The path to French citizenship begins, or “Visitor no more”

I saw her place the green and white paper on top of my file.  It was the paper used to print a recipisse (the temporary document one uses for identification while waiting to get a permanent identity card).  Externally I remained stoic.  Internally my jaw dropped and I wanted to shout out.  That enormous dossier that I had handed over 15 minutes earlier had worked.  Not only had I successfully jumped the track from the hamster-wheel of visitorhood to the track to an EU and French citizenship, but this had been the shortest prefecture visit since I moved to France in 2013.  From start to finish it had been thirty minutes.  I had felt supremely confident in my dossier – but this was France, after all.  There could always be something objectionable.

Still dumbstruck, I silently handed over my photos.  As the big printer hummed, she clipped out one of them, handed the rest back to me, then dutifully affixed it to my recipisse.  She then gave it all the stamps and signatures it needed after I had verified all the information and signed it myself.

Today is eight days after I successfully changed to a Profession Liberale visa.  As long as I earn a certain income over the next five years and pay the requisite taxes, I’ll be eligible to apply for French citizenship (note: that does not mean I’ll get it).  I’m officially allowed to work in France, now.  I had to go to URSSAF yesterday to do more paperwork, and I need to come back in 90 days to give the prefecture that paperwork, but that’s literally paper pushing, rather than the complex compilation of a dossier.

Could I have taken this path immediately in 2013 instead of taking the visitor route?  Yes.  Indeed, if there are any of you out there interested in taking this path, I can help consult you through this process as someone who has successfully completed it and has a winning template (and if you live in Paris I’ll throw in a lunch, too).  For more information, email me.

And yet, the answer for me is also No.  I could not have taken this route myself, knowing as little as I did about France in 2013.  I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, and my plans and ideas about my time in France were so inchoate when I landed here.  Yes, eight days ago I took a bulletproof dossier to the Prefecture…but I knew it was bulletproof because of my last two visits there and what I had learned about the French and their expectations in the last three years.

It’s also been marvelous to hear from people I’ve met because of this blog – not just those who needed help regarding the visitor visa but those who have started to meet with me to strategize about what I’ve just successfully done: a transition to the citizenship route.  A few of their testimonials are here.

Thanks for continuing this journey with me.  Last Thursday was the end of the beginning.

The image is the flag of the Bourbon Restoration.  It’s as good a time as any to admit that I’m an unabashed royalist.

You can(‘t) go home again

“What do you miss the most?”  My friends smile, anticipating a favorite dish, a favorite place, or a particular time of year.  “Well, you guys, of course,” I say quickly, hoping to deflect the question from my true answer: “Nothing.”

Of course there are things that are wonderful that one could miss – but I “miss” them in the same way that I “miss” anything from a place I have been to – like missing dim sum in Hong Kong or missing walking the beaches of Sydney.  But I don’t miss anything in the “think about it all the time” way that I think they probably mean.  But in fairness to a country that played host to many happy years of my life, I miss walks in the Huntington Gardens in California.  Food trucks in Austin.  Baseball in Saint Louis.  Hot chicken in Nashville.  The squares of Savannah.  BYOB restaurants in Montreal.  Autumn in New Hampshire.

Next month will mark the beginning of my third year in Paris and I’m “in between.”  America is no longer “home” for many reasons but I still can’t believe I really get to call this place home.  I’m Parisian in my bones – in a way I always have been – and I marvel every day that I get to live in my dream city.  I’ve often been alone on a quiet street and stifled a laugh as I took in that crooked winding view of centuries.  Two years on, I still have “pinch me” moments.

Going to the United States has become a rather elaborate production.  As part of my visa requirements, I have to spend at least 270 days a year in France, so you can’t go back for too long – but if you’re going to cross an ocean, it’s 3 weeks’ minimum for me.  I’ve also hit upon the strategy of visiting my friends and family during “non-holiday” periods so I don’t have to share them with other commitments they have.  I’ve also find this makes for finding absurdly cheap flights (I just booked the cheapest Europe-America flight of my life recently).

I haven’t yet chosen to ditch 7 years of medical/dental/accounting services and technology and occasional travel stateside means I don’t have to.  The PPO (insurance plan) I once had in the United States cost $135/month and covered me for pretty much everything for years.  The “affordable care act” in America has not only cancelled that plan, but the closest current equivalent costs $570/month.  So I just pay cash to see my old doctors for my annual checkup, etc.

Dental insurance remains extremely reasonable ($35/month in my case) so it’s cheaper to retain it solely for your cleanings twice a year.  Just those two cleanings will cost more in cash than the entire annual premium for your insurance – and that’s assuming you have no other problems.  Do the math.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the times I would put a car into park and then stare mutely at the dashboard, wondering if I hadn’t forgotten to do something.  Not driving for months and months makes you a bit cagey when you do finally slip behind the wheel again.

***

The more assertive variation on the question “What do you miss?” is “When are you coming back?”  This led to a very long and fruitful exchange with a close friend in which I enunciated advantages I have now that effectively prevent me from returning to the United States for the foreseeable future.

  1. Physical health – I finally gave in and got a fitbit to document what I’ve always suspected: I walk a moving average of 10 km/day.  I do this at various speeds, up and down stairs, on cobblestones or grass, all around this city.  Not only did this regime of walking contribute to my losing 30 lbs/13 kg when I moved here, but it has established a new weight standard which would be impossible for me to retain in most American cities.  During my recent visit to Kansas City, I experimented by refusing to take and elevators and as often as I could remember I parked my vehicle as far away from a store entrance as possible.  I even tried not to use carts to carry my purchases.  With these “extreme” measures I couldn’t even get close to 4km/day as an average.  I’m simply healthier here in Europe.
  2. Access to Europe – I used to treasure an annual trip to Europe to see places new and old.  But now that I live here, all of Europe is at my doorstep, for pennies, either by flight, train, bus, or ridesharing (think uber but for long distances).  When living in America I experienced a variation on these sorts of fun possibilities only during my two years in New Hampshire, when Boston, Philly, NYC, and even Montreal were just road trips away, and in some cases, by train or bus too!  On this recent trip I had some business up by Chicago and elected to take the train (Amtrak) but perhaps had forgotten that there’s only one departure a day and when it gets delayed, it really gets delayed.  An engine on the train coming to Kansas City blew up in Arizona and they had to run another engine out there from California.  It delayed my journey by 7 hours and Amtrak had to pay to transport me to and from a hotel and put me up in it so I could connect to the bus to Rockford in the morning.  Not too shabby a recovery from the taxpayer-supported Amtrak, but a far cry from the dozens of departures and arrivals all around Europe every day.
  3. Constant challenge of language – Every day I make progress in French, but my work and life brings me into contact with the whole world.  During the summer I had a date with a Brazilian girl who didn’t speak English and we laughed our way through our makeshift Spanish and an occasional assist from Google Translate.  Expressing yourself in a foreign language is one of the most difficult, fun, rewarding, humbling, and interesting experiences in life.  You get opportunities like that every day here.
  4. A built life – Next year I transition from my visitor visa to one that puts me on the path to citizenship.  I continue to maintain that the EU passport is simply the most valuable passport obtainable by the average person in the world.  The only ones more valuable are the Vatican and Swiss passports – and they are very, very difficult to obtain for various reasons (as an aside I was recently asked at a dinner party what I liked most about having an American passport and I replied that it was the knowledge that Navy Seals will come for me if Somali pirates ever commandeer a vessel I’m on.  I’m sorry, no country can top that!).  I’ve started something wonderful here, and it would be nuts to leave it – especially when I’ve gone through all the hard stuff.  Indeed, as I looked over the list of requirements for my dossier for my new visa – which will be far more difficult to obtain than the visitor one – I said to a friend, “Is this it?”  The list had 28 requirements.  I realized after 2 years I am simply unfazed by the French government.

So my answer to my friend was, “Why would I come back?  I’m healthier and happier than I have been for many years, possibly more than I have ever been in my life.”

The caveat is, of course, family.  My nieces and nephews continue to grow by leaps and bounds and I measure their skill in their improvements in art and coloring, parcheesi, and sports.

On more than one occasion I’ve heard someone say, “I have to live here, because I love my family.”  I get that, I truly do.  But ultimately I moved because I placed my happiness first.  Of course I’m happy when I am with my family – but I know that part of the reason I get to contribute to their lives, bring them presents from all around the world, and share great stories with them, is precisely because I’ve built and chosen an intentional path for my life that doesn’t defer a dream life to some unknown future that no one has guaranteed that I will live to obtain.

There’s no right answer here and I’m not proposing that I have the right one.  I can only say that I can spend more quality time with my family now – and treasure it more deeply – because I know our opportunities are so precious and limited – and because I am well and truly happy, and that speaks volumes to children.

***

There’s nothing more satisfying than waking up every day knowing in your bones that you are on the right path.  And while two years isn’t yet enough for me to claim “Parisian” status yet, it does feel like home.

***The picture is of one of the fountains in one of the many lovely squares of Savannah, Georgia.***

I live in a different Paris than you do…

“And you know, Paris is all metro and work and the run-around.”

He used the famous idiom “Metro-boulot-dodo” which is a colloquialism that is literally “subway-work-sleep” that indicates the grind of life for many in the City of Light.  We were high in the French Alps, not far from the Italian border, but quite a distance away from home, and yet the complaint was similar: “I used to think Paris was magic, but now it’s just a place I work and pay bills.”

I tried to hide my dismay at hearing this, because no one should live in a place that one doesn’t love, if it can be avoided.  It’s socially acceptab2014-04-08 13.57.40le to tell people you moved to a dreadful city for a job but it’s some revolutionary concept to tell people you moved someplace for the city and who cared about the job?  It would come.

Now, I’m not pretending that everyone can have a great amount of time wealth/lifestyle in the world’s finest cities, but if you are going to bother to live there, to “put up” with the cost of living, it’s surely a great shame if you can never enjoy it.

Now, the first time I heard this complaint was from a lady who attended my Paris Culture Lovers meetup who rather sourly 2014-03-28 13.24.00complained about her schedule as I described my own, which included grocery shopping, visiting parks and museums, and riding a Velib during “off hours” – when everyone was at work from 9-5.  While I was a bit taken aback at her tirade, even though I’ve become very used to the French complaining (it’s a national art and sport), especially since she chose to move to Paris 15 years ago – for work – I avoided what would have been a typical American retort: “Well why don’t you do something about it instead of just complaining to 10 near-strangers about it?”  I said it another way to my friend Julia last month: “The French as a people would rather complain about what they don’t have than take responsibility for building their dreams.”  Instead, I just managed to stutter, “I guess…I guess I just live in a different Paris than you do.”

Since my current conversant was French I decided to take a different tack and asked him how he planned to break the cycle.  He shared some great ideas, but unsurprisingly, had not done any real research into those ideas.

2014-04-14 12.29.22***

Okay, Stephen, so people quit their miserable city jobs, then what?  Look, I don’t know.  I’m not advocating that everyone quit his/her respective jobs.  I’m just asking the serious and adult series of questions: what is the life you want for yourself?  Are you living it now?  If not, why not?  Do you have any plan or timeline in which you will be living the life you want?  Does it solely hinge on money?  Have you rethought that?

Surely life is more than paying rent or a mortgage.  Our time on this magnificent planet is too short and brief to spend focusing on the life you don’t have.  Start creating the life you desire and marvel at how much the journey alone will prepare you to enjoy what awaits your sacrifices.  I’m reminded of the words of Marcus Aurelius:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

The obstacle is the way.

2014-04-18 19.48.52-2The photos are all ones I took this time last year, when Spring had definitely arrived.  For now they are consoling me that we are almost there, as Winter is staying too long this year.

Mailbag #2: Okay, so how do I move to Paris?

Latest from cyberspace:

Dear Stephen

I’m sure you get a gazillion emails similar to this, but I had a question about your visa process that I was hoping you could clarify (which might have been a few years ago already!). I think in one post you mentioned that you applied for a visa stating that you would not work while in France, but then how did you eventually end up getting work in France, and ultimately staying? 

My current situation is that I am a freelance web developer in Brooklyn, and I really want to move to Paris (studied abroad there and loved it so much– I could not get it out of my head), but it has been difficult finding a job in Paris that would sponsor me. So I was thinking I could continue my freelance work abroad because I have a steady client that I work remotely for. But then the visa situation seems to get a bit tricky because I would not be paying taxes in France (a couple of expat forums were saying this would eventually catch up with me). I thought about applying for the Auto-Entrepreneur program, but I make more than the amount stated for self-services, which was around 35,000 euros if I am remembering correctly. So I’m a bit stuck at the moment! 

I realize that you are not an immigration officer, but any advice you have would be greatly appreciated! And again, I know you probably get so many of these emails, so even if I don’t hear back, I just wanted to say I really enjoy your blog and keep up the fantastic posts. Wishing you the best in this wonderful New Year! 

Mindy

***

Dear Mindy

First of all, thanks for the kind words.  It’s neat to know that people out there are getting help from my work.  You’ve got a lot of questions so let me start by giving you a phrase to guide some of your thinking: Le Gris.  It’s “the gray” in English.  Think of it as a giant “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy writ large against your French life.  For example, when you go to an appointment have all the documents that you need and then some.  But if they don’t ask you for a document, don’t give it voluntarily.  “More” is not better.  So too, I would ask, how does “not paying taxes in France” catch up to anyone who has signed up to “not work in France”?  Yes, I came here as a visitor, and as of this moment, I’m still classified as a visitor.  And that means I can’t work for a French company.  But I can work for German ones, Spanish ones, American ones, pretty much anyone.  I just can’t work for a French company, because that’s not the visa I hold.  I don’t see how the French government is going to ask you not to work here, and then turn around and ask you why you aren’t paying taxes.

Now the auto-entrepreneur thing is relatively new and I think you could use it to your advantage because yes, the upper limit is 35.000 euros a year – and I know, it’s dumb – that’s a discussion for another time – but why couldn’t you retain your steady client AND take on freelance work as an entrepreneur in France?  That way you are quickly integrated into the “tax paying system” (are you sure you want to rush that? 😉 ) AND you can keep your “day job.”  Remember the application is not asking what you make outside of France – France doesn’t have any claim on that income.  It’s asking you what you make or project you will make in France.  As of this moment you make Zero, but you can make an estimate.

You have what many people wish they had – a skill that is not geographically bound.  I’m excited for the possibilities for you as you explore coming to what I consider to be the world’s most beautiful city, and my home.

This email came in on the 13th so I’m only on a 10-day delay at the minute.  I’m working on getting faster! 🙂

Photo used by Creative Commons.  Photo by m43photos.

My 35th.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

-Thornton Wilder

I was born at 4:04am Singapore time on March 28th, 1979, nearly two weeks past my original due date.  That meant that around 21h00 on the 27th, Paris time, that my 35th year had commenced.  I wanted to give you a 24-hour snapshot of the day, which was not really different from many Fridays in Paris, except for the fact that I had completed most of my work projects for the week and had no students to tutor.

***

21h00

It was the end of the month so I was sending emails to my staff at Word Works, as well as to some vendors and one follow-up with a potential new client.

I tidied up some things, checked my watch again, and decided to be early to my movie at UGC George V on the Champs Élyseés.  It would also allow a leisurely walk and I sometimes left too late.  I took a small volume of Robert Frost’s poetry in tribute to the bit of Winter that had stubbornly stayed on these last few days.  I also brought my language journal.  The Grand Budapest Hotel would be subtitled in French, and I would be able to jot down a few new words as they flashed across the screen.

It was quiet as I stepped onto my street.  Paris is, in many places, quiet after 8.  Even more so in my neighborhood, the 17th arrondissement.  I was equidistant between Wagram and Monceau, but Line 2 and Monceau suited me well for my destination.

I clicked along in my high-top black leather shoes that told of my approach along the old cobblestones.  I had the beginnings of a smile on my lips for any stranger who might make eye contact with me.  I hadn’t become Parisian enough yet to completely avoid eye contact!

I was carrying a water bottle with me.  I had brought it with me from the States.  People use them all the time there but here very few people carried such bottles around externally.  I had to remember not to set it down, lest I forget to pick it up.

I clicked down2014-03-29 13.37.30 the steps to my side of the metro station.  The timers read 04 and 10.  Four minutes to the next train, 10 minutes to the one after that.  I adore the Paris Metro.  I2014-03-29 13.37.43 often feel that it’s faster and better than a private driver.  Well…almost.

I sat down on a seat and cracked open my Frost.  Many American schoolchildren know “The Road Not Taken” but my real love for his poetry began in 1998 when I studied his work in his beloved New Hampshire at Thomas More College.  Poetry can be read a thousand different ways.  Tonight I flipped through somewhat indifferently.  I was looking for resonance so I could stop reading and reflect.  I found it here.

Caught up in my thoughts I automatically rose to get onto my train, then alight at Étoile, and then out onto the Champs, and almost carelessly walked past this, which I always try to stop and admire.  After a moment or two I did an about-face and walked to the theater.  I chuckled to myself as I had once remarked that only people in San Francisco read while walking, but I realized, nose in my book, that lots of people in dense urban settings do that.

I retrieved my ticket using my UGC card and descended into the lobby to wait for my showtime.  It was Lent and I had already had my two collations and main meal for the day.  I just tried to keep my eyes on Frost instead of the candy palace before me.

An efficient young man came up some time later and asked me in French what movie I was waiting for.  “L’hotel grand de Budapest.”  “vous pouvez aller maintenant.”  “Merci.”

22h00

I chose “orchestra” seating.  In some of the theaters in France, as in Singapore, where I first watched movies, they had “balcony” and “orchestra” seating.  For most of my life I’ve preferred orchestra.

I settled into my seat.  As I’ve grown older I’ve tried to avoid the rush and crowds of a theater by carefully selecting a showtime guaranteed to be less crowded.

The movie was typical Wes Anderson.  Fun and detailed backgrounds, signage, and models (Darjeeling Limited).  Some foreign language usage but no subtitles (Life Aquatic).  Cheekiness (Rushmore).  Relationships (Bottle Rocket).  Family (Royal Tannenbaums).

I walked home slowly and deliberately, almost as if in the opposite of a race.  In the hustle and bustle of the day you can’t always enjoy a walk and now as I had the streets to myself, my clicking footsteps slowed.

As I came out of the Metro and turned towards the treasure that is Parc Monceau I saw the sweep of a spotlight in the sky.  It was coming from the Eiffel Tower, of course.  In the evening a giant floodlight rotates at the top of that thing, imitating a lighthouse.

Look, I can’t get as excited about the Tour Eiffel as the newbie visitor might.  For many who have never been or will never go to Paris, it is the source and summit of their Parisian dreamings, if they have any.  My thrill comes when I show first-time visitors or my friends and watch their reaction.  Enjoyable, to stay the least.

What’s Paris to me?  Square John XXIII.  Place des Vosges.  Petit Palais.  The Diana Statue in the Louvre and at the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Kids and boats.  Any cafe.  St. Francis Xavier.  St. Etienne du Mont.  Notre Dame de Loreto.  The Orsay Clocks.  Alexandre Dumas.  Moliere.  Pastries.  Canards.  Notre Dame, original edition.  Pere Lachaise.  Sunsets on the steps of Sacre-Coeur.  Music on the Seine.

The sensory overload can cause some to switch off.  They go about their day oblivious.  And believe me this can happen as easily in Paris as in any other city.  But when you let Paris speak to you she’ll disclose wonders.

00h20

As I was almost to my apartment I got a text from a colleague who was hosting a podcast.  His show had started and his call screener had no-showed.  I sprinted up the 7 flights of stairs (when you walk it multiple times a day it isn’t as bad as it sounds) and called in to the studio and screened his calls for about 30 minutes as I got ready for bed.

I thought I would be tired as I tucked in some time later.  I had said my prayers and had been texting with a few friends.  I put on the beginning of the anticipated Nick Clegg/Nigel Farage debate, and fell asleep (not because I wasn’t interested but because I finally let myself go).

***

10h00

The morning provided a slow wakeup.  I had forgotten to turn on my space heater so I drew my blankets in closer to myself to stay warm.  Fridays were typically days off, anyway, so I was content to sleep in.  I flipped over, pulled up The Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast, and heard what the Left had to say about Nigel vs. Nick.

One of the criticisms that crept into my don’t-want-to-get-up-yet ear was that “He (Nigel) clearly can get flustered and he made that crazy statement about the EU having blood on its hands over the Ukraine.”  The conversation proceeded apace, and Farage’s foil was the nearly professorial Clegg, who as a “professional member of the political class,” as Nigel is wont to call most MPs, was unflappable as he dodged parry after parry from the UKIP Leader.

“That’s because he’s a normal person,” I thought aloud, to no one in particular.  I was much like Nigel – a big idea person – content to leave details to those smarter than myself – confident in my ability to rather lead, motivate, and inspire.

11h00

I finally roused myself.  I made a petit dejeuner and sat in front of my computer to pay the regular end of the month bills.  Funnily enough, my landlady prefers to be paid via paypal, which makes paying rent a breeze.

I also ran down my budget vs. expenditures spreadsheet, now well into Month 5.  It was the first month my projections had actually hit their targets.  At some point I’ll write a post about the cost of living here.  In some ways, it’s expensive, sure, but in many ways having a constrained budget helps you realize just how little one needs to survive in a modern society.

I then turned to some personal and business correspondence, and made out my to-do list for the day.  It’s a simple system that works for me.  I make a list of 10 things that have to get done by the end of the day and what doesn’t make it goes into the “extra” list.  Whatever doesn’t get done that day, together with the extras, helps comprise the next day’s list.  Conversely, if I’m ahead of schedule I can pick off some items from the “extra” list.

12h00

My friend Justin FaceTimed me.  We would not change to Daylight Savings here in France until Sunday, so he was only 5 hours behind me in Florida.  It was 07h00 for him and as a coffee lover he was moving past the stupor which first light brings to lovers of the bean.

He’s a business partner and we discussed some matters while I packed up my messenger bag for the day.  Books, journals, iphone/ipad charger, ipad mini.  We switched to the telephone as he began his commute and I got ready to go out.

It was a truly beautiful morning.  I have a really cool list of cafes that purports to offer expressos for 1 euro or less.  This is generally reliable.  Indeed at Le Trois Pieces the other day I got a cafe creme (French for latte) and half a baguette for 3 euros 20.  But that’s to be expected deep in the 17th, where no English speakers or tourists lurk.  Here the locals will complain about high prices.  But hey, if you want to pay 8 euros for a coffee to get no better view than many other places in Paris, head to Saint-Germain-des-Prés.  There you can sit at Deux Magots and Cafe Flore and many other places famous for being famous, which specialize in parting tourists from their money.  For me, I’m done standing outside in a line to get into a club: paying to sit in a cafe that offered nothing spectacular, something quite similar, did not make my list.2014-03-28 13.18.47

2014-03-28 13.21.08 I set out, to-do list in hand.  My chosen cafe today was not far from my front door.

As always, I was treated to sites like this one.  But there’s ugly architecture in Paris too, pictured below it, just a block away.

As I headed down the street it turned into a “market” street.  This is great for people watching, but terrible for reading and writing, which were my intended activities for the afternoon.

2014-03-28 13.24.00 2014-03-28 13.25.58

So I turned around from that market street view, and looked at the cafe behind me, and spotted that open table at the end, under the red awning.  You have to confidently walk up and grab your spot in a cafe.  I lowered my bag and the waiter asked if I was going to eat.  No, “un petit cafe seulement” which is French for “I just want to order a coffee  and sit here for as long as possible.”  He apologized and told me that only the interior was available.

13h00

My timing was off.  It was lunchtime.  Of course they needed the tables.  I couldn’t go to my first or second choice cafe, so I was going to engage in flânerie now.  I wandered.  I still kept an eye out for a possible spot.  Everywhere was packed, however, and they don’t really even want to spare an interior spot at lunchtime unless you’re eating.  Totally understandable.

I walked into a cafe and gestured to an empty two-top.  “C’est libre?”  The lady sized me up: “Oui, pour le déjeuner.”  “Non, je voudrais un cafe, seulement.”  She gestured to the bar and I was content to stand there, drink, and perhaps read for a bit.  As she began to pull the espresso she asked, “Voulez-vous installer sur la terrasse?” “Bien sûr.”

I wrote and read for a couple hours.  People would stare at me writing just as I would stare at their chiens.  Parisians love their dogs.

At some point a French girl in her mid 20s, in all black, sat down next to me.  She ordered a soda and started smoking American Spirits.  Smoking is under attack in France (just as e-cigarettes are on a meteoric rise) but don’t doubt that it’s still very much the national pastime.  If you do doubt it, sit outside at a cafe.  Smoke will find you – as you will the ash which now fluttered onto the pages of my journal.

She struck the typical pose – cigarette carelessly held between the index and  middle fingers of her left hand.  Sunglasses.  No frown but certainly no smile.  She was thinking – not really observing much.  I was positioned to observe without being obvious.

After smoking 3 cigarettes and downing her diet coke, she abruptly got up and crossed the street, off to her next destination.  She had paid for her drink when it was delivered, which is often the custom when you sit outdoors.

I checked my watch.  I had a podcast I was hosting at 16h00 and it was 15h00.  I wrapped up my work and walked out.  Among the sites I saw on the way was this.  Great advertising.

15h15

My sister messaged me saying the children wanted to wish me a happy birthday.  Sure.

FaceTime gave me a moment with her and two of the cuties in my life.  I got a happy birthday song and caught up a bit.

“What are you getting for yourself?” she asked.  I was looking for a scarf, I thought.  Scarves really are everything in this town and finding the right one, and tying it the right way, does matter.

I didn’t want her to buy me anything, so I told her instead, “Clare, I’m living in Paris.  That is my gift.”

So it was.  My last birthday in Europe had been 14 years ago, in 2000.  Despite the fact that we had been able to drink for months my friends insisted it was “legal in America” night and I made it home that night, despite the tricky cobblestones in Trastevere, thanks to the sturdy left shoulder of my college sweetheart.

16h00

The podcast had a few technical glitches but we got them handled.  I then had a call with a new hire for one of my businesses, firmed up some weekend plans with friends – the new Captain America was coming out a week earlier here in France and I planned to take advantage.

I got dressed for dinner at a great Indian restaurant (Vallée du Kashmir, in case you’re wondering).  And just like that, my first 24 hours of my 35th year lapsed.

Some years ago the Lees Summit Chamber of Commerce conference room contained 20 of us who were sitting in a meeting room trying to organize a “young person’s” group.  One of the first questions the group posed was “How old is young?”  A couple eminences grises had tentatively asked, “25 to 45?”

An attractive girl I had been flirting with snickered, and I raised my hand to speak.  At 28 I was less diplomatic than I should have been, and blurted out, “I mean honestly, who considers 40 young?”  The 20-somethings in the room nodded their heads and the few 40-somethings in the room wilted.

It’s an unfortunate American trait that considers youth the greatest time of life and seeks to chase it indefinitely.  At dinner this night I would hear the phrase “James Dean” float over from an adjoining table (in an Indian restaurant, in a Muslim neighborhood, in France) and as I recounted this anecdote to my friend I was told the French have this problem as well.

Whatever happened to aging gracefully?  For my part the oldest person is always the coolest person in the room.  They have great stories and so much more experience.

At 35 I suppose some would still consider me young – and since I had done so much (I had hoped) to disprove George Bernard Shaw’s (oft correct) “It is too bad that youth was wasted on the young,” it didn’t matter what you called me.  I still thought it was a laugh that anyone in their 40s would call themselves young, but I did feel truly blessed that, whatever age I had lived to, I woke up this morning in Paris, having accomplished almost everything I’ve ever dreamed of.

Time for some new dreams.

I want to thank my parents, who gave me life, God who gave me my soul, and my family and friends who give me so much love and encouragement every single day.