More Changes in France as of July 1

France takes over the European Union Presidency until December 31.

Public transportation gets slightly more expensive. SNCF tickets increase by 10 cents, while subway tickets in Paris now cost 1.60 € for a single ride or 11.40 € for a booklet of ten tickets. The monthly Carte Orange-Navigo also increases: Zones 1-2: 55.10 €; Zones 1-3: 72.90 €; Zones 1-4: 90.20 €; Zones 1-5: 108.40 €; Zones 1-6: 122.10 €

The SMIC (minimum wage) is raised to 8.71 € an hour / 1,037.53 € (net) a month.

Unemployment benefits increase by 2.5 %.

All EU citizens except Bulgarians and Romanians have full working rights in France and no longer need a visa or carte de séjour.

P.S. Happy Canada Day!

Reminder for all drivers in France

As of tomorrow, July 1, it will be law to have a bright yellow vest and red triangle in your car at all times to use in case of emergencies. And remember to NOT keep the yellow vest in your trunk because you need to put it on before getting out of the car. The police are going to be doing random checks, and you will have to pay a 135 € fine (though this will not take effect until October 1) if you don’t have both the vest and triangle!

Canaille wanted to be in the picture with the vest… This is “one size fits all – XL” which doesn’t make much sense to me.

This little plastic triangle will magically stop other cars from running into yours on the side of the highway.

Edit: Updated info about fines on July 1, according to this article.

Adventures in Germany

I just returned from a wonderful week in Germany. Last Friday, I traveled through Switzerland on my way to Freiburg for the EWCA conference. Because the Euro Cup is being hosted in Switzerland & Austria, I saw many, many flags and soccer signs all over the place. My favorite was the huge soccer ball above the jet d’eau in Geneva.

I met up with Martha, my co-presenter and good friend from Michigan, at the station in Freiburg and we made our way back to the hotel to finish preparing for our presentation (“Tutors, Training and Border Crossings: Beyond the Textual Relationship”) the next morning. We stayed in the hotel restaurant most of the evening and were treated to polka music and a tour group singing beautiful Welsh songs. Their bus driver actually got me to lead a conga line at one point.  Needless to say, I wasn’t able to accomplish much concerning our presentation, but I had a lot of fun!

The next morning at breakfast another presenter started speaking to us in German because she saw my last name on my name tag and assumed I was German. I should have been prepared for that with my very German name at an English/German conference! Anyway, we presented at 8:30 AM Saturday morning (not our choice of time slot…) We were a little stressed because our third presenter couldn’t make it to Germany due to a family emergency, but we managed to pull it off. After attending a few more presentations, we decided to head to downtown Freiburg and be tourists. I had never been to the Black Forest area of Germany before, and I have to say it is very beautiful. I adore the architecture there.

After a short stop in Triberg, home of the world’s biggest cuckoo clock, we came to Annecy for a few days because Martha had never been here. It was really nice having a friend from “back home” in my “new home.” Luckily the weather was really warm and we were able to stroll around the lake and just enjoy summer. (The week before, it had still been raining and a little chilly – now the weather is perfect here!)

Next we decided to go to the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and we drove through Switzerland to get there, taking the scenic routes through the countryside. Swiss towns are so pretty too! We stayed in a small town called Uhldingen and took a boat over to Insel Mainau on Wednesday. We spent most of the day just wandering around the island among the beautiful flowers and trees.

Later that night, every German citizen was glued to the TV watching the Germany-Turkey game. We didn’t even have to watch it as the loud cheering told us when Germany scored. Even in a small town, there was plenty of noise and fireworks for hours after they won. And the fact that the prime ministers/presidents of each nation attend these games shows how serious Europeans are about soccer. Can you imagine Bush at a soccer game in the US??

Thursday morning we drove to Hechingen where the Hohenzollern castle sits on top of a large hill. Then we finally made it to Reutlingen, where Martha lived with her family 8 years ago, after passing through every other German town ending in -ingen.

After wandering through the streets of Reutlingen, I can see why she loved living there. Everything about southern Germany is so beautiful and peaceful, minus the occasional rowdy soccer fan. And I loved being immersed in German – though whenever I try to speak German now, French comes out instead.

I returned home by train yesterday (by way of Stuttgart, Zurich, Biel and Geneva) to still-beautiful weather in Annecy. It’s good to be home and to be finished stressing about the conference, but I am missing the lower prices of everything in Germany, and Martha of course!

I’ve uploaded the rest of my pictures to a web album on my site: Southern Germany – June 2008

From Annecy to Freiburg and back

The weather is Annecy is finally summer-like and I have to leave! I’m off to Freiburg, Germany, tomorrow (via Geneva and Basel) because I’m co-presenting at the European Writing Centers Association conference. I’ll be dazzling the audience with my knowledge on tutoring ESL students and explaining the different kinds of tutoring that goes on at the Marian E. Wright Writing Center at my undergrad school, the University of Michigan-Flint.  My good friend Martha is coming (I think she’s already arrived?) all the way from Michigan to present with me and I am beyond excited to finally have a friend from back home visit my part of the world. Granted, she has lived in Germany before with her family, so it’s not new to her, but still! I miss my friends!

I’m trying to finalize my part of the presentation, and hoping that my sore throat does not worsen and make me lose my voice before Saturday morning. I’ve made backup copies of everything but I’m still paranoid something will go wrong… Luckily I’m taking Swiss trains instead of French ones so I won’t be affected by the random strikes. CFF beats SNCF any day!

Martha & I will be back in Annecy Sunday through Tuesday, and then we’ll decide where to go from there. Nice? Genoa? Bodensee? Except I cannot check the Annecy-Nice train schedules or prices because voyages-sncf.com does not work right now. Of course. (I also just tried to sign in to my ASSEDIC account and what happened? Their site is down too! I just love French websites!!)

I still need to pack… which leads to the most important question: What should I wear??

Centre Hospitalier de la Région d’Annecy

The new hospital in Annecy, with the ridiculously long name of Centre Hospitalier de la Région d’Annecy, opened about two months ago. It’s located in the commune of Metz-Tessy, next to the airport, just north of Carrefour and the northern limit of Annecy. A few bus lines were re-routed to serve it, but for those who do not have a car, taxis are the only transportation to the hospital after midnight. Yet even for those who have a car, finding a parking spot is never easy. This was the biggest problem with the old hospital – lack of parking. The new hospital was supposed to help alleviate this problem, but it didn’t.

Mais pourquoi ? Because of its location near the major highways heading north and the large number of people who live near Annecy but work in Switzerland, carpoolers have been leaving their cars in the free hospital parking garage all day. I don’t think the architects and engineers took that into account when they were planning it… and I have a feeling it won’t be free for long.

So if you need to go to the hospital in Annecy, make sure it’s during the regular bus hours!

Grammar Check – Subjunctive with espérer?

This was the top story on lefigaro.fr this afternoon:

Les Bleus à quitte ou double contre l’Italie

Pour éviter l’élimination, la France devra battre les Italiens, mardi soir, et espérer que la Roumanie ne fasse pas de même contre les Pays-Bas.

Years of French grammar classes have drilled into my head that you should never use the subjunctive after espérer. Can someone tell me why Figaro is doing so in this article? Is it a mistake? Or is there some exception to the rule that I’ve never heard of?

Edit: I give up, French. You win. I will never understand your grammar rules. Even though all of my grammar books tell me never to use the subjunctive after espérer unless espérer itself is negative or interrogative, the above sentence and all the native speakers that I’ve asked prove that is not the rule. The subjunctive mood and I were just never meant to be, I suppose.

Operation Escargot & Bac Philo

Truck drivers across France have been participating in “operation escargot” – driving very very slowly on highways and causing major traffic problems to protest against the high price of gasoline and diesel.

Today the operation did not start until 9 AM because the drivers didn’t want to disturb the thousands of students (615,625!!) who were taking the Philosophy Bac this morning. Isn’t that nice?

Here are some sample questions on the Philosophy exam. Students have four hours to write their essays, but they won’t know the results until July 4.

“L’art transforme-t-il notre conscience du réel ?”
“Peut-on désirer sans souffrir ?”
“Est-il plus facile de connaître autrui que de se connaître soi-même ?”
“La perception peut-elle s’éduquer ?”

How would you do on this exam?

Learning French Slang

If you really want to become fluent in French, and be able to communicate easily with anyone, you need to learn slang. You don’t necessarily have to use it, but you must be able to understand it. Before I arrived in France, I had never studied French slang. I had only studied textbook French – formal, “grammatically correct” French. But I quickly discovered that is not how people speak. I had a hard time understanding anything at first, but gradually I learned the slang words for standard words that I already knew. Barely anyone said travailler – all I heard was bosser. My books taught that laid meant ugly, but everyone said moche instead. Even my bedroom wasn’t ma chambre; it was ma piaule.

I became overwhelmed with the sheer number of slang words for everyday, ordinary things. I constantly wondered why no one ever thought it would be helpful to teach these words along with the standard words. Sure, slang changes with each generation, but any slang is better than no slang at all. I bought a few French slang books, such as David Burke’s Street French series and Pierre-Maurice Richard’s Le Français Familier et Argotique: Spoken French Foreigners Should Understand, but to keep up with the current, most used slang, the internet became my best learning resource. And thanks to the internet, I can share some astuces with you for learning slang.

I’ve been updating my Informal French & Slang page with more vocabulary and interactive exercises. Currently, there are 21 exercises for common slang vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.

Matching Exercises: Adjectives / Nouns 1 / Nouns 2 / Nouns 3 / Verbs 1 / Verbs 2 / Verbs 3 / School / Body Parts / Dating / Entertainment

Multiple Choice Exercises: Eating & Drinking / Work & Money / People / Emotions & Personality / Random Vocabulary

Gap-fill Exercises: Animal Idioms / Body Part Idioms / Colors & Numbers Idioms / Food Idioms / Other Idioms

Another great way to learn slang is by watching Friends in French, and then comparing the French & English transcripts to learn more vocabulary and how it’s used. (You can actually use any TV show or movie, but Friends transcripts are already available online in both languages at the Fan Club Français de Friends.)

Read blogs or forums in French as some people have a tendency to write very informally online. Blogging sites include: blogger.com, livejournal.com, fr.wordpress.com, over-blog.com, blog4ever.com, canalblog.com. And you can always search for blogs on blogsearch.google.fr or look in blog directories, such as blogues-quebec.com. Gossip magazines (Voici, Public, or Closer) also tend to use a lot of idiomatic language, if you like to keep up with les potins.

WordReference and The Free Dictionary seem to include a fair amount of slang words if you want to try to look up the meanings of words online. If you can’t find a word in a dictionary, try using google.fr to see how it’s used in context; or even images.google.fr if it’s a noun.

In addition to the exercises that I’ve made, here are a few others you can try to test your knowledge of slang:

Test your French slang (Harrap’s)
French Slang Wish 101

French slang sites with English translations:

French Slang – Argot Français (5 chapters from Street French by David Burke)
BBC Cool French
The Alternative French Dictionary
Argot – French Slang from About.com
Language Realm: French Slang, French Idioms, & French Proverbs
French Slang @ Everything2.com
Katia & Kyliemac Learn French Podcast

French slang sites with standard French translations:

ArgotPod – Le Français non censuré !
L’argot dans le film, Les Ripoux
Dictionnaire d’argot en ligne
Dictionnaire Français-Argot et Argot-Français
Liste de termes argotiques en français

PACSing and the right to a Carte de Séjour in France

I get a lot of e-mails about PACSing and Carte de Séjours in France, so I wanted to clear up some things. These two are completely separate from one another – the Tribunal d’Instance takes care of PACSing and the Préfecture takes care of the carte de séjour. If you ask the Tribunal about the CDS, they will most likely give you wrong information, and if you ask the Préfecture about getting PACSed, they will most likely give you wrong information as well.

You can get PACSed whenever you want (similar to marriage – except marriage is still not an option in France for gay or lesbian couples.) Any two un-related people over the age of 18 can get PACSed in France, regardless of their nationality. (Two non-EU citizens – such as 2 Americans – are allowed to get PACSed as long as one of them has a carte de séjour already.) You may or may not have to prove that you live in France, so if you plan on getting PACSed soon, make sure both of your names are on an EDF or France Télécom bill. Check my PACS/Marriage page for more information on the paperwork needed to get PACSed.

You do not need to have a visa in order to get PACSed, but you need a visa in order to receive a carte de séjour due to being PACSed (or even married – the laws are the same). You must obtain a long-stay type D visa in order to stay legally in France, but it doesn’t matter if you obtain this visa before or after you get PACSed/married. If you obtain the visa before getting PACSed/married, you only have 40 days to actually do so after your arrival. If you obtain the visa after you get PACSed/married, then obviously this costs more because you have to return to your home country, but it might be easier to get because you can prove that you are indeed PACSed/married (with your certificat de PACS or livret de famille) which makes your application stronger than just having the intent to do so after your arrival in France.

If you are a PACSed foreigner, your partner is an EU citizen and you have a long-stay visa, you are entitled to the CDS visiteur – which gives you the right to stay, but not work – if you cannot prove un an de vie commune in France. This year of living together can definitely start before you get PACSed, as long as you were living in France legally at that time. (If you’ve been in France for more than 3 months without a visa, thereby surpassing the tourist limit in the Schengen space*, this time will NOT count towards your un an de vie commune. The year starts upon your LEGAL arrival in France, after you get the visa.)

If you can prove the un an de vie commune, regardless of when you got PACSed, then you are entitled to the CDS vie privée et familiale, which gives you the right to work in France. (This is the same carte you will receive if you are married to an EU citizen and have a long-stay visa.) I’ve heard horror stories of foreigners being denied a CDS even though they fulfill these requirements because some Préfectures don’t know the rules or don’t want to follow the rules. Even though PACSing has been around for almost 10 years, some fonctionnaires are still clueless as what it really means for foreigners in France.

I have found one organization, ARDHIS, that tries to help PACSed foreigners with their legal status in France. It’s actually an organization for the rights of homosexual and transsexual foreigners, but they have some legal information that is pertinent to any PACSed foreigner. (A few other helpful organizations for immigrants are GISTI and FASTI.) If you have been denied a CDS even though you are PACSed to an EU citizen and have a long-stay visa, here are some official documents that might help your case:

A circulaire from the Ministère de l’Intérieur (Villepin) dated October 30, 2004, specifically states your right to a CDS vie privée et familiale if you can justify un an de vie commune or to a CDS visiteur if you cannot. The PACS section starts on page 4.

Another circulaire from January 2007 reminds the préfectures that the first circulaire from October 2004 is still effective and PACSed foreigners should not be denied a CDS.

*Just a reminder about the Schengen space tourist visa: You can stay for 3 months, but then you must leave for 3 months! You can no longer leave for one day and come back without a visa. The original Schengen countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. As of December 2007, the eastern countries were added: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Switzerland & Liechtenstein (2008-9), Cyprus (2009) and Bulgaria & Romania (2011) will be fully implementing the Schengen laws during the years noted. Notice that the UK & Ireland do not implement the Schengen laws!

The Convenience / La Commodité

Qu’est-ce qui te manque le plus ? When people ask me what I miss most about the United States, the first word that comes to mind is convenience. And then I have to explain what exactly that means to me: being able to do what I want when I want. I was never forced to comply to someone else’s schedule. There were plenty of stores and restaurants open 24 hours so I wasn’t as rushed to buy my groceries before 8pm. Banks and the post office did not close for 2 hour lunches. Not many places were closed on Sundays either.

But in France I feel as though I waste a lot of time waiting for places to open so I can get things done. Even my bank is closed on Mondays, which I never seem to remember because I don’t understand why they have to be closed on that particular day. And the idea of “un drive” anywhere but McDonald’s or Quick is practically unheard of. My local post office has this convenient drop-off box for letters, but it’s located about 10 feet from the road. You have to park your car and run down the stairs to drop your mail off. And it’s in an industrial area, so there are few sidewalks for those who want to walk there. I just don’t get it.

So imagine my surprise a little while ago when I discovered that my bank has a drive-up ATM in Annecy! I thought these just didn’t exist in France because David was always talking about how cool they were when we were in the US for Christmas. (He even took a picture of one when I stopped to get some cash. And the pharmacy drive-thrus just blew his mind!) But this bank is actually pretty far from where I live, and I avoid driving in downtown Annecy as much as possible, so I doubt I will ever use it. But still, it is there!

The second thing that comes to mind about the US is just the space. The US is much larger than France, and the population density is much lower, so I never felt as crowded as I do here. I’ve always been a country girl though, and had my parents’ back yard to escape to. I think that’s why I have a hard time living in an apartment in such a residential area in France. I will never get used to the people or the noise and not having my own private yard to relax in.

The third thing is donuts. Definitely donuts.