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A MOVING EXPERIENCE, Part Two

Saying goodbye to small town America


New York, London, Paris. No, not a designer shopping bag - but my life.

Part Three. Having just settled in rural New York and just got to the stage where the volunteers in the local library recognise me and say hello, I'm on the move again. To Paris. And frankly, I'm nervous. I will be writing here about my trials and tribulations, my successes and failures, my moving and renovating, my seach for a job and trying to speak French. Stay tuned to commiserate with me, laugh at me or to offer suggestions about my most recent disasters...
writes Sue Texier


I’ve been here a few months now. My furniture arrived without any notable breakages, or at least not that we’ve noticed. I only say that because there are as yet unopened boxes in the shed in the garden. And when I say ‘unopened boxes’, I mean MY unopened boxes. About 27 boxes have books in for which we haven’t got any bookcases, a few boxes have gifts I’ve received which have been carefully selected for re-gifting (you know what I mean) and then there is all my furniture which so far hasn’t been allowed in the house. You see, it doesn’t go with anything. Not even with a handbag. I am, needless to say, a little distraught to find that my yellow and red sofas don’t cut the mustard in a town house in France… but I have a secret hope that by badgering my husband to buy an apartment in the centre of Paris, a pied-à terre for those terribly tiring shopping days when you just can’t bring yourself to take a long train home, I will secure a triumphant renaissance for my sofas. Hmmmmm.

Having eaten in restaurants, shopped until I felt faint and even experienced the French transport system without falling victim to a strike, I still felt as if I was on an extended holiday. So I decided I’d better get to grips with things and do something meaningful. The first step was to sign up for a class. Bloom Where You’re Planted (www.woac.net) is a two day workshop held on two consecutive Tuesdays at the American Church of Paris on Quai d’Orsay. It’s designed to help newly arrived ex-pats familiarise themselves with Paris and France; the health system, the culture, cooking and even one’s mental well being. These workshops are held twice a year in October and March.

I was late for mine… the usual Paris thing – rain, high heels, and a weird little man stalking me from the Metro. I slipped guiltily in at the back of the church, with a sneaking, knees-bent side step that one only makes when one is late for something in a church. As I wrestled my wet umbrella under the pew, the first thing I registered was an American lady saying (rather fittingly from the pulpit) that French people hadn’t really embraced processed food and eating in the street – (no triple skinny lattes with shots and a dusting with a muffin to eat on the way to work) - but that they were ‘progressing’ and that we would begin to see more and more French people doing this. PROGRESSING????

I listened to a speaker, Rebecca Magniant who owns a shopping service called Chic Shopping (www.chicshoppingparis.com). Rebecca is an American who found herself dispatched to Paris with her French husband. Capitalising on her strengths, she set up this very successful shopping service which claims to introduce you to the best shopping areas and some of the best kept secrets in Paris. It is great for people on holiday who need to go shopping but don’t know really where to go, and it seemed like a great idea for me to familiarise myself with the retail locale. I actually went on one of her tours recently when a friend came to visit me here. It was tagged the ‘Cheap and Chic tour’ and we went around some fabulous consignment stores and bought a whole lot of stuff. I found two designer winter coats for less than €200 each, and my friend bought a whole sexy designer outfit (shoes, jacket and leather skirt) for a blisteringly hot date she had planned in the middle east (yep, don’t ask) for less than €300 It was a fabulous afternoon, one that dreams are made of, shopping for designer clothes at rock bottom prices, chatting with a very friendly ex-pat (Rebecca) and being shown the best watering holes to take respite in during our shop to shop excursion. Thouroughly recommended.

The most inspirational talk of the “Bloom Where You’re Planted” workshop was from Dr Jane Grey, who is a holistic councillor, a life coach and a therapist. She seemed to be very practical with a great sense of humour. She spoke about people who had returned home from their time in Paris having spent all their time away emailing and watching CNN on cable. I could immediately relate to that, and judging by the groans and laughs, so could a lot of people. She did, however have a lot of great ideas on how to get the most and best out of your time in Paris. You can contact her and other English speaking life coaches by going to www.paristherapyservices.com

One of the most useful items I took away from the workshop was the ‘Bloom Book’ which is a large spiral bound book filled with useful names and addresses, imperial to metric conversions, for Americans cups to kilo conversions, medical information, where to find English speaking hairdressers (more on that next time) and much more. I’ve torn out pages and I’ve kept them handy throughout the house. Of course your own ex-pat website, parisfranceguide.com is also mentioned in the book.

All in all, “Bloom Where You’re Planted” was a very America-centric workshop, but understandably so since it’s organised by volunteers at the American Church. I did also meet people from Singapore and Germany and I’m sure there were many other nationalities there that I elbowed out of my way en route to the Brentano’s bookstore exhibit.

Bookstores: I’m going to tell you about my near-religious experience recently in of all places WH Smith. Now, I grew up, as I suspect many Brits did, with a WH Smith in my local high street and really thought nothing of it. But when I visited the branch on rue de Rivoli (on the corner or rue Cambon, Metro: Concorde) it was as if I had been transported back in time. You see, I am a voracious reader. I’m really not kidding. On days that I don’t work ie pretty much every day, I can easily read a 400-500 page book.. I guess the normal Michael Crichton sized book. This wasn’t a problem in New York, as the library was extremely good, but in France, my ability, or lack therein, to read French seriously inhibits my reading speed and style. My last trip to New York involved empty suitcases and very few clothes on the way there, and even fewer clothes, and about 30 books on the way back. An expensive book trip – yes, but one entirely necessary to my mental well being. So to find WH Smith, so beautiful, so close (albeit fairly expensive) and with so many English shop assistants was blissful, like a cold drink of Pimms No 1on a hot day. If you’re at all bookish, or long to finger the Radio Times imagining you are back in your local high street – go. (www.whsmith.fr )

Next month, - promise this time, I will tell you all about my two week language immersion course in Sancerre. The reason I’ve been procrastinating is the fact that Sancerre is also famous for its lovely wine; I’ve spent the last month trying to remember what the course was like.

"Any advice or suggestions that you can offer Me and parisfranceguide.com readers would be very welcome, just email us at editor@thecatseyes.com.

A dream about a fireplace ends up as a nightmare

I have been dreaming of my new fireplace since July, knowing that if it wasn’t ordered, delivered and installed by September that I probably wouldn’t get it until well after I needed it.

So at the beginning of August I chose one in Leroy Merlin. Why Leroy Merlin? Well I ‘d already had a few fairly good experiences there; buying floor tiles for example. The staff are friendly and even have a sense of humour, which is not often the case elsewhere. There is a large selection of stuff, well displayed and decently priced. Moreover having bought a fireplace two years ago and then all the bits and pieces and got someone to put all the stuff together, I decide on the luxury route this time of making a single order and having everything delivered and installed all in one fell swoop. At least that’s what I thought I had done.

The dream started most agreeably : I managed to get a fireplace with a reduction since it was a model d’expo and nobody else buys a fireplace in August. And they even managed to find a delivery date just a few days later. The installer was going to come almost immediately to check on the installation so it seemed reasonable as I wrote my cheque out for some 3,000 euros that I would have my fireplace safely installed well before the end of August.

But then things started to go badly wrong. A day later Leroy Merlin called and told me that I would have to go back to the shop to pay for the installation ( each visit slashes three hours from my day). Annoying to say the least since they had promised that I would be able to pay the installer directly in order to save a trip back to the shop. Two days later even worse news: they hadn’t realized that for the installation I needed to buy a whole lot of material. Bad news because it meant forking out an additional 1,000 euros which I hadn’t bargained for. Bad news also because I had to slash another three hours from another day. But even worse news when I got there: the additional material needed, had to be ordered ……..and would take three weeks to arrive, which took us well into September when the holidays were over and I would no longer be at the house.

Now that was already awful; But imagine when the 10th September arrives and there’s no news from Leroy Merlin. When I called them to see what had happened, they seem to have forgotten about it entirely. Strange when already so much had gone seriously wrong.

Finally they admitted at being at fault and apologised that the fireplace could now not be delivered and installed until the 10th October.

At this point I decided that thee only sensible course of action was to cancel. The possibility of ever getting the correct fireplace and material delivered and installed seemed to be close to zero if Leroy Merlin had anything to do with it. But sadly in (retrospect), when I told them I wanted to cancel the order, Leroy Merlin offered to pay for my Eurostar ticket to come over from London for the new date of installation. And I relented.

The 10th October arrived and after a very, very early start I go to the house at 8am in the morning. I was both surprised and relieved when someone turned up before nine to begin the installation.
But at 10am my initial suspicions were confirmed. The installer informed me that an essential part of the material for the installation was missing………and that he was leaving.
At that moment I didn’t know whether to scream or cry. And I ended up doing both. I had come all the way to France from the UK for nothing.

Leroy Merlin called me to aplogise and to inform me that they were looking for the part in question and that the installer would be back the same day to install the fireplace. My hopes rose again. Only to be dashed at three in the afternoon when Leroy Merlin called me to say that the vital part could be found nowhere, and would have to ordered. And that I would have to wait another THREE weeks.

There was a mild apology, but the man who was responsible for the installations refused to take the blame, saying it wasn’t him who was responsible but the store he worked for, and really that it was the salesman’s fault. He didn’t really understand that he had wasted an entire day of my life and that the fireplace, would be installed over two months after it should have been………that is if I am very lucky. Of course when the part does arrive the installer will probably be booked until next March, so I will end up with my fireplace once winter is over…….Watch this space and if you want to stay sane don’t rely on Leroy Merlin for anything more than something which you can buy and take right home with you there and then.


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