One year ago today, I woke up in a friend’s guest bedroom in Nice. As I wiped the sleep from my tired eyes, I looked up at the ceiling trying to remember exactly where I was. After enduring a torturous month of house sitting in Guatemala, I felt a wave of relief wash over me as I realized I was finally where I belonged – in Nice. I had just moved 6,168 miles across the world from Taiwan and this day was the first of my new life in Nice, France.
“What the hell do I do now?” I ask myself, a little bit of panic starting to surface. “How do I make this dream a reality?”
Coffee first. That’s always a good start.
So I pour myself a cup of good, strong coffee made with my friend’s French press and I grab a seat on the balcony to ponder my next move. My “To Do” list forms in my mind and starts to clog my brain.
I scribbled some notes about the overwhelming stress of those first few weeks and it morphed into an article “An Expat Tale of Beginning Again – Living in Nice France”. For some odd reason, that article is now the most viewed on my site. Strange but true. So, on the first anniversary of that first day of my new life in Nice, France, I think it’s time for a sequel.
Here’s what happens next…
The Paperchase – Learning to embrace French bureaucracy
I firmly believe that the French government makes their long-stay visa process incredibly difficult, confusing, and time-consuming for a good reason: they don’t want people moving here. Or they want to make sure you REALLY want to move here.
This part of the story turned into my second most popular post – How to Apply for a French Long-Stay Visa and NOT Screw it Up. Yes, I screwed it up.
A quick summary of my first long-stay visa experience: I manage to get all the required documents together and organize them into a thick binder, feeling pretty confident that my consulate appointment in Chicago will go smoothly. But one requirement still haunts me – the part about “you must have at least two blank visa pages”. I had exactly two blank pages in the back of my passport, but just to give myself a little buffer zone I PEELED OUT A CAMBODIAN VISA STICKER. It was a long flight from Nice to JFK and I was bored. So I peeled it out and it came off easily.
I show up to the Chicago consulate a few days later and the woman rejects me immediately for insufficient blank visa pages. (Those last two pages in your passport are NOT visa pages.)
The following day, I arrive at the Minneapolis passport office and receive a lecture about the high crime of passport mutilation. As a result, they approve only a ONE-YEAR passport rather than the usual ten years. This now makes it impossible to apply for a one-year long-stay visa since I need three months of passport validity remaining at the end of the visa.
Luckily, the French Embassy agrees to a nine-month long-stay visa which is the maximum allowed on that passport. A few months later I make the trek to the US Embassy in Marseille and apply for a new ten-year passport. And then return to Chicago AGAIN to go through the whole long-stay visa process.
Paperwork. Stress. Jumping through hoops. Screwing up. And then more paperwork. But that’s all part of the bureaucratic system designed to make me fight for my new life in Nice.
The Great Apartment Hunt
I had a dream. In this dream, I find a small, affordable apartment right in the heart of Nice – the historic Old Town area. It’s cute and charming and close to everything.
And then I start apartment hunting and realize I may be delusional and wonder, “Does a charming, quaintly French apartment in Old Town even exist within my limited budget”?
After weeks of agonizing over the possibility that I may actually be delusional, I stumble into a realtor’s office and bond with Fatima. She assures me that I’m NOT delusional and then gets to work trying to prove it. We look at four possibilities within my price range and in my dream location of Old Town, but none of them feel like “home” to me.
The Fish Market Find
And then one day she asks me to meet her in the Fish Market area to show me an apartment that just became available. We walk up the crumbling stairway of this relic of a building and reach the fourth floor. I’m feeling a bit underwhelmed at this point until she opens the door and we enter the most charming, quaintly French apartment. It’s got an amazing view of the Fish Market below and a clock tower across the square. The high ceilings have original wood beams and the large windows have beautifully refurbished green shutters.
A few weeks later, I toss my Turkish rug on the floor and exhale. Finally, I feel at home. My new life in Nice starts now!
Developing a Social Life in Nice as an Introvert
Developing a social life was (and still is) the hardest part of starting over anywhere. It was a struggle for me when I moved to Tampa 14 years ago. I hate to admit it but this is still a struggle in my new life in Nice. I think it’s the introvert in me. (Read this book and it’ll all make sense!)
Last year, I arrived in Nice exactly one week before my birthday and I knew approximately 3 people in town. They were all busy so I spent a nice birthday evening alone at happy hour, contentedly sipping my birthday wine while people-watching and dreaming of my new social life just around the corner.
One year later, I am close friends with about 7 people and they are all out of town or working on my birthday. Faced with feeling like a total loser at the prospect of spending yet another birthday sitting alone at happy hour, I jump on the Trusted Housesitters site and confirm a house sit in nearby Milan, Italy. I figure it’s a great way to escape the sad reality of my social situation.
And then one of my Italian friends slaps me back to reality. “NOBODY goes to Milan in July or August. It’s hotter than hell! Everyone from Milan comes to Nice for a reason! ” he exclaims passionately with his Italian arms flailing for emphasis (as Italians tend to do).
So, I cancel the house sit and start looking through my Facebook friends for the women I’d met who I wanted to get to know a little better. I step out of my comfort zone and create my own birthday party.
I also join more “Meet Up” groups and actually sign up for 3 events over the following week. The loser birthday situation makes me realize that even though I initially HAD made an effort to get out and meet people, I need to continue making the effort to create my own social circle. It’s not going to magically create itself.
It actually feels sometimes like there’s an active social scene happening all around me but I’m on the outside of the fence looking in. It’s there, within reach, and I just need to grab it. I need to get my introverted ass off the sidelines and get into the game!
Learning to Parler Francais
“Study French” is something I’ve had on my “To Do” list for over a year now and it somehow keeps getting pushed to tomorrow’s list. And it stresses me out! I can survive just fine speaking only English, just like I did during my four years in Taiwan. But Taiwan never felt like a permanent place for me and Nice does. I know that in order to fully immerse myself in my new life in Nice, I NEED to overcome this last hurdle.
Why? Here are a few examples where understanding French would’ve been helpful:
The Mystery Man – One night a few months ago, I’m sitting on my favorite bar stool at Shapko, my favorite little Jazz joint. A tall, dark, and handsome man walks in. Our eyes meet.
He pulls up a stool next to me and speaks. “Blah, blah, blah, blah” is all I hear. I look into his piercing brown eyes and whisper hopefully “English?” He shakes his head. Sadly, this mysterious stranger speaks no English. So we sit in silence and listen to the music, both thinking about how our ships are just passing in the night.
BECAUSE I DON’T SPEAK FRENCH!
Doing Laundry – Last week, after consulting with my new best friend, Google Translate, I managed to buy a new bottle of laundry detergent. (Such an accomplishment!) A few days later I visit my local laundry joint down the street. As I’m killing time watching the clothes roll around in the dryer, I study my new bottle of laundry detergent. Something doesn’t feel right about it. So, I ask a tall, kind of handsome stranger to identify what type of liquid is actually in the bottle. “It’s for colors, not for wash”, he advises. Luckily I had stocked up on those smelly dryer sheets when I was at Target last month. The scent will mask any remaining odors from my LACK OF REAL LAUNDRY DETERGENT!
So, what am I going to do about this language situation? Quit procrastinating, for one thing, and then start diving into my new language CD I ordered from Amazon. It’s a French language program by a guy named Michael Thomas, who is famous for mastering TEN languages! I really love his practical teaching method. Fortunately, once I actually have something intelligent to say, I’ve got plenty of people to “parler Francais” with.
Like maybe that tall, handsome stranger? Maybe he’ll walk into the jazz joint just one more time?
For more details about the cost-of-living in Nice, check out the recent Guest Post I wrote for LifePart2.