The French Visa

“Congratulations, Stacie! You have been formally accepted to the Universite d’Orleans Institut de Francais.” Yay! When I received this letter, I exhaled and naively assumed my days of jumping through hoops were over and I could now focus my energy on the end goal – learning the french language.

“Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha”, said the French Embassy.

I thought all I needed was a little visa for study’s and based on the fact I am married to a citizen of their country, I might even get a little special treatment. First, I discovered I must make an appointment and have an interview at the nearest French embassy located in Atlanta. After I recovered from that aneurysm, I conceded and snapped up the earliest possible appointment-1 month later. Next, I began researching the requirements, which were filled with many gray areas. However, after 20 phone calls, a snarky email and being told (in English) that “the Embassy does not answer questions in English,”, Fabien (not me) received a call back from a disgruntled diplomat who advised him of the requirements for his wifes visa. So, like a good little documentor, I collected letters from my in-laws, bank statements, pay stubs, university diplomas, evidence of insurance coverage, marriage certificates, etc. for my appointment on Monday, December 12th.

The night before, I drove through the mountains, in the dark, to Atlanta to stay at a shady La Quinta Inn thinking it would all be worth it when the Consulate welcomed me to France and thanked me for choosing to study in their country. You’re welcome! Que the laughs again.

I was not denied at my interview, but was told, by the football shaped woman, that I did not qualify for the visa and she gave me several reasons why.  I named the person at their office who advised Fabien of the requirements and I provided documentation over and above what they were asking. She then reminded me of the Parisian motto: “Not my problem”. Stunned, furious and confused, I left the office in tears and drove 4 hours back to Nashville.

When I returned home, I feverishly research and reinforced what I already knew – she was wrong. At 1am, I wrote a scathing email to the Consulate and almost immediately receive a response that they would see me the next day. I was hesitant to spend another 8 hours driving only to walk away even more furious and hating France. At the crack of dawn, I called, demanded to speak with the man who emailed me and asked for his reassurance, which he (sort of) gave to me. So, I hopped in the car at 5am and drove through the mountain fog, to Atlanta…..again. 6 hours later, I was driving back to Nashville, visa in hand. Turns out, there was a mistake, the football shaped woman did not know what she was talking about and since they felt so guilty, they issued it on the spot.

Should you ever find yourself applying for a visa, it goes without saying, but it is so important to know your visa backwards and forwards. When I applied for a chinese visa, I researched the requirements so throughly that I received my visa even before Fabien, who had an attorney assisting him. However, with the french visa, I simply relied on what I was told my the embassy. One would think that would be enough, but you must confirm, reconfirm and know the requirements inside and out. Had I approached the french visa as the chinese, I would have been successful on the first attempt. But, then what fun would that have been?

After all was said and done, even though it was a lot of stress, work and miles on the car, the embassy’s mistake worked in my favor as it normally takes 3 weeks of processing time. In my opinion, the entire process was France testing my sanity. But most likely it was the Universe playing a game of “how bad do you want it?” Whatever the  reason – I am officially a recipient of a French visa.

Tennessee – A State of American Classics

A really exciting aspect of living in a totally different part of the country is traveling to the little areas that would we probably never make it too had we stayed in Michigan. While Fabien & I have only been in Tennessee for 1 month, we have found time to explore. Through these explorations, we have found Tennessee to be a state of true American Classics.

Country Music Culture. Other than Baywatch, there is nothing outsiders associate with America more than Country Music and its surrounding culture. When we were living in Detroit, Fabien and his friends loved to go to a Coyote Ugly-esque bar called ‘Coyote Joes’. On any given night you would find the girl next door shaking her barely dressed body in an American flag bikini top to ‘Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy’. This American flag wearing, cowboy boot sporting, country music listening scene is oozing from Nashville and the whole state.  Having been a fan of the music for years, I love it.

Jack Daniels. Say you live in Tennessee to a foreigner and they’ll picture you sitting on your wooden porch, shotgun at your side and a Jack on the rocks in your hand. Lynchburg is an hour from our house and while some friends were visiting we ventured to the one and only Jack Daniels Distillery.   While I’ve never tasted whiskey without gagging, I really enjoyed the tour. The grounds are absolutely beautiful and are similar to a Michigan Cider Mill, but in the mountains. I love that their business is run in a simple and grass-roots manner. The headquarters is no bigger than the office at my last job and once a month employees walk away with a free bottle.  My favorite fact surrounding the brand is that the headquarters is located in a dry county which has been since Prohibition (1920-1933).  It’s a vicious cycle really- the county does not have enough voters to overturn the law and no one will move there because they can’t drink. However, through a huge financial bribing disguised as taxes, the company has arranged to legally sell alcohol on their grounds.  The rule is: you can buy, but you can not consume. To see pictures of our visit at the Jack Daniels Distillery, click here.  One tip if you ever find yourself in Lynchburg – go on a weekday when the actual bottling takes place.

Elvis. Okay, seriously. How can you not love Elvis? He is such an endearing icon of American culture and the driving force behind Memphis’s tourism industry. I could not wait to go to Graceland, so as soon as Fabien got a couple of days off, we drove 3 hours west to see the King’s Castle. From the front, it doesn’t look like much, but the property is impressive in the way of elaborate decor, rooms full of awards, a car museum, planes (yes, planes) and countless wardrobe displays. It should be a sin to go to Memphis and not visit the home, just be sure to bring some cash. To cross the gates, it costs $35 causing Fabien to say “Elvis raped me.” for the rest of the day.  However, if you visit the attraction website (Graceland) and become an Elvis Insider (free), you get free parking and a few dollars off your tickets. For pics, click here.

Fried and Fattening Anything. No wonder this season of the Biggest Loser had two Nashville area residents as finalists. Everything is fried, dipped in BBQ sauce and then refried. Recently, I went to lunch and in lieu of french fries asked for the vegetable of the day. Guess what I got? Fried pickles. As yummy as I find them, I don’t consider anything fried a vegetable.

Total Cheesiness. Note the bullets above and all of it has an element of American cheese. This was most evident when we visited Ruby Falls in Chattanooga. As a teenager, I visited Lookout Mountain in the area and thought it was only a tad smaller than Everest. So, when we arrived and Fabien said, “That’s it” (He’s such a mountain snob), we decided to go to Ruby Falls instead. As your driving to the city there are literally 200 signs located on farm lands, billboards and painted on barns urging you to “See Ruby Falls”. Upon arrival, you can expect to pay $17.95 per person and  to get on an elevator that takes you a 1,120 feet towards the earth’s core. The falls were quite beautiful and interesting, but whoever manages the attraction slathered them in cheese. Our guide thought he was a comedian and his plan was to hold us all hostage for an hour to listen to his stalagmite and stalactite jokes. And when you finally arrive at the falls, dramatic music and disco lights are queued on the water.  “Why can’t they just shut up and leave the beauty alone?” (Fabien) If you are ever lured to the attraction via the highway signs, go to the Falls. It’s neat. Skip Lookout Mountain and drive to Point Park for even more beautiful, natural (and free) views. Pics are here.

Having been in the state for only a month and finding all of these great things to do, we are really looking forward to exploring even more American Classics over the next couple of years. Feel free to leave comments of not to miss places in the great state of Tennessee and/or other areas in the south.

“Home”: Smyrna, Tennessee

Over the past few years, I’ve uncovered a hidden passion in my life – TRAVEL (hence, the travel blog). I love seeing new places, experiencing cultures, adding stamps to my passport and continuously topping the previous trips excitement with the next. However, I also love coming home. Ernest Hemingway said, “There’s something about coming home that reminds you of what you have.” Agree.

Websters defines home as “a place where one lives” which might be one of the most the most limiting and disappointing definitions I’ve ever read. This would mean my response to someone asking me, “Where is your home?” would be “Smryna, Tennessee”. While Fabien & I are here together, this place hardly feels like “home” to either of us, but let me tell you a little bit about this town where we are living.

    • Smyrna is home to approximately 40,000 residents and a 5.2 million square

      Our neighborhood with Nissan in the distance. Looks like we might be the only household without a big truck.

      foot Nissan plant, which produces over 500,000 vehicles per year.

    • On the town corners you will find just about every American chain and because of the large community of foreigners, there are also many independently owned mexican and asian restaurants.
    • Our local watering hole is called (blush) “Willie’s Wet Spot” and, like all small towns, has a super friendly bartender who already knows most of my life story.
    • We are a 5 minute walk to the Stone’s River, which is quite beautiful and dumps

      Stone's River Dam

      into Piercy Priest Lake in Nashville.

    • Downtown Nashville is 30 minutes north and provides anything and everything in the way of entertainment (but nearly no bookstores….grrr).
    • It’s approximately once a day that I get a “Where y’all from?”, which only makes Fabien smile since it’s normally a question he has to answer by himself.
    • Just outside our subdivision are some beautiful country roads. We were really looking forward to biking them, that is until Fabien and his friend were recently chased by 4 dogs.
    •  The downtown is almost cute and consists of establishments called “Country Bride”, “Pop’s Bar” and “Breakin’ Bread-Home Cookin'”.
    • Smyrna’s most famous resident is a confederate war hero named, Sam Davis.

      The cotton fields at the Sam Davis home.

      His home, along with the Stone’s River National Battlefield are local relics. I know it’s a more a matter of southern pride than celebrating the civil war, but I’m not a fan of what this celebration represents. And this Yankee would like to remind y’all who won that war and I think it’s time y’all move on…

All this sounds just great, doesn’t it? I’m sure some of you are cringing and maybe 3 of you are jealous. Honestly, I haven’t determined my feelings yet. I might really love small town, country life, but I also might demand to be taken within walking distance of civilisation at some point. Fortunately, with another adventure just around the corner, I don’t have too much time to stop and smell Smyrna’s roses. My “home” will soon convert into a little village in central France called St. Cyr en Val come January 1st.