Friday, January 27, 2012

B1 to be French

For those who are considering applying for French citizenship:

At the beginning of the month I stumbled upon this article (in French) discussing the changes in the language requirements for becoming a French citizen.  Apparently they have just changed the law and now candidates applying for French citizenship must demonstrate a B1 level of French, rather than the previous A1.  If they cannot demonstrate this new level, they will be required to take language classes until they obtain the level.  These can either be free class with government accredited "FLI" (français langue d'intégration) institutions, or, for those who want to reach the level faster, private lessons that the candidate must pay for.

Apparently, included in this new language requirement is the elimination of the traditional language interview to obtain citizenship.  Now the candidate will be required to supply proof that they have the appropriate level in the form of a diploma or an attestation de niveau from an institution recognized by the Minister of the Interior.

At the moment I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this change.  While I agree that it is important that a person who is trying to become French have a firm grasp of the language, I don't at all agree with the elimination of the language interview.  What happens to those people who have been living in France for years and learned French by being surrounded by it, and definitely have the B1 level or higher, but do not have a diploma to prove it?  Are they going to be forced to give up their time to attend unnecessary language classes?  And doesn't this cost an awful lot for the French government?  Or are taxes on immigration services going to increase even more as a result?

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cuisine française in the USA

The entire time I lived in France, I never really cooked any traditionally "French" food.  I cooked all the time but it was always American, Italian, Mexican or some kind of Asian.  I never really went searching for French recipes to try, and I never really took an interest in preparing French food.  Even though I love French food, it was something we rarely ate, not even in restaurants.

But now that we are in the US I am finally looking for and testing out some more traditional French recipes.  I guess it's a combination of that fact that in France it was more readily available so it didn't interest me as much (kind of like peanut butter...when I'm in France I eat tons of it, but in the US I rarely eat it) and the fact that now I want Lionel to get to enjoy foods from his culture so he feels more comfortable and at home.  And, of course, I'm also hoping to impress my friends and family with my impressive cooking skills and fancy French meals!

So here is a recipe I tried out last week and that turned out really well.  It's for a traditional French country-style daube and Lionel and I, as well as my parents, really enjoyed it.

I cut the amount of meat in half because there were only 4 of us eating, but I didn't change the amount of wine and it was just enough sauce, so if you really like sauce, like we do, then I recommend using more wine.  We also felt there weren't enough vegetables so I added a few more carrots and also some mushrooms and one chopped turnip.  I served it with homemade mashed potatoes and it was delicious and very similar to the daube that my belle mère served when we were staying chez les beaux parents in November.

Give it a try and enjoy!  And let me know if you have any great French recipes I can try out!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

La vie so far in America

Since arriving in the US life has been very busy.  And I also gotta say that the US has been scoring a lot of points against France!  So what have we accomplished so far?
  • I bought a car...a beautiful little 2012 Ford Fiesta 4-door sedan with manual transmission.  Exactly what I wanted - a nice, small, relatively inexpensive car that gets good gas mileage.  And we got car insurance...which was the only little headache we've encountered so far because they wanted Lionel's driving record from France, which has proven more complicated than expected.  But we should receive the translation sometime this week so the insurance company can have it on file.
This is what my beautiful new car looks like...I absolutely love it!
  • We got fancy smartphones.  Yes, we have entered the 21st century finally...a bigger change for me than for Lionel who never even really had a cell phone before!  Plus we found a great deal with T-mobile and were able to get unlimited international calls and texts on Lionel's line for only $15 extra per month!  So no need to have a house phone (once we finally have our own house).
  • We have both been working for my father...nothing fancy, just delivering pizza, but it's ideal because we mostly work at night which leaves our days open for the job search, and hopefully soon (fingers crossed), job interviews.  It also allows us to earn a little cash and not completely empty out our savings accounts.  Also, 1 point for the US that Lionel had the right to work the second he entered the US and didn't have to wait 4 months like I did in France!
  • We opened 2 bank accounts for Lionel...a savings and a checking at my little hometown bank.  And that's another point for the US because it only took us about 30 minutes to get his accounts open (and it would have been less if it hadn't been such a small bank that had never opened an account for a foreigner before, which is actually shocking considering all the Mexican immigrants who live in this area), compared to the 2 months that my best enemy, La Poste, in France took to open my bank account (which I talk about here, here and here).
  • We finally got our caution back from our apartment in France.  They waited the ENTIRE two months they have by French law to send it, but thankfully we got it and we don't have to fight with them about anything.
  • We FINALLY got our money transfered to the US.  Though, as usual, La Poste made me want to kill them.  We all know that they can't be bothered to do their job, but it's just getting ridiculous.  My father ended up calling us on our cruise ($8/minute phone call!) because my beau père had been contacted by La Poste a week and a half after we mailed in our request to have our money transfered to my small bank and they wanted to verify the amounts we wanted to transfer.  Really?  Really?  I couldn't believe it considering that on the form we actually had to write the amount to be transfered both in figures AND in words, so it was quite clear.  But I guess it was their way of delaying the transfer so they didn't have to hand over the money.  So thank you La Poste, because of the change in exchange rates from when we asked for the transfer to when you actually bothered to do it, we lost about $1,000 total.  And ended up with a very high internet bill on the cruise (75 cents a minute!), and a lot of extra unnecessary stress and headache.
  • We FINALLY got (I think, and now that I think about it, I actually have to verify this), our joint account at La Poste closed...of course that was not without it's own headaches, stress and naturally, La Poste-related stupidity.  And I really have to check on this because I'm not 100% sure it's actually closed, but if it is it finally happend about 5-6 weeks after our request and after they continued to transfer money from our personal (and empty) accounts into the joint account even though it was supposed to be closed and we had asked them to stop those automatic deposits!
  • Lionel got his US social security card.  When we arrived they told us we would receive it in the mail 2-3 weeks after arrival, but it came only 1.5 weeks later which was great.  And there was no hassle, we didn't have to do anything but check a box on one of his visa documents and voilà!  So definitely another million points for the US compared to the 3 years of fights, paperwork and visits to La Secu that I had to suffer in France to FINALLY get the social security number and carte vitale that I had been paying for in taxes the whole time (which I talk about here, here and here).
  • Lionel got his Ohio drivers license.  And it was so easy!  Our original plan had been to have him take the test and get it that way instead of handing over the precious, expensive and difficult to replace French permis to do the license exchange.  But when we went in they insisted he only had to do a quick eye exam and he would get the Ohio license automatically, for $22 like everyone else, and that they wouldn't take his French license.  So we said OK, and a few minutes later we were walking out of the BMV with his Ohio license and French permis in hand!  Lionel  was also shocked by how quick it was at the BMV and how you walk out with your new license the same fact they manage to make it in less than 5 minutes!  So another couple hundred points for the US for not taking his French permis, for being so fast and efficient, and for not fighting with him about, and at first refusing him, his right to a license without having to pass an exam (I talk about my less than satisfactory experience in France here and here).
example of an Ohio drivers license...don't ask me why they are pink now, that change while I was in France!
  • Lionel got his 10-year green card!!!!!!!  This one is really exciting because they told us it would take about 6 months - 1 year after his arrival for it to arrive (once again, magically and hassle free) in the mail, but he got it a month and a few days after we got here.  So once again a million points to the US because not only did it come so unexpectedly quickly, and conveniently by mail, but it's also good for 10 years unlike France which makes you suffer EVERY SINGLE YEAR for the first 3 years of marriage to get your "temporary" carte de séjour even though you are married to a French person.
sample green card...that's what they really look like!  I had never seen one until Lionel's arrived!
  • We got a membership at the YMCA, because we both want to get in shape!
  • We did the holidays and did them right, which was no small feat in my opinion considering we arrived in the US just a few short weeks before Christmas and yet we managed to pull off all our moving stuff and still do all our Christmas shopping!
  • We unpacked.  EVERYTHING.  12 suitcases.  And packed most of it into boxes to wait until we have our own place.
I have to say, while from time to time I still have doubts about the decision to move to the US, especially when I think about health insurance, vacation or the upcoming misery of living through the US presidential elections, when I look at this list I can't help but think that we never, ABSOLUTELY NEVER, could have accomplished all of this in so short an amount of time.  And thinking about how easy all of these administrative tasks were here in the US compared to the constant torture of French bureaucracy makes me wonder if moving back to a place that doesn't make you suffer for months just to open a bank account can really be that bad.

So I guess I still need some time to adjust to being in the US, and while I'm sure there will always be things about France I will miss and regret, for the moment at least I am quite happy to be in America!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The cruise and the arrival in the US

First of all, Happy New Year!

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, things have been busy here what with working 20-30 hours a week for my father and searching for a "real" job at the same time.  But I promise I'm going to make an effort to post more often.

So to start I wanted to finally post a few pictures from our cruise.  I definitely have to say that a cruise has to be the best way to travel between Europe and the US, especially if you only need to go one way since you can find such amazing prices and get a great vacation at the same time!

We absolutely loved the cruise.  It was very relaxing, we never had to deal with jet lag, we got to see some interesting places, we met a lot of really nice and interesting people and it was a great introduction to the US for Lionel since it is primarily English speakers on the cruise and mostly American style food.

As planned we left from Barcelona, about 30 minutes later than planned because of some extra cleaning they needed to do on the boat. 

the Grand Foyer on our boat

having a martini sampler in the Martini Ice Bar, it was pretty impressive he poured all six at once!

our boat

We went to Alicante which was nice, but my least favorite of the our stops, perhaps because it rained the whole day.  However we made an effort to explore as much as we could stand in the rain and managed to walk around the city some and go up to the hilltop fortress above the city.

Esplanada d'Espana

Alicante from the port

a little square in the old center of Alicante

Then we went to Malaga which was an absolutely beautiful city in the south of Spain and probably our favorite stop.  There was so much to do and see in that city including 2 amazing hilltop Moorish palaces overlooking the city, a beautiful cathedral and small, winding streets in the old center.

street in the old center of Malaga

cathedral of Malaga

view over Malaga

Lionel and I exploring Malaga

inside one of the two Moorish palaces

view over Malaga and the sea with the city's bullfighting ring in the bottom right corner

Next we were supposed to go to Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, but due to a national strike in Portugal that day, it was cancelled.  I was pretty bummed because Funchal was the city I wanted to see the most.  But oh well.  Instead we stopped in Gibraltar, and while I don't think it was as beautiful as Funchal would have been, and it was definitely overcrowded with two big cruise ships worth of people there that day, it was still interesting to see, and it was a nice little stop in the UK.  We had a lot of fun exploring the Rock of Gibraltar, though Lionel is afraid of heights and had a few moments of panic up there, and the town was actually pretty nice as well.  It was also interesting to be able to be in the UK and see Spain and Morocco all at the same time!

Casement's Square, the main square of Gibraltar with the Rock towering above

one of the famous apes of Gibraltar from a colony of small apes that inhabit the Rock

an ape on Lionel's just decided to jump on him!

view of part of the Rock, the sea, and Morocco in the background

another square in Gibraltar

Finally we went to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  It was just beautiful.  The city was very big but we did a little walking tour of the historic center then hopped a bus out to a nearby beach and village which was a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

the island of Tenerife, Canary Islands from the ship

the oldest church in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the largest city on the island of Tenerife

the market of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

a beautiful little beach only 20 minutes by bus from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

the beach and the hillside village of San Andres

the church of San Andres

After Tenerife we spent 8 days at sea with wonderful, hot weather just relaxing and enjoying life.  We participated in some of the cruise activities and spent some days just doing our own thing, playing basketball, reading, playing ping pong, exploring the boat, etc.  Probably our favorite cruise activity was the pirate party complete with pirate costume contest which I won and Lionel came in second.  Of course we were lucky because while most people only had their vacation wardrobes to work with, we had half our lives packed into suitcases so I was able to make us eye patches, hooks, entire pirate costumes and I even had an inflatable parrot with me! Unfortunately, I don't have any photos though.

I think the only problem with taking the cruise was our arrival in Fort Lauderdale.  Apparently we should have informed the cruise company and/or the Fort Lauderdale port that Lionel was arriving with an immigrant visa because the port was not equipped to deal with the necessary procedures to process someone arriving with an immigrant visa which caused us some headache the day of arrival.  In the end they had to put us in a search room so we could actually sit to wait until they could arrange transportation to take us to the Dept. of Homeland Security's port office at the entrance to the port where we then had to wait even longer because they had to drive to the Fort Lauderdale airport to go get a fingerprinting kit to be able to process Lionel.  They told us while we were waiting that they had never had someone arrive through the port with an immigrant visa before.  I was pretty surprised considering they had 7 huge cruise ships arrive that same morning alone carrying roughly 15,000 passengers, many of whom are foreigners, and they didn't even have an ink and paper fingerprinting kit at the port!  Makes you wonder about the security.  If you arrive by plane every foreigner has to be fingerprinted when they pass through passport control, but if they enter the US by boat they don't have to do anything at all?  Kinda strange in my opinion, but oh well.  It all worked out in the end and everyone was really nice about it, even letting us use their personal cell phones to call my friend Amy who was picking us up.  However, for anyone else who ever considers taking a cruise to move to the US with their foreign spouse, just make sure you contact your cruise line and/or port of arrival in advance to let them know you will be coming through with an immigrant visa so they can be prepared!

After we left the port, we headed north to Amy's house where we spent a relaxing few days enjoying the beautiful, warm weather and visiting Palm City, Stuart, Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale before finally heading up to the cold of Ohio.

Amy and Lionel on the beach in Stuart, Florida

Christmas lights on palm trees in Palm Beach!

the beach in Fort Lauderdale