Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Le salon du chocolat

Two weekends ago I went with a few friends to the salon du chocolat in Paris, at the Porte de Versailles. I've been so busy I haven't had time to upload the photos to my computer, but I finally got a chance to do it today, so here are some photos of the salon. We tasted some really delicious chocolate, and also some things that were absolutely disgusting. It was fun and I managed to find some delicious cannolis to buy, but it would have been better if there hadn't been so many people. There was a huge crowd of obnoxious Parisians (of course, it was Saturday afternoon, and we should have known better), and so that made it a little less enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. The highlights of the day were tasting chocolate and going out for wine afterwards.

Jasmin and I out for wine after the salon.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

La Sécu - French bureaucracy at it's best!

I was originally planning to post about the Salon du Chocolat, but that will have till wait until this weekend since I am too lazy to upload the photos onto my computer. Instead I am going to discuss la sécu, or sécurité sociale, a shining example of the misery of French bureaucracy.
So, I once again went to the social security office yesterday to try to turn in all my papers and finally start the processing of getting my carte vitale (the card you need to be able to benefit from the wonderful French health care system). And yet again, I left shortly after, disappointed, angry, irritated and no closer to getting my papers turned in than I was before I came. Because, as usual, I needed yet another document that wasn't on my previous list.
But to fully understand my never-ending battle with la sécu we must go back a few years to when it all began.
September 2007. I had just finished my Masters and was heading off to France to spend a year teaching English and living with my boyfriend. I was also thrilled about the timing...I was just about to be dropped from my parents plan, and it was perfect because I was going to get to France and be able to benefit from their amazing system. Little did I know how miserable a process this would be. Upon arrival in France I learned that I would have to wait a while before I would be able to go in and get my official social security number, my social security rights and my carte vitale. Ok, fine, I was sure that wouldn't be a problem. Just had to wait to get my carte de sejour, which would take a while, but I would have to avoid any hospital emergencies until then. It didn't bother me too much.
February 2008. I finally got my carte de sejour and at the beginning of the month I planned to visit the social security office in the KB on one of my days off. I readied myself, meticulously reading and rereading the list of documents to present and making sure I had them all as well as an adequate number of photocopies, and any other document I could possible think of, just in case (one can NEVER be too careful with French administration). I went to the office, waited my turn and when my number was called, proudly walked up to the woman and explained why I was there. I began presenting all of my documents, and that is where the problem began. The list I had been sent was for Paris, not the KB, therefore my list of documents was slightly different. While I had almost everything I needed, she said I was missing one key element...my pay stub for October. I kindly explained that one the list it said I just needed 3 pay stubs, and I had indeed come with 3 pay stubs, I just couldn't find the one from November. Nope, she says. That list is for PARIS, this is the KB and you have to have the pay stubs from your first three months of work. Ok, fine. So I verify with her that if I go home, find this pay stub and come back with all these same documents and the October pay stub, then I will be good to go. Yes of course, she says. Ok, thank you and I will be back.
March 2008. Unfortunately right after my February trip I was on vacation for a few weeks, so I didn't make it back until March. After having turned my apartment upside down, I had finally found my October pay stub, so I returned to the social security office with all the papers that I had been told I needed (as long as every other paper I own, as usual). I went in feel confident. I waited my turn and when my number was called I walked over, excited to finally get this done. I explained why I was there and presented all my documents. And then to my surprise, the woman told me I was missing something. What? How was this possible? I was assured by the last lady that this was all I needed. No, I needed another document that unfortunately I did not have with me (I can't even remember what it was, that is how ridiculous it was). Fine I mumble, not at all okay with the situation. And so I verify, once again, that once I have that other paper, I would not need anything else. She promises me that this is the case. I leave, tail between my legs, mumbling about the stupid French system under my breath.
April 2008. I know, it took me another month, but I had a friend visiting. I go back, armed with all the necessary papers and everything else I own (including the kitchen sink). I wait my turn and wearily walk to the window when my number is called. I fearfully explain why I am there and hand over my papers. And then, those dreaded words came yet again telling me that I needed another document. What!?!?!?! I cry. This is not possible, I explain. I have been here multiple times and each time they assure me that this is all I need. But the evil French fonctionnaire just shakes her head no (without saying sorry) and says I need this form filled out by the school I work for before they can take my papers and process my file. She hands me the form and waits for me to gather my papers and leave. I ask her how long it will take once I turn in all my papers. 2-3 months she says. Well, I am about to leave France, my contract ends at the end of the month and I have no idea if I will be returning. She explains to me that it probably just isn't worth it then, unless I am sure I will be back. I organize my stuff and storm away, loudly cursing the entire time and I walk the entire 20 minutes home this way, extremely angry.
I finally decide not to return with the form and go through the hassle of hunting down the correct person at my school to have them fill it out. In retrospect, this was a bad decision, but at the time I had no set plans to stay in France and no reason to believe that continuing the torture would benefit me.
Fast forward. November 2008. I get married to a French man. Lots of paperwork. I'm here for good, I have to figure it all out.
March 2009. The carte de sejour stuff is finally finished and I finally have at least my recepisse for my carte de sejour. We can call the social security office and get me attached to Lionel's number until I find a job and everything. He calls. Oh, he had never changed his address when we moved to the KB. He has to do that before I can be attached. Should be simple right? In America we just give them our address over the phone, they type it into the computer system and you are done in 5 minutes or less. Unfortunately this is France. He has to prepare documents, make photocopies, find information, make requests and fill out forms. And then he can finally go to the office to have the address changed.
April 2009. We finally have time to go to the social security office without Lionel having to take a day off work. The lady tells us she must take the photocopies and that they must be processed internally before the address will be changed. We will get an attestation in the mail when this is all completed. It shouldn't be more than a few weeks. What!?!?!?! For a simple address change? Are you joking!?!?!?! At least she gave us the list of documents I needed to be attached. Fine, no choice, we have to live with it. So we wait, and wait, and wait. And yet no attestation.
June 2009. Lionel calls to see why we haven't received the attestation. Oh, they were changing the computer systems so it hasn't been processed yet. What? It will be done in the next 4-6 weeks. WHAT? Is this even possible? It is an ADDRESS CHANGE people. A few strokes on the keyboard and it is done!
August 2009. The attestation finally came over vacation. So we go into the social security office with the list of documents we were told to bring for me and the attestation. We explain why we are there. We also let it slip that I have a job now. Oh, you have a job? Have you done more than 60 hours in a month? No, not yet, but I will do far more than that in September. And then she explains that we shouldn't bother to attach me now because I will still have to apply for my own number in October. I should just wait and do it then. Fine. We decide to wait. She gives me the list of documents I will need and we leave, me cursing under my breath utterly dismayed at the fact that I am once again walking away from the social security office no closer to having what I need.
October 2009. I have my September pay stub and everything else on my list of documents to present. I have an afternoon off work (cancelled class). I have every other important and not so important document I own. I go to the social security office, feeling confident that this time it is going to work. There is no way it won't work. I go in, just barely making it before they close (half an hour early I might add). I thank the universe for my good fortune. I wait for my number and when it is called I explain why I am there. I hand over all my precious documents. The man takes one quick look at them and asks if I have filled out the declaration. What declaration? This one, and he hands me a form. I look at him puzzled, hardly believing this. But its a short form, perhaps I can just fill it out now. No. He tells me to fill it out at home, attach all the documents, and mail it in (what, I never even NEEDED to come here!?!?!?!). I ask him to verify that with this form and all the documents in front of him, I will be fine and will not need anything else. He assures me that this is the case. I leave in a state of complete shock that I have once again been rejected, turned away in need of yet another document that did not exist the last time I came. (How is that even possible...where do all these surprise documents come from!?!?! And why doesn't the previous person ever know about them?) I get home, look at the form, and it says I need other documents which were not on my list and which the guy had not mentioned. Including 3 pay stubs, rather than just one. Do they all need to be pay stubs with at least 60 hours on them because I won't have that until the end of November! So now I need to go back in and ask that precious question and I'm sure they will tell me about some other document as well! But if I have to wait until December to apply, and then it will take another 2-3 months to get the carte vitale I am going to go crazy on the idiots at the KB social security office! I can't even control my anger right now! I just want to know how they managed to find so many incompetent morons to work in one place! And how is it that I can't get a decent job in this country when I actually have a brain and these assholes are set for life with their fonctionnaire positions!!!!!!
And so the saga of social security shall continue...hopefully soon there will be better news (now I just need a conveniently cancelled lesson so I can go in to the office again and probably get rejected again). All I can say is the French health care system might be great, but you have to be able to get signed up first!!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What a week et c'est seulement mercredi!

It has been one rough week! After a relatively uneventful weekend spent with friends I should have known something would have to happen to spice up my life. And it sure did, Monday morning at 8:30! Monday mornings my 8:30 lesson is with a group of three women, one of whom is a complete bitch. Every week she treats me horribly, gives me nasty looks throughout the entire hour and a half lesson, lets me know she thinks I'm stupid, and so on. So, as usual I was dreading this lesson but dragging myself there because I had no choice. And I should have just dug myself a hole and buried myself in it; it would have been less painful! I arrive at the building 10 mins early and as usual go to the reception desk to get my visitors badge. The receptionist knows me well because she helps me every Monday morning when I struggle to get into contact with these students upon arrival so we can start the lesson. Well, this morning was no exception. She was unable to reach them, and we tried 5 different phone numbers. None of the students would answer, not at their desks, not in the room where we hold the lessons and not on the one cell number I have. After spending about 15 mins at the reception the receptionist finally said that she knows me now and I can go up if I want to see if someone is in the office to let me in (cause you have to have an employee badge to get into their offices, visitors badges only allow you access to the elevators, this is why we have to call them every week, so they can open the doors for me). I decided to go up, figuring I could always come back down if no one was around. I reached the 8th floor and didn't see anyone, so I waited at the doors for about 5 minutes. Finally, a man who works there walked by and saw me and opened the door for me. I asked him where I could find my three students and he told me they hadn't arrived yet, but that I could sit in the waiting area near the door. So I did, figuring they would be there soon. The man shut himself in his office, and that was that. After waiting for about 20 mins, I really started to wonder if they had cancelled and I didn't know about it, or what the problem was. Sometimes they are a few minutes late, but never half an hour! I finally see another man who works there and so I asked him. He volunteered to take me to them, and that's when I knew my day was going to be shit. He gets his badge and takes me into another locked room in the company's offices and leads me to a desk where 2 of the 3 work. We went to the room where we normally have class, and then they went and got the 3rd person. And it was all downhill from there.
I told them I was sorry and prepared to start the lesson. Then the really bitchy student just started yelling at me for being 30 mins late. So I explained the situation (basically yelling back, which was probably bad, but I couldn't contain my anger after all the shit she had put me through). Unfortunately, she didn't believe me, treated me like I was stupid because I didn't just ignore their colleague who said they weren't there (as well as the fact they didn't answer their phones which in the normal world means a person isn't there) and just wondered around the offices until I found them. Ummm...not my style I told her. So we battled about it for about 15 minutes, yelling the whole time while she basically said she thought I was lying about my arrival time and refusing to sign the paper for the day's lesson. She said it had already happened twice before and blah blah blah, it's just ridiculous and she thought I should do a whole extra lesson for them without getting paid to make up for the 3 lessons I showed up for half an hour late. And I nearly exploded. Out of the three times I have been late, only one of them was in any way my fault. And that was the first one and it's because I had the wrong address and so I went to the company's other office on the entire other side of La Defense and sat there for 15 minutes before the secretary and I realized I was at the wrong location. Fine, I had agreed to make up that half an hour. But not the other two. The second time I was late was similar to this third time, except I never even made it upstairs because the receptionist didn't know me yet. So we just spent 30 mins trying to call the students while I sat in the lobby bored and irritated. They finally answered at about 9:00 and so I was able to go upstairs. That is why I requested to have the phone number for the room as well as at least one cell phone number: to avoid having that problem again. Unfortunately for me, that didn't work.
After the lesson on Monday I immediately called my boss, before I had even left the building. She was freaking out because they had emailed her and said I didn't show up. I told her that no, I had been there since 8:20, waiting. My boss took my side, luckily, but it has been a battle this entire week. Non stop emails and frustration. I spent the rest of Monday pissed as hell, wishing I had just punched the lady in the face. When I got home I emailed a more detailed explanation to my boss and she is in the process of trying to figure out how to handle it. Luckily she believes me entirely. She even emailed me to tell me not to worry, she knows I'm telling the truth and she knew even before the lessons started that this lady was going to be miserable just because of the way she had been acting on the phone and through emails even before beginning classes. Now my boss is trying to confirm with other people so she can completely confirm my story so that she might be able to shut the crazy bitch up. She also offered to let them change professors if they so desired and I'm praying that they do. I don't care if they think they have won (though it kinda irks me that crazy woman will think she was right when she wasn't), I just don't ever want to see her face again and I can't even imagine the tension that will be in the room at the next lesson if I have to continue with them. Evil woman even lied and said that they were letting me leave the lessons early so that I could get to my next class, which isn't even true. I moved that class back 15 minutes so I would have no problem finishing with these people at 10 and then making it to the next lesson in their company's other offices. Evil! She thinks I should have to make up an hour and forty five minutes of class time when only 30 mins of it was my fault! If only I could smack her.....
So this has been occupying most of my week and every time I think about it I get really pissed again. I'm just glad my boss really believes me, I'm not going to lose my job and I might be rid of the bitch for good.
Well, nothing else really to update with. That was the biggest event so far in my week. Other than that it's been a normal week of teaching, running around Paris, and working on wedding stuff. Can't wait for the weekend though, it's the salon du chocolat!!!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nuit Blanche

Saturday night was Nuit Blanche here in Paris. Nuit Blanche is an all night arts festival that takes place once a year. You can walk all around the city and see outdoor and indoor art displays (films, statues, illusions, music, etc) all night long (it starts at 9:00pm and continues until 7:00am). This year I went out to explore with some friends and we had a great time and saw quite a few things. We started at 10pm and I didn't get home until 6:30 in the morning...I was exhausted the next day, but it was well worth it. We stuck to the Latin Quarter and the Chatelet-Les Halles area (we didn't have enough time to make it to the Marais). The only downsides were that they closed Notre Dame early so we didn't get to go in and see what they were doing and the line to get into the Mosque was so long we decided not to do it. For me the highlights were the giant disco ball at the Jardin de Luxembourg (despite the line to get in), seeing the inside of St. Severin, le Musee du Moyen Age (getting to see some of the museum, not the film) and relaxing in St. Eustache until 6am. It was a great night out!

display at Jardin de Luxembourg

inside St. Severin

film inside St. Eustache

disco ball at the Jardin de Luxembourg