Reflecting on 25 Years in the City of Light
Twenty-five years ago today, my family and I stepped off the plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport, took a taxi to our new rental apartment in the 17th arrondissement and unpacked our bags. We were frightened to death — at least I was. Our daughter only knew we had uprooted her from her friends and her secure little life in Los Angeles and that in a couple of days, she’d have to face an all-French school and all new classmates. I’ll bet she was more frightened than any of us!
In some ways it was much easier to make the move than it is now, but in other ways much more difficult. At the time there was no Internet on which we could search to find information about visas and make appointments with the French consulate or search to find apartments to rent. It was all manual, it was all by phone or by post, and it was long, time-consuming and tedious. The form to complete for the long-stay visa required that eight in number were completed, each one an original — no copies. We had to get a police report to prove we had no criminal record and a host of other hoops through which we must jump. Welcome to French administration!
The only thing of any real assistance was a publication called “FUSAC,” a listing of classified ads printed in Paris (an online version still exists today) that we special ordered by mail. From the ads for rental agencies in FUSAC, we chose one of them, made contact by phone and my husband took a special trip to Paris just to visit possible long-term furnished rental apartments. The requirements to secure an apartment weren’t nearly as complicated as they are today. The landlords weren’t as nervous about renters squatting as they are now because the laws to protect the tenants have changed to be even more stringent. We simply paid a security deposit, one month’s rent in advance and a fee to the agency. The monthly rent was expensive as the rate of exchange at the time was about $1.25 to the euro. We didn’t care. We had set our sights on Paris. (It is predicted that the dollar to euro will go to parity toward the end of 2020 — see the chart! Source: longforecast.com/ )
In preparation for the move, we sold our house, our cars, packed most of our belongings into a storage unit, the rest we prepared for shipping to France. The massive process for what we thought would be just one year of living in France was overwhelming. But one day, when all the hoops had been jumped, we were ready to go. Our friends gave us a big going-away party, and we said good-bye to Los Angeles when we boarded that plane for Paris on September 3, 1994.
I didn’t like the apartment that my husband had chosen without me. It was large by Paris standards with three bedrooms and two baths, but half the size of our L.A. house. The furnishings were someone’s discards, mixed with run-down Ikea, all on puke-colored carpet that even a good cleaning couldn’t resurrect. There were no closets; just large armoires. The bathrooms and kitchens hadn’t been touched in at least two decades and the views were all on courtyard or of stone walls, and none were very pleasant to look at or bright. Basically, it was pretty depressing. The landlord had generously allowed us to hang all of our own art, so we shipped over my photography collection which turned out to be the best decision we made. On the walls (thankfully) were all my “friends” to keep me company. Not only did the beautiful photos turn the dingy apartment into “home,” but the collection was considered personal property and wasn’t taxed on entry. (I later learned that when “collectibles” are owned at least 12 years in France, there is no capital gains tax to pay on sales. In this U.S., the rate is 28 percent. This was particularly good news years later when I wanted to sell a photo or two.)
I survived those first three years in that apartment because I had Paris to overcome the sad accommodations. I cooked a lot of meals, we made a lot of friends and I spent a lot of time wandering the streets to get to know the city. When our three-year lease was up (and so was my marriage), I had the decision to make to return to the States or stay in Paris. It was an easy decision to make…I was never going back.
I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else and I couldn’t imagine going in reverse. No one’s life goes in reverse; there is only forward motion and Paris was clearly in my future for a long time to come. In the summer of 1997, I set out to find a new apartment for my daughter and I, I managed to find work via the networking and relationships I had built, and began again on our own rediscovering Paris in a different way.
Since then, I’ve helped hundreds of people do what I did: move to France and find a real home here. It’s why my “crystal ball” is so very clear. I know exactly what they are going through to set the wheels in motion, what it takes to go through the hoops just like we did, and why they will never be able to go in reverse. If you are one of those people, then I warn you now. Make the move thinking you may never go back to the life you once had…because you won’t want to.
Now, reflecting on the 25 years since that September 4th when we stepped off that plane, had the shock of the dingy apartment hit me between both eyes, how so much has happened for all the right reasons since, I see how my future might also include much more time spent in Nice, but without ever giving up Paris.
And why should I?
(I don’t have photos from those early years, but I found a video on Youtube taken the year we arrived)
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Erica, 2019, 25 years on)
P.S. If you’re thinking of moving to France, and need to see deeper into your “crystal ball?,” I am available for personal consultations that will put you in the right direction and make it really happen…at whatever capacity works for you. For more information and to book your time with me, email [email protected].
P.P.S. Dear Friends of SOS Help: “That” time has come around again really quickly and we are looking for volunteers to help the current team and for customers for the book sale to raise the funds to pay for the help line. We are now in our 45th year of operating in the Anglophone community in France. SOS will be most grateful for any help you can give them to raise awareness of the help line.
Sunday September 29th
12 p.m. to 4 p.m.American Cathedral
23 avenue George V