Category Archives: French Culture

Why do I live in France?

By   August 16, 2009

It’s no secret that I am often homesick for North American culture (and especially the food.) I could move back to the US and get a teaching job or apply to do my PhD in Canada, but I choose to stay in France. David is, of course, the major reason why, but there are are other reasons why I am happy to live here. I have been feeling rather good these past few days about living in France and what the future holds for us, even if I don’t know what I’ll be doing or where we’ll be living. So whenever I get upset about France or miss the US too much, I need to remind myself of all the things I do like about France.

Why I choose France over the US, besides mon amour:

1. Health care: I pay an extra 28 € a month in addition to what’s taken out of my paycheck for free prescriptions, free contacts, the majority (always more than 70%) of the payments made to doctors reimbursed back into my account as well as the peace of mind knowing that if I’m hospitalized for any reason, the bill won’t be outrageous and I won’t lose my job. And back in the country where I’m a citizen, worked for 8 years, and still pay taxes even though I no longer live there? I have absolutely no health care at all.

2. Long paid vacations: I work two 12 week semesters the entire year and still get paid for all 12 months. David gets 5 weeks of vacation + 4 weeks of personal days each year. If you move, or have surgery, or get married, or have a baby (men too), you’re entitled to extra days off.

3. Healthier way of life: In addition to the great health care and long vacations, the food is healthier and being active with sports or exercising is encouraged everywhere. It’s true that the French smoke and drink too much and eat a bit too much red meat, but they still live longer than Americans because they are healthier and are just as productive even with the long vacations. Health care + vacations = productive workers

4. Nation-wide smoking ban in public places: The stench of cigarette smoke makes me want to physically hurt smokers, so it’s a good thing they have to stay outside. Health takes priority over tradition.

5. Public transportation: If I don’t feel like driving to work, I can hop on a bus. If I don’t feel like driving to the airport, I can take a bus or a train. If I don’t feel like driving to the south to go on vacation, the train will get me there in about the same amount of time. It’s simply having the option to not drive that makes all the difference.

6. Shutters=sleep=health: Not only do they help regulate the temperature inside by preventing the heat or cold from pouring in, they also help protect your house against break-ins and, perhaps most importantly, allow you to sleep better at night by blocking out the light and noise. Getting more sleep is another reason why the French are healthier than Americans.

7. Different culture & history in each region: France is so small to me, and being able to go from Alpine mountain village to Provençal countryside within a 3 hour drive is very neat. Each region of France is so distinct, it feels like you are going to a different country – but everybody speaks the same language and you never have to drive more than 10 hours to get to the other side. There’s a ton of history, from 2,000 year old Roman ruins to the beaches of Normandy, that it would take years to see and experience it all.

8. Germany & Italy are right next door: And we have German and Italian language TV channels as well as a bunch of other state channels for eastern European and Asian countries. French, German and Italian have always been the 3 languages that I want to speak completely fluently so our location is perfect. The bookstores have large selections of foreign language materials too. I have more motivation and reason to study languages when the countries that speak them are so close.

9. Limits: France is not as excessive about certain things as the US. Air conditioning is set at a reasonable temperature instead of below zero so I feel comfortable and not frozen. The obsession with celebrities and “reality” TV is not as pervasive, nor or commercials or advertisements trying to get you to buy anything and everything. There aren’t as many guns as people. Religion and patriotism are more private matters and no one really cares how much money you make because there isn’t such a huge difference between the poor and the rich. The US is always about more, more, more whereas France is content to be just the way it is.

10. Bragging Rights: When I was back in the US, people whom I had just met or who didn’t know that I lived in France would automatically remark that I must be living “the dream” and that France must be wonderful. I didn’t really contradict them because I do prefer France to the US, after all; but I wouldn’t say it’s like a fairy tale to live here, as most Americans seem to think it is. I don’t know if people are jealous that I live in France or in Europe, or are jealous that I simply no longer live in the US, since apparently a lot of Americans would like to live somewhere else because of the recession. But I like being able to give my friends and family the opportunity to come to France, not only to visit me, but to discover another part of the world that they might have never known otherwise. And of course, by extension, I give them the bragging rights to say “my friend/daughter/sister/niece” lives in the French Alps.

Feux d’Artifices d’Annecy-le-Vieux et de Paris

By   July 14, 2009

A lot of the smaller towns in France have fireworks for Bastille Day the night of July 13th instead of on the 14th. Last night we went to Annecy-le-Vieux for their fireworks, and we were also treated to a rock concert for an hour beforehand. The band did covers of nearly everything – Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Police, U2, etc. -and they even changed costumes several times to match the music and bands. Of course every single song was in English so it almost felt like I was celebrating July 4th, except for the people speaking French and drinking wine and beer on a public beach.

We wasted about 30 minutes waiting in line at the snack bar (because there’s only one open that late – Annecy-le-Vieux isn’t exactly a happening place…) where David got an “Américain.” What is an American sandwich according to this greasy place? A baguette filled with two hamburger patties and french fries, with ketchup, mayo or barbecue sauce. I almost want to puke just thinking about it.

We made it back to the beach just in time for the fireworks, which also had music accompanying them. They set them off just a little ways into the water, so we were really close.

We should be able to see Chambery’s fireworks tonight from our back balcony, but I might watch the Paris fireworks online instead. Anyone can watch online through the site to celebrate the fact that the Eiffel Tower is 120 years old. Fireworks start at 10:45 PM French time, so 4:45 PM eastern time.

Dual Citizenship

By   June 30, 2009

I just wanted to say Congratulations and Félicitations !! to two ladies who have gained dual citizenship. I am extremely happy and excited for them.  They worked very hard for this and survived the year-long application process. They give me hope that I’ll be able to become a dual citizen one day too.

+ Erica is American, and now French, as of April 21st.

+ Zhu is French, and will be Canadian on July 3rd.

To become a French citizen, you have to wait two years if you are working toward or have completed a graduate degree at a French university; four years if you are married to a French citizen and lived in France for all four years (otherwise, it is five years if you do not live in France); or five years if you have lived and worked in France continuously (sometimes a CDI is required though.)

You can also apply for the 10 year carte de résident (instead of the 1 year carte de séjour year after year…) if you have been married to a French citizen for three years or if you’ve lived in France continuously for three years, but you have to prove your “worthiness” to the préfecture and have the mayor of your town approve it. And of course, some préfectures require five years and a minimum salary of something like 11,000 € for each year spent in France. (Don’t you just love how something as important as your legal status in France is completely random depending on where you live?

I haven’t asked my préfecture yet what their requirements are for the carte de résident. I have lived in France since September 2006, but until March 2008, I was on a travailleur temporaire card, so those don’t really count for anything. Maybe in March 2011 I can apply for it if I can convince them that there should be no legal difference between marriage and PACS. In any case, I’m hoping to apply for French citizenship once I’m a few years into my PhD, which I will hopefully start in 2010.

Zhu is doing a series of posts on immigrating to Canada, so check out her blog if you’re interested.

Bring on Les Soldes !

By   June 21, 2009

The summer sales period in France begins this Wednesday, June 24 at 8 AM and lasts until midnight on July 28. Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I will be on my computer ordering things for the apartment instead of dealing with crowds at stores. Thank goodness for LaRedoute and 3Suisses !

These huge sales are only allowed twice a year in France, once in winter and once in summer. They both used to be 6 weeks long, but as of 2009, they are both 5 weeks long, and the extra two weeks of sales can be chosen by the stores themselves as long as they are finished at least one month before the official 5-week long sales begin.

Word is, however, that the national sales periods are on the way out and eventually stores will be able to decide independently when they have all their sales. Interestingly enough, it is the DGCCRF, a.k.a who David works for, that decides all this.

Changement de Domicile

By   June 17, 2009

I’ve spent the past 5 days trying to figure out how/when/where to change my address for all the official things. I’m still not finished.

There is a free site that allows you to change your address for a lot of organizations, such as CAF, Pôle emploi, CPAM, EDF, Centre des Impôts, etc.  You can also do réexpédition du courrier through La Poste at the same time (starts at 23 € for 6 months.)

However, you still need to change your address on your carte de séjour within 8 days of moving and on your carte grise within one month of moving. I know you can be fined if you don’t change the carte grise, but I’m not sure what happens with regards to the CDS. And like I said in my previous post, if you move within the same département, they simply put a sticker on your current CDS; but if you change départements, you have to re-apply for a whole new CDS. Luckily, changing your address on your driver’s license, national ID or passport (if you’re French for the last two) are not actually required by law.

I’ve also got to change my address with my mutuelle and MGEN since I’m not affiliated with CPAM, which fortunately I can do through e-mail. But for my bank it’s a little more complicated. I actually have to go to my agence in Annecy with a justificatif de domicile – can’t do it online, of course. I could just change my agence to one here in Chambéry, but then that would require sending out new RIBs to all the places that do automatic prélèvements and that seems like too much of a hassle.

Then once I get my new carte grise with a new license plate number, I can update my car insurance info with the new address too. For anyone else moving to a new département or buying a used car in 2009, do it after October 15 or you’ll still be stuck with the old license plate.  Only new cars get the new license plate so far. It was originally supposed to take effect on June 15, which would have been perfect timing for me, but then they decided to push the date back. Oh well, it’s possible we’ll be moving again in summer 2010 anyway…

Moving was the easy part.

By   June 14, 2009

Settling in is the hard part. I am very anxious to just feel at home in the new place, but it’s difficult without furniture in certain rooms. But because it’s Sunday, almost all stores are closed and I can’t accomplish much.

I’m going crazy with the lack of, well, everything in the kitchen because it was basically a sink in the corner with a closet that’s already half full from the water heater. And one electrical outlet. ONE! The weird thing is, we are not allowed to drill or nail holes in any walls, so that means no pictures or shelves anywhere in the entire apartment. At least the living room and bedroom have a little color on the walls, but the kitchen is just plain white. So I’ve also been going crazy buying adhesive and suction-cup hooks to hang things up and add a little color. Thank goodness Gifi is open on Sundays.

Hopefully we’ll get all the furniture within the next 2 days before David starts work, but we have a ton of things to do. I forgot how much of a pain it is changing your address in France. I need to go to my bank first to see if I need to change my agency too, and then the prefecture to get a new registration and license plate number (since I changed départements) and to change the address on my carte de séjour which I’m sure will be a super official handwritten label like last time. We’re also in the middle of changing our mutuelle to a much better and cheaper one (fonctionnaires are so spoiled, I tell ya).

And then we have to go back to the rental agency and figure out why we still do not have the keys to the garage we supposedly rented for my car. Luckily we haven’t paid for it yet since the agency couldn’t find the right keys (I’m not even kidding), but it’s just another stupid thing we have to deal with. And we’re thinking about getting Canaille de-clawed so that he can’t mess up the wallpaper here. He’s getting more and more comfortable here, and even though he hasn’t scratched anything yet, we’d like to keep it that way. We certainly won’t be able to fix this wallpaper like at the old place because it’s ALL covered in paint for some strange reason (and there’s painted wallpaper on the ceilings in some rooms too!)

But I’ve got to say, having balconies is a must and I will never live in an apartment again without one. My clothes dry so quickly because I can put the drying rack in the sun, I constantly smell the flowers from the neighbors’ balconies, and the breeze is so nice at night that we don’t need a fan. And there’s even a little canal that runs along the main road so I can hear the water trickling by all the time. Someone else really likes the balconies already too. Now if only that bird’s nest were more than 5 feet away so he doesn’t get too courageous and jump…

Still No Answer… But Michelle Arrives on Sunday!!!

By   May 15, 2009

We still don’t know if we got the apartment. Hopefully they will tell us Monday morning, and they let us sign the lease the same day or early Tuesday since I leave for Milan at 10:45 AM. If not, I have no idea what we’ll do. I’ll be back the 30th, but David will be gone until June 12th, which means we wouldn’t be able to sign it and move until June 15th. But even if we are able to sign it this week, we probably wouldn’t move all of the furniture until June anyway, meaning I’d have to stay in Annecy during the week I’ll be home between trips. Or else sleep on the floor of an empty apartment since I really don’t want to have to drive back to Annecy after working 10 hour days at the conference. And we’d start paying rent the day we sign the lease, so if we do sign it soon, that would mean paying for an apartment that no one is living in for almost a month.

I am a tad bit STRESSED OUT. I hate this!!  I really wish we could have found a particulier to rent from, but with the time constraint and the fact that not one of them answered their phone or called us back, we didn’t have a choice but to go through an agency and put together a stupid dossier and waste the equivalent of one month’s rent on stupid fees. I am not looking forward to ever moving again in France but with David’s job, we could be moving every few years. Fun fun.

But Michelle arrives in Chambéry on Sunday morning and we are going to wander around the old capital of Savoie since I have yet to be a tourist there. Then it’s back to Annecy before we head to Milan and then all over the Côte d’Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon. I am extremely excited about finally seeing more of France, but especially excited about seeing Michelle again. She was my roommate back in Flint, and I haven’t seen her since she moved away in February 2006.

And Jason is meeting up with us in Nice! Two friends from Michigan at the same time! He’ll be returning to Annecy/Chambéry with me on the 30th, and we’ll stay in Rhône-Alpes until June 6 when we take off for Istanbul to see Martha (a third friend from Michigan!!). Then it’s home again on June 12th and no more traveling for at least a month, when I return to Michigan!!! Can you tell I’m excited and homesick?

In the meantime I’m trying to pack what I can, which is rather difficult when you don’t know what day you are moving and you also need to pack for a trip, and you have a cat whose idea of “helping” is this:

He slept on those chess pieces three nights in a row. How can that be comfortable??

Renting an Apartment in France (Involves Killing Trees)

By   May 13, 2009

We just spent all day in Chambéry looking at apartments, and I think we’ve finally found one. We’re going to call the agence in the morning and head back to Chambé tomorrow to turn in our dossier (i.e. mountain of paperwork). If for some reason we don’t get it, we do have 2 alternate apartments in mind, one of which we know no one else currently wants. So I think the search is almost over. I still have no idea what day we would be moving though. And then we’ve got to get the electricity/water/internet set up and buy appliances (French kitchens rarely come with an oven or fridge… or even cupboards…)

So what does a dossier involve? Originals and photocopies of:

– ID cards (and student ID, if applicable)

– last 3 bulletins de salaires

– work contracts specifying type and length as well as date of hire

– last 2 tax returns

– last electricity bill (the infamous facture EDF)

– last 3 quittances de loyer (or Taxe Foncière if you currently own instead of rent)

– proof of insurance Multirisque Habitation

– last attestation d’Allocations familiales


Of course, you also need ALL of this same paperwork for the garant/cautionnaire (co-signer), who should be a family member. And if you have no family in France, you’re screwed. It’s not impossible to rent an apartment in France without a French garant, but it makes it much harder.

Hopefully I will have good news to report soon. Wish us luck!

Listening to text messages / SMS / textos in France

By   May 10, 2009

Someone called our apartment this morning, but as it was a 01 number (i.e. Paris) that I didn’t recognize, I assumed it was a wrong number. But they kept calling back every 20 minutes. So I finally answered and heard this:

Vous avez reçu un SMS en provenance du 06 xx xx xx xx. Faites le 1 pour écouter….

WHAAAA? It’s possible to send text messages to a landline and listen to them?

The message was something like “Je suis ?? Je peux passer” read by a female computerized voice. I didn’t recognize the cell number either, and since almost no one has my landline number, I’m assuming it was a mistake.

But I’m wondering how effective this service is with the way people write text messages in French. I still have a hard time figuring out what people are trying to say half the time with all the alternate spellings and numbers replacing syllables!

So if you receive a call from 01 41 00 49 00, you have a new SMS. If you want to send an SMS to a landline, you need to use the original number (the ones that begin with 01 through 05) and not the number that your ISP gives you (09 for Free, etc.)

I’ve tried it with both of our cell phones so far, and Orange uses that 01 number for the caller ID, while SFR uses the actual cell phone number. I always wondered what would happen if I accidentally sent an SMS to a landline, and now I know that it doesn’t just get lost in cyberspace.

Anybody know if this type of service is available in the US too?