France Notes Day #1

I’ve moved to South Western France for a year (The Bordeaux region) and will be keeping a few concise notes on my experience getting here and living here. Mostly bullet form and you’re welcome to ask me anything in the comments.

  • French embassy in San Francisco is great for visas but make sure you have absolutely all paperwork presented exactly as they ask for it. It took us roughly 4 weeks after our appointment to get a long stay visa granted.
  • Getting pets into europe means you need to get a USDA certified rabies vaccination certificate for all of them. It cost us over $1000 to get all this done. We got domestic health certs too even though we didn’t strictly need them.
  • The folks at Delta or on the US side didn’t ask for any of the pet certs.
  • We transported the two cats in the cabin under the seats in front of us, although putting them under my legs turned out to be more comfy.
  • We used this pet carrier for the cats after much research – size large. it’s 12 X 12 by 18, the largest delta takes, and it changes shape so you can smoosh it into place. Here’s a product link.
  • Joey travelled in a medium sized crate in the hold. I used ice as usual in his water bowl so it wouldn’t spill during loading. Two absorbent pads, one for pets in the base, his cushions, then adult incontenence pads on top of his mattress.
  • None of the pets used the loo on the 10 hour flight from SLC to CDG in Paris.
  • On the French side customs didn’t even take a second look at us as we walked into the customs hall with 3 pets. I walked up to the desk. Got completely ignored, so walked onto french soil with my 3 pets and $1000 of documentation not being examined at all.
  • Both the Delta, Salt Lake City TSA folks, French Delta and French airline and security staff were really amazing about letting us watch our dog board and deplane, and just being really friendly and helpful.
  • We hired a van and drove down to Blaye, a small town outside Bordeaux where we’re spending the next year. Eurocar was unbelievably slow and it’s not because we’re special, they have a reputation with just about anyone who has rented a car at CDG in Paris.
  • The GPS in the van caused more trouble than it helped – next time I’ll just use the blue signs.
  • French cars are unbelievably fuel efficient, this was a large diesel van and the 5 hour drive from Paris to Bordeaux only used half a tank of gas. Americans take note.
  • As far as I can tell there are no photo speed cameras on the A10, they manually pull you over, but I’ll let you know in a few weeks as the tickets arrive.
  • As usual the French roll up the sidewalks at 9pm, and small towns are dead off-season after 7pm, so absolutely nothing was open when we rolled into Blaye at around 8pm.

I was in Blaye for 3 weeks about 2 months ago and knew no French. It was really frustrating in the sense that I wasn’t able to really communicate with all the people I met. And in a small town where everyone is really friendly, it’s doubly frustrating.

So I threw myself into learning French starting about 1.5 months ago. I’m using Michel Thomas beginner, advanced and language builder tapes. He’s a former Nazi prisoner of war, then turned interrogator of Nazi guards, then language tutor to Hollywood stars. Towards the end of his life (he died in 2005) he put his lessons on CD’s which are truly amazing for learning a language, particularly French. I’ve worked through all the basic and intermediate material he created and am working on advanced verb forms, grammar etc. Arriving in France this time around and being able to have a basic conversation in my peasant French is an amazing experience.

Here’s an amazon link to a few of his products. There seem to be 10 CD sets that I don’t recognize, but just get the beginner audio program which is at least 8 CD’s. I’ve used the 8 CD beginner/intermediate program and I’m halfway through the 4 CD advanced program. I intend to do the language builder at some point, but I’m building up my vocab on my own time.

If you have doubts about how amazing this program is, check out the BBC documentary on YouTube titled “Michel Thomas, language master”. Here is:

We need to visit the OFII in the next week or so to register as residents. I’ll keep taking notes that will hopefully help someone else who decides to spend some time here. I’ll also be writing an entry on working remotely including french bandwidth, cell networks, etc.