Archive for the 'Bureaucracy' Category

No More ‘Miss’ : Mademoiselle is Out

Yesterday a decree came from Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s office: “Mademoiselle” will be phased out of usage on all administrative documents from now on.

You probably already know: a man is always “Monsieur.” But a woman is either “Mademoiselle” or “Madame” based on marital status. The government and feminist groups have now successfully argued that this differentiation doesn’t make sense.

Is this the end of an era?

Continue reading ‘No More ‘Miss’ : Mademoiselle is Out’


Faux Pas Friday: Banking Bloopers

For the first year I was in France, I kept all my money in a sock.

This was well before the global economic crisis, so it was not a protest against untrustworthy banks.

BFF Socks

No, the clothing/cash method wasn’t my choice. It’s because no bank would let me open an account.

Now y’all must remember, I came to Paris on a bit of a whim with not much of a plan. I moved straight into someone else’s tiny studio so my name wasn’t on any official document that could have helped me at first: the lease or gas/electricity bills (proof of stable address), payslips or work contract (proof of income).

Even after my name was plastered on everything from the phone bill to EDF (electricity bill – the best proof of residence) and I had just gotten married, this still wasn’t enough. We went to J’s bank where he had been a client for 15 years and they refused my request.

This became one of those tricky catch-22’s so infamous in France. To get my first carte de sejour I needed a bank account. To open a bank account, I needed my carte de sejour.

Continue reading ‘Faux Pas Friday: Banking Bloopers’

10-Year Card!

Looks like Paris’ Prefecture de Police is getting a make-over. Not only physically (though, that, too – I love how even construction can be classy in this city. Scaffolding hidden by these large panels made to resemble the building).

No, even their messaging is getting a make-over. “At the public’s service.” Aw. Doesn’t that sound all nice and fuzzy? I am a member of the public! Thank you for being at my service!

Only thing is, I’m terrified of the prefecture. This is where you stand in long lines, wait in windowless rooms, clutch your dossier chock full of every official document known to man, fearing the person behind the desk will say non! c’est pas possible or c’est pas bon, both of which I have heard many times when it comes to bureaucracy.

BUT, for the second year in a row, I just had a great, easy time at the prefecture. The female security guard (never seen a female guard at the entrance before) smiled. The cashier, too (after relieving me of 110 euros). The person who handed me my new card laughed and joked, while going to town with the stamps (multiple stamps – always a good sign).

And, I. Well, I could have cried.

With joy! Friends, I just received my 10-YEAR CARD.

As in, expires 2021.

I stared at the date for a long time. Tears started welling up in my eyes.

I am thrilled the prefecture has become a shinier, happier place….but I can’t say I’ll miss going each year to renew. A full decade of residency is now mine. I am so thankful. So grateful.

Vive la France.

The Physics of Positivity (yes, even in Paris)

Yesterday I picked up my new carte de sejour. Ah, one more year of sweet legal residence is mine!

Drapeau Français / French Flag

I’m not sure what special juju I’ve got working for me, but Paris is just being so good to me right now.

The prefecture, for instance, has never been one of my favorite places. (It has, in fact, been the site of much pain).

But yesterday a smiling guard greeted me. Yes – smiling.

“You must smile, too, Madame. No smile, no pass,” he said in a jocular way that made my jaw drop. How wonderful to actually be instructed to smile in Paris! And in the Prefecture of Police no less.

Next I entered the courtyard. A massive construction site awaited. I couldn’t immediately see how to get around the barriers to my correct salle. A friendly construction worker came over of his own accord and pointed the way through the rubble. (I wasn’t wearing revealing clothing, in case anyone was wondering).

I picked up my card without a hitch.

I went to sit in this lovely little park next to Shakespeare & Co to bask in my good fortune

I’m not what you’d call New Agey, but I do believe that what you put out to the universe often comes back to you. It’s a matter of physics, too: energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed from one state into another.

Positive energy (at least in my interactions with Parisians) seems to be feeding on itself lately. I’m now receiving customer service. People smile back at me. I no longer receive (as many) reprimands for my fumbling foreigner ways. Same amount of energy, it just seems to have swung from negative to positive.

I don’t want to jinx this jovial run by talking about it too much, but I do have my theories.

When I first moved to Paris I was open and ready for adventure (who else buys a one-way ticket to a country where they don’t speak the language, has no job in sight, and moves in with someone they spent less than three weeks with? Yeah, me).

Ugh! Except don't look too close. This sculpture kind of scares me

I was soon disheartened, however. My smile was rebuffed, my loud laugh scorned, my efforts to speak French ridiculed. It wasn’t from lack of trying that the “positive thoughts” route didn’t seem to work. The confident, independent woman l had become in New York shriveled by the day.

So what changed? Somewhere in the past few months I’ve slipped into a full acceptance of where I am. While yes, before I was open to what was happening in Paris, I still held onto this yearning for New York. While yes, I was making every effort to build a life here – and I did, finding a “real” job, learning the language, even getting hitched! – I still wasn’t sure that this was really where I would stay.

And then, ’round about year three, it just sort of happened. Paris became home. I stopped constantly comparing the city to where I had come from. I didn’t take hurtful comments so much to heart. I put my sneakers back on, let loose my loud American laugh and stopped caring what people thought. Because this is who I am, and I live here, too, damn it.

I think the Parisians might have picked up on this. Somehow they know I’m no longer a temporary visitor, but someone who’s sticking around.

Of course, I’ve been on the expat rollercoaster long enough that I know this high might not last. But it serves as a nice reference point, and boy, will I hold onto these moments when I’m down.

It hardly felt like bureaucracy picking up my residency card yesterday, but we do still have another outstanding bureaucratic issue. The double taxation problem had finally seemed to reach resolution, but just this week it came roaring back into our lives. Jerome’s been dealing with this one (hey, I have enough paperwork to deal with, he’s in charge of the taxes for his own country!), but I almost felt tempted to step in. Maybe he just doesn’t have the same positive juju working for him right now.

But I decided against it. I mean, this juju probably has its limits. If there’s only so much energy in the world, there’s only so much to go around. No need to push my luck, right?

And then crowds of tourists came and disturbed the calm. I am so not a tourist anymore! Celebrate!

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Pre-Prefecture Panic (PPP Syndrome)

pretty, plentiful paperwork!

A fine if lazy Sunday until a case of serious PPP struck: Pre-Prefecture Panic.

There’s no reason to worry, I try to reason. You’ve already gone through this before.

Right, as if past success guarantees anything with French Bureaucracy.

You might remember that we’re having some troubles with FB regarding our taxes (still unresolved). So you’ll excuse me if sudden swells of anxiety overtake me as I prepare all of my papers for Tuesday. That’s the day my husband and I will march down to the Ile de la Cite and pray that they’ll see fit to renew my carte de sejour.

They probably will (do not jinx it! my brain shouts as I write that), but I’m sure you understand the feeling.

It doesn’t help that I’ve just finished reading an article in Le Monde – first-hand testimonials – of French citizens having trouble renewing their national identity card. That’s right. French citizens. Renewing. Their national identity card.

So they are French, they’re already in possession of a national identity card, and they just want to renew it. Should that be a problem? Apparently, yes. One young woman was told that her French passport did not prove her nationality because it could be a fake passport. Excuse me? she asked. The passport that I’ve been using for the past 7 years that this office issued? Yes, that one.

I’ve always thought proving the “continuity of our life together” was always a funny way to put one of the requirements for my carte de sejour. If they really wanted to see the continuity of our life together, we could whip out some vacation photos or better yet, invite them over to see the pile of dirty socks in the corner, the mixed bag of toiletry items in the bathroom, the loving disarray of two creative people living together.*

But no, ok, they want papers.

I should not be stressed about proving that we’re still married and living together (um, because we’re still married and living together), but of course, there’s always room for worry.

Like my current melt-down: oh no! Our printer is running out of ink, so all of our print-outs don’t look perfect.

Does that matter?


Our banking, electricity bills, and rent stubs – any and everything we can do online is done online. That means all of our ‘original’ documents – cannot overstate the significance of the ORIGINAL – are just print-outs. Can the authorities-that-be hold that against us? They can do anything they please. Which is why I want these documents to look PERFECT. Which they do not. Thus, search for color printer stat.

Melt-down 2: Our joint tax statement. GREAT proof. Except, doh, the way they fixed the incorrect address (again, see my past post), was to put a sticky over the incorrect address and write in the new one. Are you kidding? No, our official tax return has a little sticky note with our correct address handwritten on it. Will the prefecture believe that the sticky note and handwriting were executed by the hands of an actual fonctionnaire (it was!) ? Sure hope so.

I’ll stop there with the details (there are more!) as I’m sure you get the idea. If I’m slightly exaggerating my anxiety for entertainment purposes, I would draw your attention to the word ‘slightly.’

I’m sure everything will be fine (good old American optimism), but this yearly ritual never fails to bring out a little unnecessary stress. Wish us luck!

(*P.S. and unprompted by my husband – see I take responsibility – I should set the record straight. I am actually the messier one. Not really messy. Just a person who tends to choose reading over dishes, a coffee out over laundry. You know, someone who wants stories more than a neat house.)

Curses! The F-Word, The B-Word

For those of you who need help tempering your jealousy when you imagine the sweet life in Paris, I have two words for you: French Bureaucracy.

For those of you who already live here: you know what I mean.

I’ll admit that since getting my first carte de sejour (after jumping through several flaming and very high hoops), things quieted down for awhile. I’m married to a French man now, perhaps everything will be alright, I comforted myself late at night. The ordeal is over; calm your battered soul.

Proof that thoughts can be dangerous – how could I have been lulled into such a false sense of security? French bureaucracy will never be “over.” Accept it as a fact of life.

So the issue this time? Property taxes. Nope, don’t mind paying them for where I actually live. Yep, have a problem paying them for a place I don’t.

We were hit by a double whammy recently and the full web of problems keeps unfurling.

We received our taxe d’habitacion for the 11th where we live. Ok, fair enough. Except hmm, that’s funny, didn’t we always have a monthly transfer set up so we wouldn’t be hit all of a sudden with the full sum to pay? And is this normal that we’re paying 10 times what we paid at our old place? And hmm, that’s almost our correct address, but not quite. Isn’t the address we’re being taxed at actually a business…which might explain why we’re paying 10 TIMES MORE?

No matter, we can sort this out.

Except hmm, why have we also received a notice saying that we’re paying in the 19th…which we left in 2008? And why did the automatic transfer work there…where it needn’t have worked? Because um, WE DON’T LIVE THERE ANYMORE.

So we’ve already paid for the residence where we don’t live and the payment for the place we do live didn’t work?

That’s about it.

Go to the 11eme, who has by now added a 10% late penalty fee.

“Not our fault, it’s the 19ths,” they say. “And oh yeah, fill out these forms.”

OK, fill out some forms, go to the 19th.

Tax office in the 19th: “We don’t deal with these problems, you must go to the other office in the 19th.”

OK. Other tax office in the 19th: “You must prove that you no longer live in the 19th.”

OK. How about this contract and lease on our new apartment in the 11th?
-No, that doesn’t work.

OK, how about our insurance on the new apartment plus the fact that we canceled the insurance on the old apartment?

OK, how about the fact that EVERY SINGLE official document from the Social Security to the address on our payslips is the 11th?

OK, how about the fact that you HAVE our new address because you sent us this tax notice at the correct address?

So what exactly counts as proof to you?
-“The etat de lieux” (a piece of paper that says in what condition you left the old apartment).

Um, the non-official paper that our landlord didn’t give to us?

Ok, but isn’t this ton of proof that we live in the 11th count for something?
-No, you could still be living in the 19th.

Even though everything says we live in the 11th?
-Yes, you could live in both the 11th and the 19th.

Do you think most people – especially at our income level which you can see very well because you’re the friggin’ tax people– move to a new place to also live in an old place?
-No answer.

These are just a few of the conversations we’ve been having recently.

The first answer’s always no? Prove a negative? Present a paper that is not in your possession? Yes, this is the French Bureaucracy that I know!

Special thanks to hubby for doing all of the running around. I hunt down old papers, write letters, plan strategy, offer moral support. But I’ve had enough dealings with FB to know that my accent and my looks only make things worse.

We’re going to Seville tomorrow – our heads hurt, we need a break. Wish us luck with the FB upon our return. See you next week!

Still French?

Banal as it may sound, bureaucracy is truly one of the worst parts of living in France. I won’t bore you with my particular travails (plural), but suffice to say that the stereotype of a labyrinthine (and laborious) system is true.

So I couldn’t help but be tickled today when Yahoo France’s main story was titled, “Sarkozy, Still French?” Seems it gets dicey for even the president of the republic to swim in these administrative waters.

The French are all for their polemics (there’s a big one on right now about “national identity”), so part of this is simply political showmanship.

Still, it’s kind of telling how the story came about:

Jean-Luc Melanchon, head of the ‘Left Party’, (and formerly with the Socialists – yes, many more than two parties here!), went to renew his French ID card. Should be easy, right? He already has one. And he’s French. And he’s a freaking government minister.

Oh, chuckle. Tee-hee. Snort.

No, naïve ones. Of course it’s not that easy.

I like Jean-Luc, because he’s in a position of power – someone for whom it’s normally easy – and decided to go public and say, you know, this system is kind of loony. He was asked to “prove things that one cannot prove” he recounts of his ordeal. (One of my stories of proving things you cannot prove was providing a “certificate of celibacy” before my wedding. For real. Promise I’ll tell you about that later).

It got him to wondering, how does Nicolas Sarkozy, born to Hungarian immigrant parents prove this stuff? Sarkozy, with all the anti-immigrant legislation he’d like on the books, Jean-Luc contends, just might not make the cut as French himself.

So still French? Well, we’ve already established that I’m an etrangere, a foreigner, a stranger. So I can never be French (French in the way the French mean it, I guess).

I would like legal French citizenship one day, though – dual nationality is like my wet dream. I’m married to a French man, so it should be possible. Part of the admissions test, however, is proving that I’m assimilated, of “good character” and “loyal to French institutions.”

Ah yes, the vagaries. As good and loyal as I’d like to think of myself, I’d agree with Jean-Luc – sounds like a darn hard thing to prove.

Well, I have a few years to work on that. And I’m getting some pretty good practice in the meantime.

paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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