“There Will Always Be Ups and Downs. Always Look Up!”
My grandmother quoted this in her most recent letter she sent me, and I thought it was relevant in my current living situation. Currently, I live in a studio in the basement of an apartment complex which overlooks the Mediterranean sea. The Down: the studio has very limited internet, no tv, no washing machine, and, let’s face it, it can be lonely. I also have noisy upstairs neighbors who wake me up every morning. The Up: The view from outside is gorgeous. I have a private pool and tennis courts I can use at my leisure (of course it’s now too cold for swimming and I don’t play tennis). The place is furnished, but it is also quite old, so added a few pictures and posters to make it my own.
I am grateful to have the chance to live somewhere so cheap, and I’m grateful to the people who have been so kind to me. But, I’m not sure if this was the best choice–I’ve been going back and forth about it for awhile. So, I started to list the things I see about where I live as a “down” and tried to change them into an “up.”
Down 1: I have very limited internet (only 6GO per month which I use through something called a clé 3G or USB.) And yes, I know this is such a #FirstWorldProblem, but I don’t care! Basically, the clé uses cell phone data bounced off the towers for Internet. This sort of device does not really exist in the states (at least as far as I know- I had never heard of it until I came here) and is actually way more popular in remote places of the world such as Africa, so when my landlord told me this is what I would need for Internet (the people I rented from refused to install the phone line), I honestly thought it was going to be enough. Little to my knowledge, I blew through my data in less than 2 weeks back in October. So, I positively made some conscious changes. I only connected one device at a time instead of three, I didn’t stream any tv shows or download anything, and I turned my clé off at night or when I left the studio. Still, I blew through 6 GO of data in two and a half weeks- probably due to Skype and Google Hang Out. All that effort and I still only got another week out of it. The “Up” I discovered was a lesson in time management. With this limited internet situation, it gave me a chance to work on time management, and more specifically, to work on work at work, discover new cafés in my neighborhood with the “wifi” sign, and maybe just not use the internet so much in the first place. But, this is still more of a “Down” than an “Up.” Because guess what, I use social media and I blog regularly. This is something that makes me happy and I do not really want to change. Furthermore and more importantly, as a teacher, it isn’t always possible to leave work at work. Sometimes you simply need to bring stuff home with you or change your lesson plans last minute, especially when the teachers you work with call you to tell you they need you to find a certain video, etc. All-in-all, more often than not, especially in 2013, and especially when teaching languages, you need to have internet. Not to mention, yes, I do like to Skype friends and family from home, and with the time change, this either happens late at night or early in the morning– when NOTHING in the south of France is open– I have to do it at my place (and let’s be honest, I enjoy the privacy that way– most French view Skyping in a cafe as just rude and not normal.) Finally, I am starting to apply for jobs, teacher fairs, etc. and again, I need a lot of Internet. The US style Starbucks or internet coffee shop, unless you are in central Paris, just does not exist in France. The closest thing you have is McDonalds, which does have free wifi, but I mean, it’s McDonald’s. And, there are a total of TWO outlets at one McDonald’s near me and ZERO at another (hard to type lesson plans when your computer battery lasts less than half an hour without a wall charger (yes it needs to be replaced but I just never did it, and can’t afford to now). Most of these cafés also block streaming sites, so if I want to watch something on tv I have to buy it and download it (which Takes FOREVER in a cafe).
Down 2: The people who set me up here in Toulon gave me a television to use, but unfortunately there is no way to connect it in my studio. So, other than day-to-day interactions, I have no way to work on my French listening skills in my apartment. And living alone, it gets way too quiet. A tv would be nice, even for background noise while cooking. The “Up” I saw in this was perhaps needing to make the effort once a week or so to just go to a movie, which is cool, but just like in the states, movies are expensive. Additionally, the Ozenda’s gave me some books to read. Instead of watching tv in French I could just be reading! I however need to make the conscious effort to make time for reading everyday in French, or at least a couple of times a week. I think overall I could live without a tv, but sometimes I think about the fact that I’m in France and there won’t be many opportunities in the future, unless I continue to stream French tv at home in the states (and I guess that is a possibility).
Down 3: I have always wanted to live alone. And after two months here in France, I enjoy it! However, I am not sure if this was the best way to go for my nine months in France. Interacting and building relationships with French people is the best way to improve your own French. Not to mention it is really hard to make friends with French people! My goals for this program included both of these things, but it’s really hard to do when you’re living alone! The “Up” side to this situation is that I have already had a French family experience, which was great. I also already have several connections around the country that many people do not have, which makes my experience more authentic in that sense in itself (ie: I get to have a real French Christmas!) I’ve also had the opportunity to be invited to various lunches, dinners, and coffee by the residents in the building. However, I’m not sure if living alone was the best investment in regards to the development of my French.
Down 4: Most French people do not have dryers. Fine. But, I do not even have a washer. And laundromats are EXPENSIVE in France! I did two loads of wash for 13€ and then dried my sheets and towels for 4€. If I do laundry 2-3 times a month, I am using about 45€ every month (because of course I have to sit in the cafe next door while I wait and order something to drink). This cafe is the “Up” side of not having a washing machine: I have easy access to a dryer, and a sweet wifi enhanced cafe (but no outlets, and during “lunch” you’re not allowed to have your devices– ce n’est pas possible).
Down 5: I recently wrote about this, but my noisy neighbor’s obnoxious and loud television is getting a little out of control, even after I said something to her about it. I don’t sleep very well, ever. I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night. It’s just not good for my health, well-being, or sanity.
In regards to where I am living, I keep telling myself, “it’s only seven months,” and, “You’re saving so much money on rent.” But, am I really saving that much money on rent if I am paying an additional 32€ per month for Internet, and an additional 45€ per month on laundry? Am I really saving money if I have to go to a movie every week? Am I really saving if I am sacrificing sleep, health, etc. And most importantly, am I really “saving” if I am not investing just a little bit more into the development and perfection of my French? So, I started looking at new places to live. And I found one. So I’m moving. It’s about 183€ more per month, but it IS right in between my old neighborhood (le Mourrillon, which is hard to leave) and centre ville, but the apartment includes a tv, a dishwasher!!!, a laundry machine, wifi, and 3 French roommates between the ages of 23-25. I’m sort of upset because I spent a lot of money getting this studio up to par- including 70€ on a clé 3G I will no longer be using, 40€ on a microwave, and 10€ on a toaster, various cleaning supplies, a small storage unit for the bathroom, and hangers. Though I am not sure about the clé, Hopefully I can sell the kitchen appliances for a small price. Additionally. I am hoping that the other things I have purchased, including cleaning supplies, a table cloth, hangers, toilet paper, toiletries, etc. will come in handy and this new place. So maybe just perhaps not all will be lost. And now, I can apply for CAF, which will hopefully save me money on rent in the long run, even though it will be more right now. This was something I wasn’t able to do with the current place from where I was renting.
I know this was the best decision for me. The hardest steps now will be returning the borrowed items to the Ozenda family, packing up my things, putting the studio back to how it was before I moved in, and most importantly forwarding my mail changing my address with various people, all before I leave for Christmas vacation at the end of December. But, the up side is that I think I am going to be a lot happier and more comfortable for the rest of my stay. I mean look at the gorgeous pictures!!!
As I said, this is my France, my journey, and I’m doing it my way.