Monday, February 25, 2008

Money, Money, Money

I started this blog just over two years ago as a full-on backpacker.

Jumping from hostel to hostel with nothing but my backpack and digital camera in tow, making new friends and moving from place to place every couple of days.

Eventually I interspersed my backpacking with a bit of "flashpacking" - staying in hotels, the occasional condo, and sometimes an apartment rented for a week. With each further trip, I relied less and less on hostels and more and more on my laptop, no longer afraid to lug two grand worth of gear with me.

The evolution is complete: I'm now an expat.

I'm firing up the blog again on this, my fourth day in France, after my first day of work at my new job in Paris.

Yes, that's right, I've moved to Paris. And for those of you not keeping score, I got married the Friday before last. My beloved bride is not with me yet - she's still got loose ends to tie up in San Francisco before making the jump across the pond herself, and I could write pages and pages about just how much I miss her. But that's not why you read this.

I'm writing this to say that while I've evolved from penny-pinching backpacker to occasional luxury vacationer to lucky-prick-with-an-international-relocation-package, I feel like I'm back to square one. That is, flat broke.

Ok, that's not entirely accurate - I've got some money in the bank and my company has put me up in a hotel until I find an apartment (hopefully by the coming weekend), but have you checked the exchange rates lately?

The dollar. Fucking. Sucks.

At this very moment, it's sitting at $1.48 to the euro, meaning I'm losing nearly 50% on every transaction. Until I'm "official" and have my paperwork blessed by the French government, I'm still being paid in dollars, which may as well be pesos as far as I'm concerned.

Not to say that I haven't had some fantastic meals. A dinner like I had on Friday night at Le Clou is easily worth the €33 prix fixe for three courses. The three-course lunch I ate at boho haven Le Bouquin Affamé was well worth the €17.50 for the tarte du jour alone. But if you do the math, that's about $75 for two meals.

I know, I know, I can't be thinking in dollars over here, but I can't help it while I'm being paid in a devalued currency. So I beg you, Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve: Please stop printing money and lowering interest rates. You're not doing me any favors.

In the meantime, I have discovered at least one cheap little slice of heaven. As I walked yesterday from Bercy in the very southeast of Paris to near Montmartre in the northwest - yes, another one of my crazy urban hikes - I found a cheapo pan-Asian joint where I could tuck into a €6 bowl of Pho. Here, in the capital of foie gras, steak frites and escargot, I found some of the greatest pleasure in Vietnamese rice noodles in beef broth.

Not to say that it was the most authentic Pho I've ever had. In fact, despite France's colonial forays into Vietnam and Indochina and beyond, I've found little by way of good Asian food so far. The other night's lapse in judgement was a trip to Konichiwa in Clichy-la-Garenne. I should've known by the fact that the restaurant's name was slightly misspelled in hiragana on the menu that I wasn't in for the most authentic experience. But I soldiered on, going through a course of shrimp salad (which tasted nothing like I'd ever had in terms of Japanese food in my life), some middling sushi, and a surprisingly decent set of yakitori skewers. To give credit where due, the yakitori was more authentic than at home, grilled over charcoal and not swimming in teriyaki sauce.

But for the pleasure of below-average Japanese food, I paid €18.50.

That's $27.

So from tonight on, I vow to adopt what my buddy Vince called the "Immigrant Mentality." I've got to scrimp and save and resist the temptation of stuff that isn't good for me anyway, so that I can make a proper new life for myself and my *gulp* wife.

Hmm.. maybe being an expat newlywed isn't too different from being a backpacker after all.


  1. As a cheap student in Paris... a fresh baguette, some laughing cow or maybe even emmental, and some slices of jambon = cheap tasty and filling lunch.

    I would kill for a baguette now.

  2. That's what I'm eating for breakfast every day, courtesy of the hotel "breakfast buffet." ;)

  3. Sounds like my first few years in US when food budget was $100 per month (it wasn't really a budget, it was all I had for food then). Then again, European's poor man food is soooo much better (at least in Serbia, but I assume France is similar enough) that the one in US. I remember being ecstatic about 37c burger sale in McDonalds. I'm making it up now - just been to South Park Cafe in SF last weekend.

    Enjoy the France (and remember, it's only few BART stations from Daly City to SF :) ).

  4. I feel your exchange rate pain. My sister and I decided to celebrate our parents' anniversary by going to TGIFridays (where they spent their first anniversary).

    For some inexplicable reason, that is considered a luxury restaurant in Spain, and by the time we ate our appetizer, meals, and our two cokes (Europe needs to learn the phrase "Free Refills") we dropped 75 USD.

    May your paycheck be in Euros ASAP :)

    Btw, if you find yourself in Spain give me a holler (+34 608 43 16 98)


  5. @Rudi - I'm glad McDonald's burgers aren't 37c here. Otherwise I might actually be eating them regularly!

    @Joe - TGI Friday's IS a luxury. In that's absolutely, totally unncessary ;) But I guess if it's a heartwarming reason like how John Edwards and his wife go to Wendy's for their anniversary, I guess it's acceptable...