On the morning of my departure to Paris, I woke at the crack of dawn with a yawning hole of nervousness in the pit of my stomach. What the hell was I getting myself into? But as my airport taxi pulled away from the curb, the rising sun cracked the clouds exposing the promise of a blue sky, and “Son of a Preacher Man” came on the radio; the perfect uplifting song for that moment. (Thank you Simon Bates.)
It was a long journey from Manchester to Paris as I had to change at Heathrow, but the pilot kindly made a low circle over a sunny Central London and I got what felt like my own private view of the landmarks.
Once in Heathrow I rocked up at the departure gate for Paris, and finally, seeing the “Paris” sign, it all seemed real!
But as I boarded the plane, I was suddenly surrounded by rapid-fire French conversations. I couldn’t make out anything anyone was saying and started to get a little panicky. Then as I turned off my cellphone for the flight, I realized I had lost my international SIM card and had no way of getting in touch with anyone at all. What if something went wrong? What was I thinking when I came up with this crazy plan? I was not in Kansas any more.
But a few deep breaths (and a stiff vodka) laid those worries to rest.
Orly Airport, one of two in Paris, is a rather dismal place. I am surprised that it hasn’t had the shiny new overhauls of the big city airports I have used recently. Even Cebu in the Philippines has better facilities. Bare walls, minimal signage, not even anywhere to buy a SIM card, which was the one thing I really needed.
So I high-tailed it out of there, and headed for the taxi rank.
Rather than the unhelpful and sulky Parisian I had been expecting, my taxi driver was adorable. He refused to let me pick up my luggage and tried his best to speak in English. I had been practicing my new address in French over and over in my head, but still was amazed when he actually understood. We started a tentative conversation, and I was determined to speak back in French each time. And before you knew it, I was jabbering away in this foreign language! Although I studied French for 7 years in school, I have rarely used it in real life, but it all came flooding back. We ended up having a conversation about swimming pools of all things. How do I remember a random word like that after 25 years? And really, how on earth did he understand my terrible accent?
We seemed to drive forever through the outskirts of Paris, and it was quite obvious as soon as we hit Paris Proper. The buildings suddenly grew in stature and the roads widened. The tourists started to grow in numbers and then – whoa, there was the Seine, Notre Dame, and finally – my apartment!
I had explored the local streets in advance using the wonderous Google Maps feature and recognized the street-front as we pulled up. Already it almost felt like I was home.
The letting agent had promised to be waiting inside and I was just to ring the bell. For the last 8 years, door bells have been a matter of shouting “Hello!” very loudly. The high-tech digital contraption on my new front door confounded me. As I fumbled at the entrance, the driver thankfully came back to help. With my dead cell phone, who knows how long I would have been standing out there otherwise?
I lugged my bags up the three flights of stairs, and, exhausted, took in the apartment in amazement. I had been so worried about how it would turn out but it was incredible! I could believe how big it was. I kept going round and discovering new rooms!
From what I can gather it belongs to a traveling actress, and you can tell from the more personal touches that it is also her home. Someone had left a bottle of both San Pellegrino AND Volvic in the fridge, as well as espresso capsules for the coffee maker and ice cream in the freezer. I could not have hoped for a warmer welcome!
After the letting agent settled me in, I got the wi-fi up and running, but the landline did not work. Then the wi-fi went down 😦 So along with my lost SIM card, I realized I was completely isolated from the outside world. I didn’t much like that feeling, so ventured out to try to find the cellphone shop we had passed on the way. As I wandered around, looking at eye level for the familiar ORANGE sign, at one point I looked up and almost staggered back from the primary coloured plastics of the Pompidou center that towered above me. Where had that come from? I guess that kind of thing will happen here a lot.
A short walk on and I reached the majestic Hôtel de Ville which houses the administration department of the City of Paris.
Going to the beach in Paris?
I have been doing some advance research and recently read about Paris Plages, which means Paris Beach. Of course, Paris is not by the sea, and so I had assumed it was a reference to the annual August mass exodus of all Parisians to the south coast. But, as I got closer to the Hôtel de Ville, to my astonishment, I happened upon a manmade beach complete with volleyball nets. It seems they have fake beaches set up all along the Seine! I shall report back to you on this anomaly when I know more…
The end of my street
Five minutes walk from my apartment…
Disaster in the Supermarket
I didn’t manage to find a cellphone shop, but I did make it to the local supermarket. As it was my first evening, I decided to spoil myself and stock up on essentials like strawberries, smoked salmon and champagne. Much to my surprise and contrary to everything I had read written by other expats, I got several “Bonjours” from other shoppers and staff and even quite a few “Pardons” – usually when I bumped into them as I gawked my way around the aisles. And I thought it was only the English that apologized when it as someone else’s fault.
I had been forewarned that supermarket checkouts were hostile, queue-jumping, elbow-shoving, generally unpleasant environments. But not so my local Monoprix. The cheery cashier beckoned me over to his empty checkout, told me how he hated his job but was happy today, then continued chatting happily in incomprehensible French at which I just nodded and grinned.
Then it came time to pay for all my decadent purchases. I went for my wallet, scrabbled through my bag and… it wasn’t there. I had left it at home.
I wished for the ground to open up and swallow me.
I never do things like that. And to have bought so many luxury items…. I felt like Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria – the part where she is starving and penniless in Paris, so orders all the most expensive items from a restaurant menu, then puts a cockroach in her salad to try to comp a freebie….
I wanted to tell them that I really did have the money to pay for it, that I just lived nearby. But I got so flustered that my new-found confidence in speaking French flew out of the window. I could not think of a single thing to say in French. Not even merde.
Luckily they were incredibly nice about it. They packaged up my bags and told me in English that it was no problem at all and I could go back and get my money.
Back in my apartment I couldn’t find my wallet and wondered if it had been lurking in the depths of my bag all along. But I finally spied the reflection of its shiny black leather, winking mischievously at me from the black sweater it had been hiding on. I went back to get my items and waited for a good 15 minutes while they sorted it out. The others in line didn’t seem to mind waiting at all, in fact they had a good discussion about me (see Stupid Foreigner in my last post). And I secretly think the checkout guy was delighted that I was causing all these problems for his horrid bosses. I might even have made his day.
The First Evening
I returned to my flat exhausted but content. I spent a quiet first evening, celebrating my arrival alone, happy to be by myself in this wonderful city in this wonderful apartment, and wondering what the next 3 months has in store for me…