Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Dix ans

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:
  • bagels
  • corn on the cob (thank you Picard!)
  • red onions
  • Mexican fixings
  • cheddar
  • blueberries
  • bacon
  • 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....

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Blogger Lil said...

Happy Franciversary! So happy for you that things are going strength to strength, and may this continue for a long long time to come.

September 1, 2013 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger The Kale Project said...

Happy 10 years K-Sam! It was such an interesting post to read. I think it will make all of us step back and think about where we were in 2003... and what the differences were. And btw, no red onions?! Wow! Hope you and C are doing something great to celebrate!

September 1, 2013 at 7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ten years is wonderful! I'll be coming up on 7 in November... and just got citizenship recently so now you and I are both dual-nationals! Congratulations (and thanks for that tip on Curves, I might look into that).

September 1, 2013 at 7:47 PM  
Blogger Bee Ean said...

Hi Samantha,

Could you please share how you can call for free using your cellphone to someone outside France?

I do not live in Paris so I do not have access to as much international cuisines as you do. That's something I still find very hard. As much as France is being refereed to as a gastronomy country, I find myself losing appetite and have less and less passions in food. That's sad.

September 1, 2013 at 10:57 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Woo! Ten years!

When I moved to France in 1993, we sometimes had phone bills that were 1200 francs (maybe 200 euros) because long distance was so expensive and I missed my family so much!

Getting a computer and dial-up internet in 2000 was a life-changing moment for me, I must say.

September 2, 2013 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger Tim Dudek said...

Congratulations on 10 years in France.

I do love reading old blogs and all the technology shock. People talking about dial-up and internet cafes. I was just reading Kylimacs old blog from like 2004 and she is posting pictures from her phone and they are these tiny blurry things that are like 2inches square.

Talking about changes in France, I read an article (sorry I don't remember from where) from a man you expated originally to France in the 80s and then came back in the 2000s.

He lived in a major city and almost nobody spoke english. He said even in Paris most people didn't speak english. It was a lot like you situation Sam. He had to learn French. That was all that he heard. The tv, the few stations there were, where French. Radio all French.

He also said it was almost a complete disconnect from America. He and his French wife, yes a French woman actually fell in love with an American man :), didn't have much money so he could only afford a call or two home a year. Plane tickets were out of the question. So all he had were letters.

Just think, now I can be in a starbucks in Paris and skype to my family over my phone.

Here's to 10 more years.

September 2, 2013 at 9:50 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

Great post Sam! It's true that some of those things have changed all over the world... but I remember in 2007 no one in France knew what facebook was.

September 2, 2013 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger shannon said...

I've only been here since 2007, and I've seen so many changes since then! Granted, I was in a town of 13,000 and have slowly made my way up to Lille, so that may have something to do with it, but still... so many things! But red onions?! I have yet to see those! And while I can find cheddar, it's still always in such small quantities. Which is so so weird as cheddar is a very important ingredient in one of the regional dishes. It just confuses me!

September 2, 2013 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger Sara Louise said...

Wow! So much change in ten years! I wonder if you'll write another one of these in another ten... :)

September 3, 2013 at 7:38 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Well done for staying the course!

One of the most remarkable things for me was the price of travel back in the 90s. Getting back to the UK was so expensive because there were so few options. Now I take the train. :)

September 3, 2013 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Gwan said...

Happy Franceaversary! Even the first time I had an extended (17 month or so) trip to Europe back in 06-07, things were very different, starting with I didn't have a laptop. Now it's hard to imagine, and I'm dreading just being without Internet for a little while during my upcoming move. In some ways, I think things were more fun/challenging in the old days, I ain't even imagine in the 70s or whenever when everyone and their dog didnt speak a bit of English (well, in tourist traps, no comment on the English of most of the people I meet day to day in France!)

September 4, 2013 at 10:27 PM  
Blogger Crystal said...

Happy Franciversary, copine! It's so funny you blogged about all the changes you've noticed in the past 10 years, because I was just thinking about doing a similar post myself! I haven't been here 10years yet (*shudder*), but I've definitely seen some advances in the 8 years I have.

France HAS come a long way in terms of technology etc. but until there is a Starbucks in every major city here, I'll continue to put Canada on its pedestal ;)

September 5, 2013 at 8:36 AM  
Blogger The Paris Chronicles said...

I can really relate to what Tim says about, having arrived here as an unintentional expat in 1980. I only phoned home twice a year, and that from the PTT (it was not yet La Poste), where I stood in line, asked for a "cabine", went inside the glass booth, spoke rapidly to my family on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then paid a lot for those minutes.

Otherwise, communications were done on aerogrammes...lovely flimsy light blue self-folding prepaid letters whose arrival in my mailbox was sometimes the highlight of my day.

We had no American food at all, so when I missed mexican food, I went up to the rue du Paradis where I could buy corn flour and make my own tortilla shells.

I remember the first time I saw American food was 1995, the year my older daughter was born. I was shopping in Auchan and they had just brought Oreos to the French market. I thought I was in a postnatal haze and dreaming.

Also, in 1982, one could send a pneumatique through the bowels of Paris to communicate with another Parisian.

The Paris buses still had some with open back decks. We still had the Carte Orange, which I still have in my scrapbooks. FNAC was just starting and it was strikingly modern, compared with Gibert Jeune where I used to buy my books. I remember when they bombed the Rue de Rennes Tati; I had just come out of the FNAC there.

We didn't have landlines because it took a year from request to installation. But if we did have a phone, it had an "ecouteur" on it which was a vintage kind of sharing of earbuds so another person in the household could listen to the conversation.

Many of us students had no in-flat toilet, relying on the one in the stairwell which was shared and often Turkish. I had thighs of steel back then thanks to this.

Lifts were rare in the apartment buildings, too.

These were the days when Paris was still glorious and beautiful. The problems of integration had not yet raised their head. Paris had a reputation of being a vibrant literary community, not a hive of strikes, civil unrest, unemployment, disinfranchised youth, Roma pickpockets and heated arguments over the veil. I am so grateful that my initial landing here was so soft and embracing, as it would not be a place I'd encourage my own children to emmigrate towards today. Sadly, my sense is France's glory days are long over, and never to be recovered.

September 6, 2013 at 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy 10 years! I've just passed the 11 year mark this summer. :) In my case it has gone by really fast!

September 8, 2013 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Congrats and thanks for the interesting ride down memory lane.

September 8, 2013 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Llyane Stanfield said...

Happy 10 years, enjoy the next even more! :)

September 9, 2013 at 6:15 AM  
Blogger astrofreak12 said...

Duh! You will find that what you're on about technology-wise applies anywhere. France used to be perhaps a year to a few months behind the US on certain things but not much. I'm still surprised you live in France though considering how much you seem to have suffered and suffer still.

September 10, 2013 at 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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October 16, 2013 at 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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October 16, 2013 at 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am French and I would mean how much I appreciate that none of your comments is negative.
It is probably our biggest difference (in your advantage): you know how to "positiver", make it positive.
Thank you.

@ The Paris Chronicle : our biggest defect, but perhaps our biggest actual luck is this cockerel which sings on a heap of manure! ;-)

October 16, 2013 at 4:35 PM  

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