Around France

One Step Forward, Two Back: Diary of an Expat

If you think living in France is buttery croissants and fancy red wine,  the diary of an Expat will be an awakening. 

Diary of an Expat

Wednesday and a lost iPhone

The calendar said I was to pick up Geoffrey to visit vineyards up north to take photos for my blog. The chosen location was more than an hour’s drive from Uzès. Geoffrey wanted me to pick him up no later than 9 am —  an early start for me.

Getting up early was no problem that day. I even had time to wash dishes and gather the trash. When the time came to leave the apartment, I picked up the bag of garbage, my purse, and my iPhone; I walked down the spiral steps of the apartment; opened the glass front door; locked the door behind me; then headed out of the building into the parking lot of the Place des Duche. At the nearby trash dumpster,  I lobbed the garbage bag into the big turbine roller drawer; waited to hear the bag drop to the bottom of the giant can; then, I  headed off to the underground parking garage where I would pick up Lucy.

Finding Lucy in her regular parking spot, I pushed the button on my keypad to unlock the driver’s door. Nothing happened. Undaunted, I slipped the key into the lock and sat in Lucy’s driver’s seat. I put the key in the ignition, turned it on, and … nothing. Not a beep, chug, or light on the dashboard. Nothing. Dead battery.

Reaching for my phone in my handbag to call Geoffrey to tell him the news, I came up empty-handed. “Where’s the phone?” I said to myself.

Dumping the handbag contents into the passenger seat,  I started to panic. No phone.

“Hmmm,” says I. “It’s either in the apartment, the dumpster, or somewhere on the street.”

Getting out of the car and retracing my route back to the apartment, I saw no phone on the street. Up 55 steps to the apartment, there was no phone. The only thing left was the dumpster.

By this time, I was well past the appointed time for picking up Geoffrey. On the way to his house, I ran into his girlfriend, Annabelle, and told her my dilemma. She phoned Geoffrey to tell him the news and to ask him to come over to rescue me …. for the umpteenth time.

Geoffrey met me in front of the trash dumpster wearing his usual “what mess are you in now” expression. After briefly explaining my dilemma, he noticed a number on the front of the dumpster and called the trash men for help. No luck. They’ll rescue lost car keys, but not telephones.

While Geoffrey was dealing with the trash, I set off to get a jump for the car battery. On the way to the garage, I met a neighbor standing in front of his house and, thinking he might have jumper cables to start my car, I asked my usual question when meeting a stranger: “Do you speak English?”

To my surprise, he was an American. He had jumper cables in his car, parked in the same garage as Lucy’s. Long story short, Lucy’s engine was started.

Instead of seeing vineyards, Geoffrey and I took off to the police station to report the stolen/lost phone and to drive to Nimes to deal with the SFR (the French equivalent of Verizon) about a replacement phone.

Diary of an Expat

Thursday, and no bank card

Nothing settled. The phone company gave me the number of the insurance company where I could place a claim for the lost phone. The insurance company’s automated answering service has no command for “If you want to speak to someone in English, press #.”

Geoffrey was MIA, perhaps in hiding. 

With no solution for the phone in mind, I decided to deal with another pressing issue. My bank debit card was “broken.”  The card would no longer work in a store or automated teller machine. It never arrived at the bank after ordering new cards —  twice.

I met with the bank manager — the only person in the branch who speaks English –and he assured me the problem would be solved by next week. I withdrew money from my account to make it through the weekend without a debit card. Again.

Diary of an Expat

Friday, and a dead battery

It was the day to meet an American friend visiting Avignon. We were to have lunch together, then tour the town.

Calculating how long it would take me to get to Avignon from Uzes, I went to the garage to pick Lucy up for the drive. With little time to spare, I punched the automatic key, praying the car door would open.


“Whew,” says I. But when I got in the car and put the key in the ignition to start the motor … nothing. “ACH!!!” Not again!

With no phone to call my friend in Avignon, I walked back to the apartment, back up the 55 steps, and called on my landline to cancel our lunch date.

Now, mind you, I have no phone, and after frantically checking on Google and iCloud for my contacts, I must have forgotten to do an update. Luckily, I had the number for “JJ, “my young friend I call when I’m desperate for help.

In no time, JJ was on the spot. He jumped the car battery, accompanied me to Carrefour to buy cables and a charger, and set Lucy in front of his garage to charge the battery for the rest of the afternoon.

The verdict on why the battery goes dead? There’s a little switch on the handle for the lights that I’m not putting on “off”. 

Since JJ had solved the battery problem,  I asked him to tackle another issue — call the insurance company about the lost phone. Trying the number several times, he told me how to make the call myself. He said just press “1” each time the automated voice says “pump-oooh” or something like that. Do it three times.

JJ left town on Saturday for a month to pick grapes in the north. 

JJ’s suggestion to punch #1 three times during the automated answering system’s messages worked like a cha nrm. A “real voice” answered after the third round, and  I was routed to someone who could speak English — somewhat. That person emailed the instructions for filing a claim which I luckily received.

Diary of an Expat

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and no businesses open

It was the week end. On those days, plus Monday, you can’t conduct business.  Almost everything is closed … no insurance company, bank .. no nothing. I spent the weekend close to home, hoping to avoid trouble.

Meanwhile, another crisis was looming. The deadline for registering my new car was running out.

Diary of an Expat

Tuesday, and the Mairie 

Starting out early, I tackled the bank problem first. To my delight, a new card was there … and this time, it worked in the bank machine.

Next, the car registration. With forms that had to be filled out in French, I stalked and captured my English-speaking agent at the real estate office. With the promise of a free cup of cafe, I had him lassoed into sitting down with me to help.

I was ready to take on the Mairie (town hall).

Fortunately, I’d been in the Mairie on another occasion to deal with my long-stay visa. It wasn’t as daunting as it could have been, although I knew no one spoke English. I reached the registrar’s desk and explained that I speak no French.  Graciously. She went through the forms and asked only a few questions.

Since she spoke no English, we communicated through sign language and my poor French. One important document was missing that I should have received from the car dealer. The lady at the desk knew I wouldn’t know what to ask the car dealer since he speaks no English, so she called and asked him to email the needed information.

Yet another day and no closure.

Diary of an Expat

When all else fails, eat mayonnaise

So that’s how I spent my week in France. The best news is that I had a half loaf of French bread in the freezer and three boiled eggs in the refrigerator. That made a mighty good deviled egg sandwich… with a glass of red wine.


deviled egg sandwich


wicked with graphic



17 replies »

  1. Sorry, I can’t help chuckling at this Debby. It is a highly entertaining blog posting. Sounds like you are gradually working the problems through, with the help of some good local friends, and all will come right in the end.

    Incidentally, have you learnt the French for ““What mess are you in now..?” yet..

    • Yes, Ray, I’m lucky to have people who will help me out in a jam. Just wish I didn’t have to depend on them and could speak French. I’m working on it. Perhaps “What mess are you in now?” will be my phrase for the day!

  2. Hi Debby I just read your post. What a nightmare. I guess every paradise has to have a black cloud over it periodically. I hope the sun is coming out again and you have everything settled. I’ve been to Isle sur Sorgue, Gordes, St Remy, Les Baux, Chateauneuf du Pape, and Orange so far. I’m exhausted! Today I’m taking the boat from Avignon to Arles, tomorrow I return the car to the TGV station and I’m taking the train to Aix. I haven’t seen all the towns I wanted to see but it will have to wait for another time. It’s been a good trip, the weather has been glorious. I’ve been posting a blog everyday and enjoying the writing. I’ll be around Avignon on Friday if you’re available. There are still parts of Avignon to explore. Loved the post, mainly because I know what you’re going through with the French system. Our cultures are so different. Kathy

    Sent from my iPad Kathy Schlitzer


    • We’ll see how things work out today. Hopefully I’ll solve the car registration and phone issues. Then I’m ready to take on more. It’s so worth it to be here. I’ll give you a call about Friday. Would love to see you again!

  3. When we were in France a few years ago an American expat couple said that after a year you must get a French driver’s license and the test can only be taken in French.

  4. The good and wonderful are so enjoyable…..the bad affords you great learning opportunities and lessons in PATIENCeE !! I can only imagine how much everyone there is enjoying the adventures of the Americana Deborah!! 😍😍

  5. I just love reading your blog… We were one of the Home Exchange people you contacted. We have never been to France and reading your blog really give me a taste of what it would be like. Love it and keep sharing!

    • Thank you so much, Nyda. It’s really fun living here … almost all the time. In spite of all the wonderful stuff, life still happens. It’s just a little more confusing in French!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.