More thoughts on adjusting to French life

Written by Daniel Waldman

A quick update: We finally moved into our own apartment this week (we had bounced around between an extremely hot Airbnb in downtown Nantes and a friend’s apartment on the west side of the city since arriving). It’s spacious by French standards, though a little removed from the main parts of the city. That said, we’re still only 15 – 20 minutes from downtown by tram, and there are plenty of buses not too far away. Possibly the best thing is that we can walk to Amandine’s school each morning. It’s a sort of suburban neighborhood, so there’s not a ton in the area, but there is a decent boulangerie about 5-10 minutes walk away, and a decent grocery store a bit further.

Speaking of Amandine, you may have heard that she made her national TV debut! Amandine competed–and won!–on Food Network’s Chopped Junior! Here’s the video if you missed it:

As far as adjusting goes, we’re still in the midst of our transition. We have very little furniture as of this writing, but we have a huge order from Ikea coming shortly, and then Marie’s brother is coming to help pick up more pieces. Plus, our 166 boxes and three antiques should be arriving in about 2-3 weeks. By early October, we should be back into some form of routine.

Although I’ve been to France many, many times before, a permanent move is quite different. Many of the things that I had found funny or quirky about French culture have become minor hindrances–like having a sharp splinter in your foot. A few examples:

  • The fabled Great Wall of Bureaucracy is everywhere. Even in private commercial transactions. When you’re a tourist, you don’t always notice or experience these things. Just getting our apartment took a boatload of paperwork, far more than I ever remember needing when I had rented apartments in the US. There’s paperwork for getting both a monthly and a yearly pass for public transportation (in Baltimore, buying a monthly pass to the city’s paltry MTA only took a single swipe of a credit card at a self-serve kiosk). There’s paperwork for getting store loyalty cards (which isn’t too different from the states, of course). We even joked that we had to do paperwork just to buy some things from a store, and that we’d be denied our purchase because we had left our passports at home!
  • Speaking of our apartment, adjusting to apartment life is interesting. I haven’t really lived in an apartment for quite some time, and it takes some getting used to. For example, there appears to be a water line that flows through our apartment, specifically the closet in my bedroom. Whenever an upstairs neighbor flushes, it sounds like it’s there’s a flood in our apartment.
  • Navigation has its own unique challenges. French cities seem to have been built up in haphazard ways over centuries rather than planned (remember, in the US, old is anything that’s more than 200 years. Here, it’s anything that more than 500). In the US, many cities are organized by grid, so it’s usually fairly easy to navigate. Here in Nantes, a few main roads shoot out from the city center in heading North-South and East-West. The rest wind, arc and meander from neighborhood to neighborhood. Sometimes, the shorter route between two places is not a straight line at all, but a carefully chosen collection of twists and turns.
  • The bathrooms/toilet situation. I’ll never fully understand why the French separate their toilets from their main bathrooms. I mean, there are good reasons (so someone can use the toilet if someone else is in the shower), but it sure makes washing your hands challenging. Apparently, most French people don’t have a problem with that and they get by without washing (I’m sure some wash, but still).
  • Weird hours for stores. First, everything is closed on Sunday. And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Second, banks are closed on Mondays. To make up for the extra day they’re open on Saturdays, which is really only a half day. Third, many businesses (except restaurants) close for lunch, usually from about noon to 2 pm. Many of them also close early (around 7:30 pm). So, if you don’t do the shopping you need to when stores are open, you’re basically screwed. If you don’t get your grocery shopping done any day except Sunday, you’re also screwed. I also wonder broadly how an economy can function with people seemingly working so little. But hey, that’s France, right?

I’m sure over time these will all become minor or will seem silly.

One a different note: I’m pleased to say that my new career (freelance writing) seems to be going well. I earned some glowing praise from a client on a video I concepted, wrote and art directed (coming to the Portfolio section at some point in the near future). I also picked up a small (to start) project from one of my Baltimore friends. I haven’t devoted much time to finishing my own website, but that’s ok, as I feel like other things have had to take priority (like moving).

And most importantly, I’ve had some time to work on my personal writing (coming to my website at some point in the future). This week excluded (where I’ve been busy shuffling between apartments and hauling big piles of stuff from big box stores onto trams & buses), I’m pleased with the progress I’ve been making with my writing. I’ve revised one short story that I started last year. I started some character sketches for one of my novel ideas. I finished an outline for a different novel idea (but putting that one on the back-burner as the other idea is more interesting). And I wrote the first draft for a comic book that Amandine and I are collaborating on. This is probably going to be the most fun project I’m working on, partly because I love being creative with my own daughter. The comic book is based on our cat, Churro, who is a loveable but sometimes mischievous cat.

More on that and these other projects to come soon, I hope.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *