Category: Chapter 2: The Move

The Barefoot Blogger was ready for a big life change. A move to France!

Moving to France drama

Moving to France: The Drama

Five years ago the Barefoot Blogger started her extraordinary journey to live in France. Remembering some of my early days moving to France, the drama and friends is so much fun. This is one of my favorite blogs 2013 … enjoy!

If “Dancing Queen” from the movie “Mama Mia” came into your mind last Friday, it was me blasting the music from iTunes through my rooftop in France. I was celebrating that my internet connection and phone in the apartment were finally working!

To tell the truth, before then, I was close to a meltdown. My lack of French language skills was about to get the best of me. Imagine trying to place a service call to the cable or telephone company if you can’t communicate. There’s o way to get through an automated phone answering system if you can’t speak French!

The drama

Move to France dramaEveryday I was showing up at my friend Geoffrey’s house with a “Deborah-do” list. He’s the only bi-lingual person I know that I’ve felt comfortable asking ffavors. However, depending on him to deal with my never-ending household issues was getting to be a bit much. Even for me, the “Queen of do-me-a-favor ple..eee…ase.”

So last Thursday morning I stopped by the town’s tourist office to ask about a newcomers group I heard about last summer. The receptionist gave me verbal directions to the newcomers’ office. Wasting no more time, I set out to find it. After a few wrong turn I came to the athletic field mentioned in the directions.  A sign led me to a tiny building inside the fence at the far end of the playing field. The squat, stone structure looked like a baseball dugout shelter; except it had a door at the end closest to me and barred windows on the sides.

The fence gate was open and just inside the gate a dirt path led to the entrance door. When there I turned the worn knob and pushed my weight against the heavy, wooden door.  Expecting to see a reception desk inside, or at least to hear a “bonjour”, I saw only a hallway of closed doors and heard muffled voices coming from behind one of the doors.

Moving to France dramaWalking towards the voices I reached the room that, I hoped, would be full of English-speaking people. Opening the door and sticking my head inside the tiny, dimly lit room, my eyes met the glares from at least a dozen men and women, all sitting around a table. They were probably conducting a very important meeting of some kind, which I rudely interrupted. But surely they would understand. I was on a mission.

I needed someone, anyone, to come to my rescue… to speak English.

Before I was totally into the room, a kind young woman stood up from behind the table to greet me at the door . But by then, I had blurted out “does anyone speak English?”

No one said a word. They just looked at each other, waiting for someone to speak up.

Silence.

“What??” I said to myself. ” No one speaks English? What kind of a “welcome”  group is this?!”

Fortunately, none of that ‘head-talk’ came out of my mouth. Nevertheless, I’m sure every person in the room, from the look on their faces, got the message and said in their own heads: “Ugly American!”

Meanwhile, the nice lady who was standing with me quickly grabbed my hand, pulled me into the hall, and closed the door behind us. With sign language and a few French words that I could understand, she managed to communicate that I should come back the next week for French lessons.

In total despair, I walked home. Right past Geoffrey’s house.

As fate would have it

Friday morning I was surprised to hear my new cellphone ringing. I’d purchased it for calls in France and I couldn’t imagine who would be calling me. It was Geoffrey. He announced he had found the perfect person to help me with my phone and internet problems. His English friend, Andy, could help me out for a few hours — for a small fee.

Eureka! Within a couple of hours of showing up at my apartment, Andy worked miracles. The internet, the landline, the wifi connections … all were up and running. On top of that, the plumber was on his way to find out why I had no hot water, and to turn on the radiators. I had been taking cold showers for five days and the apartment was cold at night. No wonder I was getting hysterical.

While my new best friend had fulfilled his intended mission, he inadvertently informed me he had a van.

A van! A strong, young man with a van! My prayers were answered. Now my ten boxes that were stuck in a warehouse in Marseilles could be rescued !The boxes filled with clothes and household items were shipped from the States in August and had been “held hostage” since early October. I was having a spat with the handling company and customs agent about taxes. (Another story, another time.)

Quick trip to Marseilles

This tale is best told by pictures.

Driving the two hours to Marseilles was no problem. Finding the warehouse where the boxes were stored was another story. Our GPS map didn’t take into consideration there is massive construction work underway around the port in Marseilles.

Moving to France drama

 

At the warehouse everything looked orderly and well-managed. Then my boxes were trucked on a forklift to the door.

Please no! These can’t be mine!

Notice there are no pictures of Andy hauling the boxes up the 55 steps to the tower apartment. I didn’t have the nerve!

Moving to France drama

Home at last!

Moving to France Drama: Stress, yes. But fun along the way

When I look back on my first month living in France, I can easily say the “good times” have outnumbered the “bad”.

Hanging out with Geoffrey almost every day has been an adventure in itself –with enough stories to fill a book. It’s given me a great chance to meet some interesting “characters”. These are not the kind of folks you’d meet at fancy social gatherings. They are the people you’d pass on the street. Luckily I’ve had a chance to get to know them and experience their ways and antics. Here are just a few …

Rugby Reggie

Reggie is from the French Basque country. “I’m Basque” he proudly proclaims in his raspy, deep voice to anyone within listening distance. He lives on the same street as Geoffrey and spends a lot of time on his doorstep. When he’s not teaching the young boys in town how to play rugby. Reggie (shown on the right) and his good friend Matthew gave me permission to use their names and pictures in the blog. I told them they could say “Hi” to the many women who like to read about life in France.

The day this picture was taken Reggie and Matthew moved a mural and wrought iron patio set  I bought from Geoffrey from his house to my apartment. Little did they know that, aside from carrying the mural and patio set through the streets of Uzes, with no vehicle, they’d also have to climb the 55 steps to my “tower” apartment.

The part that no one knew was that the mural was too big to come up the winding tower steps.Did that stop Reggie the Basque? Of course not! With a stroke of shear genius, Reggie figured out how to hoist the mural up the side of the tower wall and maneuver it sideways into the upper window of the apartment. Voila!

Michel and Nicholas come for dinner

Perhaps the two most delightful characters I’ve met in Uzès are Michel and Nicholas. Both were invited, along with me and Geoffrey’s girlfriend Nandine, to have dinner with Geoffrey on a Sunday afternoon.

Geoffrey prepared a special French meal for us with the Mont d’ Or cheese I bought at the Saturday market.  “Mont d’ Or” means “mountain of gold” in English. It tastes like honey from heaven.  The cheese comes in a round bamboo container with a paper lid. To prepare Mont d’ Or you remove the box lid and stuff two or three cloves of garlic deep down into the middle of the cheese. Wrap the container in aluminum foil and bake the cheese for approximately 30 minutes, or until it is nicely melted.

Geoffrey served the Mont d’ Or with boiled potatoes, a salad with vinagrette dressing and fresh baguettes. For dessert we had formage blanc with rum raisin sauce, sprinkled with roasted almonds.

It’s hard to decide if the meal that Sunday, or the company, was more entertaining. Geoffrey’s friend Michel is quiet and introspective. Nicholas is rowdy and comical. Most of the conversation around the table was in French. Nevertheless, I could understand a lot that was said from the occasional French words I know and from the animated facial expressions and laughter.

Who wouldn’t have fun with guys like these?

(RIP Nicolas – 2018 – We miss you)

Stay tuned. More friends to meet. 

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Moving day in France

I’m Living in France!

Having written at least three “catchup” posts which are in various stages of completion, maybe this one will be published before it self-destructs.

Patience.

Remember when I said one of the reasons for moving to another country, out of my comfort zone, was to learn to be patient? Well, my patience is stretched to the limits everyday. Never ask for something unless you really know you want it. Starting with move-in day, photos are far better than words. However, let me set the stage.

The apartment is in a 15th century building almost in the center of the historic district of Uzes. As most residences here, the ground floor doesn’t count so the floors start on two (etage 2). My apartment is on etage 3. All in all, there are 55 steps from the ground floor.

Now imagine “two men and a truck” carrying two 7′ x 5′ armoires; two 4’x3′ Victorian chests (one with a marble top — detachable, thank goodness!); a 36″ round table; and four chairs up the steps and spiral staircase. The good news? The armoires could be disassembled. Nevertheless!

Now imagine another “two men and a truck” crew arriving with a king-size bed mattress.  A feat of imagination, ingenuity, and brawn. One of the men, after the third climb to the top, nicknamed the apartment “the ascension.”

 

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My French Apartment

My French Apartment

It has been only six days since I landed in France, and I’m almost ready to move into my French apartment!

Renting the apartment unfurnished, I knew there would be a lot to do. I thought I’d be doing good if I had a bed and a refrigerator by the first week. That’s before I knew I had engaged the world’s # 1 administrator to help me — Nandine. In less than one week, Nandine has helped find not only a bed, but also furniture for the living room and dining room — along with arranging for telephone and utilities. All that’s left to do is to find furnishings for the guest room, lamps, and accessories.Needless to say, I’m ecstatic! Nandine’s knock on my bedroom door at 8 am, and our everyday trips to either a furniture store, Carrefour, or to Intermarche have gotten the job done in record time.

Check list
Utilities
Appliances
Bed
Furniture
Internet
Cellphone
Landline phone
Basic household items
Wine
Wine
More wine

On Tuesday I will wait at the apartment in Uzes for the delivery of furniture and appliances. It should be an interesting day watching the delivery people maneuver the armoires and bed up the narrow spiral staircase. My bet is that most will all be hauled up through the top floor terrace … by ropes. With camera in hand, you’ll experience the pain and triumph with me.

Time to play
All work and no play is really dull. So I’m visiting nearby La Grande Motte. Just outside Montpelier, the resort town on the Mediterranean seems much like Hilton Head Island resort in South Carolina. Condominiums are stacked many stories high, shaped like pyramids, around the boat docks and along the stretch of nearby beaches.

Built in the late 1960’s, La Grande Motte has golf courses, tennis courts, pools, lakes, and boat access to the Mediterranean. The commercial area at the yacht basin is busy with restaurants, tourists, and children’s amusement areas. The day I visited there was a race of small catamarans starring world-class yachtsmen. It was truly a beautiful sight when each boat, one after the other, unfurled a different colored sail that fluttered in the clear, blue sky.

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Tomorrow… Move in day!
Stay tuned

expat in France

Living the Dream. An Expat in France.

I’m here! In just two months I’ve transitioned from a starry-eyed optimist to a legal expat in France.

I can hardly believe it myself. It took the efforts of my amazing friends and family in the US and in France to make it happen. I will honor your privacy and not call you out by name, however, you know who you are. I am forever grateful for your time, your sweat and muscle, and for your love and encouragement. Truly, I am the luckiest person in the world because of the friends and family that surround me.

The journey

So… the move started immediately after I returned from France in July.

Cleaning out
First was the sorting out of a lifelong collection of “stuff.” Then, an estate sale and a clothing sale which were held over two weekends. (Of course I would choose July to make this move. It’s the second hottest month of the year in the Low Country of South Carolina.)

The Visa
In between, the preparation and paperwork for a long-stay visa and a visit to the French consulate in Atlanta were necessary to keep things rolling along and legal.

Empty house
By mid-August (THE hottest month in the Low Country) my son and friends helped me move everything out of the house in Beaufort. A bit of my most precious belongings went to a small, climate-controlled warehouse space, some to my friends’ homes for safe keeping, some to consignment stores in Beaufort, and lots to my son to sell on eBay.

Whew!

expat in France

By the time I left Beaufort to say my final goodbyes to sons in Alabama and Atlanta, I was down to ONLY a carful of stuff. Oh…I should say a “rental car” full of stuff. Along the way I was in a wreck and my old, faithful Acura was declared a total lost. Actually, it was great luck. I needed to dump it anyway before my departure to France.

Deep cleaning
With the expert help of my daughter-in-law, who actually throws out refrigerator items according to the expiration dates, I condensed a carful of stuff to one large suitcase, one carry-on suitcase, and a backpack. OK, I must confess. My son is shipping two more 18″x18″x16″ boxes to Uzes.

Saying goodbye
After two months of exhausting work, after imposing on almost everyone I know, after eating every Southern fried food item I could stuff into my mouth, and after a memorable farewell party with friends, I was on my way to my new life in France.

expat in France

Fried green tomatoes and fried chicken

Fried green tomatoes and fried chicken
Whistlestop Cafe in Birmingham, Alabama, made famous by Fannie Flag’s book and movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes”

Landing in France
This trip I took the route to France through Atlanta, to Toronto, to Paris, to Marseilles. Originally, I planned to take a train from Paris to Nimes. However, as luck would have it, a train strike on the day I was to land in Paris was announced in time for me to change my plans. Instead of the train, I flew from Paris to Marseilles. I’m not certain I would recommend this route because there is a six hour layover in Toronto. However, it did give me time to take a shuttle to the nearby Sheraton for a manicure, pedicure, and a decent meal before the long flight to Paris.

Almost home

CDG Airport

On Tuesday, September 10, I arrived in Paris, then Marseilles, France. My move-in goal is Tuesday, September 27.

 

My French Home. I’m an expat in France!

moving to France

Moving to France: Please-a-Visa

If my rush moving to France wasn’t self-imposed, I could complain about so much to do. Instead, I just grin and bear it. Then grin some more.

An estate sale and clothing sale over the last two weekends were just the tip of the iceberg. In between there’s been 1) packing the ten 18″x18″x16″ boxes to ship to Marseilles; 2) contracts to negotiate with the rental agency for the apartment, 3) a bank account in France to open and…4) the paperwork for a long- stay visa. There are a few lessons learned from each of the above when moving to France.

moving to FranceMoving to France Step 1

Estate sale
First of all, recruit all the help you can!  My incredible son from Birmingham donated two weeks of his time to help me sort out my treasures to sell ( aka “stuff”, “junk”) while trying to keep up, remotely, with his job. Also, two of the best friends a gal could ever ask for pitched in to organize, price and sell everything before and during the sales.

Second, call your sale an “estate” sale, not a “moving” or “house sale”…and certainly not a “garage sale”. It brings in a totally different type of buyers and allows you to sell items at a slightly higher price point. “Perceived” value.

Advertise! It will cost to place ads, but it’s worth it. Estate sales are hard work. Don’t skimp on letting people know about them. Ads on Craig’s List, estatesales.com, bookoo.com, and your local newspaper(s) are good places to start. Well-placed yard signs are important too.

Clothing sales are more lucrative if you sell jewelry, handbags, scarves and other accessories as well. Buyers will scoff up $1 and $5 costume jewelry and those sales add up!

Provide a separate place for ladies to try on clothing. Have mirrors everywhere. If women are in the “dressing” room with other ladies, they often encourage the others to buy!

If a potential buyer wants an item but, for some reason they can’t carry it with them, offer to ship items to them (for a price.) For example, a couple came to my estate sale who were visiting from out of town. They purchased some large ticket items and also wanted a canister set. They couldn’t carry it back home. I missed the sale because I didn’t think fast enough to ask if I could ship it to them.

Allow buyers to return during off- hours. Some of the biggest sales were made the day after the public sales. I was home packing boxes anyway, so when people came by, I let them see what was left. They always bought something, probably because they appreciated the special attention.

Mark items BOGO (buy one get one free) the last hours of the sale. When traffic slows down, change your outdoor signs to read BOGO. It’ll bring on new customers. After hour sales go back to full price.

Accept credit and debit cards. This is probably the most important lesson learned. A friend loaned me a “square” that allowed customers to use credit to buy the items. There’s a charge to use the service, but it’s worth the almost 50% increase in sales.

Provide shopping bags at the door. Customers will fill them up with items they want to buy. It’s much more convenient and efficient for you and the shopper than carrying stuff around or leaving items at the checkout.

Moving to France Step 2

Shipping items to France
Sending household and personal items in boxes through a shipping company will save you from hauling extra bags on the airplane. The important thing to remember is whether the stuff in the boxes is worth the shipping fees.

When I get to France and unload the boxes, I’ll let you know if I brought the right things with me. Right now I’m prioritizing by replacement cost in France. My cost shipping 10 boxes is estimated at $1000. The contents of each box must save me $100 in replacement cost, or it’s not worth the hassle. Filling a box with personalized stationary, books, and office supplies doesn’t make sense. Packing coats, my favorite outfits, some kitchen utensils and most-used cooking pans is my plan. I’m also throwing in new linens and towels. The quality is better than I found around Uzes and the pieces can be used to pack around breakables instead of using paper or bubble wrap.

When the boxes are full, wrap each with packing tape… 3 rows of tape around each side. Then cover the box with “shrink wrap” plastic. I didn’t know it existed, but you can buy rolls of plastic that is wide enough to cover a box. It comes in a package like Saran Wrap and you can purchase it at Home Depot or Lowes DIY store. The shipping agent says preparing the boxes as described above improves the security of your shipment by up to 80%.

Moving to France Step 3

French bank account
Opening a bank account in France is a requirement for renting an apartment. The agent and apartment owner like to have monthly payments set up through a draw on the account. In order to open the account you must show proof that your IRS taxes are paid in the US. I gave them the cover page from my tax forms. You must also show proof of residence in France. Don’t ask me how crooks get away with foreign bank accounts! Guess they know all the angles.

Moving to France Step 4

Rental contract

Find someone you know who can understand French legal documents. In my case, I lucked out that my son, who was helping with the move, has experience reviewing similar paperwork. He served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon and worked with banks to make loans using some of the same legalize. If that fails, use the Google Translate app. Assuming the French documents you want to translate come to you in a PDF format, you need to install an Adobe application that can convert pdfs to Word (or MAC). Then copy and paste the content into Google Translate which you can access online. The translation may not be the best, but it can help you with the highlights. Then ask your rental agent to go over it with you.

Be especially mindful of the charges from the rental agency. I was surprised with the cost of a “honorarium” that was owed to them by both the owner of the apartment and by me — more than the cost of a month’s rent! When I complained about the cost, the agent stated it is the customary way to work with rental agencies in France. To pacify me, he moved my closing date so that the overall price was reduced.

Moving to France Step 5

moving to France

Atlanta’s French Consulate

Long stay visa To stay in France longer than 90 days at a time, you must have a “long stay” visa. Look on the Internet for the French consulate that serves the area where you live. The southeast consulate in Atlanta serves South Carolina. You must have an appointment at the consulate to apply in person for the visa. Appointments are made through an online tool. When I first checked, there were no appointments available for the next 3 months! So I called the consulate (which they advise NOT to do) and I was lucky enough that someone answered the phone. The lady who answered graciously took my name and promised she would call me when there was a cancellation. I got a call for an appointment on August 8.

There are a number of forms on the French consulate website that must be filled in to accompany your application. They are pretty self-explanatory. The one that stumped me was the proof of medical insurance. I had information on all my coverage but not a statement about services outside the US. I told the interviewer I talked with the insurance company and that my supplemental insurer would become the primary provider outside the US. She wanted to see it in writing from the insurance company. Getting the letter about the insurance meant I had to stay over another day in Atlanta. Lesson learned: don’t be vague about anything. They want proof. That includes a rental agreement, bank account and airline ticket to France.

All of this is behind me now. The next few weeks I’m focusing on getting the house cleaned out and taking stuff that didn’t sell to charity or consignment shops. Hopefully I’ll have a few days to enjoy some Low Country activities and visit with friends. Then I’m heading to Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama to visit family before leaving for Paris on September 9.

Moving to France Step 6

Make lemonade
By the way… just so you don’t think all has been smooth sailing… I was in an auto accident Saturday. A neighbor drove out of her driveway and destroyed the right wheel, fender and bumper of my car. I spent half the day dealing with insurance companies and right now, have no car to use. The car’s probably totaled since its a late model Acura. Never mind, now I don’t have to worry about selling it.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!

moving to France

expat guide book

Moving to France: So much to do, so little time

If you’re looking for an expat guide book, perhaps this will help. Moving to France is like any other move. You have to pack up your stuff to get there.

In my case, that means getting rid of 40 years worth of stuff before I pack. Most things I should have gotten rid of years ago. Instead, I’ve gone from place to place, schlepping all this with me. If it didn’t fit in the new place, it went into storage. Today is a new day. Stuff isn’t as important as it used to be. It’s time to start fresh.

Moving to France looks like this

Since I have to furnish the apartment in Uzes, a few things are going with me that I think will be useful. I’ll buy furniture and other items when I get there, probably second hand, and sell them when I leave. I’ll be done to one storage place. (Down from 4!) Everything else is being sold.

Estate sale. Done!

A new home for Bentley

Sometimes love means saying you’re sorry and moving on, alone. Even though I could take my beloved labradoodle, Bentley, with me to Uzes (France loves dogs), I don’t think he would survive the journey. Bentley weighs 65 pounds so he’d have to ride under the airplane along with the luggage for the long flight. He’s frightened by lightening so noisy airplane sounds would scare him to death. It wouldn’t be fair to put him through the stress. He’s going to live with my son and daughter-in-law who have a goldendoodle, Maddy. He’s been visiting with them since my trip to France and he’s happy as a clam.

Renting an apartment

As you remember, I cut my travel adventures short when I decided to move to France. Instead of exploring Barcelona, I went back to find an apartment in Uzes. As fate would have it, a perfect place in the center of the historic village came available for rent. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! The rental agent from the Fonzia agency spoke good enough English to lead me through the process. First I had to open a bank French bank account. Then I had to sign a 3-year lease, which is customary in France, and an insurance agreement for the apartment. (The lease can be broken at any time for a variety of reasons, including relocation.)

I brought the legal materials home with me so my attorney could check the details. One important fact to know about renting in France, different from in the US, is a “honorarium”. It’s a “finders fee” owed to the agency for handling the rental transaction and it’s shared between the property owner and the renter. It’s quite expensive. In fact, it cost more than a month’s rent for my share.

After the papers are all signed, I’ll inspect the apartment to insure all is in order. Then it’s mine!

Getting a Visa

A long stay visa is required for anyone from the US visiting in France more than 90 days. A US passport allows you to be there only 90 days every six months. With a long stay visa you can stay 12 months. Getting a visa is easier said than done in SC. You have to go in person to the French Consulate in Atlanta to start the application process that can take a minimum of 21 days to complete.

When I first investigated the consulate website, I discovered you can make appointments for visas only through their online tool. The online calendar showed there were no appointments available until October. So I did what the website said not to do. I called the office. After I explained what I wanted to the nice lady who answered the phone at the consulate, and I told her that all I am planning to do is to spend money in her wonderful country, she said she’d call me when there was a cancellation. I have an appointment August 8.

The move

All that’s left is for me to do, after sorting out my stuff, is to get back to Uzes. The timeframe for finishing the visa process is up on the air. But if it goes smoothly, I should be in France by early September. Stay tuned!

 

expat guide book

My apartment building!

For more of this expat guide book, check out these Barefoot Blogger posts:

Expat Tips: Nothing Is Easy About Moving To France

Expat Tips on Moving to France: Visas and More

Place du Duché in Uzes, France

Saving the Best Part for Last

Remember when I started this blog, I said the uncharted part of the adventure may be the best. Well, guess what? It may be no surprise to you. I’m going to live it France!

After leaving Sete, I decided I wanted to return to Uzes instead of completing my journey.  I needed to find out if living in France was a possibility, not just a fantasy.  I would explore the various resources I had for finding apartments, for example. My friends, Geoffrey and Nandine, offered me a place to stay in their home until I could sort out my arrangements.

As fate would have it, everything began to fall into place. The rental agency notified me that an apartment was available they thought would be ideal for me. Ideal? It’s magnificent! It’s right in the center of the historic district in Uzes, Place du Duché.

Place du Duché in Uzes, France

Better yet, the rent is far more affordable than I could imagine. Less than my housing cost in the US!

Now I’m back in South Carolina making plans to move to France! There’s much more I have to write about my six week adventure — like visiting Pezenas, France, more jewelry artists and fascinating people along the way. Then, there’s always charting the progress of a lone female moving from the US to France. Stay tuned!

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