Adventures and misadventures in France.

Posts tagged ‘French’

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is in two days, New Years arrives in a week, and Max and I will be flying to Boston in just one month – where did 2014 go? Generally, these breaks in posting correspond to life getting busier, and I just don’t have the time (read: motivation) to write about it. My last post was in early November (about a vacation we took in July), so there are plenty of things that I haven’t gotten around to writing yet :

– My parents visited in September

– Business trips to Berlin and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

– Turns out I have astigmatism

– We’re moving to Houston, Texas in February

And, best of all, Max and I are engaged! (whew!)

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Liberté, Egalité, Sécurité

In today’s episode of Kim vs. France, we examine some challenges of highly-secure European banking. As I’ve mentioned before, Europe is eons ahead of American credit cards and banking systems. And while I’m sure that keeping money safe from hackers and digital robbers is important, have they gone too far?

Last night, I attempted to pay my rent by wire transfer. With online access, the process seemed fairly simple. I logged in with an assigned 12-digit numerical code and 6-digit password. To even enter the wire information, the site requested a secret code from a key card the bank sent by mail. Simple enough.

After entering the account information, I needed to enter ANOTHER code they provided by phone to make the transfer. So I waited for a call or text, with no luck. As it turns out, the account is linked to my office phone. I tried to enter my cell phone instead, but a new number can’t be validated without ANOTHER code that the bank sent by mail a couple months ago. And THAT code is no longer valid.

This morning I tried the entire process again at work, and received the call with the code. An automated voice began barking numbers. Not slowly or digit-by-digit to ensure that it could be understood, but rapidly in French counting style :

SIXTY-FIFTEENTWENTYTWOEIGHTY-ELEVEN*click*

What was that? Sixty-five twenty-two eighty? In France, numbers are always read in two-digit sets. There is no translation for seventy, eighty, or ninety. They substitute with basic arithmatic instead :

70 = sixty-ten           80 = four-twenties           90 = four-twenties-ten

Wait, what? Four-twenties-ten? Yes. It comes from Basque and was adopted by the Gauls and then the French. This has bothered me since they taught us to count in seventh grade French class.

It took several frustrating tries to realize that the code wasn’t 60-15-22-80-11, but 75-22-91.

Next time I’ll just pay in cash.

The pitfalls of marrying an American woman

Celebrity gossip is not my first choice of reading material, but this week’s article about the Gwyneth Paltrow/Chris Martin split from the Telegraph offers a hilarious commentary on European-American relationships.

The Pitfalls of Marrying an American Woman

The evidence hits far too close to home :

To marry an American is to accept the word “woo!” into your life. The word is not in any dictionary, but is written deep inside an American’s heart and soul. To an American, if anything vaguely good is happening, one must emit a “woo”. Perhaps a baseball team has hit a baseball. Or a tray of cupcakes successfully made it from the kitchen to a living room table. Anything dimly positive can be greeted with a overly-loud, obnoxiously out-of-context: “WOOO! YEAH! Cupcakes! Awesome!”. It is insufferable.

Excuse me while I look up more recipes for cupcakes. Woo!

Good things come to those who hustle.

While my fellow Bostonians were celebrating their Irish heritage with kelly-green accessories, celtic music, and alcohol, I spent St. Patrick’s Day in Nantes for a day of French civic training. As I mentioned before, this was the last step in a series of required appointments to qualify for extended residency in France. In addition, I would need to find time to get to the préfecture of Nantes to obtain the actual carte de séjour.

6:45 – Bus

The training session was scheduled to last all day beginning at 9 am. I requested the day off from work, and planned to race across town during the lunch break to pick up the carte to avoid an additional day wasted on public transportation. I caught an early bus into the city but managed to choose the longest bus route (two hours instead of one), which meant a stressful speed-walk to the training center.

9:15 – France 101

I followed another latecomer into class and sat down to begin taking notes. It soon became apparent that a room full of middle-aged white French women was not the OFII class at all, but a nursing course, so I apologized and slipped back out the door with their laughter echoing into the hallway.

Finally I arrived in the correct class, which presented a fascinating level of cultural diversity. The instructor who appeared to be French had immigrated from Kosovo almost twenty years ago. Half of the class was from Africa, but each from a different country. I was seated next to a woman from Mongolia and two nuns from New Zealand. The morning session was filled with lessons about the rights, responsibilities, and advantages of seeking naturalization in France. Next came an overview of French history. The instructor offered hilights of the French revolution (incoherent anecdotes about Mary Antoinette and the guillotine), the European Union, and WWI and WWII. Some how he also managed to fit in a lesson about the most recent French presidents, gay rights, and the legalization of abortion.

12:00 – Lunch

Pausing for lunch, we were offered a complimentary three-course meal in the training center cafeteria. Scooting through the line, I could hear a server arguing with one of my classmates, a man from Cuba. “Monsieur! That salad has ham in it! It has ham!” The classmate responded quickly with “Yes I know, I can see that,” and turned to me with an exhasperated expression, “Everyone here thinks I’m Muslim. It happens constantly.” We ate, chatted about the class, and discussed my plan to run across town for the carte de séjour. He wished me luck, but offered a warning about notoriously long wait times. Confident, I promised to signal the outcome when I got back.

Soon I headed uptown. The immigration office closed for lunch until 1:30, but I needed to buy timbres fiscaux (stamps used as tax payments). They can be purchased in most convenience stores, but I had to ask in three different stores before somebody had them in stock.

1:00 – Préfecture

A crowd had already gathered at the préfecture, and people in the hallway started to get agressive. When the doors opened, everyone rushed to take a numbered ticket. Remembering previous visits, I didn’t bother, and patiently waited in an area reserved for people with appointments. Ten minutes later, a woman at the counter explained that I was in the wrong line and needed a ticket. Apparently, only one window is reserved for people picking up their cartes. Merde. I grabbed a ticket marked with the 30th place in line, which would mean hours of waiting. It was over. I handed off the ticket to someone else and shuffled out the door as a failure.

2:20 – Afternoon session

Late to the afternoon training session, I apologized to the instructor and gave a sullen “thumbs down” to the Cuban. The instructor launched into a lecture about democracy and the organization of local/regional/national government offices. He showed us some symbols of France, including the flag, national anthem, and Marianne. Soon the class was drawn into a discussion about French laïcité (secularism) and its impact on the rights of men and women, which led to the following dialogue :

“So if I understand correctly, here in France it is recommended to take only one wife?”

“Not recommended! Illegal! You may only legally have one wife.”

“Women here have too much power. But I have another question. If my wife and I are separated but not divorced, and I’m living in a different house with another woman, is it legal?”

“Well your wife won’t be happy, but yes, it’s legal.”

3:30 – Coffee break

The instructor came over and complimented my doodles and notetaking, so I took the opportunity to ask what time the class would end. Five pm. Earlier than expected, but too late for the préfecture. I launched into a tale of woe about living so far away, missing days of work, and just hoping for the opportunity to go pick up my new visa. He paused for a moment, shrugged, and offered to let me go early for “special circumstances.” Shocked, I thanked him profusely, whipped out a pen to sign my attendance certificate, avoided eye contact with jealous classmates, and ran out the door.

3:45 – Préfecture part deux

Twenty minutes later, I was facing a sign taped to the préfecture ticket machine.

“No more tickets. Office closed.”

Of course I hadn’t bothered to keep my ticket from earlier. A few people were still waiting to be called, so I hunted on the floor and under seats to see if anyone had dropped a ticket. No luck. Finally, the line cleared and I cautiously approached the window. A cheerful man benhind the counter took my paperwork and timbres, asked me to sign some documents, then handed over the carte de séjour! I shook his hand, high-fived some fellow étrangers, and skipped out of the office…

… directly to a pub for a celebratory Guinness.

Interview with Aux Cinq Coins du Monde

People back home often ask about my experience transitioning to expat life in France. As promised, here’s an excerpt from my interview with Aux Cinq Coins du Monde, with some completely honest answers. I’ve translated the text to English, but you can read the original article in French here.

What do you like about your host country?

I love that the French enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. Stores close super early, which means that the evening for relaxatino and appreciating a good meal. Many families here have lived in the same town for generations, and know their neighbors and local businesses. France has a rich history dating back thousands of years. The culture and climate of each region is very distinct, and France is very accessible for trips to other European countries. 

The climate here is also pretty great – it never gets too hot or too cold between seasons, so the view stays green all year round. I’m originally from Boston, where each season is very distinct. It’s easier here, but I miss snow and hot summers!

What do you dislike ?

I grew up in a matriarcal family. Here in our corner of France, the roles of men and women are still pretty rigid. When we are invited to people’s homes, women generally cook and clean, while men generally repair things and drink. Difficult to avoid speaking out and insulting people ! I also miss local beers, and international dining options.

What are some characteristics of your host country ?

  • Food

I can never stop raving about French food! I love the wine, trying meals with rabbit and duck meat, galettes, and plenty of the traditional desserts. There are many farms in the area where we can buy local food directly, which is a great advantage that most people don’t have in the US.
I guess my only complaint would be that people tend to eat a lot of meat and cheese here, without too many vegetables. For example, in the summer, people enjoy grilled meats with potatoes, and in the winter, it’s raclette.

French restaurants are delicious, but there aren’t too many international restaurant options here. I also miss New England specialties like apple cider, pumpkin foods, and seafood (lobster, clam chowder, and fried clams). And iced coffee ! But honestly, I can’t complain here – we eat very well !

  • Vacation

In the US, the standard vacation time offered by employers is two weeks. Here, I have a minimum of 5 weeks! I use them to visit my family and travel. It’s very easy to travel on the weekends here. We’ve already visited the Mont St. Michel, La Baule, and the Puy du Fou. We’re planning to visit Normandie and Paris. It’s also possible to travel by car or train to Belgium, Germany, England, Switzerland, etc.

  • Healthcare

All of my experiences with the French healthcare system have been very good. I don’t have the carte vitale (French social security card) yet,  but a typical consultation with a doctor, dentist, or vet will cost about 25€. There’s no need to make an appointment (except for specialists),  you see the doctor directly (no assistants) and they are very laid-back and attentive.

  • Driving

If I want to drive in France, I will need to re-take a driving exam, because a MA state licence is not accepted here, and learn to drive manual. For now, I’ve been getting around by bike. But I love that most traffic lights here have been replaced with small rotary/roundabout so that traffic moves more fluidly.

  • Living costs

More expensive in France : gas, highway tolls, food, restaurants (but there’s no need to tip), bank fees, taxes, and clothing.

Less expensive in France : healthcare and medication, wine and liquor (especially in restaurants), rent, and insurance rates (car/home/health).

Salaries tend to be lower overall in France than in the US.

Has your integration been easy ?

My boyfriend, my language ability, and my previous experiences in France have really helped me feel at home here. But with my accent and “weird” American habits, I will always be considered a foreigner here! People have made fun of the way I eat pizza and certain clothing choices.

It’s been difficult to meet locals in France. Most people aleady have close friends, and though everyone is very polite, it is difficult to integrate into a new group. So most of the people I hang out with include my boyfriend’s friends/family, colleagues, and other expats.

How often do you visit your home country ?

Over the past year I’ve lived in France, I had the opportunity to return to the US three times. Once for a wedding and my sister’s graduation, once for work, and once for Christmas. Visiting my family is a big priority for me, and I have plenty of vacation time, but the plane tickets are expensive! I use social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype, Google chat) to contact family and friends as often as possible. I also have a landline that I can use to call any US number for free.

Do you intend to return to your home country one day ?

My boyfriend and I decided long before the move that we wanted to permanently live in the US one day. We are both very close with our families, but I think we would still prefer to live in a country with more career opportunities for both of us. So we intend to settle down on the East coast of the US within the next couple of years.

Do you want to share an anecdote ?

Last summer, we took a weekend trip to the beach. We visited La Baule, and I remember that we discussed the cultural differences between France and the US, that we never see American women topless on the beach, especially not with their families ! But in France, it’s completely normal. The next day, we decided to visit the medieval village Guerande and the neighboring salt flats. Afterwards, we saw signs for a beach not too far away. We parked the car and followed a long path through a forest. When we finally arrived at the beach, hot and ready to go for a swim, we realized that we were surrounded by naked people !  There had been no sign, no indication that this was a nudist beach! We immedately turned around and headed back to the car.

Do you have any advice for future expats ?

Thoroughly research your new life before you leave ! Expatriation is a fantastic experience, but there are many challenges. It is difficult to integrate without some knowledge of the language and culture of your host country, and it is often difficult to obtain visas and employment. Best of luck!

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I’d like to thank Sara from Aux Cinq Coins du Monde for reaching out! For other expats who may be interested, the site is always looking for more francophones to share their experiences.

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Hyper bon!

Hyper bon!

Here’s a 2008 comic from Pénélope Bagieu, the talented cartoonist and illustrator behind Ma Vie est Tout à Fait Fascinante. This very scene plays out on the daily chez nous.

Les garçons ne grossissent pas (les salopards)

Translation :

Men don’t gain weight (those assholes)

“You might find it hardcore, but have you ever tried nutella + salted butter + Nesquick? – Super good.”

(World of shit)

Check that status

Quickly approaching my one-year France anniversary, and it would appear that I’m finally reaching the home stretch of obtaining legal residency! Let’s take a look at how far this process has come:

2013

March – Sent emails and letters to regional government officials figure out which status to apply for.

April – Mailed application for the titre de séjour.

May – Received unofficial word by phone that my application had been accepted.

June – Received documentation that application was received (récépissé) which granted legal right to stay in France pending approval from the Préfecture (regional government office).

July – Submitted additional documenation to the DIRECCTE, the French agency involved with granting legal work status.

Then the country went on vacation.

October – Récépissé  expired after several months with no progress. I left to travel for a few weeks in the US with my legal status still hazy.

2014

January – Received an invitation for a medical exam with the OFII, the French immigration department.

February – Visited the OFII for the medical exam. When I was a student several years ago, this appointment only involved a brief discussion with a doctor, some basic health analyses, and an X ray of my lungs (that they allowed us to keep!). This time around, I had to participate in the many steps to integration provided by the French government. In addition to the medical exam and meeting with a doctor (no X ray souvenirs), there was a video about French integration and an interview with a social worker. The video covered French history and values, and explained the contrat d’intégration. The contract requires new residents to attend four training sessions on institutions and resources, civic engagement, professional competency and employment assistance, and 200-400 hours of French language lessons if necessary. Luckily, the social worker determined that I was exempt from all sessions except the formation civique.

Within a couple hours, I was racing to the Préfecture to beat their lunch break. The Préfecture operates like the DMV (RMV in Bahston): take a number and wait. Forever. Luckily, there’s a way around this. Before each visit to the Préfecture, I email the office, ask too many questions, and tell them when I’m planning to come in. You only need to take a number if you don’t have an appointment. So I march up to the front desk, wait until someone becomes available, and explain that I have an appointment. Within 15 minutes, I was able to pass off the OFII documents, change my registered address, and let them take my fingerprints. They finally submitted my application to print the titre de séjour, which will be ready within 3 weeks. 

All I need now is to pay 550€ in fees, attend the civic training day, and pick up the new carte!

 

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