as your initiation, as I haven’t seen much documentation on what these affairs are like, and they are really something.

When I attended my first French wedding in 2015, I myself had no idea it would be any different from an American wedding. My French husband was then my French boyfriend, and he hadn’t been to many weddings in either country, so he didn’t think to counsel me on what to expect. It was almost better this way, as with every passing hour I was able to be shocked by another surprising difference.

At my first French wedding outside Paris, my (then) boyfriend and his friends wore their uniforms from Polytechnique for the ceremony.

Let’s calibrate further by establishing what comprises an American wedding. Every wedding I’d ever gone to was 5pm to 10pm, sappy and uncomfortable ceremony, an all too brief cocktail hour where you have to practically tackle a waiter to get a sad and soggy canape, open bar, rushed dinner, father-daughter dance, 1.5 hours of dancing, get out or you’ll be charged extra. I make them sound rushed and awful, and they usually are, but they do have some strong suits. There is usually a degree of personalization in all of the details: the vows are personal, the decor is personal, the songs are personal. The briefness does allow you to get on with your life versus give up your entire weekend to someone else’s marriage. And at least in LA, you are allowed to wear black without anyone thinking it’s odd.

Imagine my surprise then when my first French wedding began at noon at the Mairie, the mayor’s office, where dozens of friends and family crammed into one tiny room for an hour-long civil ceremony. I had no idea what was going on. Sometimes this happens the day before the wedding so it can be split into two events–ideal if you always wanted to have a more casual city hall wedding look in addition to a traditional wedding dress. Next, we all walked to a spectacular chapel, probably over five hundred years old, for the full Catholic mass. I almost gell asleep from the jet lag, and the full Catholic mass in French. Were the bride and/or groom religious? It doesn’t matter, this is just what you do in France, you do a Catholic ceremony in an old church. I have a theory that no one ever thought to NOT do this, but that’s part and parcel of a much larger theory of Frenchness (maybe just a generalization) that I hope to work toward establishing in the coming months. By the way, in the wedding timeline, post-mass it will be around 5pm.

Then there is the party. We all drive to a Chateau for cocktail hour. This sounds very chic and photogenic to a 27-year-old going to a wedding in France because she’s dating a French guy, and it is. But I’ve also come to learn that Cheateax are like the wineries or country clubs of Europe–they’re where events are held because there a lof of them and they have the white chairs and tables. At the cocktail hour, no one is in a rush, which is the most startling difference from an American anything. Champagne is poured and passed, plenty of it, you don’t have to drink quickly to get your fill–there is enough and you will be cocktailing for at least two hours. As an American you feel like you’re waiting for the next thing to happen–speeches, dinner, a dance–but nothing does, and no one else seems to mind. You eat the Iberian ham because it’s there and such an unusual and exciting addition to the menu for an American, but quite common among apps for the French.

There will always be a flash mob somewhere in the cocktail hours. It will have been organized by the bride or groom’s best friends. It will be coreographed to a somewhat recent (within the last five years) pop song, but not one necessarily about love. I have born witness to a “Shake It Off” (Taylor Swift) flashmob and a “Hot N Cold” (Katy Perry) flashmob with extremely ornate choreography despite the fact that these songs are (hopefully) the antithesis of the mood of a couple who took vows three hours prior. Every last guest at the wedding will participate in the flash mob. They will have been practicing for at least two weeks. They might have practiced as a group the day before.

Flashmob from a recent wedding.

No earlier than 8pm you will slowly, very slowly, make your way to your seat for dinner. I sound like a person who talks in absolutes, because I am, but I don’t want to say you will with full certainty sit at circular tables. I will say I am 98% certain you will sit at circular tables and there will be a mason jar involved in some way. This is a decoration trend that hit the US with a vengeance in 2010, but relented somewhat by 2015. In France, it stuck in a way that made it very difficult for me to find non-jar vessels to hold flowers and candles for my 2018 nuptials and I’m still bitter about it. If I sounds judgy about the jars, it’s only to show you I am trying to be an unbiased observer, because as bad as the jars are is how good the food is.

If there’s anything to not like about the French wedding, the food makes up for it in every way. By 9pm you’ll begin an at least three course meal that will very likely contain great bread, cheese, a duck breast or steak, a good amount of fois gras, some type of amazingly prepared vegetable or salad, and a plated dessert instead of a dry and hastily cut piece of cake. It will be served over three hours, with plenty of time to talk with your table-mates as well as the bride and groom, who in this arrangement, actually have time to interface with their guests. Two types of wine remain on the table for you to pour yourself so you’re not at the mercy of an underpaid and bitter waiter to keep you glass filled.

Throughout the dinner there will be “animations,” or a mix of slide shows, dances, speeches, other stunts that can either strengthen the fun of the wedding or totally undermine it depending on how good the wedding party is at execution. American weddings have these, but because we are always in such a rush, they are played WHILE we eat. This is something I gravely missed at my own wedding where the dinner went past midnight because our french friends refused to play the video, sing the song, do the thing while people were eating, as it’s considered rude. They’re probably right, it is rude, but it just feels so odd when you’re used to finishing dinner in 45 minutes or less. It might just feel odd because you’re an American who does not speak French, and you have no idea what’s going on in the speeches or videos and you’re curious why there’s no open bar.

At around 11pm or midnight, dancing will begin, and this, surprisingly, is very much the same as in the US. I kept track at three weddings, and on average, there were no more than five songs played that I had never heard before. HOWEVER, there are songs that are considered to be universal “no-go’s” stateside (well at least in blue states), that for some reason are “fuck yeahs!” in France. The main culprit in this is Cotton-Eyed Joe. I heard it at a few French weddings and was shocked to see dozens of guests squeal with glee and run to the floor to begin line dancing when this ghastly “song” came on. In a moment of weakness, I did not put this song on my “no-go” list for the DJ at my wedding, as I thought that there was no way he’d ever play it once he saw that our playlist was comprised of actual good music. I thought it couldn’t happen to me. Then as I was talking to friends at 1am on the day of my own wedding, I heard it blast from the speakers and began to march over to the DJ booth to ask him A. who the hell he thought he was and B. to change the song, until I saw 50% of our guests lining up with total enthusiasm to dance to that atrocity. So instead I just apologized to all of the Americans. I think the point I’m making is that the music is the same but, like mason jars, some trends didn’t fade away in due time.

At about 2am, a table is brought out with hard alocohol, snacks, the leftover cheese, maybe sandwiches. You’d think things would be winding down, but instead it’s time to replenish yourself so you can make it to 5am. That’s right, this shit goes from the early afternoon until the next morning, every wedding, and it’s awesome. Somehow the next three hours pass in only a few minutes, because you’re just dancing and drinking and snacking and wondering why American weddings aren’t like this. With the exception of Cotton-Eyed Joe and the mason jars.

Really great brunch from the last wedding I attended, where the bride did not have to put her own chairs away.

If you think it’s over at the end of the night, you’re wrong, because there is a brunch on site the next day. I still do not fully understand this tradition; sometimes the guests return to help clean up, sometimes it’s just a brunch, I’m not really sure how they know to come or not. We had no brunch but folks still showed up to help clean and my in-laws provided breakfast. I slept through this, not knowing the tradition, which turned out to be extremely poor form. Maybe this is a tradition I’ll understand better as I become more initiated.

My Attempt To Justify This Dumb Blog

Let me tell you a thing about what a weird teenager I was: I used to write down everything all the time. Every dumb emotion or thought I had, a somewhat creepy inventory of things of consequence and not. Usually not. Which is funny because I really wasn’t up to much until about eight years ago, so I had no cause to write everything down except my own narcissism. I wrote down what I did that night, who drove, who I hung out with at lunch in high school, all of the dreams I had when I took a three hour nap after school at the peak of my 16-year-old anemia-induced lethargy. I never re-read what I wrote, nor did I undertake any style — it was simply record keeping of a very mundane life. Almost a compulsion–if I forgot to log the day, it didn’t happen.

Pardon me while I wax earnest for a hot sec: I will concede that it was a helpful way to sort through my feelings about things. When I’d fight with or be hurt by a parent or my first boyfriend, I’d write down all that happened and my feelings, and somehow by the end I was able to better understand myself and them, and move through the emotions. It was also very UNhelpful in that, by writing down all of those details, they were now seared into my memory much more than they were of the other party, and I would remember and feel all details of a tiff for much longer — not a favorable effect when you’re already pretty bitter by nature (I’m pretty bitter by nature).

For this reason I stopped writing entirely in 2011 when I was experiencing various forms of tumult in the form of being dumped and resenting my parents because I was 25 and that’s what happens. While all of these rites of passage seem silly and extremely surmountable now, at the time they were earth shattering; they were unique and incurable diseases never to be suffered before or since. Like I said, narcissist. So I stopped writing in 2011 because I didn’t want to aid my memory in any way nor did I want to feel more deeply. I began to allow moments to happen without keeping a record of them for the first time in my life. Until Instagram got big, I guess.

As many people who are nervous and shy children tend to do, once I decided to grab life by the balls, I packed more life into eight years than I had in the previous 25. And I didn’t write any of it down. I’m sure I changed a lot, but I have no record of it like I do of every subtle transition I experienced in the previous years. Which is fine, no one wants to read that boring shit.

I recently went a little meta on myself and realized that I am about to change quite a lot, I expect, because I’m moving to another country for an undetermined amount of time. Instead of trying to preserve our US life while we’re in France, my husband and I have a sole objective to intentionally become less American and see who we are in France. He’s originally from France, the southwest, but hasn’t lived there since his early twenties so he’s pretty much Californian by now. Says “dude” all the time with a french accent, says “We gotta catch de 2 north,” talks like a french surfer for some reason. So he needs to rediscover his Frenchness again before he starts talking like he grew up in Ventura. We’ve been together five years but I still don’t know French because I always come up with something better to do than learn it, and it’s not fair that one day he and our kids will be able to talk shit on me in another language. So we’ve got to do this. We’re about to change and we’re aware of it, and I want to see the gradual effect like I used to be able to in my creepy diaries. Except hopefully I’ll be less creepy this time, hopefully it will just be funny but not ironically read-your-teenage-diaries funny.

I also hope it might be helpful. Not helpful as a guide the way other expat websites are when they give you tips on how early to arrive at your visa appointment — that stuff is important but it’s been done. This is more of an experiment in what it’s like for an anxious and self-obsessed career sabotager to walk away from a job, a house, tens of dozens of friends, and move to another country at the age of 33.