Today is a big day - it marks my ten year Franciversary. I can't even believe it. Ten years ago, I was arriving in V-town, thinking that I was just going to try it out for a year and see how it went, and I guess I just never left. While it's true that the first five years in Bretagne went by at a snail's pace, the past five in Paris have gone by in a flash. Paris has been good to me - how I ever lasted that long in the middle of nowhere, I'll never know!
But when I really started thinking about it, it's pretty crazy how much France has changed in a relatively short period of time. So I thought it would be fun though to compare the differences I have noticed since 2003.
(As a disclaimer, these are mainly differences from my previous life in Bretagne and my life now in Paris, so it might not be representative for the rest of France...)
Let's start off with one of the main reasons people come to France - the food. Back in the day, grocery stores were always closed on Sundays, and the hours were a lot more restricted (closed from 12-2, and nightly closings at 19h). Foreign restaurant offerings were few and far between. I remember being so excited when a Subway opened up in town - at last, a small taste of home! Now I turn my nose up at Subway. Supermarkets were a maze of aisles, with nothing making sense. (Why would you put the sugar by the milk and not in the baking aisle??). Though I have noticed in small towns that this is often still the case...
I was also trying to think of things that I couldn't find then, but that are pretty widely available now:
- corn on the cob (thank you Picard!)
- red onions
- Mexican fixings
- chocolate chips (even though I now prefer chopping up a chocolate bar)
- American-style brown sugar
- black beans (at Auchan and bio stores)
- French pop tarts
There were almost zero gyms or places to exercise, and "working out" consisted of going to the pool once a week or getting dressed up like Lance Armstrong and riding your bike on Saturday. As a side note, friends of mine were the ones to bring the gym chain "Curves" to France and it was an uphill battle all the way - but now they have them in almost every department in France. There's even one across the street from our apartment.
There have been some pretty big technological advances as well. Those of you who were around back then may remember having to pay 12 cents a minute to call any landlines outside of your department. Or 30 cents a minute to call a cell phone. There was not of this "Free nationwide and international calling" business - we paid out the nose for phone calls. And if you wanted to switch away from France Télécom to Club Internet or another cheaper operator, you still had to pay a 14€ monthly line rental fee to FT on top of your internet subscription. Thank God the EU stepped in a took care of that!
Internet speeds were also a long way from today's - at 512 mbps, our connection in V-town was considered "high-speed". Only 23% of French people had ADSL, and most of my customers were still using a dial-up connection. And if you asked someone if they had wifi, their reponse was almost always "Oui Quoi??" Ten years later, 83% of French citizens have access to internet (though there are still about half a million homes out there who cannot get high-speed internet due to their location).
There was no such thing as 3G service for cell phones, and not a single smart phone on the market. (The iphone didn't come to France until the end of 2007). So we all made due with texting and calling - but you did your best to get others to call you since incoming calls were free and outgoing calls cost 30 cents a minute.
As far as TV goes, there were only six free channels. TNT did not exist yet and there was no possibility of switching the viewing language over to English. There was no streaming of TV shows from back home; the only way to get them was to download them illegally. Google was in its infancy, and we were a long way from having gmail or gchat. Facebook did not yet exist, and neither did twitter, pinterest or instagram. Blogging was still in its early stages and the term "social media" had not yet become a buzzword.
Looking back at everything, I think "How on Earth did I occupy my time?". And the answer is - I didn't. I was extremely bored and lonely. I felt isolated and like a freak. It was only two years later when I discovered blogging that I realized I was not alone, and that I was not the only one experiencing language, admin and cultural frustrations. For that reason alone, today's expats have it a million times easier!
As someone who came to France for love and not because she loved France, my early readers might remember that life was pretty tough for me starting out. I didn't come here to be immersed in French life, language and food, so the transition was quite hard. Today though, things are a lot easier. I have access to movies in VO and international cuisine. It's no longer impossible to rent an automatic car to travel around for work (yes, I am a loser and I still have not learned how to drive a manual). I can easily (and cheaply) keep in touch with friends and family worldwide. If someone had told me 10 years ago I could walk down the street and call my family from my cell phone for free, I would have asked them what they had been smoking.
Basically, I am now free to pick and choose what I like about the US and what I like about France - it's sort of like having the best of both worlds. Granted, being in Paris helps, but that alone makes it worth the high rents, at least for us. So voila - it's been a crazy ten years with a lot of ups and downs. Who knows where we will be ten years from now, but right now, I am so happy to be living in a city a love, with a great job and a good man.
And I know some of you out there have been here much longer than I have, so please feel free to share some of the biggest changes you have seen too....