Five long months of planning, plotting and organizing for my move from Taiwan to Nice, and I’ve finally arrived! I’m living in NICE! I still pinch myself almost every day. Most evenings I wander down to the promenade for sunset, listening to my Spotify playlist while I soak in the beauty of my new life on the Mediterranean. Sometimes a song will bring me back to my long walks in Taiwan, through the Hsinchu Science Park, a million miles away. I flashback to my old life and feel even more grateful for my new home, confident that the stress of beginning again, living in Nice as a “50-something”, will be worth it in the end.
My first morning in Nice, I woke up and thought “Now what“?
Where do you begin to recreate a life as a 50-something introvert?
How do you take a vision of the perfect new life and make that dream a reality?
First step: you pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit on the tiny balcony and watch pigeons.
Then you try to open a bank account, try to narrow down the perfect neighborhood, try to find an affordable apartment, try to meet new people and develop a social life, try to create a routine, and try to get some exercise.
And try hard not to freak out and become overwhelmed with all you’re trying to do!
Second step: take a deep breath and then take one step at a time.
Opening a bank account
I’ll be applying for a one-year long stay visa, allowing me to legally live (but not legally work) in France. Americans typically get a 3-month tourist visa on arrival which allows a stay of 90 days in a 180-day period within the Schengen Zone. Unlike in parts of Asia, I can’t just do a “visa run” to the nearest border to get stamped for another 3-month visa on re-entry. It’s much more complicated than that.
So, in October I’ll return to the US to visit the French consulate in Chicago and apply in person for the highly coveted one-year long stay visa. France does NOT make it easy for foreigners to enter the country legally and the process requires a lot of paperwork and hoop-jumping. One of the requirements to obtain the visa is opening a bank account in France.
And even THAT requires a lot of paperwork and hoop-jumping!
Also, I’ve found out the hard way that August is the WORST month to try to get business done in France since everyone is on vacation. After three weeks in the country, I was finally able to meet with someone at HSBC this week and have finally got the ball rolling on the banking paperwork.
Along with opening a bank account, I’m also required to establish a “frozen account” for apartment rental purposes since I won’t be able to show proof of income while I’m here. I’ll need to deposit around 6000 Euros in this frozen account as a security deposit. On top of that, I’ll still be required to pay the rent every month. The process of establishing a frozen account can take 3-4 weeks (depending, of course, on how many people are on vacation!).
The joys of apartment hunting
When I was researching apartment rentals online, I compared the rental prices in Nice that those in Antigua, Guatemala, since I was considering that as another option. Surprisingly, rental prices are comparable.
However, like everywhere in the world, prices in Nice vary greatly based on location. Location…location…location.
The biggest question to be answered is location. I’ve spent many hours walking the streets of this beautiful city, getting to know the small neighborhoods and trying to picture myself creating a new life there. My ideal location is walking distance from everything – the seafront promenade, cafes, restaurants, historic Old Town, and Shapko Jazz Bar (current center of my social life!).
Liberation neighborhood is more affordable but too far to walk late at night. The Port area is beautiful, but it seems there are few apartment rental options in the area. I also question how safe it is walking through that area late at night.
And then last week I found something interesting – a beautifully furnished studio loft in a great area AND within my price range! The apartment was advertised on Leboncoin, a French version of Craigslist, and was offered by an individual and not by a realtor. I jumped on it and jumped through the hoops to make it happen. It seemed too good to be true!
Sadly, it was too good to be true. A scam. (More on the scam and my day at the police station in a later post…)
(At press time, the apartment hunt continues…)
One of the most difficult things about starting a new life living in Nice is meeting new people. Actually, I find it the most difficult part of moving anywhere in the world, not just Nice. As I get older, I realize I’m very much an introvert so mindless small talk makes me want to scream!
Thankfully, I already have a few friends in Nice from my previous visits last winter. But in order to branch out, I’ve been forcing myself to attend a few organized social gatherings through Meet Up and InterNations.
Meet Up #1 – Coffee Talk on a Sunday morning (seems so simple…)
Brief recap: Showed up at designated location. Saw a few people at a table but wasn’t sure if they were “Meet Up” people. Grabbed a cappuccino, took a seat outside and amused myself people-watching. Took a deep breath. Went back inside and asked the large table of about 10 people “Is this the Meet Up group?” One man muttered “Yes.” and continued his private conversation. Took a seat at the end of the table. The private conversations continued. I felt invisible. Took my cappuccino back outside and resumed people-watching.
(I may try again some Sunday morning soon…)
Meet Up #2 – Quiz Night at Blue Whale Pub
Brief recap: Showed up at the pub 15 minutes early and ordered a white wine. Took a seat at the bar. Tried to figure out who was with the Meet Up group. Asked one man “Are you with Meet Up?” “Huh?” he responded, looking at me like I was speaking Greek. “Oh, nothing,” I replied.
A few minutes later, a woman walked in who I recognized from my previous trips to Nice. She was also a music fan and followed many of the same local musicians. A friendly face! Things were looking up!
She approached me, not smiling. “You’re back. How long are you here?” she asked, obviously not excited to see me again.
“Forever”, I replied.
“Did you move back for XXXXX?” she asked, referring to one of the popular musicians in town.
“HUH?” I replied, shocked that she would even think that!
(Turns out she’s obsessed with XXXXX and viewed me as a threat to her obsession.)
I left the bar just as Quiz Night was beginning. Went to Le Butch (a gay bar) and ordered another glass of wine.
Attempt #3: InterNations Gathering – drinks and music on the beach
Brief recap: Got all dressed up. Went to designated beachside restaurant. Found a park bench. Sat there trying to talk myself into paying 13 Euros to go in and make small talk with a bunch of strangers. Just couldn’t do it.
Went to Le Butch (gay bar) and spent 7 Euros for a half carafe of wine. Happily sipped wine and watched people. Chatted with a nice gay couple from the UK.
Moral of these stories of my social failures – as a natural introvert, I need to just live my life and meet people in more authentic situations. It seems the forced socializing doesn’t work for me.
Creating a new routine living in Nice
One of the first things I’ve been focusing on is establishing a routine…a “new normal” in this new life.
I’ve found my favorite cafe (Nomad Cafe) where I can sit for hours, sip a cappuccino, and write.
Many evenings I wander down to the promenade for sunset. I stare at the water, watch the colors soften and morph into a Monet painting, and listen to music. (It’s great therapy!)
I’ve figured out which supermarkets have the best selection of Greek yogurt and cheap chardonnay.
Tuesday nights are usually spent at Shapko, listening to the amazing music of the always entertaining XXXXX. (She’s always there, sitting in the corner obsessing over him.)
Just a short walk from my temporary home is Garibaldi Place, with outdoor cafes offering the best Happy Hour deals in town (a glass of wine for 2 Euros!).
I also love discovering new places to add to my “routine”. One Sunday afternoon it was hot and I really needed a beer so I stopped at a cute little place with outdoor seating and a perfect view. I walked in and asked about any Happy Hour specials. “We’re always happy here!“, the woman responded happily.
So I ordered a beer and took a seat. “Nice place“, I thought. “I could become a regular here!“
I found out later it’s the most popular lesbian bar in the area. (Explains why they were so friendly!)
Living in Nice isn’t something I had even considered prior to my spontaneous visit six months ago. But beginning again in this little slice of French Rivera paradise is exactly the drastic life change I needed.
Living in Nice. Not easy, but well worth it!
(Stay tuned for more stories on “The Great French Apartment Rental Scam”, the application process for a long-stay visa, and tips for finding that perfect Nice apartment!)