From Pakenham to Paris

The blog is back! Just in time to say merry Christmas to all and goodbye to a very memorable 2015.

2015 has seen us move from Oakleigh to Pakenham to Paris. We resigned from our jobs. We said goodbye to colleagues, friends, family, playgroups, networks.  We’ve said hello to a different culture and new experiences.  I promised myself (and my mum) I would record this adventure, share the challenges, the culture clashes, the losses and gains. I’m sorry I haven’t been doing that.  There has been so much to tell the longer I left it the harder it became to actually sit down and reflect on the last 3 or 4 months. Should I start with today? I’m sure reflections of the recent past will come up to help piece the story together.  So today.

Saturday December 19

It’s Saturday afternoon and I have a rare moment of quiet. Hazel is asleep (praise be she is getting better at that), and Chris and Euan have gone off to ride the metro and maybe get a boat down the Seine to look at the Eiffel Tower. They are both obsessed with all forms of transport so today it’s trains and boats. The day started at 5.50am as Euan announced to my left ear that “HAZEL’S AWAKE!” Thanks Euan. I notice she’s not the only one.  After some whinging, breakfast, cuddles and TV (Paw Patrol in French – the kids don’t seem to mind), I went for a run.  We live near a gorgeous park named “Parc Monceau”. It’s like a mini ‘Tan’ aka (Botanical Gardens in Melbourne) but only a kilometer around.  It’s beautiful, a little oasis away from the bustle outside the gates. 

Parc Monceau has a great playground and running track

Parc Monceau has a great playground and running track

Post-run I popped into one of the many local boulangeries to grab our Saturday faire of pain de bucheron (coupe s’il vous plait), 2 croissants aux almonds and 2 traditional baguettes. All the right stuff to undo the run I’d just done. Then I sat in a red wicker chair at my favoured cafe to watch the locals and have a coffee. This pre-Christmas morning had a different kind of vibe to usual – people were walking with extra pace, they were smiling, and some were rushing off in groups with suitcases, probably off to visit family for Christmas. The market is awakening, roller doors rolling, coffee machines whirring, scooters revving up. I paid for my coffee, proud that I understood the waiter without checking the menu! (small wins).

I headed home to the family and did some housework.  The apartment isn’t fully organized – we still need to add some shelving, better lighting (no ceiling lights in the lounge or bedrooms (they’ve ripped us off I thought, no ceiling lights, that sneaky real estate agent, what do you mean no ceiling light? Oh it’s normal for Paris? Common in Paris? Oh ok…..) moving on, we need a rug, wardrobe organisers and some finishing touches like cushions and wall art. But it’s good enough for now. It’s actually possible to make this small space look tidy – but only for about 5 minutes and only if I try really hard and yell a lot eg. “pick that up please” or “don’t pour your milk dregs on the floor (Hazel).”



The apartment was found with the assistance of a relocation agent.  It was an expensive outlay for the help but it was worth it. We listed our preferences in the areas we liked as follows:

  • Furnished
  • 2 bedrooms
  • A kitchen bigger than a cupboard
  • 1st or 2nd floor apartment or building with a lift
  • A lift that can fit a pram in it OR storage downstairs for pram
  • A bath (could live without if apartment was good in other ways)
  • Room for a sofa bed/guests
  • Safe surrounds
  • Commutable distance for Chris to get to work
  • Ideally nearby parks, metro and shops

I was lucky enough to be shown 7 potential apartments between the 8th, 15th, 16th and 17th districts.

Hmmm, where to live?

Hmmm, where to live?

At the end of the day there were 3 on the shortlist. The other 4 were quickly ruled out for either extremely high levels of impracticality or moderate-but-intolerable amounts of impracticality.  Only one apartment was an ABSOLUTE NO; picture a half-sized dishwasher, no space for a washing machine but hey it’s cool there’s a laundromat down the road (as if dude) not to mention hideous furniture and an owner with a wet-fish hand-shake. This, my friends was even MORE of deal-breaker than the motel-sized fridge. Another one ticked all the boxes but had a shower no bath – and the shower had an entrance so narrow a starved cat wouldn’t get through it, let alone half of me while I wash two toddlers….NO.  Another one was very Parisian with parquetry flooring (squeaky), lots of quaintness and very well located in the posh 8th. However it had numerous low-laid windows with gut-stabbing (for a mother of 2 small ones) easily climbable balconies. NO.  Another was fabulous but a little trop cher (exy) and even though in a very “good” area, I personally found it a little too quiet and the faces of its residents a little too unnaturally plump (rent + botox = poor).

Anyway the one we chose was by far the most practical. It has all the things on the list PLUS a terrace half the size of our apartment again (our apartment is 70m2), apparently unheard of in Paris (on our budget anyway).  It’s nothing amazing but it suits us and we love the area. Lots of families, a buzzing market street nearby, beautiful parks, playgrounds, restaurants, and transport options. I can go for a run (not far these days) and can spot Sacre Couer, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. The BEST thing is….. a boulangerie is being built downstairs as I type. The macaroons are coming!! (I don’t even like macaroons but that isn’t the point).

Moving in day. IKEA kitchen.

Moving in day. IKEA kitchen.

Downsides hmmmm downsides. Not too many. Just a few annoyances that I think are part and parcel of moving away from the comforts of the home you used to know. No ceiling lights in the bedrooms or loungeroom.  Apparently normal/common for Parisian apartments. It seems ridiculous. I still haven’t bought decent lighting, we are struggling away with the crappiest IKEA lamps, I tell you I can’t wait to throw them in the bin. We have two shower heads. The big one, the good one, has no tap. You can’t actually turn it on. We are stuck with the one on a cord only 1 metre long, which means I have to bob down 70cm to wet my hair and Chris at least 80cm.  The kids love it. There are balconies. Not gut-stabbing ones but a worry nonetheless. Smokers next door. The foyer smells like a pub in the 80’s said to have ‘great atmosphere’. We also have some doof obsessives on our floor but luckily the soundproofing is ok. No right to complain about noise given the sounds that come out of our household every night before during and after the toxic hours. Not to mention my preference for very loud rhythmic beats not soooo long ago in my other life (ta karma).  The toaster burns the toast and the kettle has floaty bits in it and the painted floorboards show up every grain of dirt/sand/food-scrap but that is all. We are pretty pleased with our new home.

We don’t exactly feel like Parisians yet.  I've heard from other expats that it takes at least 6 months to feel settled.  We are slowly emerging from the "deer in headlights stage."  I am less inclined to freeze when someone speaks to me in French, and less often bringing home wrong items from the supermarche. Who knew that yoplait is NOT French for yoghurt?

Stay tuned. 

Is there anything you would like to hear about? Wanna hear how good/bad the flight from Oz was? Or about our friendly neighbour who berrated me on the stairwell of our temporoary accom because she "couldn't tolerate our noisy presence a minute longer?" , or about friends I've made at the park? Or Christmas in the UK, the parents visit Paris, my French language lessons, or the hows and whys of finding a nanny in Paris, schools and childcare search, the stages of becoming a Parisian. Tell me and I can tailor my next post!