Category Archives: French Culture

Teaching and learning French with Buzzfeed

Teaching and learning French with Buzzfeed

If your students already use Buzzfeed to waste time online, make sure they know about the French language version so they can turn that wasted time into learning opportunities. Not only is French Buzzfeed useful for learning informal language, it is also useful for learning about cultural differences.

Learning French language and culture with Buzzfeed

The list, 28 choses bizarres pour tous les Français qui visitent les États-Unis, is great content for teaching and learning about cultural differences between France and the US – especially for students who have never spent time in France. There is a slightly different version in English, with more explanations, which you can also use for a few more differences.

The lists include practices related to shopping, eating out, school, fashion, money, etc. which can guide discussions on what is common in America and why the French find it weird or odd. For students who have not experienced living or studying in France, they may have never thought about these American practices, and maybe assumed that they were the same in other countries. Personally, I was delighted to find out the air conditioning wasn’t so extreme and there were fewer commercials on TV, but annoyed that there were no 24 hour stores. I liked that tax is already included in prices, yet I hated having to get the server’s attention in restaurants.

These practices can also lead to deeper discussions about what is considered normal, correct, polite, rude, or strange to different cultures. Americans might not understand why people smiling all the time would be odd to the French. What is so “wrong” about flying the flag everywhere? Why do the French think that coffee must be drunk only at a café or while sitting down?

The information learned from these lists is certainly useful for students who are about to go abroad and what to expect. They will learn that 24 hour stores are very rare in France, you can’t buy food and drinks at pharmacies, waiters will ignore you in restaurants, wearing pajamas in public is not acceptable, you won’t get ice in your drinks, and you won’t have to figure out how much to leave for a tip.

Another interesting list is Comment les Américains imaginent la France vs. la réalité, which offers a more realistic look at life in France through stereotypes and the extreme opposites.

Buzzfeed has versions for other countries/languages as well: Brazil, Germany, Spain, MexicoSpanish, and Japan.

Australian Society for French Studies Conference 2014

Last week I was in Melbourne for the annual Australian Society for French Studies conference, held at RMIT. I hadn’t been to this conference since 2011 since it’s usually held in December when I am often traveling. Thanks to my frequent flyer points and no registration fee for full-time students, it ended up being a very inexpensive conference trip for me.

Australian Society for French Studies Conference

The first plenary speech, De l’aventure napoléonienne au malaise européen actuel, was given by former prime minister of France, Lionel Jospin. He gave the same talk in English, From the Napoleonic venture to the current European malaise, at a public forum the same night.

Most of the presentations I attended were on teaching or translation. One that was particularly interesting, especially for the purposes of teaching French conversation, was La discussion française comme conflit ludique: lien entre atmosphère sonore et réussite de l’échange. Conversations that were considered the most réussi by native French speakers (from France) were those that included more concessions, overlaps, refutations, questions and brouhaha as well as less silence and fewer instances of “saving face.”

A talk on Variétés du français en Louisiane: tensions sociolinguistiques d’hier à aujourd’hui was also quite interesting and made me really want to visit Louisiana the next time I’m in the US.

Next year’s conference will be at Newcastle (north of Sydney).

Trains and Planes in France and Australia

Traveling by train is still a pretty nice experience in France, and even though Australia is just as big as the US, long-distance train travel across the continent is quite enjoyable Down Under too. I have taken the high-speed TGV and slower regional TER trains in France numerous times, and when I first arrived in Australia, I took The Overland train from Melbourne to Adelaide. I don’t have much experience with trains in the US, though I would love to hear some opinions on Amtrak.

Most areas of France are well-linked by trains and the TGV routes lead to the major cities. Annecy is only 3.5 hours from Paris on a direct TGV line and tickets can be as low as 17€ or 22€ if you buy early enough. The TER ticket prices never change and you can buy them right before getting on the train. The convenience of being able to hop on a train and get to where you want to go without having to drive (especially if the weather is bad) was always a nice possibility in France. I took the TER to Grenoble last week from Annecy and while it cost 37€, it was probably only slightly more expensive that paying for gas and tolls – which are rather expensive in France – and knowing that I didn’t have to drive through the snow or while tired from traveling/jet lag was worth it.

Even though Australian trains are not high-speed and the journey from Adelaide to Melbourne took 10.5 hours, I would gladly do the trip again to see more of the countryside between the large cities. Australia has fewer major cities (and people! there are only 20 million people in the entire country after all) but they are all linked by railways and tickets can be as low as $50 for some routes. Taking luggage is free though sometimes there are restrictions. For example, the Overland allows 2 checked suitcases at 20 kg each.

I traveled a lot by plane while living in France, but mostly to other countries since France is rather small and taking the train is usually easier. Flying in Europe tended to be a hassle because of the ridiculous liquid ban and always having to go through security at every stopover if you didn’t have a direct flight. Luckily with the Schengen Space nowadays most airports don’t require you to go through security as often as long as you are traveling completely within the borders (similar to flying domestic in the US), and even though you can at least lock your bags (unlike in the US where TSA gets to steal your stuff), friends and family still cannot accompany you to the gate. Plus the US continues to use irradiating body scanners, while they have been recently banned in Europe where they only use non-irradiating scanners. You only have to face the dilemma of get cancer or get groped in North America. So I have never liked flying because of the unpleasant ambiance I find at airports, especially American airports.

And then I flew on a domestic flight in Australia.

What a world of difference:

  •  ANYONE can go through security to get to the gates.
  • You can lock your bags.
  • You don’t have to take off your shoes.
  • The security agents are actually nice!
  • Qantas still provides free food and free checked luggage.
  • Even though Virgin Australia (on a Saver fare) and Jetstar (the low-cost offshoot of Qantas) make you pay extra for food and luggage, it’s still rather affordable to fly across the country.

The only thing that I didn’t like was that no one checked my ID at any point so I could have used someone else’s boarding pass to get on a plane. But overall flying in Australia is a very pleasant experience and a thousand times better than flying in the US.

Australian Society for French Studies Conference 2011

I travelled to Canberra this past weekend to attend the Australian Society for French Studies Conference at the Australian National University. To coincide with the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia and Australian Linguistics Society conferences also taking place in Canberra this week as part of Langfest, the three themes of the conference were translation, language teaching, and discourse analysis. Obviously I attended most of the teaching presentations, though I do have an interest in translation. The conference was bilingual but most presentations were in French. I was excited to find out that the 2012 conference will be at the University of Adelaide on September 27-28, so I hope other French researchers will join me there because I am definitely attending.

Béatrice Chassaing from the French Embassy offered some interesting statistics on Australian-French studies. About 6,000 students at Australian universities are studying French, but only 500 study abroad in France. In fact, less than 1% of all Australian students study abroad. In comparison, there are 3,700 French students currently studying in Australia. The French Embassy has recently started a program to increase Australian student mobility to France and to develop Australian universities / French companies partnerships by offering paid internships for Australian students in French companies established in Australia  or in Australian companies operating in France. For more information, download the Internship Program information sheet. And if neither study abroad nor internships sound appealing, the teaching assistant program is still an option. There are about 65 positions available for Australian citizens to teach English in primary or secondary schools in France or the DOM-TOMS (including New Caledonia) for seven months. The application deadline is December 12 to start teaching in October 2012.

Other plenary talks included Pierre Bondil reflecting on his translations of crime fiction (polars) over the years and Pierre Labbe explaining the concept of le Softpower à la française. Two adorable Americans who have lived in France for 45 years, Sheila Malovany-Chevallier and Constance Borde, also spoke about their translation of Le Deuxième Sexe (and I really hope they attend the conference next year because I loved talking to them about how great Australia is!) Unfortunately I had to leave early on the second day so I missed Philippe Met’s talk on “Le lendemain matin…”, ou la traduction d’une ellipse : scènes post-coïtales dans le cinéma français des années 30.

Australia-France websites to check out:

Foreigners in France: Fewer Opportunities for Employment

Claude Guéant, France’s Minister of Interior, has recently made it even harder for foreigners to get a job. France still welcomes many foreign students (with 280,000 France is third in the world) but the list of métiers for which foreigners can be hired has been reduced from 30 to 14, with local préfectures being able to reduce the list even further. This largely concerns students and other foreigners who do not already have the right to work in France and who are attempting to either get a work permit or change the status on their current residency card (from student to worker, for example).

The government is trying to reduce unemployment for French citizens by limiting the number of foreign workers. However, only 0.03% of the 65 million people in France are foreigners trying to get a work permit (20,000 people who make up only 10% of all legal immigration) and there are 4 million unemployed French citizens. It seems like the government should focus more on training French citizens so they are prepared for the jobs that are available, but now more money and resources will be diverted to immigration issues instead of Pôle Emploi.

I still receive lots of e-mails from non-EU citizens asking for advice on how to find work in France. I always say getting a degree in France is the best first step because almost all require an internship at the end which can lead to a job, or at least contacts in the field. If you haven’t done the internship in France, you’ll be at a disadvantage. But now it seems like even having a degree from a French university won’t help as much as it used to.

Diplômés étrangers non grata : Claude Guéant « fait du chiffre »

La liste des métiers ouverts aux étrangers réduite de moitié

Immigration de travail: la liste très select du gouvernement

France : les travailleurs étrangers indésirables

Grandes écoles : les jeunes diplômés étrangers interdits de travail

Finding a job in France is not impossible but with more and more anti-immigration laws popping up, it is getting even harder. That was part of the reason why I left France (and the low incomes – half of French households have an income of less than €19,000!) but I do know many people who have found jobs and obtained work permits, though I do have to admit many of them were also PACSed or married to a French or EU citizen.

I don’t want to sound overly pessimistic about France but with the current state of the economy and immigrants often being blamed for problems that they have nothing to do with, foreigners trying to work in France should be prepared for an uphill battle.

Moving to the Other Side of the World, Part 2: Relocating to Australia

As I mentioned earlier this week, moving to Australia seems to be much easier than moving to France. However, I moved to France to work temporarily through the Teaching Assistant Program in 2006 and I am going to Australia as a PhD student, so the comparisons aren’t exact. Nevertheless, here are my experiences:

France France

Visa: Luckily I was able to mail my application and passport to the consulate in Chicago; however, shortly afterwards they changed the procedure and now require you to go there in person to apply. Depending on how far away you live from your consulate (poor Alaskans & Hawaiians have to fly to San Francisco), it can be quite expensive. Receiving my visa by mail probably took 2-3 weeks. Within three months of arriving in France, I had to go to the préfecture to apply for my residency card (carte de séjour), which I had to renew every year with the same stack of paperwork, for 70€, then 110€, then 85€ (the price keeps changing!) Nowadays, most long-stay visas for France don’t expire for a year, but after that you still need to go to the préfecture to ask for a carte de séjour and renew it every year. Depending on what type of visa you have, you could end up paying anything from nothing to 340€ for your first carte de séjour, and the yearly renewal for most types currently costs 85€.

Housing: I had a string of bad luck trying to contact my school, so I had no idea if they had housing available or would help me find a place to live or not. I ended up arriving in France homeless and spent the first 5 nights sleeping on a couch. It was a very stressful time. I assumed that the program would try to help the assistants find housing, especially since many of us had never lived abroad before and did not speak French all that well, but I was wrong. Even our three day orientation in the mountains was completely useless to me (they did not help us with regards to housing, bank accounts, cell phones, etc.) and I was still homeless at the end of it. Plus I did not know how I could pay rent or the security deposit without a bank account, except for carrying around large amounts of cash, which I was not ok with. But opening an account took more time than I thought because…

Bank account: France does not allow you to open a bank account without proof of a French address. I had to make an appointment (for three days later) to open an account because it was not possible to do it immediately, and provide several justificatifs of my identity and address in France. Luckily by the day of the appointment, I had started renting a room in a woman’s apartment and she provided the documents for the proof of address.

I did finally get in touch with the people at my school and they helped me buy a cell phone (which in itself was another long, slow process even though I just wanted a cheap pay as you go phone), and after the first few stressful weeks, everything else was fine. The housing and bank issues were the worst, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Australia would not be the same.

Australia Australia

Visa: I applied online and received it in three days. No need to visit a consulate or mail my passport anywhere. Everything was electronic. It is good until late 2015 provided that I continue to do my PhD. The fee was $550 AUD but I do not need to renew it every year or change it into a residency card.

Housing: I contacted student living and asked if they had apartments on/near campus available in July. Within a few days, I had a furnished 2 bedroom apartment reserved. (FYI: you don’t always have to be a student to live in an apartment managed by student living.) I had to transfer the first two weeks’ rent as a deposit to reserve (I used XE Trade), and I just need to sign the lease and give them a bank check for the security deposit when I arrive (sorry, cheque for the bond), which I will be able to get easily because…

Bank account: Many Australian banks allow you to open an account online with your current address and transfer money into it up to an entire year before you are scheduled to move to Australia. Then you just need to show them your passport and give them your new Australian address (even a temporary one will work) when you arrive and you can set up telephone/online banking and withdraw money immediately.

So yes, I am very happy with Australia already. Everything just seems so easy, which is often what I didn’t like about France since most things here seem unnecessarily difficult. I’ve noticed that some Americans in Australia complain about the same things that I complained about in France: stores not open long enough, everything is too expensive, the pace of life is a bit too slow, etc. Yet Australia does seem less frustrating than France (see housing and bank account above!) and hey, at least the stores are open on Sundays.

Next week I’ll update with part 3 on arriving in Australia and finishing up the banking stuff as well as buying a cell/mobile phone. Later in July I’ll post about the cost of living and how much I’ll be paying for everything (my lease doesn’t start until July 15 so I’ll be staying with a friend until then), to compare it with my situation in France that I posted about last November.

Moving to the Other Side of the World, Part 1: Leaving France

I’m moving to Australia in one week! I’m almost completely packed and have taken care of most of the paperwork with regards to leaving France. Since David (and yes, Canaille) are staying in France and moving back to Annecy, I don’t have to take care of everything or even move everything right now – though I’m really just leaving behind furniture and books. I have donated some of my clothes to the local Scouts and given away smaller things, such as my bread machine, to people who will use them. I always hate when I feel like I have too many possessions that I don’t really need and moving overseas is a good opportunity to really sort through everything and see what is truly important to own and what you can do without.

As far as paperwork goes, I am leaving my French bank account open so I can still use my bank card when I come back to Europe. I’m sending a lettre de résiliation to cancel my mutuelle (private health insurance), changing the car registration & insurance to David’s name, and signing a pouvoir pour l’état des lieux so he can sign for me since I won’t be here when he returns the keys to this apartment. This is obviously much easier than if I had lived alone in France, because then I would also have to cancel electricity, water, internet, etc. You can easily find sample résiliation letters online when canceling contracts, but always make sure to send them recommandé with an accusé de reception!

Since I am not flying to/from the US or Canada, I am only allowed ONE checked bag and one carry-on bag, with maximum weights of 23 kg and 7 kg. I technically could check an extra bag, but it would cost $45 PER KILO. (I have no idea why flights not going to the US/Canada allow such limited luggage. It’s rather unfair, isn’t it?) The rest of my things are under 23 kg too, so being able to check a 2nd bag would have been perfect, but oh well, I’ll just have to send some stuff via La Poste. Unfortunately, they no longer have the slower, cheaper option for shipping packages overseas (économique) and the regular international rate is expensive. The only other option is their pre-paid boxes that only come in a few sizes/weight limits (such as L for 36.50€ or XL for 43€), so I will be using three of those to get the rest of my stuff across the ocean.


La Poste does offer a cheaper book rate for sending boxes (maximum 5 kg each) or bags (25 kg) overseas, but many postal workers do not know about it and the bag option is particularly difficult to use since you must go to a Centre de Tri and convince them that it does in fact exist. I will be sending at least 7 boxes of French books this way, at 13.72€ each. Oddly enough the webpage about the livres et brochures rate mysteriously stopped working a few days ago, but you can still access it through the Wayback Machine.

All that is left is to get to the airport on Monday and settle into the (hopefully) comfortable seats on Etihad Airways. I am actually excited about flying with a 4 star airline for once. Even though I’m flying economy, I bet it will be much better than flying economy on certain other airlines… such as any that are based in the US. I already know that I will have power & USB plugs for my laptop/iPod/Kindle, plus a 10.4″ video screen with 600 hours of entertainment, so I definitely won’t be bored on the seven and thirteen hour flights.

Everything for Australia is already taken care of – including opening a bank account and finding housing – which I will explain in part 2 next week after I arrive. Here’s a teaser: moving to Australia is turning out to be a million times easier than moving to France.

Numbers and Counting: American vs. French

I’m still endlessly fascinated by cultural differences between the US/North America and France/Europe that most people probably don’t spend much time thinking about. A McDonald’s commercial on French TV got me thinking about numbers and counting in other languages and cultures.  You learn quickly that Europe uses the 24 hour clock for schedules and the 1st floor in Europe is the 2nd floor in the US, etc. but did you know that Europeans also count on their fingers differently?

The American style is to start with the index finger but Europeans start with the thumb, which I have NEVER been able to remember to do – and I end up confusing my 2 year old niece who doesn’t understand why weird American aunt Jennie doesn’t know how to count correctly.  If you just hold up the index finger, some people will misinterpret it as 2 instead of 1.

Written numbers also gave me some problems in French. This was the validity date on my first autorisation provisoire de travail as an English assistant. I knew that European dates were in the format day/month/year but I wasn’t yet used to how numbers were actually written. When I first glanced at the dates, the 1’s looked completely bizarre to me and I thought the second date was 30/06/07 instead of 30/04/07.

Here’s how David writes numbers:

For comparison, the way I write numbers is below. My students always thought my 1, 2, and 7’s were weird whenever I wrote numbers on the board. Even the post office makes me cross my 7’s because they’re afraid that someone will mistake it for a European 1. I don’t know about other Americans but we used to get in trouble at my elementary school for crossing our 7’s…

Another major difference pertaining to numbers is that the use of periods and commas are reversed. Periods are used as the decimal mark in the US, while commas are used in most of Europe. Commas are used as the thousands separator in the US, while periods or spaces or nothing are used in Europe (there are many differences depending on the country).  This doesn’t cause many confusions but one mathematical operation probably will at first glance.

This is how David was taught to do long division:

And this is how I was taught way back in 5th grade:

Learning words and grammar is never enough!

Getting Used to Being an American Abroad (and Realizing that 30 Degrees is Hot)

The weather has been gorgeous in France this past week and I’ve been looking at the forecast everyday hoping that the sunshine sticks around for a while. Yet every time I watch the météo on TV or check the prévisions on, I always have to stop for a moment and convert the Celcius degrees to Fahrenheit so that I will know the “real” temperature. Even after 4.5 years in France, I am still not used to talking about the weather in Celcius because it just seems so… unnatural to me.  I’ve finally memorized some conversions (30 is hot enough for me to go swimming, for example), but I still cannot convert automatically and instantly in my head.

But is 10 degrees cold?

Yesterday while we were driving home from grandma’s house, David asked about speed limits in the US and after the requisite “it’s different for each state” line that I have to say for everything concerning US laws, I immediately started rattling off numbers in miles per hour, which of course meant nothing to David. Unlike North American cars, mainland European cars have no use for an odometer which includes both miles and kilometers, so I had to use a conversion app on my iPod to give him the equivalents in kilometers per hour.

Makes driving to Canada much easier

So that got me thinking about other small changes that Americans who live or travel abroad have to get used to, because the US just has to be different from everyone else. Not only is it Celcius for temperature instead of Fahrenheit, or metric measurements instead of customary, but also:

  • writing the date in day/month/year format instead of month/day/year: personally I like the logical progression of smallest to largest, but at the same time, I like knowing the month first because that’s how calendars are designed
  • using the 24 hour clock instead of AM and PM: it seems like only the military uses the 24 hour clock in the US but everyone uses it in France, for public transportation, flights, opening hours, work or class schedules, television programming, etc.
  • chip-based cards with a PIN instead of the swipe & sign type: this is major headache for American tourists trying to use any machine in Europe without cash (or coins in France since few machines take bills*); barely any American banks or credit unions offer chip & PIN cards, though Travelex now does even if the exchange rate is not that great
  • 1 and 2 euro/pound/dollar coins instead of bills: even though the Government Accountability Office wants to switch over to at least the $1 coin, I don’t see it happening any time soon for the same reason excuse a change to chip & PIN cards won’t happen anytime soon – too many machines and cash registers to upgrade even though coins last longer than bills and chip & PIN cards are more secure than swipe & sign cards
  • manual cars instead of automatic: I never learned to drive a stick shift because my family didn’t own any by the time I was 15, and my driver’s training class would only teach us how to drive automatics. Learning to drive a manual transmission was a hassle where I’m from, just like trying to buy an inexpensive automatic car in France. Most rental companies in Europe don’t have many automatic cars, and if they do, they are usually those weird cars that can be driven as either automatic or manual but that don’t have much acceleration power, don’t shift into reserve when they’re supposed to, and roll back when stopped, like manual cars. (I have never had a good experience with renting automatic cars in Europe!)
  • inconvenient opening hours: there may be some 24 hours grocery stores in Paris, but most stores/pharmacies/post offices/hairdressers/museums where I live close for lunch between 12 and 2, close for the day by 7pm, and are definitely not open on Sundays. Banks are generally closed on Mondays. Library hours are completely sporadic. Drive-throughs for ATMs or mailboxes are extremely rare, though they are common for fast food restaurants. Even many restaurants close down between lunch and dinner so you cannot eat a late lunch after 2pm or early dinner – by French standards – before 7pm

On the other hand, there are many differences between the US and Europe (or more specifically, France) that are easier to get used to and come as pleasant surprises when compared to America, such as finding out that going to university doesn’t have to cost a small fortune (only 300€ per semester), health care is NOT reserved for the rich, extensive public transportation and train networks are quite convenient, separation of church and state actually exists, incoming calls are FREE on cellphones as well as many outgoing calls when it’s landline to landline (or any phone in the US/Canada), and you can’t just buy something because you want it even though you don’t have the money for it which prevents you from going into debt and losing your house.

For foreigners visiting the US, it almost seems like adjusting to these changes is easier because chip & PIN cards can be used as swipe & sign cards so there are no problems when trying to pay for something (except for those ridiculous minimum amounts that certain places require for debit or credit cards), automatic cars are easier to drive plus the cost of gas is much cheaper (compared to $9 a gallon in some parts of Europe), and stores that are open 24 hours a day and on Sundays are much more convenient for tourists who have limited time to see and do everything they want while on vacation.

So my fellow Americans, anything major that I missed? Canadian friends, which ones are the same up north? And for the non-North Americans, anything else that you have to get used to while in the US?

* Tip: In France, you can find change machines in major post offices and video arcades, which are usually connected to movie theaters, if you need/want coins instead of bills. You can always try asking for change in stores or tabacs, but don’t count on them to help you out. The train station in the town where I live won’t give change even if you just want to use the machines in the train station!

Bureaucracy in France: Frustrating for Foreigners and the French

Every year in March I have to renew my residency card in France. This involves collecting paperwork and a trip to the préfecture with David (since I am a resident of France thanks to the fact that we are PACSed) at least two months before the current carte de séjour expires. Every encounter with the préfecture has been an adventure since my arrival in France and sometimes I’m glad that David has to be with me to do it so he can see what l’administration française is like for foreigners.

Since this was a renouvellement and not a première demande, I didn’t need very many documents. My préfecture has still not updated their paperwork to include PACSé(e) as an option for situation de famille even though it is 12 years old and the list of documents isn’t very clear since they tend to group all carte de séjours together (étudiant, visiteur, vie privée, etc.), but this year I only provided the following papers in addition to four ID photos for my vie privée et familiale card:

  1. Copy of my carte de séjour, visa and passport (including pages of passport that have stamps – though they didn’t even check my actual passport to verify I had made copies of everything)
  2. Copy of David’s passport
  3. Proof of address (I gave them our last 3 rent receipts since our last EDF bill was dated May 2010)
  4. Proof of income (I gave them our last tax return)
  5. Proof of PACS (instead of livret de famille that is normally required for married couples; I got a new one from the TGI in Paris instead of using the original)
  6. Attestation de communauté de vie (provided by the préfecture; needs to be signed by both PACS partners)

My fingers are crossed that they don’t need anything else and that I can receive my carte de séjour – after paying 110€ for it, of course – which will be valid until May 2012.  After the préfecture, we headed to the town hall so David could renew his identity card. French citizens still get national ID cards though I’m not really sure why they are necessary if you also have a passport for travel and your driver’s license for ID. Anyway, he only needed to show his old ID card and proof of address then fill out one form and hand over two photos to order his free identity card, valid for another 10 years. But for once, renewing my carte de séjour was actually easier (and less annoying) than David trying to renew his ID card.

The woman working at the town hall was nice, but very insistent that David’s photos would not be accepted because of some mysterious dots that neither David nor I could see. There were five photos to choose from and she was really afraid that none of them would be good enough because of the invisible marks that she kept pointing to with her scissors. Then she explained that if she sent those photos (to Paris, of course), the file would probably be sent back, and that would take an extra month – not to mention require them to ::gasp:: call David to inform him. She made it sound like it would be so much work for them and that David should just go waste another 5€ on stupid photos right then. But David said no, send the photos and if it comes back, it comes back. The whole time I just sat there quietly trying not to laugh at this  lady who saw spots that weren’t there and the idea that the photos would be rejected even though they get scanned, turned into black and white, and have squiggly lines over them when the card is finally made, so even if the spots were there, how in the world would it matter?  Which is worse, a speck of dust in the background or a bunch of RF symbols covering your face?

Bureaucracy in France: Frustrating for Foreigners and the FrenchID card sample from

She also did not want to take the February rent receipt as proof of address and took the EDF bill, though it was nearly a year old. Most of the time when you need to prove where you live, an EDF bill that is less than 3 months old is requested. The problem is that most of the time EDF does not send you regular bills each month. Since we have the amount due deducted from our checking account each month, we only receive a list of the monthly installments once a year in the spring. The préfecture won’t accept anything from EDF if it’s less than 3 months old because you could have moved in the meantime (and this is also why you usually need to request recent proof of PACS since you could have gotten dePACSed in the meantime as well.) Yet the mairie accepted our EDF bill from May 2010 because the monthly installments were listed through May 2011. It didn’t matter that we could have moved anytime over the past year and still claim to live there – the fact that it was a document from EDF was all that mattered. I still don’t understand how an 8 month old EDF paper trumps a 1 day old rent receipt for proof of address…

Upon leaving the mairie, David started complaining about how ridiculous that was and I responded with: Welcome to my world. At least he only has to renew his ID card every 10 years. I just applied for my 8th residency card in 4.5 years, and David only had to be with me for about a quarter of the times that I’ve had to go to the préfecture and deal with fonctionnaires who didn’t know what they were doing. So thank you, France, for not discriminating against foreigners when it comes to bureaucracy. It’s nice to know that even French citizens have to go through the same frustrating experiences when dealing with French administration!