Spring in France

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been six months since we moved to France and began this new adventure. An entire half year already; it truly feels like just yesterday that we arrived, and yet the days in perpetual lockdown can seem so long…it’s funny how that works.

Since there’s nothing much to report in terms of fun new cultural discoveries, here’s a photo dump of Paris in the springtime.

We’re lucky that the weather has (mostly) been nice enough to spend lots of time outside, taking long walks. Before the latest round of lockdown restrictions that came at the end of March, we were even able to sneak in a small day trip down to Fontainebleau, a small town about an hour south of Paris. There’s an enormous château there in the middle of the town, and a huge park/forest to explore. I was too busy enjoying the weather to take any photos, but luckily for me Dani is good at documenting these things.

Lucie has also been enjoying the sunshine. Our apartment, while bright, does not get a ton of direct sunbeams, much to the consternation of our sun-worshipping pup. However, she’s recently discovered that our window ledge does get some sun for a short while in the afternoon, so she quickly got over her fear of the ledge and is now back to begging to be let out, and then back in, and then back out, about 30 times a day. (I hesitate to call it a balcony, because it’s not really, even though we can squeeze two small stools out there and pretend we’re on a terrace.)

Unfortunately for her, the direct sun doesn’t last for that long, which means she has to get creative.

My office reopened at the beginning of 2021 to welcome back a limited capacity of workers. We’re each allowed to go to the office one day a week (though not required, since we are a “remote first” company). While I enjoy remote work and truly don’t mind hanging out at home most of the time, I’ve been taking advantage of the one day a week rule and braving the metro up to the 19th arrondissement so I can get out of the house and, you know, see real people on occasion.

Dani’s position with Duolingo is fully remote with no option right now for office access (since their only European presence is in Berlin) but once the COVID situation calms down a bit she might be able to find a nice coworking space. For now, working from home full time doesn’t seem to be a bother.

Here are a few photos of my office:

Normal, quoi.

My commute is a bit longer than I’d like (~1 hour) but I do make it a little harder on myself since I try to minimize my time on public transportation as much as possible; that means about 45 minutes of that hour is actually spent walking, so I only have to use one metro line. But it’s a good way to get my steps in and catch up on some podcasts, so I don’t particularly mind ; plus, it beats having to wake up at 5 AM so that I could get to work by 6:45, which was my typical day as a teacher. I admit that it’s really nice to have a more “traditional” 9-5 job that I can leave at the office when I’m done. My anxiety has decreased exponentially – no more “Sunday scaries” or late nights grading, lesson planning, or worrying about what’s going to happen the next day. I feel much, much more balanced and healthy, mentally and physically.

That’s it for now! We’re looking forward to the next couple of weeks when there should hopefully be a lightening of lockdown restrictions. The latest round has not been particularly successful, as cases remain high (we’re on a plateau of about 35,000 new cases per day) and vaccination remains slow, but it seems like the French government has decided to adopt a “live with it” attitude for the time being. People are very, very tired of lockdown, and it’s been a nightmare for the cultural sector in particular, which has been entirely closed since the end of October.

Hopefully the progressive reopening doesn’t result in a new explosion of cases, and that the vaccination campaign will start to pick up more speed so that we can have some more interesting things to report!

Life, lately.

While I wish I could come into the space with tons of fun new updates and glimpses into our terribly glamorous life in Paris (ha!), the reality is that there has been not much to report. My intention was to do a write-up of how we spent Christmas, but the post has been languishing in my “drafts” folder since…well, we really didn’t do anything worth writing about. The pandemic continues to have a profound impact on our day-to-day — most everything here is still closed, and with a newly-imposed 6 PM curfew, we’ve been in an endless cycle of wake up–work–watch some TV–repeat, with the occasional long walk thrown in on my lunch break or the weekend. Our almost year-long, real-life “Groundhog Day” continues, with no end in sight.

Numbers in France continue to rise, and while the French government first insisted that a third confinement (lockdown) was not in their plans, it seems like they’re quickly changing their tune. My boss is insistent that we’ll be in lockdown again at the beginning of February, once the fifteen-day trial period of the 6 PM curfew is up. Rumors have been circulating that the reopening of restaurants, bars, and cafés — once slated for the end of January — has been pushed until April at the earliest. This makes me think my boss is probably right about the imminent arrival of a third confinement.

People in the States tend to think that everyone else has managed to figure out how to handle the COVID situation except for them, and while it’s true that the US is in particularly bad shape due to the federal government’s complete abdication of any responsibility whatsoever toward ensuring the well-being of its citizens, I really can’t say that France seems to be handling things any better as of late. Cases in France are considerably worse now than they were last spring when the government instituted a total lockdown that lasted for two months. The second confinement that coincided directly with our move to France in November brought cases down from the 30- and 40-thousands to about 10 or 11 thousand per day, but we’ve never approached the goal of 5,000 cases originally set by the government that would allow for a gradual reopening.

Still, France seems to be floundering with how to really get a handle on things. I’m generally a fan of big government, but frankly, I’ve been mystified by the approach here. I’m no scientist, but the decisions being made seem contradictory, only partially rooted in scientific evidence (when convenient, it seems) and, worst of all, totally ineffective. Schools and shops (of all varieties) remain open, yet cultural institutions and cinemas/theaters remain closed. Apparently being crammed into my neighborhood grocery store or shopping center, where no one bothers to limit the number of people allowed inside (as they’re supposed to) is fine and safe, but timed entry at the 650,000 square foot Louvre is not? Restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open for takeaway only, but no one ever seems to enforce the “away” part, since the places around my apartment are regularly crowded with scores of people standing outside where the terrace would normally be, drinking and having a grand old time, while the police simply walk by and shake their heads. Why not allow these places to be open, then, where they could at least place tables at a safe distance apart and say you must be seated in order to be served? What’s the point of keeping them closed if people are allowed to hang out in front anyway?

The government has stubbornly insisted that schools must remain open, but workplaces are to institute restrictions (we’re currently allowed at our office one day a week), though the adults I’ve encountered have been infinitely more responsible in wearing masks than the teenagers, who congregate maskless in groups, often passing around a single vape pen to share amongst ten people. Similarly, curfew has not stopped people from getting together at home and having parties — their guests just simply spend the night now. And since the institution of the 6 PM curfew, public transportation and bakeries and grocery stores have become a true nightmare as everyone scrambles to get home and/or get their daily provisions all at the same time.

This is, of course, to say nothing of the completely disastrous rollout of the vaccine here in France. As it stands, if things continue at the current pace, it will take eight years for the population to be vaccinated against COVID. Of course, only about 50% of French people are currently planning to receive the vaccine — needless to say, I am not hopeful we will be getting back to “normal” anytime soon.

Obviously, I am feeling very negatively about all of this. That’s not to say I’m not happy to be here or that things were better in Michigan (they weren’t), but “COVID fatigue” has set in. Moving to a new place is lonely enough as it is — not being able to go out and do things to meet new people and really settle in to a LIFE here has been extremely challenging.

On a slightly brighter note, I got to actually go to work for the first time last week, as our office reopened for us to attend one day a week. It was nice to finally meet some of my colleagues in person, after two months of only seeing them through a webcam. Then, last Saturday, we had our first real snow of the season! It didn’t stick around for long, but it made for a really lovely scene and Dani and I enjoyed a long day of walking around and enjoying the sight of Paris dusted with snow. We might get flurries again this weekend, but I doubt we’ll get anything like the snow we had last week again.

A few photos:

Oops, we did it again…

…moved to France, that is!

Last month I was finally able to share some news we had been sitting on for a while: we moved back to France! While it wasn’t exactly a secret, per se, we had avoided telling too many people beforehand because we just weren’t sure that it was actually going to happen. We also knew that if it was going to happen, chances were high that we’d have to leave relatively quickly; given the current situation with COVID — and the fact that the more people we told, the more they wanted a chance to see us before we left — we just couldn’t risk any potential exposure, no matter how nice it might have been to say a proper goodbye beforehand.

Similarly, because of COVID, there was a huge possibility that we wouldn’t have been able to come to France at all. We had already had one opportunity fall through and were incredibly lucky that there was even a second opportunity at all — but that’s a story for another day.

So how’d this all happen?

Though there’s always a lot of planning when it comes to moving abroad — planning that often lasts for many months — it was not our original intention to move to France at all. It had been our plan (had been for years, in fact) to move to New York at the conclusion of my Master’s degree. Dani and I have both spent a good amount of time in the city, and it’s been our dream for 10+ years to move back there permanently. Leaving our jobs in Michigan so that I could attend graduate school seemed like the first logical stepping stone in a move further East; after all, a program of study is always finite, and once I finished my Master’s, we’d be forced to move on to something else. For us, that “something else” was New York or nowhere, and early in 2020 we began making plans in earnest.

And then March arrived, COVID hit, and the world ground to a literal halt.

New York was particularly badly affected, but in the early days of the pandemic, we naively assumed that things would be fine by the time we actually planned to arrive in the city, sometime in mid- to late-summer. We didn’t know just yet how seriously COVID was going to affect the economy, but unfortunately for us, it didn’t take long to find out.

I can’t speak for Dani, but I must have sent out a hundred resumés in the month and a half between my Spring Break in March (which marked the end of my Master’s exams) and my graduation in early May. I applied to every single teaching job for which I was qualified in the city of New York, in public schools, private schools and charter schools. I applied for jobs teaching French and my secondary certification, history. I applied for “humanities” positions at private schools, hoping that my background in French, history, and music would be enough to qualify me for those jobs.

Then the NYC Department of Education announced an indefinite hiring freeze. Dani’s entire industry, live event production, essentially evaporated (and still has yet to return). I began looking at jobs outside of the classroom, in education-adjacent positions that I thought might be a good fit: jobs in Edtech, instructional design, educational consulting, and even copywriting and editing jobs in the hopes that my freelance experience might let me get my foot in the door.

We received no phone calls.

At this point it was late May, and it was very clear that we were likely in this COVID situation for the long haul, with no indication as to when things might start getting back to some variety of “normal.” While we were still committed to moving New York, we realized we had to be realistic and start considering some other options as well. New York also isn’t the kind of city you can just move to without a plan — at least not for us, anyway. Financially we knew we could weather maybe a month or two of job hunting in the city itself, but with the uncertainty of the pandemic’s long-term effects on the economy, we also knew that we could wind up getting really, really screwed if we decided to just try our chances. Plus, we knew that the absolute last place we wanted to be without access to employer-sponsored health insurance was in one of the most expensive cities in America during a global pandemic.

Back to France…during a pandemic?

Sometime around Memorial Day weekend (if memory serves), my old boss from the university I worked at in Lyon reached out to see if I would be interested in re-joining the team as a lectrice d’anglais, and I decided to go for it. Dani was also excited by the idea of returning to Lyon, and since we didn’t have any other serious prospects — well, why not? Unfortunately for us, that opportunity fell through at the literal last second — as in, the university’s semester was already underway, and “my” classes were being covered by a colleague until my arrival. We were back to square one, and had been living with Dani’s parents for more than three months since our lease ended in Pennsylvania in June.

And then…an e-mail. From an educational technology company based in Paris, for a job as a Quality Assurance Manager that I had applied to on a whim when we were still living in Pennsylvania. I didn’t actually believe I had a chance at getting it (the labor laws in France make it extremely difficult to be hired as a non-European, or at the very least as someone who doesn’t already have valid French working papers) but since it fit my background and, from what I could tell on their website, seemed like a fun place to work — I went for it anyway.

First, I was contacted by one of their recruiters for a quick introductory chat. From there, they expressed an interest in a formal interview process, and I went through a barrage of Zoom calls over the course of about 10 days, one of which I messed up so spectacularly that I was certain that was the end of it. And yet…it wasn’t. They wound up offering me the job, with full visa sponsorship for myself and Dani. Whether or not the Embassy would grant us those visas remained to be seen, but we decided to go for it anyway, despite having been recently burned in our attempt to get to Lyon for my teaching position. We managed to snag a last-minute appointment in Chicago (as in, we made the appointment on a Friday and had to leave from Michigan the following Tuesday) and crossed our fingers for the three weeks in between the submission of our file at the visa center and the return of our passports, with visas enclosed, just days before our scheduled flight from Detroit to Paris.

Bonjour, Paris!

So here we are — just wrapping up our very first month in Paris. We arrived on a Friday in November, and I began my job the following Monday. In light of the pandemic, my company has adopted a “remote first” policy, so I work from home full-time and could really be based anywhere in France. We’d like to eventually move to Lyon, but given the current travel restrictions/confinement in France that have made it difficult to travel between regions, and the fact that we have to apply for residency now rather than at the end of a year, we’ve decided to stick it out in Paris for the time being. We spent the first few weeks in an AirBnB, and have since moved into our own apartment that we look forward to making our own, for however long we may be here!

My job has been going really well. Despite being fully remote, my team has gone above and beyond in helping me feel welcome and supported. Everyone has truly been so kind and helpful — I truly can’t believe that this is the job I managed to stumble into. It’s a great mix of my professional background in education, curriculum design, and writing and editing. While I do sometimes miss being in the classroom, I have to admit that I do feel more than a little bit relieved. The prospect of starting a new teaching job in a brand-new school, in the conditions under which teachers are being forced to work currently (whether fully remote, hybrid, or — insanely — in person) was something that had been causing me intense spells of anxiety all spring and summer. I truly feel for my colleagues in teaching right now, many of whom are really, really suffering, both mentally and physically.

Other than that, Paris is still pretty heavily restricted due to COVID, so we’ve mostly been hunkered down at home. Nevertheless, it’s still the Paris we know and love, if a little quieter — and we’re making it work.

I’ll share a little more later on what it was like to move abroad during a global pandemic, but that’s it for now — dinner and a glass of red beckon…