Becoming Interview: Elizabeth Hall

Can you believe September is almost over? That went by in a blink! 2020 has felt like the fastest…but also somehow the slowest year ever. Personally, I’ve never felt more busy and so I think it’s time we brought back our Becoming series to press the pause button on doing things for a minute and focus on becoming. 

We started the Becoming series after reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming as our book club book last January. We wanted to hear from women in different walks of life and how they were approaching creativity, mothering, career goals, and more. It’s been amazing to conduct these interviews and get a “behind the scenes” look of so many inspirational women! 

Meet Elizabeth Hall!

We’re bringing the series back today with Elizabeth Hall, the vibrant blogger behind Sunkissis.

Elizabeth is currently living the expat life in Paris with her husband and daughter. Today she talks to us about being a California girl in France, following her dreams, and how Bob Barker started it all! (Yep, the host of The Price is Right.) 

What do you consider yourself? Ex: creative, blogger, mom, Francophile, etc.?

Salut! I am Elizabeth, a 40-ish exuberant Francophile expat from Los Angeles who loves to travel, Instagram addict and newbie TikToker (iamsunkissis). I am a stay-at-home Mom to Olivia, wife to my talented, artist husband, Antz @anthonyconleyart, connoisseur of desserts and creator of www.sunkissis.com, my blog. My hopeless optimism has gotten me where I am today.

At the Voorlinden museum in Amsterdam

What did you want to be when you were young?

I was an overachiever as a child, so I became distracted quickly. My interests shifted from ballet, tap dancing, ice skating, girl scouts, karate, swimming, horseback riding, volleyball and even sewing clothes for my Barbies. I spent the longest time as a kid aspiring to become a veterinarian. That lasting until I was informed that vets sometimes had to put animals to sleep. Then I launched my fashion design catalog in my early teens and I’m certain my Mom still has my 1991 look-book (which heavily featured zebra print). By the time I hit my late teens I was interested in graphic design, the hospitality industry (I’ve always wanted to be a flight attendant) and film production. My first job was a camp counselor which was so much fun. I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up so I’m considering myself lucky that I am able to devote my time to my hobbies and blog about my family’s adventures.

Our last trip before lockdown in Cologne, Germany

Is there any part of your Southern Californian upbringing that has shaped who have become?

I am definitely a California girl at heart! Growing up in the lovely, sunny climate meant wearing shorts, Vans and spending everyday outdoors which shaped my fashion style today. You rarely find me in heels or dark colors. Some of the French Moms at my daughter’s school comment on how youthful I dress and were surprised to learn my age. I adore wearing sneakers with dresses and skirts and only started wearing socks and coats when I moved to Paris. When we first moved abroad, I forgot there is actual weather here so it wouldn’t dawn on me to layer for unexpected rainstorms. Our first week here it snowed so I had to buy boots for our family. Now, I don’t go out without a scarf and an umbrella even during the summer.

I have always been drawn to bright colors and the older I get the more I have let go of caring about what people think of me. I don’t mind the stares I get because I have gotten so many compliments on my style and confidence. Another thing I notice is I walk slower here than everyone else. Parisians are used to walking for means of transportation but I get caught up in the beauty of the city so I can’t help but saunter dans la rue (down the street). In LA, I spent half my life sitting in traffic so taking a walk was a way to unwind and stop to smell the roses. 

Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life?

I have to say I feel indebted to the blog community, my friends and Bob Barker (the original host of the game show The Price is Right). Let me start with the latter. When I was 19 years old, I won the Showcase Showdown on the Price is Right and my prize was a luxury vacation to Venice, Italy. I never traveled to Europe before and it was my first trip with my then boyfriend, now husband Anthony. I have to say, that experience at such a young age impacted my passion for travel and gave me a strong sense of adventure (it helped we stayed in a lovely canal view hotel suite). When I was researching moving abroad, I reached out to a few bloggers I admired and my friends at my daughter’s French school who shared their knowledge of living abroad with me. They were so generous with their information and took time to answer my questions. This motivated me to pay the same kindness forward to other people who are interested in moving abroad. I post about our family’s experience on my blog and I try to keep it as real as possible. I am so grateful for the American expat community in Paris who have kindly welcomed us!

 

What made you and your family finally decide to fulfill your dream of moving to Paris?

As most kids in their 20s, my husband, my best friend and I went on a backpacking trip to London and Paris. We stayed in cheap hotels and could only afford to dine on a bag of cherries and a bottle of wine but it was the time of our lives. We instantly fell in love with Paris despite spending all day at the tourist traps and having only a $100 budget, I knew I had to return. Over the years, we spent more time visiting Paris and when our daughter was four years old, we brought her for a long summer stay. We always dreamed of spending a year abroad. We enrolled Olivia in a French school in Los Angeles and put together a plan to ask Anthony’s employer for permission to work remotely for one year. After three years we finally got the approval! We planned a house exchange with a French family and applied for one year travel visas. Of course, nothing went according to plan (you can read all about it on my blog) but we spent six blissful months living in Paris. Then were faced with a huge decision, move back to LA in a month or sell our LA house, Anthony would to resign from his job and stay in France permanently. We took a huge risk but next March will be our three year anniversary in Paris.

It was a stressful journey, we still have challenging days because we don’t speak French or have any family here but we feel happier than we ever have and know this is the right place for our family. I will say, do you research before you make the move. It’s easy to romanticize Paris, it is a beautiful city but immigration isn’t easy and we hired a lawyer to help us navigate the process. Having a kid who speaks fluent French also helps!

What do you love most about Parisian culture?

How can I narrow my answer down? Despite my frustration of not being able to speak French, hearing the language spoken is like listening to your favorite singer. French is meant to be spoken like a poem and I love seeing children of different ethnicities at my daughter’s public school all speaking French. I adore people watching on the outdoor seating of a Brasserie will sipping an apéro (happy hour cocktail). I find that French people relish in their food. There is no rush, most restaurants are closed after lunch until 6pm. When they dine, the waiter disappears so you must find them to pay your bill. My daughter has a 90 minute lunch at school with four courses and cheese for dessert. Once you have a fresh buttery croissant from a Boulangerie, you will be spoiled for life. As many times as I’ve visited and even now living here, I have yet to scratch the surface of all the things to see and do in this magnificent city. I still lose my breath seeing the stunning architecture and the immense history in the museums.

The other day I was in Zara shopping for my daughter and I noticed outside of the window the gorgeous Opera house (Palais Garnier) framed by the bluest sky. I almost cried with emotion. I have observed that French people are not glued to their phones all the time. When they dine together, they are fully engaged in conversation. There is not much small talk, they love to debate, are passionate intellectuals and well-traveled. Parisians are constantly reading and I love seeing teenagers engrossed in paperback novels on the Metro. Another huge part of French culture is the undeniable stylish French fashion. It is such a joy when I see older people who dress like they are headed to a Vogue photo shoot. There is an unspoken rule that sweatpants, yoga leggings or flip flops are forbidden! I feel so inspired by the vibrant colors of African wax textiles in Barbes and the effortlessly chic bobo women in the trendy 11ème. I find myself wearing red lipstick and eyeliner just to make a grocery store errand. It’s fun to dress up here.

Do you have a favorite part of Paris?

My neighborhood wins hands down! We live in the haut (Upper) Marais which has been my favorite part of Paris for the last ten years. When I was researching our move to France, I surprised my best friend (who was attending makeup school) by showing up to her apartment in le Marais to spend a week with her for my birthday. While she was in school, I spent my days exploring every street in the area and that is how I found Olivia’s school. I was sitting on a bench and watched the children coming out of school and thought to myself, one day I would love to walk and pick up my daughter from a school like that. It’s a happy coincidence she now attends that very same school (you can read about how I enrolled her on my blog).

One of my favorite places to buy groceries is Marche des Enfants Rouge farmers market (it was established in 1628!) which is a few blocks from our apartment. There are gorgeous fruits and veggies, a fromagerie (with all the stinky cheese), a Poissonnerie for fresh seafood, some incredible Moroccan, Lebanese and Italian food stands and the best crepes in Paris (you can tell by the long line). The Marais is home to the Picasso museum, Pompidou Centre, and Arts et Métiers museum which is a lesser-known industrial design gem! I keep promising to venture out and explore other areas of Paris but I feel so at-home on the right bank. It reminds me of when I lived in the East side of LA, we hardly ever hung out on the West side. Back in LA we had to drive everywhere so it’s incredible to be able to walk everyday. I must admit, I wasn’t used to not having a car when we first moved here, so I had to get used to taking public transportation and being around large crowds of people (there isn’t much personal space) but now I’m used to it and on nice days I’ll rent a bicycle and take a ride along the lovely Canal Saint Martin.

Is there a French motto or proverb and resonates with you most?

“Impossible n’est pas français”/ Impossible isn’t French! When we first arrived in Paris my husband took two weeks off work to get settled and Olivia was on break from her school so we spent our days sightseeing, took train trips outside of the city and dined in French restaurants. After our vacation ended, we had to register for school, shop for necessities and take care of boring adult things like getting a French cell phone number and opening a French bank account. Everything we did was a struggle because of the language barrier and most French people have a way of being difficult that we weren’t accustomed to. I’ve encountered people who don’t have patience for someone figuring things out and customer service is rare so you have to be mentally prepared for that. However, if you come well-prepared, and keep your expectations reasonable, you will be successful. The French believe that all things are possible and they seem to thrive amid protests, complaining and not being the most smiley people.

This is a play on the French motto Liberty, Equality Brotherhood.

What is a typical day like for you?

Based on my Instagram feed it would seem like I have this glamorous Parisienne life and you will find me strolling along the Seine wearing my beret and holding a baguette in my tote bag. Well, I must admit I do wear berets (but only when I am too lazy to blow dry my hair) and you may bump into me along the Seine but I will be riding an electric scooter and I’ll be accompanied by Olivia on her roller skates. I have a pretty normal weekday routine. My husband walks Liv to school and I handle pick up. I take Liv to her ballet class, play dates at the park or roller skating. We usually go shopping for daily groceries after picking up goûter (mid-day snack) from the bakery. We don’t go out to restaurants as often as we used to due to Covid-19, so we order delivery for dinner or Antz cooks. I attempt to help Liv with her homework (I’m learning the metric system along with her) she will also help me with my French lessons and we play Animal Crossing (Nintendo Switch video game) together.

I recently started Aquabiking which is a lovely workout for someone who hates to exercise. Running errands, blogging, and preparing for our visa appointments which feels like my full-time job. I enjoy making plans for our next trip (my goal is to visit every country in the EU). I have rescheduled our trip to Copenhagen three times now, fingers crossed we go next year. Olivia and I like to explore bookstores, cafes (she recently became a boba addict) and I make videos on TikTok and Instagram stories. I spend some days trying to track down my packages because the delivery system in Paris will make you want to tear your hair out. Everyday, I Facetime with my Mom and my best friend. On weekends if we aren’t traveling, we go for long walks, visit the flea market, check out art shows or take the bus to parks. I like to spend Sundays hunting for Invaders which is an app for a famous French street artist (@invaderwashere) who has tile mosaics hidden throughout the world. I have found 450 out of 1,446 in Paris. We seldom we go to the movies or shop at the mall since we’ve moved here!

One of the many Invader mosaics, they are so fun to collect! 

What inspired you to start Sunkissis? Do you have any advice for those who want to start their own blog?

If you are Gen X like me, you most likely had a LiveJournal or Myspace account. When I started blogging years ago, it was my version of keeping a diary of what was going on in my life. Antz and I were new homeowner so we were making improvements to our house. Instead of emailing our friends and family, I started posting about it on my blog to keep them updated. My old posts are mostly about shopping trips to Target, my pregnancy/birth of Olivia and my dream of living in France of course. I love that I have a history of my life that I can look back and see how far I’ve come. I am proud of my tenacity of making this move because I remember wishing to be in Paris for so long, I still can’t believe it when I look outside my window! 

My advice for new bloggers is to be authentic. I don’t blog looking for notoriety or to “go viral”, I just share my thoughts and experiences and hope that it can be shared as a collective story. Just like everyone, I have highs and lows and I hope people can learn from my mistakes. Meeting so many rad people through my blog and social media has connected me in a way meeting people in real life hasn’t been able to (I’m really shy even though I have an outgoing personality). I used to think no one other than my Mom and friends read my blog but I was at the Dîner en Blanc (along with 23,000 other people) in Paris when a woman ran up to me and said “I read your blog!” I met another reader at an event at the American Library in Paris and was dumbstruck that I have reached people from around the world. Oh, and my other tip is to register your blog domain name as soon as possible. I wish I knew this seven years ago.

What is a piece of advice that you’ve carried with you?

My Mom is an endless fountain of advice but one of her greatest hits that really resonates with me, “Bought sense is best sense”. Oh gosh, I hear this every time I make a thoughtless mistake. I think about when I broke out in hives due to the stress of getting our visas to move abroad, I was so worried about what could go wrong I couldn’t focus on what was going right. It helps to try and stay present and not dwell on what’s not in my control. I understand what my Mom was telling me with so much clarity now that I’ve gone through such a life-changing event.

Dîner en Blanc Paris 2018

What is the advice you’d give someone who is considering taking a leap of faith to fulfill a lifelong dream?

Hire a good lawyer and a CPA! It really takes a village. I owe much of our success to their vast knowledge and expertise. The one thing that gives me the most anxiety is tax season. I now have to submit a tax return in two countries so I invest in our tax preparers so I can sleep easy at night! My best advice is a quote from Cinderella, “A dream is a wish you heart makes.” I know what it feels to view a dream as just a fantasy but I believe if you make a plan, start taking small steps (for me it was just signing up for a house exchange website) and imagine where you see yourself in the future. Commit to making your dream come true, then it will become reality. I sound like a cheesy inspirational speaker but it’s true. For years before our move, I constantly talked about how one day I will move to Paris. I was manifesting my dream. My husband and I look back twenty four years ago when we first met, I was working at The Gap and he was working at a Frame/Art supply store. We can’t believe we would end up here in Paris, France sharing this amazing life together.

How has COVID-19 affected your routine and aspirations?

Spring of 2020 will forever be known as the time the world learned how to bake something. I used to bake all the time in my kitchen in Los Angeles, however our apartment here we have a French oven which I have yet to master the temperature settings. French people weigh their ingredients and most American recipes require baking powder which is hard to find. That being said, we baked all the banana bread you could eat in a lifetime during France’s lockdown. I was a puzzle nerd before Covid-19, so it was great to continue the pastime with the family together. It was such a bummer we had to cancel most of our travel plans this year. I am lucky that we are able to swap our apartment instead of booking a hotel so that gives us flexibility when we make travel plans. I fell down a TikTok rabbit hole with my daughter during confinement so we have been sharing our favorite shopping, anime and cosplay accounts to follow. We also like to watch YouTube videos about Japan. We spent a week there in 2019 and we are compiling a list of what to do and see for our next visit. 

What is inspiring you lately?

I am so inspired by the activists and supporters of BLM in the US and even here in France. I have been feeling such a sense of pride and love for my friends on social media who have spoken up against the injustice and I love seeing the #Amplifymelanatedvoices platform. Here are some of my favorite creative IG accounts that I am blown away by their talent, insight and beauty: @houselarsbuilt (of course!) @jabellafleur @akilahh @thefrancophiles @halfbakedharvest @annaroslily @exvotodesign @christinawinkelmann @designmom @ohjoy and @ohhappyday

Are you where you want to be in your life?

I am where I should be at this moment, and I have a new dream I hope to fulfill soon. I am currently working on the goal of hitting 10k followers on my Instagram and promoting my daughter’s YouTube channel (Liv in Paris). Constant challenges are what make me feel the most motivated. I consider myself Lucy (from I Love Lucy) and my sweet husband is Ricky having to go along with my next scheme. Luckily for us, my antics have gotten us to a better place and not in jail.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment thus far?

Definitely being Olivia’s Mom. I am an only child, raised by an only child, single Mom. So I didn’t have a big family growing up. I had very little interaction around young children so everything I have experienced with her is new for me. It’s hard to believe but I never changed a diaper before I had Liv. I feel like these past ten years as her Mom has been on fast forward. It’s hard to explain how awesome it is watching her grow. Having her to lean on as our French translator and spending our days together having so much fun. Olivia told me the other day how cool it is that her parents are fun and like to cosplay with her and play video games. I take great pride in that compliment. 

Is there anything more you’d like to “become”?

Right before Covid-19, I started a walking tour business. Because I spent so much time in 2019 hosting friends and family on tours around Paris, it seemed like a great idea. Then tourism came to a halt and I realized, I’m not passionate in that venture. My wish is to become a founder of a community for people who dream to live abroad, to take a chance in a new environment, to step out of their comfort zone and to embrace a new culture, language, and way of life.

Moving abroad isn’t easy, it can be stressful and sometimes feel like it’s not worth the drama. However, there are so many people who feel stagnate where they are now. I know what it’s like to navigate a new place and feel alone. It is important to me to offer that being a Black expat is not just only for rich people, or people with high profile jobs, or are well-connected. I hope my blog will offer information and provide a space for people to turn their dreams into reality. I made this move happen due to my sheer unwillingness to accept no for an answer. And, I hope to become fluent in French! 

Bonjournée 🇫🇷

Where to follow Elizabeth

Don’t forget to follow Elizabeth Hall on her blog for more of her adventures. You can also watch her on tik-tok now! Thanks for chatting with us, Elizabeth!

3 COMMENTS

  1. I love following along Elizabeth’s IG – it is vibrant and inspirational and real. I’ve been to France only one time but loved it. I would love to live there (or somewhere in Europe) one day. She has so much info and visual advice! Truly someone that’s super beneficial to follow!

  2. I seriously loved reading this. My husband and I have been talking and dreaming about living abroad for several years, so I was really happy to find Elizabeth as a resource for that today! Looking forward to learning more from her 🙂

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