Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips 1: Surviving Paris

I have been living in Paris for 3 months now so I consider myself what deaf, blind, newborns would accept as an expert on all things Parisian.  And how lucky are get to share in this naive sense of knowledge.  This may take more than one post, but to anyone coming to Paris, there are a few things that will make getting around easier.

City Layout:

As I quickly found out on arriving in Paris (or what I though was Paris anyway), Paris is actually quite a bit smaller than most people think it is.  When referring to Paris you should be aware that you are only referring to the central metropolitan area, surrounding Paris are a series of other cities that every Parisienne will tell you are certainly not the same as Paris.  In fact, the city I live in, Neuilly Sur Seine, is technically not Paris.  Neuilly is a separate city with its own mayor, services and even a different postal code (We live in the 92 Paris is in the 75). 99.99999% of people who are not Parisian never know or figure this out...and it annoys Parisians to no end :)

Beyond this, when in Paris, most people will refer to regions of Paris (called arrondissments) by their number.  There are 20 arrondissments and as shown in the image below, they make a snail shell pattern around the city.

Anything outside the different coloured areas is outside the city of Paris (Neuilly is on the north west side)
It's a good idea to at least be familiar with the main arrondissments so you know where the main attractions are:

The 1st: Home to the Louvre.
The 4th: In the historic heart of the city you will find Ile De Cite and Notre Dame.
The 7th:  Home to Invalides (where Napoleon is buried) and the Eiffel Tower.
The 8th:  Shopping on the Champs Elysee is in order here.
The 18th:  Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, and in my opinion some of the best views of Paris.

Public Transportation:

Paris has buses, trains, subways, taxis and even bicycles that can be employed to help you reach even the most hard to find creperies. Here is a breakdown of the services as I know them.

Paris Metro:  The Paris Metro is extensive. With 14 lines, you can get almost anywhere in Paris on the metro and to most connecting stations outside the city limits (The line 1 goes by my home in Neuilly for example).  Tickets cost 12 Euro for a pack of 10 and a single is good for as many transfers as you need to get where you are going.

RER:  The train system that adds to the coverage of the metros is also quite good and will get you to the "out of the way" places you need to go.  There are 5 lines (A-E) going places like both major airports, Versailles, and if you get off on hearing Mickey speak French...Euro Disney.

Buses:  I have actually never taken the bus in Paris but have heard they are quite good and have seen stops everywhere...if you take it let me know how it turns out...

For all three, (Metro, Bus and RER) tickets can be bought at any Tabac, or there are machines in every metro station where you can purchase them with a credit card.  If you know enough French we have found option two to be easier.   Also for all three, be aware that 8-10am and 5-8pm is rush hour in Paris and you will be sardine canned into whatever form you choose if you elect to travel at this time.

Yeah...Not For Me Thanks...
Taxis:  Just like any large city there are tons of cabs...and none are there when you need them.  That being said, Julia and I have had great luck pre-booking cabs and ordering them at off times.  It is good however to have an idea of where you are going as the cab driver will often ask for more info that simply the street address.  Keep in mind, Paris is big, and if you are going out of Paris (remember my talk earlier?) the driver has to have knowledge of a lot of streets.  And no, they don't all have GPS and they may not accept cards (they definitely won't take debt, so don't even try).

Bikes:  Paris, and every largeish French city I have been to, has bikes that can be rented very cheaply.  In Paris these are called Velibs.  Stands are all over Paris as well as the surrounding cities and for about 1.50 Euro you can rent a bike for 24 hours.  You need to have a credit card to do this and the system will take a 250 Euro deposit, but we have done this at least 10 times now and have never had any problems.  There is a velib app for the iPhone that shows the location of stands and I recommend downloading it if you are going to take a spin on the public bikes.

Well...that's it for the first installment...hopefully you will be able to get around now...good luck with everything else :)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Franglaise Episode 1: Quebewhat?

I have had the opportunity to study French under more than 5 different people in the last 6 months and have learned some very interesting things about the language over that time.  I should also point out that all 6 of those people were France French, not Quebecois. What's the difference you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  Before I do though, I just want to point out to all my Acadian readers, I know you are out there...but...I am not touching that one with a ten foot pole...really...don't expect to be understood when you come to France.  You're French, but in the same way that Bobcat Goldthwait is English.

He's English...No Really, I Swear

As this is my first article in this series I think a little background is in order. In the 17th and 18th centuries France colonized Canada, and it was in that time that the majority of who are now known as French-Canadians came to live in Canada. Over time the populations shifted and changed becoming known as Quebecois, Acadian, and generally as French-Canadians.  Today, French is the official second language of Canada and is even protected by law under bill 101 in Quebec.

This is important because it is the basis for the main reason Quebec French and France French is different...history.  Anywhere outside Quebec in Canada, French is little more than a ceremonial language that you hear at the airport and see on your consumable products.  And the French in Canada know this.  To combat the potential death of their language, they have created laws and became incredibly protective as a culture of the "purity" of their language.  In fact, they have protected it so much that it has not evolved like the French in France has.  To every France French person I have talked to, Quebec French is the French of antiquity.  They actually describe it as cute...not really an adjective you want associated with your way of speaking when you are trying to ask for a toilet.

A few examples of words and phrases in Quebec French that just don't work here are:

1.  Arachides:  As in Beurre D'Arachides.  Just doesn't exist here...peanuts are Cacahuetes, not Arachides.

2.  Swears:  Calice and Tabarnak, although fun to say for us non-French speaking Canadians are perfectly normal religious words in France...a tabernak is just like our tabernacle and calice means "chalice", which is somehow a swear in Quebec...weird.


3.  Fin de Semaine:  Yes, it is the literal translation of the "end of the week" however, in France the Fin De Semaine is "La Weekend"...simple.

4.  Magaziner:  A verb in Quebec French meaning to go shopping, it does not exist in France.  In fact, like weekend, the French simply "Faire Du Shopping."

5.  Bicyclette:  This one is actually the opposite of the general rule in that the Quebec word has become Anglified and the France French word has remained in its original form.  In France a bicycle is simply a "Velo".

These are the big ones I have found so far but they have been enough to throw me for a loop...especially when I am trying to find peanut butter...which, as I have mentioned before is hard enough to find in France already.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A Canadian In Paris: A New Direction

Over the past two months I have been writing (sporadically) about what has been happening in my life.  honestly, I find it tedious and a bit boring.  So, I am taking my blog in a new direction starting today.  Instead of basing the blog around a retelling of my day to day I am going to base it around a few regular miniseries of articles.  So, without further adieu, here are the first series you can expect to see on the blog:

1. Observations From Across the Pond:  This is the one that I will be continuing from the original blog format.  Most people tended to like these articles the best in the past and they will remain as they have been.  It will still be a regular list of a few quirky observations that I have made about French/and European culture.

2. Franglaise:  I am trying to learn French, and the more I try to learn, the more I learn I am doing it wrong...basically, this series will be devoted to discussing things I have learned about speaking the French language, differences between France French and Quebec French and the differences in the way you speak to someone (formalities etc.)

3. Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips: As the title suggests, I will, based on my limited experience and knowledge, pass on some of the experiences I have had and places I have visited in France and Europe. 

4.  A Funny Thing Happened...: I do feel I still have to talk about day to day life here in some way so I will keep this series to recount only the interesting stories that occur while I am living in France.

So there you go, I think that this new direction will help make all the articles a little more interesting on the blog.  Hope you all continue to tune in.  Look for the first collection of new articles in the next few days.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Observations From Across The Pond, Episode 2: Food Edition

French food is good...really good, and quite frankly it deserves its own observations piece.

1.  Ketchup exists in Paris.  It's here, you can get it, heck I've even seen Parisians using it (not many but some) however, mustard and mayonnaise are much more commonly used.  I have yet to go to a restaurant that didn't have ketchup when we wanted it and in fact, every time we were in a situation where we ordered things you would want to put ketchup on, they brought it out to us.  Aside from this, you can also buy good ol' Heinz 57 at every grocery store I have been to.

2. Speaking of mustard and mayonnaise, I feel they need to be defended a bit.  If you are anything like me, when you hear that the French put it on everything, you think of the French's mustard and bottles of mayonnaise you get at the grocery store.  That's where you and I are wrong my friends.  The mustard and mayo here is like an art form, I have seen more flavours, textures and colours of these items since arriving here than I new existed.  In fact after a quick count, we currently have 5 different types of mustard and 2 different types of mayo in our fridge right now...and they are all awesome (I'm not a big fan of the blue cheese mustard, but Julia likes it).  So yes, they may put it on everything, but come here and try some of them and you will want to as well, they are delicious. 

3. Pain au Chocolate...delicious.  Croissants...delicious.  Fresh baguettes...delicious.  There are more boulangeries (bakeries) in France then I have ever seen (we have 3 within a 5min walk of our apartment), and they are all awesome!  One of the coolest cultural observations I have made is watching the Parisians who go and buy a baguette fresh from the bakery and eat it as they walk home...nothing on it, just a fresh baguette...amazing!  I tried this once and felt like a tool, but it tasted great.  The bread is literally sooo good that you don't even need to put anything on it.


4.  Meals are serious business, respect them.  I, and most North Americans, have what the French consider bad etiquette.  Our culture is more apt to take our time enjoying a coffee or drinks with friends than to enjoy a meal.  This is not the case in French culture.  Drinks are something that adds to the meal experience, but they are no more than that.  The meal itself is the event that you would invite your friends to, and you would be expected to chat and savour the meal.  In fact, I would say that if a meal lasted less than 1 hour in France it would be considered a failure.

5.  They do eat uncooked hamburger.  this one is completely true, and if you order a hamburger and you are used to North American style burgers make sure you order it "Bien Cuir".  I cannot stress this enough, BIEN CUIR!  It's the equivalent of well done, and it will prevent you from receiving a raw chunk of beef that flames may have touched at some point on its journey between the kitchen and your table.

Bon Apetit!

Please keep these food pointers in mind and I will be back soon with some more observations.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Putting The "I" In Immersion

I have always been a relatively restless person and prone to snap decisions.  It was these qualities that saw me signing up for a 2 week "super-intensive" immersion course in central France just days after I arrived in the country myself...good idea...we'll see.

For the sake of making this post somewhat useful to those who may read my posts for the actual information as apposed to my witty repartee, let me divulge some of the info:

School: CAViLAM (
Town: Vichy, France
Course: Super Intensive French Immersion Course
Cost: About 600 Euro/week (there are cheaper/less intensive options though)
Duration: As long as you want (I did two weeks)
School Period: It runs year round and new students can start every Monday
Transportation: It's about 3 hours from Paris on the train and costs about 90 Euro return
Housing:  They have several options, the cheapest is living with a family in Vichy for about 12 Euro/night and the most expensive is a hotel for 50-90 Euro/night.  I stayed in a "studio" (a dorm room with a bathroom and kitchenette) which was about 19 Euro/night.
Food: Vichy is actually a pretty decent sized town, with a mall and lots of restaurant options.  The school also offers a subsidized cafeteria where you can get lunch for about 5 Euro.
Entertainment:  The school arranges events and excursions for its students almost every night and other than that, I really enjoyed jogging along the river.

Alrighty, with that out of the way...back to my pointless storytelling.

As I said, I had signed up for this course pretty soon after I arrived in France.  Total offers it to its employees who need to get a crash course in French.  Spouses (that's me, in case you're wondering) on the other hand, are kind of on their own.  Luckily, we have made friends in our short time here, and one of these friends is a couple like us (Canadian expats, where the man is the "other").  In their case they paid to go to CAViLAM, enjoyed it, and highly recommended it.

I should also point out that I have learned that I am not the norm.  Not in that I liked CAViLAM (spoiler alert) but that I am a male other.  In fact, this couple is the only other one I know of with a male "other" in Paris working for Total (I'm sure there are more, but I emphasize the "I know of" part of that statement).  Interesting, we'll see what this leads me to as the journey continues...maybe I should take up knitting.

So, it was after this recommendation that I signed up and shipped out to Vichy for 2 weeks.  For those following my non-existent time lines, Julia and I were separated for 1 month (April), reunited for 2 weeks (May) and now, were separated again for another 2 weeks (May)...Oy Vey.

I arrived on the Sunday before my classes started and was greeted at the Vichy train station by a CAViLAM staffer.  She was incredibly nice and spoke only in immersion had begun.  I responded in broken kind and we had a quasi conversation until she brought me to my apartment.

At this moment I have to comment on a general annoyance I have found in the whole immersion experience.  Although it is great to be immersed and forced to speak and listen in French all the time, when your French is not that good and you are being told a "you have to know this" is impossible to ever be sure if you understood what was meant...This ultimately led to me finding out hours before my departure that I had to wash all my bed linens and towels before checking out...lovely.

That little mix-up aside, my weeks did manage to go really well.  I even found myself getting into a bit of a rhythm.  My average day looked something like this:

8:00: wake up and hit the incredibly small European shower
8:45-Noon: General French class (level B1/B1+, hells yeah!)
Noon-2:00: French "How could I take less than 2 hours?" lunch (It's more funny if you read it with a French accent).
2:00-3:30: Comprehension workshop
3:45-5:15: 1-on-1 tutoring
5:30: gain 2 pounds eating pain au chocolate
6:00: Jog 7km to try and lose said 2 pounds
7:30: Pick a random restaurant to undue any benefit I gained from the jogging

I also attended events and excursions while I was there.  The school offered trips that were very affordable (40 Euro netted me an all day excursion), and I took advantage, traveling to Montagnac, Clairmont-Ferand, Puy De Dome and of course exploring Vichy itself.  For some photos of these trips check out my soon to be updated photo blog (

Here's A Sample From Montagnac
Because it is an immersion school, everything, including the excursions and activities were 100% in French.  I liked this a lot because it forced me to improve my comprehension, which I did by the time I left.

This immersion was further backed up by the other students at the school.  There was a really interesting collection of students attending the school and the one thing that joined us all was that we could all speak at least some level of French.  That meant that you never were really sure if someone could speak English, but knew they would be able to understand some French and so, conversations and introductions were always at least started in French.  By the end of my stay I had sussed out who could speak English in my class and talked to them in English when I had to, but I still spoke to the others in French as it was our only common tongue.  This made for a very interesting experience, and I managed to make some acquaintances who I never spoke to in my mother tongue.

So, was it a sucess?  Was it worth the money, leaving my wife once again, going to a random town in central France when I hadn't even gotten to know my own home in Paris?  Well here's the success tally:

 1. Got to experience French culture outside Paris and found out was very different than the culture in Paris...To be brief, 90% of the French stereotypes are Parisians, not French people.
2. Got to explore a region of France I would likely not have been interested in seeing otherwise.  That's the Auvergne region.
3. Got to feel like a student again...this was both good and not good...I could have some conversations with the "young-ens" but I was one of the oldest guys there...I am officially an old dude...let's just hope I'm a "the dude" style dude and not a Red Foreman style dude...
4. Got to meet some really interesting people from all over the world and experience their views etc.  Here's a huge spoiler for anyone who is wondering...there a lot like us except the look and speak differently...shocking.


                                                                        Not This
5. I guess I should also point out that I unofficially graded in at a level A2 when I arrived at CAViLAM and a level B2 when I left, which is great improvement.  So, I did actually learn stuff too...

All in all I would highly recommend the experience to anyone, I even talked to a man who was simply traveling in France for a month and decided to take the course at CAViLAM for a week before he began his trek.  It seems that no matter the urgency and duration of your French needs, the immersion school experience is worthwhile.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Arriving In A Foreign Land: A Guide On What To Do (Or Not Do) When You Relocate To A New Country

Step 1: Don't Panic

The Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy had this one right...whatever you do, don't panic.

                                                                                Words To Live By

Just recently, when Juls was visiting me in Vichy (where I am currently attending a French immersion course), we were having breakfast when what I assume was a new student to the school, and likely a new arrival to France, had an emotional breakdown on a payphone on the street.  She was Asian, and didn't seem to speak much (if any) French, and was what my wife calls, "ugly girl crying" to someone on the phone.  Luckily a person did stop and seem to calm her down, but it is a common reaction and one I am familiar with.  I have certainly never ugly girl cried, but I have panicked when arriving at new homes, and can honestly say I did a bit when I arrived in France too.

The plain truth is, it is going to be different, it is going to be scary, you are going to be lonely...BUT, you will survive, it will get easier, and you may even enjoy it.  We have had counseling (provided by Total) that prepared us a little for this, but even still it is difficult.  The only real advice I can give is:

1.  Don't mope, pull your socks up and get out
2.  Talk to people, even if it is difficult, meeting just one nice person will give you a sense of comfort
3.  Hold it together, having a breakdown is not going to help your situation, if you need to shed a tear do it, but get it over with, move on and don't look back

Step 2:  See Other People

I am not a philanderer, I mean see other people who are in a similar situation.  For Juls and I, that primarily meant finding other expats in Paris (which was surprisingly easy).  In a city the size of Paris, and in most European cities, there are tons of options to get in touch with people.  In the 2 months Juls has been here (1 month for me) we have become involved with.

1. The Total Canadian Expat Group
2. The Total International Expat Group
3. The Paris Expat Canadian Meetup Group (, the site works for many countries
4. The Paris International Meetup Group

There are tons of others as well, but we have found that just between these four there are enough activities to take up every other night.

I should point out that Step 2 was particularly important to me, as when I arrived Julia hadn't planned anything other than "I thought we would just be together all week", which sounds great in theory, but when you are new to a place, you will likely not want to be alone with someone else new to the place.  You want to talk to people who have been through it and can give you advice...Juls realized this about 1 day after I arrived...

Step 3: Take It Slow

When you are a tourist you need to see everything as fast as possible.  You only have so much time, and there are so many things to see after all.  However, when you are going to be living somewhere, you have time...On my second day in Paris I found myself being led in hand by Julia to: The Louvre, Notre Dame, Saint Michel, The Eiffel Tower, and The Champs De Elysee all in about 10 hours...That is both physically, and when you have just moved to a new country, emotionally taxing.  I recommend against this misguided (although well-meaning) tact.  Instead, realize you have time, go see an event or a monument if you need to feel like a tourist (it's actually relaxing), but don't overwhelm yourself...Make sure you take time to learn your neighborhood, the stores, the roads etc. 

                                                                                       My Hood

After all, that is what you would do if you were moving to a new home in your own country.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Observations From Across The Pond, Episode 1

I have decided that just writing snarky stories may not be enough, so I will be posting regularly about interesting things I discover as well.  Basically, this list is just the top things that I have learned in my experiences and travels.

So without further adieu:

1.  If you learned to speak french in Quebec and plan to travel to France, be prepared for people not to understand alot of the words and phrases you use...Weekend, peanut, bicycle and a ton of other words are all different.

2.  If you ask to use the "salle de bain" in France, you will look like an idiot.  In France (and in most of Europe) the washroom and the toilet are two different rooms.  The washroom has a sink, bathtub, etc. and the toilet guessed it, a toilet.  So, one again, forget your Quebec french and ask for "la toilette", and enjoy the smelly privacy of a enclosed space to poop in.

                                                 Yep, just a room with a toilet

3.  The French don't eat until at least 8pm, after dinner drinks don't start until at least 10pm, and if you are actually going out somewhere...don't show up before midnight.  That means that by the time they are having dessert, Juls is in her jammies and half asleep on the couch.

4.  The french watch a ton of American movies, and they very rarely dub them.  Instead they usually just add subtitles.  They inexplicably almost always change the name of the movie though, and it's usually still in English.  For example, "The Hangover" in France is, "Very Bad Trip" (and not very bad trip in French...the actual English words "Very Bad Trip").  Also, "The Other Guys" is "Very Bad Cops"...sensing a trend here?  Anyway, this is infinitely amusing.

                                                  I can't wait to see Very Bad Trip 2

5.  The French are only interested in/want to talk about 3 things: food, sex and politics (in that order).  Be least know who the president is, what you are eating, and your favorite position.

That's it for now, but I will continue this series in the weeks and months to come.

Off To See The Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard Of Switzerland

First class...sweeter words have never been spoken, especially to someone staring 14 hours worth of travel in the face.  Not only will I never be able to afford this luxury on my own, but also, I truly believe that even if I could, I would not be able to convince myself the luxury is worth 4x as expensive tickets.  That being said, when it's offered to you for would do just as I did.

Total has this brilliant stipulation that flights at the beginning and end of Expat terms are first class, and so I found myself on a rainy April evening, settling into a padded first class seat with a flute of champagne, watching the plebes board (I have to get my jabs in during this, the one and only chance I will ever have to do so).  And the flight to Montreal was just the start, from there I would be able to enjoy the comfort of the Maple Leaf Lounge and its free food and booze until I boarded the second leg.  An overnight flight to Geneva.  And let me say, Air Canada international business class does not fail to impress...

Fully reclining seat - check
Free 4-course meal - check
Noise canceling headphones, blanket, pillow, sleep mask and a partridge in a pear tree - check

                                                               Yeah, Awesome

Oh, and once again, all the booze you can drink...

I've gotten sidetracked here, but needless to say, it was a nice break from the potential hours of sweaty snoring in coach...It did not come without limitations for me though, as I will explain later.

Eventually, we arrived in Geneva (Bwaaah you say, that's not in France you say...).  As we were landing, I had a moment to ponder the countryside.  The Swiss really hit the jackpot when they wandered into that patch of land and decided it looked good enough to live in.  Huge mountains give way to green pastures and hills that cascade right into the blue waters of Lac Leman...breathtaking.  And the city of Geneva itself is surprisingly small and quaint, only 400,000 people, which is nearly a hamlet by European standards.  Also, I feel the need to point this out...there were lots of swans...I'm not a bird guy, but they were everywhere, hanging out like they owned the place...curious.

The other thing that I found amazing was that pretty much everyone I talked to in Geneva spoke multiple languages.  In fact, my cab driver welcomed me in French, then switched to English when my reply was, "duhhh, Je ne parle pas Francaise".  Then he talked to his dispatcher in Swiss (which I have since discovered is a slightly different form of German) and finally he took a call and was talking what I believe to be Afrikaans.  In Canada, this guy could run for Prime Minister, or at least Minister of Finance.

Once we landed and I had arrived at my hotel (Royal Manotel for anyone who is interested), I found that I was actually about 5 hours too early to check in.  So, being the good tourist, I stowed my bags at the hotel and decided to peruse the town.  I should point out that at this point, despite my having had the luxuries of first class I pointed out earlier, I had not slept a wink on the flight over...a curse I deal with when in transit anywhere.  What this meant now was that the last time I had slept was 2 days ago in Nova Scotia...I was tired.

Willing myself to go on anyway, I did manage to walk around the lake and see the "sites of Geneva" (I will post the photos I have to my photo blog soon...promise) as prescribed by the hotel concierge.  I even randomly encountered a huge bike race (that's man-powered not motor), which by-the-way, is infinitely more popular and fun to watch in Europe than it is in North America. 

Returning to my hotel about 6 hours later tired and weary, I was ready to pass out.  Surprise, surprise that I should find that they had actually lost my camera bag...amazing.  Fast forward to about 3 hours later, and now I am basically a standing zombie, but they have found my bag (and the camera) after systematically searching every room in the hotel.  It seems it was delivered mistakenly to another room and I can only surmise that the fine upstanding tenants of that room decided that the hotel had ran out of mints for the pillows and had given the next best thing.

Anyway, I then proceeded to stumble off and pass out cold in my room...for 5 hours...

Day two started like I can only assume a heart attack would, as my alarm went off at 7am waking me for my meeting with the French Consulate (The reason I am in Geneva instead of Paris...Did I not explain that?  Oops).

Cab ride...wait in line...45 minute meeting...pit stop at the toilet later and wham bam thank you ma'am you have yourself a temporary "Carte De-Sejour".  Unfortunately, temporary isn't permanent and "Carte De-Sejour" doesn't necessarily mean Worky Worky in France, so I will point out that I am still waiting for the more permanent, actually useful documents to process...that's a story for another day though.

After this, it was back to the hotel to pass out for a few more hours, another quick walk around the lake, an awesome French hotdog (A hollowed out baguette with a wiener in joke), and I was off to the airport for the last leg of my first class trek.

Normally, I would end there, however, the Geneva airport is an oddity that I feel begs a little extra description.  Geneva being right on the France border means that they can take liberty with certain things.  One of which is the airport, which is actually half on Swiss soil and half on French soil.  An interesting fact that I found out when I attempted to check in on the Swiss side and was told that I had to go to France first...This was a bit confusing...Luckily, once again, the Swiss attendant spoke perfect English and explained what I had to do.

So, it was then that I found myself finally crossing the border into what will be my home for the foreseeable future, France. 

Farewell To Nova Scotia...AKA, My Life As A Nomad

OK, so for those of you who are just joining in, I have packed up, sold, and otherwise abandoned everything I had in Alberta.  Julia has left for the grand adventure already...but...I am on my way to Nova Scotia for a month of vacation and catch-up before the big move.

It's an interesting development in my life at this point that I should find myself at 30, sleeping in my childhood home (actually in my childhood bedroom for that matter).  It's hard not to feel at least a little like that nerdy Jewish guy from The Big Bang Theory (Great show by the way).

                                                                       This Guy

But onward and upward I always say...well actually, I don't believe I have ever said that...never mind.

Now, some of you may be thinking, "how can he let Julia go off to Paris on her own while he stays in Nova Scotia?"  Well let me tell you, it was actually not easy on either end.  I found myself asking why I had made that decision on numerous occasions during the month.  Don't get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed myself (check out my photo blogs for the soon to be posted pics from the trip), but there was a distinctive pang of guilt that accompanied my enjoyment...curious.

                                      Just A Taste...One of the pics from my month at home

The funny thing is, it was Julia's idea for me to do this in the first place...Well, I guess we'll just have to chalk it up to an interesting dilemma and focus on the other interesting observations I had during the month.

You can never really return home...I know, shocker right?

Obviously, that is something that everyone who has spent time away (and I mean real time, not 2 weeks in Cancun) has faced at some point.  Let me be clear first that this is not the first time I realized this, I have been coming home from various levels of afar for over 10 years now.  However, being probably the largest single period of time I had spent at home since I moved to Halifax in 2001, this was the most evident occasion of that.

Also, I find that I have entered that strange moment in life when friends are pretty much all done with marrying off, and are now beginning that, "let's make a family" stage of life.  It's an interesting progression, and my observation has been that it is the moment when friendships become the most strained and even fail.  You can almost see the rift form between those who are ready for this stage and those who are not.  Of which I am the latter.

What all of these factors led to is an interesting regrouping of friendships along new parameters.  Some very close friends, although still just as close, become harder to access because of their family situations, while like minded non-family types stick together and continue life as it was.

I also noticed that I don't really know my hometown anymore (Chester, NS).  The streets, homes and businesses are largely the same, (change doesn't occur fast/ever in rural NS) but the people (mostly me) have all changed.

When I was growing up there, we literally wasted weekends just walking around the handful of streets that made up the town center.  Now, not only does that only entertain me for about 15 minutes, but I also would be doing it completely alone, as not a single close friend of mine from high school remains in the town.  I've known for a very long time that I could never move back to Chester, but it's a definitely a different level of weird to learn that I am just a tourist there now.

Finally, the other aspect of my visit that frustrated me was that I have changed to the point where certain Maritimey ways of life have started to annoy me.  I want to defend this by saying that I love the Maritimes and it's way of life...but at the same time, it frustrates me.  It seems I have managed to stay away just long enough to allow me to incorporate different ways into the Maratime paradigm (hey that rhymes)...creating a mutant Maritimey-Calgarian (A Malgarian if you will).

The biggest one is the simple rampant negativity the province seems to have.  I guess I never noticed it before being in a province that was so focused on the positive, but I do now and it makes me see most "negative" Maritimers (who are the majority by my observation) as curmudgeons.  I am poking a sleeping bear with this one I know, as the majority of my scarce reader base are Maritimers, but I think it needs to be said.

Understandably, the province has been in economic turmoil for as long as I have been alive, but does being negative about every potential opportunity help end that?  That was rhetorical, no it doesn't.

All the petty observations aside, I should say that I truly enjoyed my time home with both family and friends and I felt I reconnected with some people that I had long neglected (I tend to do that).  Ultimately, the trip was a good send off to my next adventure and I am glad it was possible.

Well there, I truly believe I haven't educated or enlightened anyone with this entry, and I have probably angered my follower (I left out the "s" on purpose...if you like my blog follow it!).  But hey, if you have a problem with what I wrote, write and complain.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Big Goodbyeski

Hello friends...I feel I am beginning to like the whole, start articles with a quote thing, so I think I will go with your friend and mine Mr. Rodgers for this one. 

"There's only one person in the whole world like you, and I like you so much. Meow meow meow so much. Bye bye."  

I think this quote speaks for itself in introducing the theme of this I thought it was obvious...OK then, the post is about saying goodbye, and because I am leaving in a few days I will make this a two-fer and include goodbyes to friends and to work.

I'm going to start with leaving my job at ICOM.  I am not including Julia's thoughts on this one because she technically didn't leave her job, she was just transferred.  Plus, I gave her authority to post on this blog and she hasn't I'm calling her out.  Anyway...

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I have not always been the nomadic entrepreneur that I am today, until March 15th of this year I was employed as an Instructional Designer/Project Manager at ICOM productions, writing and managing the production of E-Learning programs.  Truthfully, it was a job that I was happy in and enjoyed, however, I also always wanted this opportunity to travel.  That juxtaposition alone made it very difficult for me to weigh out the choice to leave versus the choice to stay.

Ultimately, Juls and I spent some time discussing things seriously and it came down to me thinking back to when my friend Jonathan and I were determined to move to New Zealand to farm sheep (seriously). 

                                 In Our Defense, This Movie Was Years From Being Made

For a number of reasons, that adventure never happened, but the reason I wanted to go has always stayed a part of me.  I have always wanted to live in another country for a period of time and integrate with a different culture.

So, with the decision made, I just had to inform my work.  I decided to give ICOM a full 2 months notice so they would be able to transition me out fully and find a new person to take my projects.  I also decided to give myself 2 weeks after leaving my job and before moving away from Alberta (to NS for 1 month, then Paris).  I'm glad I did too, because the stress of working those last two weeks while doing all the other things we had to do would have likely ended in Juls leavin' my ass.

As it turned out, I had time to deal with a lot of those last second details and avoid becoming a single man in Paris...Ontario...

I must say though, that the hardest part of the whole leaving the job thing, was leaving the friends I had made there.  As I said in earlier posts, the ICOMers were an interesting group, and my propensity to make friends with "interesting" (that's a different way of saying weird) people meant that we got along well.  It's surprising how much you can connect with some people you work with, and I am a person who usually fights against getting to know people I work with.  When it came down to it, I had actually met a few people there that I would say crossed the coworker realm into acquaintances...and even friends.  For those unfamiliar with the progression, it goes something like this...Oh, and I have also color coordinated them, I hear my American readers find it easier to understand levels if they are color coded and vague.

1. Stranger
    2. I saw him/her once (otherwise known as "Oh yeah, that guy")
        3. Coworker
            4. Acquaintance
                5. Good for a fun time, or fun for a good time
                    6. Friend

As for friends outside of work, this was an even harder undertaking.  Being in Calgary for 5 years had meant that we had created quite a friend base.  We had friends come and go over the years, but also had quite a few that had been constant throughout.  Just as we did with apartments, Juls and I made a list one day of everyone we knew who had moved to Calgary and were either still there or had moved away...I won't include the list but we found that we knew 38 (ish, I can't remember the exact number...high 30s anyway) maritimers who lived in Calgary at some point in the last 5's really amazing and a testament to the fact that the maritimers really are/were moving to the "promised land".

The biggest problem that we found when we began the goodbye process with coworkers and friends was underestimating the time it would take.  Naturally, we (mostly me) wanted to avoid saying goodbye for as long as possible.  This was for two reasons really. 

1. I hate saying goodbye
2. I wanted to avoid that awkward meeting when you have said goodbye and then see that person again...not only do you feel like an idiot, you have to go ahead and say goodbye a second time...shitty.

The unfortunate side affect to this is that you wind up putting it off so long that you run out of time and are literally running from place to place trying to spend a little time with everyone.  In the end, we wound up spending less time with everyone than we would have liked, and missing some people altogether.  So, for those we missed and for those who we didn't spend enough time with...sorry :).

In an attempt to make up for it, our solution was to organize an event at the local watering hole (I will truly miss the Barley Mill) and invite everyone, work friends and non-work friends.  the event was a smash and everyone came to say goodbye...we were truly touched.  Thanks everyone!

Next up, I am going to skip ahead a bit and talk about my month in NS before the move.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It's All About The Benjamins

I am reminded of a quote from a great philosopher of the last century...a man by the name of B.I.G. He wisely said, "I don't know what they want from me, it's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see."  Alternatively, I am also reminded of the slightly less profound L.F.O. words of wisdom, "When you take a sip, you buzz like a hornet, Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets."  Truly genius...

                                            The "L" stands for (en)Lightened

I should point out here that although BIG's quote does have some relevance to our financial troubles, I am in no way claiming to have rapper cash.  There will be no pimped out rides, trick ass bitches, bling bling or crystal sippin' in this article, just the sad truth of how complicated dealing with moving your money overseas can be.

This article is truly a unique opportunity for me to write about things that I truly (and I mean truly) know nothing about. It's amazing that even after having a financial adviser for over three years now, and having said financial adviser explain everything we are doing financially ad-noseum, I still no nothing about our finances....I consider it a talent.

I did however still manage to play an intricate role in a few of the financial matters we had to clue up.  These included;
  1. Rearranging all our investments
  2. Figuring out how we were going to be paid in France
  3. Getting a French bank account
  4. Trying desperately to understand anything CIBC was telling us...
Rearranging our investments was actually not very hard with Sarah's (the aforementioned financial adviser) help.  Then again, as I suggested earlier, it was entirely dependent on my being able to sign away our investment money with what I am going to optimistically call a 25% understanding of where it was going and why.  I strongly recommend financial advisers for this reason, they will drag you into smart investments even when you could never make a smart investment in your life.

The next three items on our list were all interconnected (as we found when we were trying to figure out anything to do with them).  We needed to know where our money would be going in France in order tell Total where the money would go...we needed to know if CIBC could transfer money either online, through a phone call initiated wire transfer, or hell...we would have settled for delivery by carrier pigeon...we needed to know how Total would pay us and if they would pay into CIBC or our French account (BNP Paribas)...and to top it all off, we needed to have an address and phone number (In France!) for all of this to be set up.  Hello people, we haven't moved to France yet!!!  How the hell can we have an address and phone number...

I actually had a conversation with a person at CIBC that went something like this...

Eric: "Hi there person claiming to know things about banking, geography and life on this planet, I am moving to France soon and need to know how to make a wire transfer into my CIBC account every month."

CIBC Bank Assistant (I will call her Shirley): "Oh yes, I know exactly what you need, let me find a bunch of forms for you to fill out for 45 minutes without explaining anything to you..."

...45 minutes later...

Shirley: "That was a great 45 minutes, now with all that paperwork filled out you will just have to come into this branch every month to initiate the wire transfer."

Eric: "Great, thanks for the...Bwaaaa???  You do know that France is on another continent right?  I will not be able to come in every month..."

Shirley: "Oh...well...hmmm...we can't help you sir."

                                                        And Thennnnnn???

Needless to say, we did eventually figure things out by finding out that Total would actually pay us money into our CIBC account (for our investments) and into our BNP Paribas account (for our foldin' money).  It was a headache without parallel to figure out though...

So, when all was said and done we did actually manage to figure things out...or at least we think we did, we haven't actually been paid yet after all.  Rest assured, you will hear more if something goes wrong.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Home, Home on the Range...

I've never been good at making large commitments...especially financial ones.  Other then marrying Juls (which was surprisingly easy) the largest commitment I have made has been to buy a used 2000 Ford Taurus for $3500.

                                         What Can I Say...I Liked the Financing Options...

It follows from this that I have never been able to commit to any sort of permanent, or even semi-permanent housing.  In fact, one day as a joke Juls and I decided to list all the places we had lived since leaving our respective family homes.  My list looked something like this;

1. 2001 - Bachelor Pad in Halifax
2. 2002 - Shared apartment with Andrew and Chris in Halifax
3. 2003 - Same apartment, different roommate. Andrew and Tim in Halifax
4. 2004 - Apartment with Keegan in Halifax
5. 2006 - Brief stint as a nomad in an apartment with Sascha in Halifax
6. 2007 - 1st place in Calgary, basement apartment with Juls
7. 2008 - Upstairs of same house with Juls
8. 2008 (4 months later...thanks Tamara...jerk) - 2 bedroom apartment...I feel no more need to imply these were all with Juls...
9. 2009 - Moved in December, into a 450 (if that) square foot right...
10. 2011 - Last apartment in Calgary.  a huge 2 bedroom that was awesome and that we also were in for about 2 weeks before we found out we were being ex patted...

I won't bother even trying to list Juls places, but rest assured, hers are actually even more numerous (I believe her count is 14). Now, on the eve of our trip to France for what looks like at least 3 years, I would say it is a safe bet that we will be adding to those lists...and still none will be anything we own. 

It has recently been revealed to me that Juls and I cannot be A-typical.  This became painfully apparent when the Total hired moving company entered our apartment to pack the things to send to Paris and asked us whether we had any antiques or valuables worth more than $10,000.  While trying to think of anything that would even come close to that, the only answer I could come up with was my Playstation...value...about $300 new.

I'm getting on a bit of a tangent here, but what I am really trying to point out is that we are not really people to get attached to anything...Juls has actually called me the opposite of a hoarder.  So, when it comes time for us to deal with our housing and belongings in Canada, there was not really that much to deal with.  That being said, it somehow was still a ridiculously large amount of work.  Because of our constant moving and purging we really had an IKEA home with a few personal artsy touches (entirely provided by Juls), so when it came time to decide what we wanted to keep and what we were selling or getting rid of, my vote was almost unanimously "get rid of it".  Juls had a bit more reservation toward getting rid of everything, and so eventually we met in the middle, and got rid of about 2/3 of our worldly belongings.

When all was said and done we really only shipped clothes, a few electronics (the Playstation mentioned earlier), our multimedia collection, photos and paintings and our marital bed...yep, we shipped a bed to France. 

It's actually a pretty funny story that explains why we would ship a bed. Total furnishes our Paris home, but will only furnish to what our "family status" allots us.  Being married with no children meant that Juls and I were entitled to a 1 bedroom apartment worth of furniture.  We decided that we wanted a 2 bedroom (better for guests) and so, we paid an extra couple of hundred Euro/month to make it happen.  Here's where it gets wonky.  Total would not pay to purchase a bed for that second bedroom, however, they would pay to ship our bed to France...When the movers came to ship our stuff they saw the bed and seemed taken aback.  We wondered if shipping a bed was unusual and they quickly told us it was not only that, but also ridiculously expensive.  In fact, the cost to ship our $800 bed to Paris turned out to be about $5000!  Ahhh logic, isn't it great.

Anyway, with everything shipped we only needed to get out of our lease.  This was a bit harder than we had hoped.  We informed our landlady about 3 months early that we were shipping out and she began to search for either a new renter, or a purchaser for her unit.  Unfortunately, being non-committal to whether she was going to sell or rent, meant that neither happened in time and we had to eventually pay our way out of our lease.  The saving grace was that Total would cover this, but the stress of wondering what was going to happen was enough to drive us to temporary insanity while we were trying to deal with the move.

Eventually, with the help of hired movers and hired maids (which were awesome), we did get rid of everything we had and were free and clear to make our exit.  A few of the many things to deal with were, well...dealt with.

Now if we could only figure out how to deal with our money over there...

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Beginning AKA. Paris Wars 4 "A New Hope"

And so it begins.  Since finding out that I would be moving to Paris all kinds of people have told me that I should make a blog and post regularly on my life.  I don't know how that will really reveal powers of observation have been called (accurately) sub-par at best.  But alas, here I am, on my way to Paris and writing a blog about my life...interesting.

To get everyone up to is currently April 17th, 2011 (5:17pm Atlantic Time, for the super anal) and I am not in fact in Paris yet.  I'm not in Calgary, Alberta home for the past 5 years.  Instead I am in the basement of my childhood home in Canaan, Nova Scotia trying to convince myself that this isn't foreshadowing things to come.  So as I eat a slice of Big Red's pizza and sip some Golden Wedding and Coke (A David Myler speaciality) let me take a few minutes to reflect on the insanity of the last few months.  But first I feel a need to go back to the beginning.

January 2007 - November 2010

In January 2007 I hopped on a plane leaving Nova Scotia for Calgary, Alberta.  I had managed to get myself a practicum teaching position in Woodman Jr High School and was going to rejoin Julia while I finished out my teaching degree. She had gotten a job with Pengrowth 6 months earlier, and I was anxious to see her after so long apart.  On top of being in a new city, with a new job and no money, we had also never lived together.  It was an auspicious beginning that could have either gone the way of "Two And A Half Men" or alternatively...Charlie Sheen's real life.

I will spare the gritty details and simply say that it was a tough, fun and ultimately successful several months.

Soon after graduation I began looking for work.  After finding that the CBE (that's Calgary Board of Education) is a hard nut to crack, I quickly switched my focus to other branches of education...PS...Not allowing unsuccessful applicants to reapply for two years is bullshit CBE! I was able to find a job at the Canadian Diabetes Association by finding a posting on a site my friend Kenney recommended to me ( for anyone who is looking for non-profit work).  It was something I had very little experience in...working in an office...but I was excited to give it a try.

Julia was still working with Pengrowth at this time and was making great inroads in her career and getting to travel to cool events.  Investor meetings in Bermuda, Flames playoff games in the owners box and sponsor access to the Canadian Open were just some of the perks she had to "suffer" through...

                                          Owners Box Seats at The Saddledome!

we both worked at these jobs as we learned to live together in our little basement apartment in Calgary for the rest of 2007.

In January 2008 for a number of different reasons, we then found ourselves both switching jobs and moving at the same time.  Julia had decided to apply to a job that she had found, she was perfectly happy in her job at Pengrowth, but saw an opportunity to grow her career through an new job.  I on the other hand had gotten frustrated with non-profit pay scales...let's just say that when they say non-profit, they mean it.  So, we both applied and found ourselves starting new jobs in January of 2008.  Julia was starting her new job at Total (more on this later) and I started at LexisNexis Canada.  Coincidentally, we also moved to the upstairs of the house we were living in because the landlady and owner of the house offered it to us as she moved to France (see the coincidence :).

Julia would prove to be an asset (as she always does) at Total and worked her way into the company.  She truly enjoyed her work and always impressed (and continues to impress) me with how dedicated she was.  She also learned shortly after starting at Total, that there was a program that allowed "mobile" employees to move internationally and work for the company.  Needless to say, we were intrigued...

My road was a little less straightforward...I've always been the problem child, why change now.  I worked at LexisNexis until October 2009.  I was a home based employee for my time there and could never really get into the work...though it was education based, I found myself a little under challenged.  Through several random questions by Julia to her friend and coworker Derek (now a good friend of mine as well) she managed to find an opportunity for me with a local productions company, ICOM Productions.  It seemed exciting and was a truly unique opportunity to do some cool things.  Obviously I got the job...otherwise this would be a really long explanation for nothing...and started my career as an Instructional Designer/Project Manager for E-Learning.

     I Should Probably Mention That We Were Married at This Time as Well

I truly enjoyed this job and felt more challenged than I had ever been.  The ICOMers were a unique group and I valued my time there.  While working there though, Julia and I continued to hear more and more about the Expat program at Total. Soon we had begun to truly think it was something that would happen for us and began to plan around it.  In fact, we found ourselves making decisions based on the thought that it would happen.  We actually got ourselves so worked up about it that we began to drift away from our friends and stopped doing things in Calgary in anticipation of our departure.  It goes without saying that this was ultimately a bad idea, and it lead to us being truly miserable in Calgary for most of 2010. If I can suggest anything to anyone that they may be able to benefit from, it is don't live in the future or you will neglect the present...

Anyway, now in November of 2010 (It may have been December...I can't remember) we finally got word...Maybe had become definitely, and definitely had become early 2011.  We were going to be ex patted to France by Total.

November (possibly December) 2010 - March 2011

What comes next is a flurry of confusion, a rush of panic, and a lot of nervous excitement.

We new we were going, and in January we found out when.  We would be heading to Paris and Julia would be starting work on April 2nd.  In the next 3 months we would have to deal with "minor" details like;

1. Finding a place to live
2. Getting rid of or moving all our things
3. Getting out of our lease
4. Leaving our jobs
5. Dealing with our finances
6. Saying goodbye to our friends
7. Me trying to learning at least some functional French (Un petit peux)

I feel these need some further detail, so check back as I describe the sometimes infuriating details that we never knew we would need to know about these things.