Category Archives: Life


A few observations after nearly a week here:

  • French “loyalty cards” come with an up-front cost, but then earn not only discounts but cash value that can be spent later. For example, the Nostrum restaurants charge 5€ for the card, but then might discount a 4.50€ Item down to 3.50€; so it takes a very few purchases to make back the initial charge.
  • Prime membership on (U.S.) now runs $119. Prime on costs 49€ (about $56). No doubt the U.S. version comes with more benefits and perks, but that’s a substantial price difference.
  • Similarly, FilmStruck, the current incarnation of Turner Movie Channel plus The Criterion Collection, ergo a terrific collection of classic movies, including foreign, runs 59.99€ for an annual subscription in France, about $69. Annual cost in the U.S., including Criterion Collection, $99. Again, available content may vary, but still. . .  Update 27/10/18
  • Between nearly universal shop and restaurant closings on Sunday and/or Monday, it pays to plan ahead lest I go hungry. With this weekend forecast to be cold and wet, stocking up on Friday is my current plan.
  • It’s not uncommon for a French apartment to have a washing machine (i.e., laundry) in the kitchen, even when there’s no dishwasher. And, while combination washing machine/dryers exist, they’re not as common as a “lave linge” and a drying rack to place near a window on a warm day, one hopes.
  • (Side note: I took on the lave linge challenge here — it didn’t complete the assigned cycle — and won through native problem-solving skills (that is, pushing buttons and twisting dials until something happens). Small victories can be so satisfying!)

None of these are complaints, mind you, just observations. I’m adaptable. I learn through observation, experiment, and sometimes just looking it up in Google Translate. The challenge I set for myself in the next few weeks is to learn the lingo of the market.

Books, part une

If you know me at all, you know that books are my life, and loom large in retirement. So you won’t be surprised to learn that one factor in my choice of retirement locations is the weekly marché des livres in Place de la Comédie near the tourist information office. Nor that said marché would be my destination for Saturday afternoon.

Since my French reading vocabulary is not huge at this point, I opt for the less challenging volumes. Today’s acquisitions are Jacques Tardi’s Le Savant  Fou, one of Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec, and a 52-week Calendrier Les Shadocks, Shadocks being French cartoon characters satirizing contemporary politics (try YouTube; see, Maryon, I did watch them !).

Bonus: The bookseller with whom I chatted last year — who told me he was happy to have moved from Lyon where it’s always overcast and gloomy to Montpellier where there’s more sun — remembered me when I walked up and said “Bonjour.”

Final stop for today: The tourist office, where I collected a few brochures and a couple of postcards to mail home.

P.S. (Sunday) A pic of the books that I shipped over to keep me occupied until the larger shipment arrives, and I have a place to put those.

First Saturday in Montpellier

One of my goals for today was to acquire a shopping trolley/caddy/cart (see examples, know as “poussettes de marché,” here Galeries Lafayette poussettes). I credit Linda Oestereich with alerting me to their existence and utility, additional nod to the Oui In France blog After lugging the 15-pound-bowling-ball equivalent cat through several airports, the utility of a rolling shopping bag is obvious.

Additionally, my cursory reconnaissance of the nearby markets suggested I would more likely find some kitchen necessities (measuring cup, for example) at the huge Carrefour store near Lattes. Which is a relatively easy tram ride from here (Line 1 from Leon Blum to Gare St. Roche, transfer to Line 3 to Boirargues).

So, out I ventured (after the suitcase delivery, see preceding post).

First task checked off the growing list by finding a Photomaton booth, which takes passport-quality photos, five for 5€. I need one for my TAM senior card, so that’s out of the way.

Next, into the Carrefour. Found the poussettes aisle, checked the features, and opted for the grey 40€ unit with bonus cold-keeping compartment over the red 25€ option. Another task checked off. Then selected a measuring cup, trio of scissors, and inexpensive teflon-lined sauce pan the right size for morning oatmeal (the apartment comes with rather largish pans). Added some bottled fizzy water (Badoit) and headed for checkout. Where the cashier didn’t understand at first that I was holding up the poussette for him to scan my purchase. . . He thought I was demonstrating that it was empty, I had to insist I was buying it. We all laughed.

Then back to Antigone via tram, feeling Saturday was off to a good start.

Deliveries, redux

As I was working toward venturing out this morning, a courier from Chronopost called to say he would be here in 15 minutes with my bags. I was expecting Monday. Five minutes later I was heading down in the elevator, he called again. . . Waiting right outside.

And the bonus: no customs duty to pay !

So at this point I have these data points to work with: Two boxes with copious documentation get taxed, two suitcases with equally copious documentation don’t get taxed. Until I learn something else, I propose to do all my shipping in suitcases.

NB: I’ve read multiple commentaries online (usually Facebook groups about living in France) asserting that delivery companies make minimal efforts to actually deliver one’s packages. My experience differs; perhaps it’s the difference between big city (Montpellier is France’s 7th largest) and smaller or rural environments. YMMV. Caveat emptor.

Package deliveries

When I checked my mailbox yesterday, along with a pile of catalogs and announcements were multiple notices of attempted delivery from UPS and Chronopost (which appears to be how packages sent USPS Priority Express International get delivered here).

I went online to both services, added info as needed (e.g., new phone number !), and made plans to hang out in the apartment until the deliveries arrived.

Which was just now: Both were delivered within 5 minutes of each other, near 10:30.

Next steps: Check the tracking information for the remaining two packages presumably coming via Chronopost (Done, rescheduled for Monday). And find out if there’s a way to get Customs to refund the fees that shouldn’t have been charged because the Certificat de Changement de Residence was included with all the packages I sent.

First tasks

Wednesday night, a few hours after arriving in Montpellier, I took my shopping bags to the Monoprix in the Polygone shopping mall, and grabbed a few essentials to get me through at least breakfast on Thursday: bread, coffee, soy milk, strawberries, packaged prepared salad bowl.

Thursday morning I met up with Dennelle in front of the Free store in the Triangle building next to the Polygone. No, nothing in the store is actually “free,” that’s the name of the cell phone (‘portable’) service. I brought the dual-SIM GSM phone I had used earlier this year (a Motorola Moto e4, international edition). Although one of the plans was offered at a substantial discount for the first year, I opted for the 20€ a month plan, which includes calls to the U.S.

If you think you need my phone number, email me at My old number will continue to work for a while, but not forever.

Next, we went to La Poste (post office) to mail my OFII form to the local authorities, telling them that I’m here and how to contact me.

Then Dennelle introduced me to one of the local organic food stores, Rayons Verts. I returned later in the day to pick up a few more edibles, and one of their nice shopping bags.

For lunch, I intended to visit L’Atelier, at the other end of the Place du Millenaire. . . But it was closed, and not at all clear if it was a permanent or temporary situation. So I tried the next closest restaurant, La Table d’Alexandre, and was rewarded with a nice chunk of salmon, with rice and a side-salad.

For dinner, I checked out the pizza place just next door, A L’R du Gout, and dined on a demi vegetarian pizza. It came with a remarkably thin and crispy crust and finely-chopped vegetables (not the big chunks of peppers and onions that pass as vegetarian pizza elsewhere). I introduced myself to the proprietors, Claude et Richard, who welcomed me to the neighborhood.

Nous sommes ici

After a relatively painless flight from SFO > CDG > MPL, Simon and I are settling in to our apartment in Montpellier. Well, Simon’s hiding somewhere, as usual in such circumstances.

He did remarkably little complaining considering the indignity of being lugged through airports and stuffed under seats. The biggest challenge for both of us was getting through security, since one has to carry the animal through the metal detector while the carrier goes through the x-ray machine.  In Paris, a security inspector actually helped get Simon back into the carrier with a hearty “Allez,  Minou !” (He said he has two cats of his own.)

Dennelle, my connection in Languedoc, met us at the airport, took us to a garden store that also has pet supplies, so Simon now has a new litter box, litter, and food. And I have plans for tomorrow with Dennelle to finish off banking tasks, mail the OFII form, and get a phone plan.

Adventures in international shipping

Today’s tasks entailed making final backups of files on both the iMac and the external drives, disconnecting the iMac from the internet, and clearing it off before recycling.

And. . . More shipping. I packed up the external drives and USB-3 hubs and took them to the UPS Store for packing and shipping. I plan to buy a new iMac in Montpellier; this one is nearly six years old, and not worth the cost to ship.

Then, it was off to the Aptos post office with two suitcases and a box. The box has five jackets to get me through my first winter in France. The suitcases (one carry-on size, the other a smallish not-so-carry-on) are crammed with books and assorted files that I’ll need long before I have a place to unload Monday’s container into. Yes, USPS will take your suitcase and send it Priority Express International, 6-10 days delivery, for less than UPS will charge, or even the specialty luggage shipping companies. File that for reference!

Also: A shout-out to Sylvia at the Aptos post office, for her cheerful assistance today.

Pet passport – check!

Used to be that bringing a pet into another country frequently meant a multi-month quarantine. No more. Now one can get a “pet passport,” which consists of a certification first from a qualified vet that the pet is healthy and up-to-date on rabies shots and such, and second an endorsement from the USDA that said certificate is valid.

One of the requirements is that the pet have a microchip ID in place. Simon had one, but it was an older non-ISO-compliant 10-digit model. So we placed a second chip, the 15-digit model, a few weeks ago. Simon is now truly bionic.

The next requirement is that the health certificate has to be completed by the vet within 10 days of travel (arrival in country). We had that appointment yesterday. Then the USDA endorsement. . . which can be done via FedEx, but when time is short, well, one drives to the nearest USDA office. In Sacramento. That was today’s adventure. So I’m now home with a duly stamped and embossed health certificate, Simon’s pet passport.

P.S., dated 17 October 2018: Turns out no one in France cares. But if anyone ever asks, I have the paperwork.

P.P.S., The agent at SFO asked to see the pet health passport, so Simon probably wouldn’t have gotten on the plane without it.

P.P.P.S., if you’re traveling with a dog, check out the tips from Your Dog Advisor,