MANNA Mamma: Susie Bidal
I met Susie through a mutual friend the day I discovered I was pregnant. Sipping a San Pellegrino with lemon, I made out I was detoxing but asked her a zillion questions about being a mother in Paris. I found her so sweet and incredibly honest. The second time we met up, when the cat was out of the bag, she was an amazing source of information for me. Thanks to Susie I learned about signing up for the creche while I was still pregnant. She also tipped me off on ways to secure a place in the creche even if city hall (la mairie) turned me away. Of course in good time I will share all that information on MANNA. I am excited that the first mother we profile is this cool Canadian expat.
Name: Susie Bidal
Expat From: Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, Canada
Maman To: Simon 4 ½ yrs and Marcel 9 months
Profession: Airline catering business
Time in Paris: 8 years
What brought you to Paris?
My husband Pierre. He’s French and owns a business so it was easier for me (as a nurse in NYC) to move. I’m happy I did!
How long did it take you to adjust to life here?
My job as a travel nurse allowed me to experience the highs and lows of getting to know new cities. I lived in LA, San Francisco and NYC. Each of these cities has its own character and vibe to adjust to. Paris was easier in a way because I had my love waiting for me.
What about learning French? Did you speak French before you came? Are you fluent now?
My hometown is bilingual. My family is French-Canadian and so we spoke French at home, but I did learn to speak English at an early age.
What do you love most about living in Paris—and what’s the hardest part?
Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The French culture, the high fashion, the food, the wine, the romance in the air, its history…. I love this whole mélange! But what I love most about living in Paris are the memories I’ve created here with friends and family. The city now feels like home. The hardest part is not having my sister and best friend around the corner. That, and the lack of real nature! Growing up in a small northern Ontario town (max population of 7000), I sometimes feel like a bird in a cage.
What do you love most about your quartier? What’s your favorite spot in the area?
We’ve been in the 6e arrondissement for the last three years. Before then, we were in the 11th arrondissement. I love that this neighborhood is a little more peaceful and still very close to the center. There are more open green spaces and a family feel to it. The Luxembourg garden is just a walk away from our apartment. It is by far my favorite spot.
What are some things you like to do with your kids in the city?
When we stay in the city on weekends or after school, we usually take advantage of the Luxembourg garden. It’s so great for families. Simon loves the guignol (puppet show) of the Luxembourg theatre, playing in the sandboxes, sailing a boat, feeding the ducks and fishes (although I don’t know if that’s allowed). On sunny days, we’ll have lunch at one of the cafes in the garden. We also enjoy the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes, the newly renovated Zoo du Bois de Vincennes and the Jardin d’Acclimatation.
Where do you shop for you and the kids?
For the boys, I’ll shop at Petit Bateau, Zara, H&M, Monoprix, Vertbaudet and Gap. I also love Bonton for their warm baby cashmere and cute special occasion outfits. I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, but I have improved my style a little since living in Paris! I like to shop at Zadig & Voltaire, A.P.C. and Comptoir des Cotonniers. J.Crew just opened their first boutique in the Marais! I also like going to Vallée Village just outside of Paris on the way to Disneyland. It’s one of the few outlet shopping centers around the city. Great deals!
ON CAREER & NUTRITION
Tell us how you went from being a nurse to what you’re doing now?
When I moved to Paris in 2007, I began to fill out the necessary administrative paperwork to get the French equivalency of my nursing license. I’d already started working with Pierre’s business and, over the months and years, we found a balance working together. We have a catering business with industrial-sized kitchens close to Orly airport. We have manual assembly lines that mass produce platters, sandwiches, salads and desserts for different airline companies, but also to other companies such as sandwich shops, supermarkets and independent brands.
I know you had a lot of allergy issues and found a unique way to handle this. Can you tell us about it?
I’ve always known I was milk-intolerant, and had asthma from environmental particles. But a few years ago, different symptoms piled up. I was always worn down, my skin was super dry, my stomach was constantly sore and I just felt unwell. After seeing a few doctors and having a series of tests done that all turned up negative, I started paying closer attention to my diet and reading up on food intolerances. (Unlike food allergies, food intolerance symptoms are not usually immediate. When the food is being eaten regularly it may lead to the development of chronic symptoms). Certain foods were having secondary effects on me and I wanted to identify which they were fast! I had heard about a blood test called Imupro developed in Germany. In France, it was quite a challenge to find a physician who not only prescribed this test but who also specialized in nutrition. After hours of Googling, I came across an article that led me to Doctor Mussi. He is a real savant on the subject of immuno-nutrition.
After following a restrictive diet for a year, I felt like a different person. My mood and energy came back and my skin was shining. It’s a continued effort to stay away from things like chocolate and milk products—so ironic being in the country of cheese and not being able to rejoice in a platter! But in a few years all restrictions should be lifted. Doctor Mussi explained that the more we expose ourselves to intolerances, the more we create them. Our intestines become fragile and allow toxins, microbes, undigested food, or waste to leak through. Our gut needs a period of time to regenerate its normal flora and strengthen the weakened wall barriers. This is done by eliminating the intolerances for a certain amount of time.
What is the best part about raising kids in Paris?
Walking the streets of Paris is a history lesson all in itself.
What has been the most surprising thing about parenting abroad?
When Simon was a toddler, I was on a mission to find all the American toddler “snack” foods I’d been accustomed to (i.e. Cheerios, crackers etc). I would fill my suitcase with these when traveling back from Canada until it dawned on me that French toddlers didn’t have these. They ate fine—if not better—than their American counterparts. The French take eating seriously right from the start. Meals are important and there is a time and place to eat. No snacking! Even with butter croissants and nutella-laced toast for breakfast and/or the 4pm gouter, rarely will you see an overweight French child with bad table manners.
What is the worst part about parenting in France?
Everyone has an opinion and will let you know their point of view loud and clear!
How do you balance work and family life, especially since you work with your husband?
We balance like we can. Some days are better than others but we do try to leave all work-related things at the office to have time for the boys when we are at home.
What’s the best way to become a real Parisienne?
Learn the metro/bus system by heart!
Best advice for other expat moms?
Never be too proud to ask for help from the in-laws if they’re close by.
How was it being pregnant in Paris?
For Simon, it was my first pregnancy and I was in a different country. I didn’t know what the normal process was for pregnancy monitoring, consultations and ultrasounds. Do I choose private sector or public? I ended up being followed by a gynecologist and a private ultrasound clinic (who were relations of Pierre’s) until the end of my 2nd trimester. Only then did I sign up for a bed at hospital Saint Antoine in the 12th arrondissement. Sadly, I found them to be far from great.
For my second pregnancy—from the first doctor’s visit to my full term—I was very well followed as I was more informed. Marcel was born at Port Royal hospital in the 14e arrondissement. I highly recommend it. It offered excellent services all around. We chose it primarily because it had been recently renovated, had a level 3 maternity, and was just a five-minute walk from our apartment.
How has life in Paris changed since becoming a mother?
I’ve had confirmation from girlfriends in other cities that life in general changes for young families. I’m not alone in having an almost non-existent nightlife (at least this is what I tell myself). We are way too tired. My husband and I are stunned when we do go out to rediscover that Paris still moves after the sun goes down.
Did having a second baby change your life? How?
Yes and no. Not as drastically as it did with the first baby. Simon was a very colicky baby with gastric reflux. It was difficult to find and trust a babysitter who would be able to handle him as he was always crying and difficult to soothe. Thankfully, we did find a couple but for the first 8 months of his life, we rarely went out together. We alternated. For now, spending time together as a family is enough.
How do you juggle running a business with motherhood?
That’s exactly what I do. I juggle. I’m no Martha Stewart. I sometimes drop a ball! But we do have routines with rules. (Waking up routines, going to bed routines and in the middle routines.)
Have you become a traveling-with-kids expert? Any advice?
Last October was the first time I traveled alone overseas with the boys. I was stressing the week before so I packed my carry-on extra carefully. I had small activities planned for Simon for every 15 minutes plus fun finger foods. Simon was such a great traveler! Five-month-old Marcel, on the other hand, kept me busy. The real issue was the jet lag. With one I could deal but two was exhausting. I like traveling with my Ergo baby carrier. I can put Marcel in front or backpack Simon. I also like having an umbrella stroller onboard for easier transfers from plane to luggage area in those sometimes never-ending airport hallways. And pack that extra diaper and extra bottle because shit literally happens when least expected.
The List by Susie Bidal
We always get emails from friends (and friends of friends) visiting Paris, asking for a list of places to eat and things to do. These are Susie’s recommendations.
For a traditional French (Alsacian) meal
5-7 rue de la Bastille
Accessible and elegant dining with fresh, seasonal products
33 rue de l’Abbé Grégoire
For excellent crêpes
67 rue du Montparnasse
Six Sense Spa
For the soothing facial therapy and energizer massage
3 rue de Castiglione
La Sultane de Saba
For the hammam treatments
8bis rue Bachaumont
For the best cup of hot chocolate (for the kids, not me!)
226 rue de Rivoli
The South of France. We love going to Toulon where Pierre’s parents live and we’re soon going to have a little pied-a-terre in Corsica. Deauville is also another fun destination we love that is quite close to Paris.
Images by Thuy Nguyen