Nice, in photos

We heard the news after we got back from the fireworks. We probably would have gone to bed and slept in ignorance until the morning, but Hugo gets news alerts on his phone.

On Friday, there was an outpouring of shock and grief over the attack in Nice on social media. But at least in Lyon, there doesn’t seem to be a public space of tribute and mourning, like there was after the Paris attacks, where people leave flowers and messages. The public reaction is different this time. Maybe it’s because the possibility of more attacks has been hovering in the background, especially during the Eurocup. But that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of this tragedy.

I dug up my old photos of Nice. I haven’t been there since 2012. I thought it was only two years ago, but then I did the math. I meant to go back this summer, but time is short. (By “short” I mean “hurtling along at rogue rocket speed.”)

Continue reading “Nice, in photos”

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Queen of Quiche

I don’t make too many embarrassing mistakes in French anymore. (I still feel like it’s a battle to be taken seriously as a foreigner in France, but that’s a separate issue.) But here’s one that still cracks me up a little when I think about it.

Last year, I lived with some lovely French girls while Hugo was in England, and one evening, another lovely French girl came over for dinner. We all helped whip up this and that in our cramped, hallway-shaped kitchen, and our visitor prepared a delicious quiche. She even made the crust and everything, instead of using the pre-made pâte feuilletée that I roll out every time. Without thinking, I proclaimed her the “reine des quiches” with much American enthusiasm.

She looked startled. It seems like a compliment to say that someone is the queen of quiche, but the problem is that calling a person a quiche in French is an insult – I basically called her “Queen of the idiots”! And I knew that, but I had just forgotten for a second in my excitement over the delicious quiche!

Luckily, she understood I meant no harm and gently reminded me of the alternate meaning of “une quiche.” Whoops. I felt like a total quiche myself!

Accidental insults aside, I do love quiche. As long as there’s no goat cheese hiding in it. My favorite quiches to make are leek, onion, and lardon quiche, and this bacon and spinach quiche. Yum yum yum. What’s your favorite quiche recipe?

 

Why Do You Blog?

My blogging philosphy is pretty simple. I can explain it with a Venn diagram.

Have time

See?

Sometimes I feel like blogging, so I do. Sometimes I have time but I don’t feel like blogging, so I do other stuff instead. I’m not a professional blogger on a schedule. It’s more fun that way. I like to write a post or two a month, but I don’t beat myself up if it doesn’t happen. I don’t need to create more sources of stress for myself! Gee whiz, as my mom would say.

(Curiously, I always get the urge to blog when I’m supposed to be doing something else, but it’s not too late to procrastinate, like when I still believe I’m going to get all my lessons planned in advance. Has that happened in the history of EVER? Um no. Sorry, Lansad students.)

I started blogging just because I wanted to. I didn’t really know why, and I felt a little stupid about it because there are SO many blogs – what could I really add to the clamor on the internet?

But I did anyway, because why not? I wanted to see if I liked writing, if I was good at it, what I would enjoy writing about, and I was surprised. I thought I would be a better writer than I am (but how will I improve if I don’t ever write anything?) and I didn’t think anyone would care about my personal musings – I thought I would focus on more useful posts about living in France. That’s all I was looking for in a blog when I was scouring the internet four years ago, preparing to move to France.

My posts can mostly be divided as follows: practical posts about teaching English and living in France, rants about France, ramblings about life, and posts on travel. The practical posts are by far the most viewed, but rants and ramblings get the most interaction. No one gives a f… that is, a fig about my travel posts but I write them anyway because I like to. I like having a virtual scrapbook of memories and photos. I can’t keep up with it in real time, but I get there sooner or later (#slowblogging). Sometimes I write a post and then I realize it’s stupid. Sometimes I publish it anyway.

A little while back, a friend made a poorly-veiled comment about my blog that pissed me off and hurt my feelings a little, and now I feel the need to defend my little corner of virtual personal internet space. None of us like being judged, especially unfairly so, and aren’t your friends the people who are supposed to, like, not do that?

Anyone who knows me knows that I am my own worst critic for everything, including things that matter and things that really, really don’t. I’m not an artful storyteller like Jodi from Legal Nomads or a word wizard like The Everywhereist (everything she writes is gold. Gold, I tell you), and I know that my photos aren’t works of art (hello, my camera is an iPhone 4s). Sometimes I read what I write and I hate my stilted writing style and annoying voice and compulsive overuse of parentheses. WHY AM I NOT ABLE TO TAKE A YOGA SCULPT CLASS AND TURN IT INTO QUOTABLE HILARITY?! (Maybe because I don’t go to yoga sculpt class. And I would never admit to peeing on myself on the internet.)

I particularly hate the introductions to any post where I make a list because they feel so contrived. I’m working on one right now but maybe I won’t publish it. I probably shouldn’t confess how much I don’t like French cheese anyway.

I don’t really stress about this stuff too much, though. I like ranting about the prefecture on my little blog, and I like when people write me nice comments (thank you!) and I kind of like posting seventy million photos because I just couldn’t narrow it down (sorry about that). I’ve been though more blog themes than I can count (the free wordpress.com kind) and I like the one I have now. I think it’s nice. You are under no obligation to agree.

I can’t remember who shared this post by The Local about Americans in France – a couple people, I think – but I couldn’t help cracking up at the description of American bloggers in France.

“You’ll find this Yankee at one of the nearest hipster cafés… Instagramming their €5 cappuccino. The title of their blog is something like “An American Girl in Paris”, “Ma Belle Vie”, or some clever wordplay of their name and a couple French words…they’ll probably also dedicate blog space to bemoaning French bureaucracy and recounting their daily expat mishaps and cultural clashes, which can be embarrassing (but cute and funny for the rest of us).”

Guilty as charged! Am I so unoriginal? I am morally opposed to €5 cappuccinos, but I would definitely, definitely take a few “artistic” shots of it. With my iPhone 4s.

Anyway, I’ll keep blogging however I want until I don’t feel like it anymore. Is that cool with you?

If you blog, why did you start? Has your blog changed over time?

Schmuck!

We were watching The Holiday.

(You know, the movie with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, and they switch houses for Christmas and then fall in love and stuff? And Jude Law has two tiny daughters who each have their own cellphone. Don’t get me started on that plot point.)

Right, so we were watching The Holiday, and we got to this scene. (Skip to 1:40 to get to my point.) Iris (aka Kate Winslet) is telling Arthur about the jackass she left back in England, and Arthur simply says, “So he’s a schmuck.”

Hugo paused the movie. “Ça veut dire quoi, un schmuck?” he asked me.

“Um, a schmuck is like, a not nice guy. Kind of a jerk. Or like, a stupid person you don’t like.” He repeated it a few times. “Schmuck. Schmuck? Schmuck!”

And we carried on with the movie. (Spoiler alert – Kate Winslet got rid of her schmuck and Cameron Diaz learned to cry. Hooray.)

The next day, we were on the road and Hugo wanted to stop at McDo, but I disagreed. “Noooon, pas McDo, not McDonald’s!” I groaned. He looked at me sideways with a glint in his eye and exclaimed, “Schmuck!”

For the next few days, he wielded his new word with relish at any opportunity that prompted an insult.

“Tu as mangé le dernier biscuit! You ate the last cookie! Schmuck!”

And just now: “Hey chéri, you said it was okay for me to blog about when you learned the word ‘schmuck’ right?”

“Non, schmuck! …just kidding, tu peux.”

 

I always hesitate to blog about funny things Hugo says in English because I don’t want it to seem like I’m making fun of him – really, his English is excellent. He can keep up in conversations with my family and anglophone friends so well that I never worry about it. He can properly pronounce “squirrel” and “hungry” which we all know is quite an accomplishment. But sometimes he says stuff like “Your feets are cold!” and “It’s in minty condition” which I think is so, so cute. But maybe it’s less cute if you’re not dating him, which I assume no one else is. 

For a truly hilarious blog about an American expat’s foreign spouse’s English quips, you must read Oh My God My Wife Is German. Trust me.

 

 

FAQ: Back Home Edition

Do you ever feel like you could write your own FAQ list at the end of the holiday season? Or after any gathering with your extended family or your mom’s friends? Everyone always asks the same #$%^& questions over and over again. After awhile, you want to make like Tom Wilson (Biff Tanner in Back to the Future) and print out at FAQ card.

No, but I don’t mind, though. I’m not a total bitch. It’s normal for people you see once a year to ask what you plan to do after you finish your degree instead of your favorite Girl Scout cookie (it’s samosas, with thin mints as a close runner up, in case you were wondering). And actually, it’s good because it forces me to reflect on some of the heavier questions (“What are your plans for the future?”) and by January I’ve had so much practice that I have quippy answers at the ready. (Thankfully, I don’t have to field annoying questions like “Why aren’t you married yet?” or “What are you going to do with that major?”)

I spent the holidays in California where I grew up (I’m still jet-lagged!) and visited with as many cousins, family friends, and friendly neighbors as possible, and it was awesome! I was happy to see everyone, no one in my family is less than a delight. (…and they might be reading this.) If you asked me one of the following questions, I don’t begrudge you one bit. These are totally questions I would ask too. In fact, I thought that since almost half of the visitors to my blog come from the U.S. I’d write a little post on the questions I was asked the most during my trip home. (Also, it’s just kind of fun for me, which is the only reason I blog about anything in the first place.)

What do you miss most about the US when you’re over there?

Tacos. All my favorite stuff from Trader Joe’s. The Pacific ocean. DSW, 70% off sales, free shipping and generous return policies. Whole Foods sandwiches. No one making fun of my accent or nationality. Being able to go any branch of my bank I want, even on Mondays.

Are you fluent in French?

Yes siree. But I’m always learning new things!

Is your boyfriend French?

He sure is. His name is Hugo. He’s pretty awesome. (But not because he’s French. Just because he’s himself.)

Do you and Hugo speak French or English?

Usually French. He speaks great English but it’s not thanks to me! On the other hand, he has helped me enormously with my French. He is super patient with my endless questions.

What are you doing after your contract is up? Will you come back to California?

Good question! Maybe! Are you hiring?

Where do you live in France again?

I live in Lyon, the second or third largest city (with Marseille) depending on who you ask. I lived in Paris when I first came to France , but I moved to Lyon a few years ago.

So… where is Lyon, exactly?

It’s in the Rhône-Alpes region a few hours south-east of Paris (2 hours by TGV, 4-5 by car). It’s a couple hours from Geneva, and a 2-3 hour train ride from the Mediterranean.

Capture d’écran 2016-01-13 à 00.20.18

How has France changed since the November 13th attacks in Paris?

In Lyon, we see the military patrolling the streets of the city, and there is additional security in large buildings and the metro. There has already been at least one bomb scare, which resulted in a lot of public transport being shut down. (It was not an attempted attack as far as I know.) There were tributes to the victims in the main city squares where people left flowers and candles and notes. People from other countries left words in many languages stating their support for France. The Fête des Lumières, a major festival in Lyon, was cancelled, and replaced with candles and lights around the city on December 8th in homage to the victims.

Life goes on, but it was alarming to have an attack so violent so close to home, and there are daily reminders of the tragedy.

What do you like most about living in France?

Everything at the boulangerie! Lots of vacation! Going to the market! The train! Affordable healthcare! Actually, I really like meeting people from all over the world. I love going to a party and hearing a mix of three or four different languages floating around the room. I guess you can do that in the U.S. too, but I suppose I meet more foreigners here because I am one.

Oh, and I forgot the most important one – wine!

 

What were your FAQs this holiday season?

 

How to get a visa and teach English in France

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three and a half years. In July 2012, I was working on my TEFL certificate in Chicago. By the end of August, I was living in Paris.

Now I live in Lyon and I’m in my fourth year of teaching English in France. Here’s how I found work and got my visas.

Year 1

Private language schools in Paris

My visa: I had a six-month student visa through a study abroad program. When I got it, six months seemed long, but they went by fast. You need to be enrolled in school full-time to get a student visa, which allows you to work about 20 hours a week. Public universities are inexpensive (a few hundred euros per year). You can also study at a language school. You can find more information on how to get a student visa via your regional French consulate.

My jobs: I was hired by a private language school soon after arriving in Paris. I had emailed my CV and was called in for an interview. Schools often recruit in September because everyone comes back from vacation for la rentrée – back to school, back to work. I worked 15-20 hours a week for the first three months, and then the school gave me fewer and fewer hours because they did not have enough new students. I had to find another job, but I only had a few months left on my visa, so most schools refused to even interview me. “Call us when you sort out your visa,” they said.

Finally, a language school for kids hired me to teach groups of children ages 3-10. I responded to their job posting online and then interviewed in person. I worked for them 10 hours a week until my visa expired, and then I worked for a wealthy bilingual family under the table on a “tourist visa” for a few months. I made more working for them than with language schools, even though I only worked two weeks a month. (I found their job posting at the American Chuch in Paris and sent them an email with my CV.)

The pay: Both language schools paid 18 euros/hour brut (so around 14 euros/hour net before taxes.) The other job paid 15 euros an hour net (with a fixed number of hours per week) and 100 euros/day when traveling.

See Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France for other helpful information.

Year 2

TAPIF Language Assistant in Lyon

My visa: TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program In France) is a program for foreigners under 30 that allows you to work legally in France. I had a travailleur temporaire work visa. This visa is usually valid for about 9 months because the assistant contract is 7 months, but the San Francisco consulate did me a solid and gave me a 12 month visa (the maximum length).

My job: I worked 12 hours a week at a lycée in Lyon. I taught groups of 10-15 students ages 14-18. I got the job by applying to the TAPIF program, who placed me in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. The local education administration (the rectorat) gave me my school assignment over the summer. I also worked remotely for an American company as a travel assistant during this time.

The pay: Assistants net about 790 euros/month in metropolitan France (Paris too) for the duration of your contract. You work 12 hours a week (this can be split between several schools in the region.) This includes quite a few weeks of paid vacation (during the vacances scolaires.) Some schools provide low-cost housing on campus.

Years 3 & 4

Lectrice in Lyon

My visa: A lecteur/lectrice work contract allows foreigners to legally work in France for up to two years. (It’s a one year contract that can be renewed once if the school opts to keep you on.) I renewed my visa at the préfecture in Lyon instead of going back to the U.S. (If your visa is still valid and you are not changing status – from worker to student, for example – you can renew it in France.) I’ve blogged all about this process in case you’re interested. This year I had to wait in line for almost nine hours, starting at 3 a.m.! But now you can make appointments online… three months in advance. (Don’t worry, the préfecture is relatively painless in many other cities.) My visa is good for 1 year because that is the length of my lectrice contract.

My job: Lecteurs/lectrices are foreigners who teach at French universities. There is no national program; instead, you apply directly to the university if they have an opening. The job description and the application process vary depending on the school. Many schools will insist that you have a Masters degree, or a year of study towards one. Some schools will accept a TEFL certificate in lieu of this. I got an interview by sending my cover letter and CV to the head of the English department. Hiring season for lecteurs/lectrices is usually March through May, depending on the school.

Last year I taught 11-14 hours a week and this year I’ll teach 20 hours a week (we are compensated for teaching extra hours.) Some of my co-workers juggle another job on top of this. I’ve written all about the perks of being a lectrice here.

As I said, the lecteur/lectrice contract is 12 months long. If your school renews your contract, you can hold the position for a maximum of 2 years. It’s competitive because there are far fewer positions available than there are for assistants. In my opinion, this is the best job to have in France as an American teacher.

The pay: Lecteurs/lectrices earn a salary of around 1500 euros/month brut, or about 1250 net. This is paid for the twelve months of your contract, so it includes a significant amount of paid vacation. (Summer vacation, Christmas vacation, Toussaint vacation, winter vacation, spring vacation… and then some.) The number of hours vary by institution, but around 10-12 per week is normal. Beyond that, you are paid hourly for the extra hours you teach, 40 euros/hour brut. This is usually paid annually or bi-annually.

Note: French salaries are lower than Amerian salaries across the board. It’s really, really normal to earn less than 2,000 euros/month in many industries, especially at the beginning of your career. A lecteur/lectrice salary allows you to live comfortably almost anywhere in France (with the exception of Paris) even though it’s not a ton of money. For example, in Lyon you can live with roommates for around 400 euros/month and by yourself for 500-600 euros/month. Phone plans and public transport are cheaper, you won’t have car payments, and healthcare costs are negligible.

Other ways to work in France

Working Holiday Visa

If you from a country that offers a working holiday visa in France, it’s an excellent way to work in France. Americans cannot obtain a working holiday visa in France.

Franco-American Chamber of Commerce: American Trainees in France

If you are American, you may be able to get your visa sponsored by up to 18 months via the Franco-American Chamber of Commerce. You have to find a job that meets their requirements first, you must have a four-year degree, and you must be under 35. I have never actually met someone on this visa, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done. More information here.

Freelance lessons and tutoring

Some language assistants and students earn extra money by teaching private students. Many families look for native English speakers to tutor their kids. You can also post an ad in upscale neighborhoods, at schools, or online. People also post up-for-grabs gigs in city-specific Facebook groups (e.g. “English teachers in Lyon”). I don’t recommend that you count on this for your main source of income, but it can be a good way to earn some cash on the side.

Vacataire

Vacataires teach at universities like lecteurs and lectrices do, but they don’t have a monthly salary – they are paid only for the hours they teach (40 euros/hour brut). Like heures supplémentaires for salaried teachers, they are usually paid in chunks once or twice a year. You must have another primary employer, and you cannot get a visa for being a vacataire.

I’ve written a more complete post on how to get a visa here.

———

This is meant to be a brief overview of my time working in France. It is based solely on my personal experiences, which may not pertain to everybody. If you would like more information, you are welcome to contact me with questions. You might want to check out the other posts I’ve written about teaching English in France. The most popular ones are Preparing for TAPIF, Things I wish I’d known about teaching English in France, and my favorite lesson plans.

If you’ve written about teaching English in France, feel free to share a link! If you’d like to mention something I missed, I’d love to hear from you. 

Why I’m not traveling all summer

It would be a lie to say that paid vacation isn’t an awesome part of being a lectrice. If anyone’s like, “Oh, the vacation doesn’t really matter to me, I love teaching French students at the fac so much I could do it twelve months a year!” they are full of shit.

No. Vacation is awesome.

But I still manage to overthink it.

Because I feel like I’m doing vacation wrong.

I feel like I should pack a bag and take the train all over Italy for a month, or hang out on the beach, carefree, in Croatia or Greece. It would be the perfect time to visit Normandy and Bretagne, where I’ve never been. Escaping the heatwave is reason enough to go!

But I’m still in Lyon.

It’s too hot, my favorite cafés (aka where the AC is) are closed in August, and almost everyone I know is out of town. It’s the ideal time to get out of town. So why haven’t I?

I was traveling for a few weeks in May and June when my family came to visit from California. We went to Germany, Switzerland, Paris, Bourgogne, and Vienna. I needed a little break to rest and you know, get clean underwear.

Then we moved apartments. It was the slowest move ever. Snails move house faster than we did. (Snails have an unfair advantage because they don’t have a washing machine.) My roommates moved out a week and a half before we did, and with them went the furniture, the stove, the refrigerator, the plates, everything. I tell ya, you don’t appreciate stuff like cutlery until it’s gone!

Also, it was 100 degrees, we lived in a five story walkup, and we had no refrigerator. I’m not convinced we wouldn’t have been better off dragging our mattress down by the river.

We moved into the new apartment gradually over a month. At the beginning, I was just happy to have a fridge and a coffee maker. Now I’m excited that we finally have a table. Tables are awesome!

Hugo found out that I was not exaggerating when I said I had the upper body strength of a chipmunk, but unfortunately we were already lugging a fold-out couch down the street (from two blocks away because there was no parking!) We are going to have to live here forever because no way are we moving all this furniture again.

So now we have a home, and instead of summer travels, I have a weird summer non-routine. It feels like being unemployed, even though I’m not. Do you know when you’re home all day, and you do everything on your list that you’re supposed to do, but you still feel like you haven’t accomplished anything at the end of the day?

Some days it’s hard to focus because the heat makes me feel braindead, so I languish in front of the fan and look up how much it would cost to go to Girona or Bordeaux, like, right now. But instead of hitting the road whenever I feel antsy, I’m learning to stay put and chug forward steadily.

The best reason to stay put

Even so… I still have one trip planned for the end of the summer! After much should-I-or-shouldn’t-I agonizing, I booked tickets to Bilbao and San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain. I was dying to go and felt that I would regret it if I didn’t while I have the time and the resources. Then I’m flying directly up north for a wedding, so I’ll crash through Brussels and Lille on my way. (Which city is more awesome? I have an afternoon to spend in one or the other!)

A lot of people might roll their eyes when I call this “not traveling.” Visiting Germany, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, and, for a hot second, Belgium, is not traveling?

But on the flip-side, travel junkies would probably be equally flabbergasted that I spent almost eight weeks of paid vacation at home.

(And if you’re American, you might just be gob-smacked that I have so much paid vacation. But don’t worry, you earn a lot more money than I do.)

I do feel (self-inflicted) pressure to travel around Europe as much as I can while I can, because I have no idea how my life is going to change in a year. And there are a lot of places I want to go. I’m already dreaming about Toussaint vacation at the end of October. (Lisbon? Florence? Istanbul? Budapest?)

But for now, I’m doing the best I can to balance wanderlust with other priorities. I’m not a glamourous jetsetter, but I’m okay with that. Sometimes it’s nice to stay home.

Besides, how could I leave these guys?

If you’ve blogged about the Basque Country, post a link in the comments! I’d love to hear your tips.

What are you up to this summer?

Renewing my visa in Lyon: 9 hours at the préfecture 

In Lyon, going to the préfecture is surprisingly like a transatlantic flight (minus the in-flight entertainment). You pack snacks and something to read, and then you sit in a chair until you lose all feeling in your ass.

(If you’re wondering what the préfecture is, it’s a big bureaucratic office that deals with things like immigration and drivers licenses. You go to your local préfecture if you need to renew your visa, or if you’re extremely masochistic, for example.)

Not all préfectures operate the same way. At some, you can make an appointment. Sometimes you can show up at 9 a.m. Sometimes you can make an appointment online. In Lyon, you wait in line outside the building to get a ticket, and then you wait inside the building until your number is called. They give out about 150 tickets per day starting at 8:30 a.m., and you have to come early to get one. Last year, that meant showing up before 6:30 a.m. This year… well, let’s just say that things have changed.

2 a.m. Alarm rings. I consider going back to sleep but instead I get up and drink a weird iced coffee. I think it’s been tainted by fridge smell.

2:30 a.m. I walk to the préfecture with an enormous bag filled with snacks, books, a cushion, and photocopies of all the documents I need to renew my visa. Plus a folding chair. I call my parents because it’s only 5 p.m. in California and they’re like, will anyone be at the préfecture so early? Is it safe?

3 a.m. I arrive at the préfecture and the line is already all the way to the end of the block and around the corner. There are about a hundred people ahead of me. The girl at the head of the line tells me she’s been there since 6 p.m. the night before, and at least thirty people are stretched out sleeping because they’ve been there all night. I set up my chair at the end of the line and get as comfortable as I can under the circumstances.

4 a.m. I’m glad I brought Calvin & Hobbes with me. I thought about bringing L’Écume des jours, but then I got real and reminded myself that this was not the time to challenge my brain.

5 a.m. My phone battery is already down to 30%. This doesn’t look promising.

5:28 a.m. The line is now so far down the block that I can’t see the end. I’m vaguely paranoid about not getting a ticket, but I think it should be fine. The people next to me are speaking a language I don’t understand. Ukranian? Only three hours to go…. until the préfecture actually opens.

5:29 a.m. I should have gotten fries on the way here.

5:46 a.m. This is when I GOT HERE last year. I’ve been here for almost three hours now.

5:50 a.m. A man asks which way to the end of the line. This means that the line is so long in both directions that he can’t tell where it starts. He sits down on the sidewalk and is politely informed that he actually needs to go all the way to the back of the line, because apparently he either doesn’t understand how queuing works, or he thinks we are all dumb or passive enough to let him cut in. Never assume that about people who have been in line since 3 a.m.

5:55 a.m. Three hours down! I can’t wait to go home and sleep later. And maybe eat a burger.

6 a.m. The street lights click off. I guess this means it’s officially morning.

6:30 a.m. A mosquito buzzes around my head. Seriously?! A mosquito?!

6:50 a.m. People are munching on pain au chocolat and I can smell the butter. #jealous

7 a.m. The line starts moving. We round the corner… and wait some more. Queuers step off the sidewalk to smoke their morning cigarettes. Blech.

8 a.m. I’m now all the way up to the employee entrance on the side of the building. There’s a steady stream of fonctionnaires coming in to work, sliding through the throng of immigrants outside. I wonder if they know how long we’ve been waiting.

8:45 a.m. I’m in! I set up my chair in the corner by an outlet to charge my phone. I’m ticket number E118… And they’re on number E019. Settle in and wait, part two. I eat my last cookie to celebrate.

8:57 a.m. A dude comes up to me and asks to borrow my glasses. He needs them to sign a paper. I try to explain that they’re not reading glasses and I forget the word for “near-sighted” because my brain is set in English/zombie right now. No one has ever asked to borrow the glasses off my face before.

9:16 a.m. omg I smell coffee.

10 a.m. They’re up to E055. Only 63 more to go. I just want to go to sleep. I look at the woman soothing her four-month-old. It must be tough to come here with a baby. There are a lot of families. A seven-year-old with a cast on her leg riding on her dad’s shoulders, a woman breast-feeding her baby, a blonde with a sequined top pushing a double stroller.

10:01 a.m. The people who wanted to borrow my glasses an hour ago have just finished at the guichet. No wonder it takes so long to bing-bong through all the ticket numbers.

11:26 a.m. E100! Only 18 more to go. I feel brain-dead but Josh and Chuck (of Stuff You Should Know podcast fame) are helping me stay zen. (With a podcast on road rage, ironically.)

11:39 a.m. The room is emptying out. There are less than 30 of us remaining.

11:45 a.m. Yes! E118, guichet 22. My turn!

I get a nice girl who is probably younger than me. Her supervisor is the dude with glasses who wouldn’t accept my dossier last year. I called her window a “guichet” but it’s really a glass cubicle. There’s a transparent wall separating us. It’s nothing like stepping up to the window to buy a train ticket, even though that’s also called a guichet. You don’t wait in line for half a day to buy a train ticket, even if you want to go somewhere really cool like Croatia.

I hand over copies of my carte de séjour, my passport, my justificatif de domicile, aka proof that I’m not homeless (my lease and electric bill, just to be sure), my last four paychecks. She compares them all to the originals and initials each page. I give them the attestation from the university that says they’re hiring me next year and my autorisation de travail from DIRECCTE, the department who gets to say, “Yeah, it’s cool if you work in our country,” or not.

Wait, there’s a problem. “No, this work authorization is from last year. We need the one from this year.” I start to panic. Should I have gone to DIRECCTE first? Did I screw this up? Then I remember I can’t get that form by myself – the university has to do it for me, and they won’t until September.

Another person is telling her that I absolutely need the one for this year, not last year. She comes back to the window. I’m shaking my head and internally freaking out.

“Don’t worry,” she says before I have a meltdown. “I’ll still take your dossier. You just need to bring in the form when you get it in September. You don’t have to come back early in the morning.”

She takes my fingerprints (“Uh, your right hand is the other one”) and has me fill out a form and sign my récipissé, the temporary document that says I’m legal while I wait for my new carte de séjour, my visa.

And then it’s over. All her coworkers have already gone to lunch. It’s 12:15 p.m. so I wish her a bonne journée and get out of there so fast I almost forget my chair. The line for the 1 p.m. tickets is already spilling out the door. (Afternoon tickets are for different orders of business than morning tickets.) The sun is shining but it’s not too hot. My adrenaline keeps me running just long enough to eat lunch and walk poor Tigrou the dog, and then I crash.

Today of all days, I give myself permission to do nothing but sleep, lounge, and Netflix all afternoon. Because I won my préfecture battle of 2015 and got my récipissé on the first try, dammit.

And it only took nine hours.

This was not my worst trip to the préfecture, even though it was the longest. You can read about my past adventures in French bureaucracy here.

Winning an epic battle with French lab billing

A great pastime, particularly among foreigners in France, is complaining about the bizarre inefficiency of the French system and all the frustrations that come with it. I’ve ranted about French bureaucracy a considerable amount, but all of these experiences that make you want to clunk heads together are the rule, not the exception. Everyone has lived them, even French people.

So I’m happy to present to you a France success story! I like to tell it because I get to rant for most of the story (ranting is only fun after it’s all over) and it still has a happy ending. Are you ready?

In January, I went to the doctor. She said she was going to do a test that would cost 7 euros once it was reimbursed in part by social security. Fine, I said. In France, the doctor actually gives you your lab sample packaged in an envelope and you have to take it to the post office to mail it to the lab yourself. Weird, but okay.

A few weeks later, I got a bill for 23.10€. I sent a check, because that was the only way to pay. And that was that.

Except that a couple months later, a scary collection agency note showed up at my door, threatening to fine me over 100 euros for not paying the bill, which I had paid. So I called them up.

“Um, actually I did pay this bill a few months ago,” I explained.

They insisted that there was no record of my payment.

“Fine, then I would like to pay it now. Can I use an American credit card? I’m having some problems with my French bank.”

“Yes, clearly you are,” the woman smirked condescendingly.

(My French bank problems are an entirely different saga, and do not involve a lack of funds to pay a 23 euro bill.)

I argued with her until she conceded to let me pay the original amount owed, minus additional charges.

And that was that.

Except that it wasn’t, because in May (remember, this all started in January) the laboratory cashed my check. They cashed the check that they had said they had never received, after sending a collection agency after me, months after I had paid the collection agency!

I only had the number for the collection agency, and naturally, this debacle was not their problem.

“You’ll have to take this up with the lab because they are the ones who cashed your check.”

“Okay, could you please give me their phone number?”

“I can’t share that information with you, but here is there address. You can write them a letter.”

I can write them a letter?! (Side note: Sometimes, in France, you will be told that the only way to accomplish something is to write a letter. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.)

Thankfully, Google seemed to think it was okay to give me the lab’s phone number. You’re the best, Google.

So, in my best polite French, I explained that there seemed to have been an error.

“You’ll have to take that up with the collection agency, that’s not my problem,” the receptionist brushed me off.

“Oh no no no no nononononono.” My polite French got less polite. “I have paid almost fifty euros for something that was supposed to cost seven. Do you find that normal and correct? I did send the payment on time, and when I was told you had lost the check, I paid immediately a second time to resolve the issue.”

“We didn’t lose your check!” She was indignant.

I was confused. “Then… why… but… the collection agency?”

“I don’t know what my colleague did, but we didn’t lose your check. We sent you the reimbursement form, didn’t you get it?”

“Madame, the issue is not the assurance maladie reimbursement. The issue is that you have charged me twice and you need to reimburse me.”

Here, there was some hemming and hawing, and she put me on hold. Apparently, she didn’t share my view that reimbursement was obligatory in this scenario.

Finally: “My supervisor says we can send you a check.”

“Wonderful! When might I expect to receive it?”

“Bah, je sais pas madame! We have other clients, not just you. It won’t be tomorrow.”

“I understand, but could you give me an idea? A week? Two? I’ll be moving in a month.”

“You had better give me your new address. Ca ne va pas être demain!” she repeated.

“I don’t have it yet, and I really think that three weeks is sufficient time to send a check.”

“You’re moving in a month and you don’t have a new address? You’re really pushing it, madame.”

It sounds polite because we were calling each other madame, but the whole thing had turned into quite a spat.

“Look,” I said. “I am sure that you will be able to successfully mail this check in two weeks. In the event that I don’t have it before I move, I will contact you again. Will that work for you?”

“Yes. Au revoir.”

“Thanks so much for all your help and bonne journée!” I spit out sarcastically, sure that I was going to have to call and harrass her for the money in a few weeks.

But. BUT! Here’s the happy ending. Are you ready?

The check came in a few weeks time, and I cashed it. HOORAY!

The end.

Have you ever battled the French system? Tell me your story, or leave a link to your own rantings!

Two things you should never say to your French boyfriend

I’ve made my share of silly mistakes in French. I’ve progressed a lot in the last few years, but (much to my chagrin), I’m still not perfect. Sometimes just accidentally adding a single consonant to a word leaves les français giggling at my expense. (The word for down jacket is “doudoune” not “doune-doune,” in case you were wondering.)

Usually, my slip-ups just leave me subject to ridicule, but sometimes they get me in trouble. Here are two ways to accidentally offend your French copain or copine.

Continue reading “Two things you should never say to your French boyfriend”