What a surprise to learn the secrets of an
expatriate's heart. When Sheila Sabine and Judith Glass met up with former
Berkeley residents, Kathleen and Corbin de Rubertis, in their magnificent Paris
flat, the couple, practically in unison, said "We love living in Paris, but
we sure miss Peet's coffee!" When questioned further, they expanded on this
theme. There's just no place in Paris where one can buy coffee "to
go." As Kathleen often finds herself in her station wagon with one or all
of their three young children, it is difficult for her to stop and leisurely sip
an espresso at a sidewalk café, as most Parisians do. Therefore, she envies the
American moms who can stop for a hot coffee to drink along the way!
Otherwise, the de Rubertis Family is
loving the French experience. Corbin works for the Boston Consulting Group, and
when he was offered the post in Paris, the entire family agreed that it was a
good idea to go for it! Well, everyone, that is, except for Celeste who wasn't
even born yet when the decision was made. It was early in 2001. The de Rubertis'
were enjoying life in a newly-purchased home in the Berkeley Hills. Daughter
Frances and son William were settling in, and baby #3 was on the way. Then
things happened very quickly. Corbin accepted his new position and went to Paris
immediately to start a house search. Kathleen stayed home but as soon as new
baby Celeste was old enough to travel, the Berkeley house was sold and the
family moved to Paris.
Judith Glass and Sheila Sabine met the
whole family in their elegant flat located on a wide street in the 8th
Arrondisement on the Right Bank of Paris. After being served a glass of
champagne by their charming young daughter, Frances (well, after all, this is
France), Judith and Sheila were given a tour of the flat. With 2400 square feet,
the flat features high ceilings and windows, parquet floors, large rooms, and
plenty of space for everyone. A unique aspect of renting a flat in Paris is that
it is delivered to the new occupant literally stripped of everything - including
the kitchen sink! When Kathleen and Corbin moved in, there were no light
fixtures, no shelves in the closets, not even a toilet paper holder! And the
kitchen was a mere shell - meaning that they had to buy all the appliances,
cabinetry and fixtures.
So here they were in an elegant Paris
flat with its impressive location on the Right Bank, but they started their new
life cooking over a hot plate on the floor while they waited to furnish and
outfit their kitchen! Luckily, IKEA stores are available near Paris, so the
entire kitchen - counters, cabinets, appliances, you name it - was finished with
IKEA products. However, space restrictions led to the use of very small
appliances: the refrigerator is so small that daily grocery shopping is part of
the routine - and part of the fun! And it is always possible to order food over
the phone and have it delivered. One aspect of their building that makes life a
bit easier is the presence of a 24-hour gardienne who has an apartment in the
building. She is able to accept deliveries, take care of the mail, and generally
keep track of all activities. The building features a central courtyard which
provides an outdoor space where the children can play and, as part of the Paris
experience, there are frequent outings to the nearby Parc Monceau.
For a quick bit of French history, the
building occupied by the de Rubertis' is one many created in the late 1800's by
Baron Haussman. Everyone who's been to Paris has journeyed along Boulevard
Haussman, but the Baron's projects were much more far-reaching than just that
one street. In 1853, Paris was growing at a rapid pace and was desperately in
need of some city planning. Haussman was brought in by Emperor Napoleon III to
transform Paris into an artistic, fashionable and cultural capital city. So, in
demolishing many existing undesirable houses (causing the poorer residents of
the city to move to the suburbs), many of the ancient streets were widened and
aligned and the new boulevards (such as Rue de Rivoli) were lined with buildings
displaying uniform, consistent façades and similar roof lines. The de Rubertis'
flat is in just such a building on just such a boulevard.
As is true of the ex-patriate
experience in many places in the world, it can be difficult to meet the local
people, and Americans tend to stick together and spend leisure time together.
The whole family continues to study French and improve their language skills,
and then, of course, there are wonderful travel opportunities to nearby European
The de Rubertis return to the U.S.
frequently to visit family and friends. They have even bought "a vacation
home" in Iowa! Although this seems to be operating in reverse (since some
might not view the Midwest as an exotic location for a second home) but in their
case, it allows them to spend time near the town where most of Kathleen's
extended family resides.
They are not sure how long the French
adventure will last. But, for now, they can see the long-range benefits for
themselves and their children. As a child, Corbin lived all over the world, so
living abroad is second nature to him. And for Kathleen - so far, so good. One
thing that makes the experience easier for her is that her parents are able to
visit them in Paris frequently, so the trans-Atlantic grandparent/grandchild
relationships are being maintained on a consistent basis.
Thinking of moving to Europe? If you
ask the de Rubertis, it's a great idea - but first you might want to move to a
country where you can find coffee to go!
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