Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Surprises in le jardin

It turns out our yard is teeming with delightful treats. We have so much fruit growing right now that I have no idea what I'm going to do with it all!


Red plums
Yellow plums
Figs that, once ripe, will be violet
I have a feeling I'm going to have to learn to make jam, and sooner rather than later otherwise there will be a lot of fruit going to waste.

Besides fruit we also have hazelnuts and tomatoes (the tomatoes being the only thing we actually planted ourselves).

I have no idea how we are going to eat all this!  So if you're in the Bordeaux area feel free to stop by and pick some fruit!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tales of renovation woes

I am going completely crazy with the renovations.  I’m beginning to think that I just don’t have the patience necessary to put up with long-term renovations.  When we first got here in May and realized the true extent of the work that needed to be done in this house, I felt overwhelmed.  Very, extremely overwhelmed in fact.  But at the same time I was ready to jump in head first and tackle the job, excited to see the results of our hard work.

I knew that we had months of work ahead of us but I figured I would feel better about the whole thing as we progressed and finished some of the most essential rooms (i.e. living/dining room, our bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom).  I thought we would work really hard to get those rooms done first as they were the most important and then afterwards we could tackle things like the entryway, the hallway, the stairwell, the water closet (because do you really need nice walls to take a shit?), the guest bedroom and my office (because I didn’t need the walls and baseboards to be painted in order to be able to work in there).  Boy was I wrong on how this would go.  And now, 2.5 months into the renovations, we literally still do not have a single room that is entirely completed.  And it is really starting to wear on me and stress me out.

The stairwell
The guest bedroom

The upstairs hallway

You see, I am very organized by nature.  I like to sit down, make a detailed plan, make a to-do list, and then follow it as closely as possible.  I like to have an idea of when something is going to happen, how it will happen and who is going to do it.  I don’t like to jump in head first without having a decent plan.  I also am very independent by nature and like to have control over my own life.  Suffice it to say that these renovations are far from organized (in fact, disorganized doesn’t even begin to describe this whole chaotic mess) and they have entirely stripped me of my independence and control.  I am less than happy with the whole situation but unfortunately there is very little I can say or do about it because, well, first of all, we don’t own the house and we don’t have the means or desire to buy this house right now.  Since this is my in-laws house (or at least it eventually will be once they sell another house they own and buy up the rest of the parts of this house from the family), they are in control.  They are the ones paying for the majority of the renovations because if we ever decided we didn’t want to live in Bordeaux or Lionel is unable to find a job here, it would still be their house and they would rent it out.  They are the ones who want to buy it because my father-in-law grew up in this house.  So they are the ones who have to put the money into fixing walls, building a kitchen, remodeling the bathroom, etc.  Which literally means that I have absolutely no control over anything that is happening in the house in which I am forced to live.  There are only two bright sides - they do not expect us to pay them any rent until the work is completed and my French renovation vocabulary has expanded ten-fold.

Now, seeing as I am going insane and can’t take it anymore, it would be easy to say that we should just go rent an apartment for a year until the work is completed.  Except that right now, there is no way anyone would rent us an apartment.  My company is still not set up and even then I question whether an auto-entrepreneur status is secure enough to get us a lease.  Not to mention the fact that Lionel doesn’t have a job yet.  So we are basically stuck in renovation hell with no plan and no end in sight.

But anyway, back to the renovations.  Now I don’t want it to sound like I don’t like my in-laws because that is far from the truth.  But they are driving me crazy right now.  My father-in-law absolutely refuses to sit down together and make a plan of action.  He just ignores everyone else’s advice or criticism and he won’t work as a team.  It’s his way or the highway and he wants to be the only one to do the work.  So, instead of having a well thought out course of action and all working together as a team to get this done as quickly as possible, he shows up every weekend and starts working on whatever he feels like working on that day with no rhyme or reason.  It really seems to depend on which way the wind is blowing at any given moment and he jumps from room to room doing a little bit here and a little bit there but never actually completing a single space.  He also won’t give anyone else any direction and sometimes tries to keep us from even being able to help out with anything (like when he takes all the tools we need home with him so we can’t do anything during the week).  Between all of that and the fact that half of what he does is just illogical and on a whim, I am pretty much ready to explode from the frustration of it all.

A few examples of the most annoying moments of the renovations:

  • The day he decided that he would rent a sander and sand down all of the hardwood floors in the house, stopping all other renovation work and making a ton of noise on a weekday when I was trying to work and call clients on the phone.  We hadn’t even been talking about redoing floors anytime soon and now all the floors are sanded, but not refinished.  We still have plaster to sand and painting to do which is all getting stuck on the sanded floors (because my father-in-law basically refuses to protect anything before working) meaning we will have to sand them again before they can be refinished.
  • The day he decided to paint the ceiling in the kitchen but not protect anything.  By the time we found out what he was up to all the appliances, dishes, silverware, table, fruits and veggies, etc were covered in paint splatter (because we currently don’t have any kitchen cabinets to store anything in so it’s just a mess anyway).  So when he finished we spent hours trying to scrub everything down and get the paint off the food and dishes.  Would have been much faster to just move everything out of the kitchen or cover it all in plastic.
  • The entire weekend (two eight-hour days, people) he spent sanding two exposed and painted pipes in the kitchen to the point that now all of the original copper is exposed.  Great, I knew we needed to sand the exposed pipes so that when we repaint them the paint sticks, but we didn’t need to sand through 3 layers of old paint, down to the copper.  It just needed to be roughed up a bit.  Not to mention the fact that we lost an entire weekend on two pipes.
  • The fact that he has spent at least three full weekends working on the walls in the tiny water closet.  Ok, yes, it needed to be done eventually, but I would much rather have a kitchen first.  And three full weekends on such a tiny space…
  • When I almost lost it a few weekends ago I decided that I needed a project to keep my mind off this disaster, so I decided to start filling holes, sanding walls and painting my office.  The walls were in pretty good shape, so getting them ready for paint wasn’t supposed to be a big issue and it was something I could easily manage on my own.  At least I wouldn’t have to just sit there and watch the renovation nightmare downstairs.  So I worked my butt off getting my office done as quickly as possible and then last weekend, when we went to the beach, my in-laws were going to take the heater down from the wall so we could paint behind it.  When we got back Sunday night I thought I would just have to throw some paint up in that small space and the everything but the baseboards and hardwood floors would be done.  Instead, my father-in-law decided to literally destroy all of my hard work, filling imaginary holes all over the room and making a mess of the walls that I had already painted.  So this week, I’ve spent all of my time after work sanding down his absolute disaster and repainting everything I had already painted.  And trust me, Lionel and I both agree it was better before his dad touched it.  One step forward, two giant leaps back.
Well, that’s just a few examples, and trust me there are many, many more.  Lionel has all but stopped working on the house because he is so frustrated with the lack of organization and logic and I’m slowly going insane and broke down in tears last night from the stress and frustration of it all. 

My office, right after I started working on it

 The water closet

I knew it was going to be a long process, but I really wish we could just sit down and all talk about it and make a plan for moving forward.  I would really, really like to focus on the kitchen and bathroom because I would love to be able to store my food in the kitchen rather than in the garage (I’ve already found spiders crawling on it and it’s just dirty!).  Not to mention the fact that I have boxes of kitchen stuff sitting on the floor in my bedroom because I have no where to unpack it all and I don’t want to keep it in rooms that we still have to do a lot of work in.  And I’ve missed all the good deals during the soldes for various kitchen appliances because I have no where to put it.

I would also love to be able to store all of my stuff in the bathroom, but at the moment there isn’t enough space because my in-laws have toiletries here and we don’t have any real bathroom furniture.  My in-laws don’t want to put any furniture in there until my father-in-law tiles the rest of the bathroom, all the way up to the ceiling.  Plus, I would really love to have a sink with a normal faucet rather than one faucet for hot water and one for cold water that never mix together.  But I guess for now warm water is just a dream!  A shower head that is high enough on the wall for Lionel and I to fit under would be delightful as well!  Not to mention somewhere to hang our towels…

The shower

 The bathroom

Another thing that just makes this hard is they keep getting my hopes up only to dash them.  A month ago we rushed over to Brico Depot as soon as I got off of work to go look at kitchens, decide what we wanted, and start pricing it.  My father-in-law was also talking about painting the kitchen that weekend.  We spent all of Friday night looking at kitchens, planning the layout and pricing the different elements.  So naturally, I thought that that weekend we would paint the kitchen and get it ready so that the following weekend we could pick up the elements and start installing.  But since then, over a month later, nothing has happened except sanding the pipes.  Not another word has even been spoken about finishing the kitchen.  

Same thing with the bathroom.  Two weeks ago I was dragged out of the house on a Saturday morning to rush over to Brico Depot so we could buy the new furniture and tiles for the walls and shower.  We ended up walking out of the store with two boxes of tiles, just enough to complete the shower (because the shower tiles are a different size than the rest of the tiles in the bathroom).  The store was out of the tiles we needed for the rest of the bathroom, but the store in Biganos, near my in-laws house, had plenty in stock.  So they were supposed to pick them up last week and bring them here to tile the bathroom last weekend.  I had my hopes up that if I didn’t have a kitchen, I would at least have the bathroom by now.  But no, nothing has been said about it since, no other tiles have been purchased, and the tiles for the shower are still sitting in their boxes in the garage.  I’m seriously considering watching a how-to video online and trying to tile myself.  I wonder how that would turn out.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a spoiled brat or anything.  I do understand that we are very luck to have a house to live in and that we don’t currently have to pay any rent.  We are also lucky that we don’t have to pay for all these renovations.  But I can’t help but feel like we would be much further along, especially with the essentials, if we had just made a plan first.  I desperately want to have a kitchen installed and I would happily pay for it (not a cuisine intégrée of course because I would want to be able to bring the cabinets with me if we ever moved) but my in-laws insist on putting in a cuisine intégrée, though they won’t actually just do it or give a timeline, so I guess I have to hope to have a kitchen before the end of 2013?  And it’s not like it’s going to be that expensive because we were going to buy the kitchen elements from Brico Depot and build and install it ourselves.  If it means I can have a kitchen next week I’ll happily pay for most of the elements they were planning to buy, I’m just not going to buy and install a four encastrable, des plaques encastrables et une lave-vaiselle encastrable because then I would never be able to take the elements to another place and I don’t want to spend all of that money when we have a perfectly good cuisinière and the lave-vaiselle can wait another few months.  Though who knows, in another few weeks I might just break down and go and buy all of it so I can have a kitchen already.

But anyway, in hopes of not sounding like a completely ungrateful little bitch, I think I’m going to stop there.  Plus this post is getting ridiculously long and ranty.  I desperately needed to get some of that off my chest, and since talking to my parents and friends about it hasn’t made me feel better, I was really hoping writing about it would.  Though clearly I was wrong because I can feel my blood pressure rising as I type and all of my frustrations are threatening to explode once again either into an angry fit of screaming or uncontrollable tears of stress.  At this point I just feel completely not in control, entirely dependent on others, extremely frustrated and just plain stuck, trapped.  But there is nothing for me to do but swallow my pride, keep my mouth shut, continue finding projects that I can do without any help and hope for the best.  One thing is for sure though, I never again in my life want to live through such extensive DIY renovations!

Monday, July 22, 2013

A short break

This past weekend we decided to take a break from all the renovations and headed off to spend a weekend at the beach.

We are very lucky in that my inlaws live in La Teste on the Bassin d'Arcachon so we took over their house for the weekend and just relaxed and enjoyed some sun, sand and sea.

On Saturday we went to one of my favorite beaches in the area, Le Petit Nice, and on Sunday we went to the Lac de Cazaux so we could take advantage of the shade provided by the trees that surround the lake since it was a whopping 36° Celsius (about 97 Fahrenheit).

It was a perfect, relaxing weekend and just what we needed to get away from some of the renovation stress!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Morning at the OFII

Monday morning I had my obligatory half-day of immigration stuff at the OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration).  While I’ve regaled my readers with delightful tales of immigration woe at the Préfecture (here, here and here, for example), I’ve never actually written about the OFII experience, primarily because last time I had to go was in 2009, after getting married and prior to starting my blog.

Anyway, the half-day at the OFII is the first step in the immigration process once you arrive as a “new” immigrant in France.  I received my convocation in the mail about two weeks ago, quickly gathered the few papers they asked for (as well as about 20 others they didn’t ask for, just in case) and purchased (online this time as France has finally entered the 21st century) my 241 euros of timbres fiscaux for a première demande de titre de séjourvie privée et familiale.  Though as a sidebar, why oh why do I have to keep being considered as a première demande (I know it’s because I’ve put myself in the miserable position of starting all over again, but still, it’s frustrating!).

So Monday morning, off I headed on my first trip on the Bordeaux tram system, into the center of town to go to my meeting at the OFII.  I arrived at 8:30am and naturally there was a long line of other new immigrants waiting on the sidewalk.  As soon as they opened the doors we all rushed inside and were greeted one by one and asked a few quick questions to get an idea of our level of French and our situation (Where/When/How did you learn French?  How long have you been in France? Why are you here? Etc.).  Then we were all brought into a room where they explained, in the most painfully slow French ever, all about the contrat d’accueil etd’intégration that we were expected to sign - what it entails, what formations we could possibly be prescribed, and what we would be doing that day.  Next we were forced to watch a film called Vivre ensemble en France about the contrat d’accueil et d’intégration as well as about French society, culture and values such as liberté, fraternité et égalité and laïcité.  

Last time I went to the OFII I didn’t have to sit through this talk or watch the film as I had been exempted from signing the contrat d’accueil et d’intégration because I had previously studied for one year at a French university.  But this time the OFII seemed to want to battle with me over my desire to be exempted.  More on this later though...

After the film we were each called separately to either do our interviews and sign the contract or to start different parts of the visite médicale.  I was called in first to see the nurse, who was rather unfriendly, and then I had my lung x-ray with a very nice technician.  We chatted for a few minutes afterwards and she told me she was from Paris but hated it there so she moved to Bordeaux.  She assured me that Lionel and I would love life in Bordeaux and that it was so much better than Paris.  Next I went to see the doctor, who was also pretty unfriendly, but at least she was fast.

After my visite médicale I was brought back out into the waiting room until the visa lady was ready to see me to officially validate my one-year visa by putting a vignette in my passport.  Unfortunately I had to inform her that they had spelled my name wrong on my paperwork, so I still don’t have my vignette.  She had to request a new one and she is going to call me when it is ready so I can come back in and pick it up (as if I just have so much free time to spend flitting all around Bordeaux to pick up vignettes because they couldn’t be bothered to double check their paperwork before finalizing it).  At least she was nice about it though and apologized for the mistake and the inconvenience.

Next was the real battle.  I was called in for my interview and to sign the contrat d’accueil et d’intégration.  Overall the man was nice, especially at the beginning, and we chatted a bit and I answered his questions about how long I had been in France, whether or not I had a job, where I learned French, etc, etc, etc.  Then he started to go into the information about the contract and the different formations that I could possibly be prescribed.  He decided that I didn’t need French lessons (no shit) and he decided that, since I was just waiting for the traitement de mon dossier d’auto-entrepreneur, that I wouldn’t need the half-day bilan de compétences professionnelles either (thankfully because that would have been pointless).  He also told me that, because I had already lived in France for, in total, 5 years of my life, I wouldn’t be forced to do the one-day formation about life in France designed to help you enroll your kids in school, find housing, look for work, learn about French traditions, etc.  Excellent.

However, he regretfully informed me that, despite the fact that I had previously lived in France, I would still have to sign the contract and participate in the obligatory one-day formation civique about French institutions, the government (for example, why France has a president) and state programs (like the Sécu).  This is where I kindly informed him that I saw no reason whatsoever why I should sign this contract and lose a day of work (and therefore pay) when I was already exempted from signing in 2009 and I had already lived long enough in France for the formation civique to be of no use to me.  I explained that I had done a year of studies at a French university and produced the justificatif  I had used previously to be exempted in the Val de Marne (i.e. my student ID).  I also showed him the attestation I had received from the university in order to get my student visa in 2005.  He said that this in fact proved nothing as I could have easily enrolled, gotten the student ID and then not taken any courses.  In order to prove that I had actually done a year of school in France I had to either produce a diploma (which I don’t have because it was an exchange for the first year of my Masters at an American university) or at the very least my grades from that year.

While I agreed with his overall point that a student ID doesn’t prove that you actually went to school, I still pointed out that fact that, regardless, the Val de Marne had considered this sufficient the last time and so I saw no reason why I should sign the contract this time around.  We argued a little more, and I believe I even called the entire thing incredibly stupid at one point, but finally he reluctantly said that I didn’t have to sign because he didn’t care one way or the other but that it would be my problem when I tried to renew my titre de séjour in one year and the Préfecture asked me to justify my non-signature du contrat d’accueil et d’intégration by showing them proof that I had indeed attended a French university.  He then snidely stated that I had clearly never renewed a titre de séjour in France before and that’s why I didn’t understand that I would have a problem when renewing and I would just be sent back to the OFII at that time to sign the contract.  I not so politely informed him that I had, in fact, renewed multiple titres de séjour before and that, oddly enough, the Préfecture had never once asked me to justify my non-signature, not to mention the fact that it is not even on the list of documents needed to renew.  I also pointed out that, should the problem actually arise, I would then have one of two options - either try a different fonctionnaire at the Préfecture who would not ask for any proof (and I would most certainly be able to find at least one) or just simply call the university in France and request a copy of my grades or some other proof that I had in fact studied for the entire year.  Either way, I seriously doubt that I will have any issues renewing next year and I don’t expect to hear anything about any of this ever again.  At this point he finally let me go and you could tell that we were both fuming a bit.  But whatever, I got what I wanted and I don’t have to lose a day for the formation civique!  And in France, it’s all about winning the small battles.

However, after this entire experience, there are two things I don’t understand.  First of all, why is it that the only way you can be exempted from signing this contract is by having done at least a year of university studies in France?  I personally think one would learn a lot more about France, the French system and the culture by actually living here for a few years than coming and doing one year of studies in a French university, especially if said studies were say, for example, a business or science program entirely taught in English.  I think they need to rethink their process a little because it doesn’t make any sense.  Not to mention, how much money is the government wasting on forcing people with one-year visas to go through all these state-funded formations which even include, for the one-day programs, a free lunch at a restaurant? Now, don’t get me wrong, I suppose I can see the purpose of some of these formations for a new immigrant here who has never spent any significant amount of time in France, but for someone who has already lived here for years, it just serves no purpose whatsoever and wastes money.  Though I still think this kind of civic education system for immigrants is more appropriate for someone requesting a ten-year card or citizenship rather than just a one-year visa.

The second thing I don’t understand is, why did I have to prepare all these documents, including, of course, a justificatif de domicile, if no one ever even asked to see them?  Not to mention the fact that no one ever asked for the document proving that I had purchased my timbres fiscaux online (the site didn’t ask for any ID information when purchasing which confused me because they tell you to have your passport ready but don’t ask for any information).  Guess that was a waste of money.  Maybe they were just so perturbés after the mistake with my name and my fight about the contract that they forgot to ask for all of my papers?

Phew, sorry that was so long and rant-y, but by now you know that French administration gets me worked up!  At least I survived it and came out winning the fight and getting the result that I wanted.  Now that that is done, Lionel and I are starting to work on my file for citizenship.  I have absolutely no intention of ever finding myself in a situation where I have to deal with this stupidity again (and I look forward to the day when I no longer have to go to the Bureau des Etrangers à la Préfecutre as well).  So I’m sure I’ll be posting more about the process of naturalization through marriage in the near future for anyone who might be interested.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Quatorze juillet

While we didn't really do anything special for the 14 juillet I did convince Lionel to go see the fireworks put on by our town on Saturday night (though he absolutely refused to stay for the bal populaire). They did a pretty decent job for a smaller suburb, synchronized to music and everything: 

a few pictures of some of the fireworks we saw on Saturday at a park in our town
Then on Sunday night we went into Bordeaux to see their much bigger and fancier display shot from a barge on La Garonne.

The Pont de Pierre and St. Michel as seen from La Bastide while waiting for the fireworks
Place de la Bourse from La Bastide
fireworks on La Garonne
fireworks and Place de la Bourse
the finale
 I hope everyone else enjoyed their 14 juillet as well!

Monday, July 8, 2013

La vie d'un petit chat français

Life sure is hard when you are cute and furry, as Rasteau has clearly demonstrated to us the past two days...

 Rasteau strolling along the ledge on the outside of the house above the first floor windows, trying to find a way out of his terrible pickle...

 you see, Rasteau managed to find a way to get on the roof, I'm not sure how...
 but we think he found a way to climb onto the neighbor's roof and then walked over to the roof of our garage where he desperately tried to find a way down...
 but he couldn't seem to figure out how to climb back down, so Lionel had to climb up and rescue a shaking and terrified furball from his unpleasant predicament.

Rasteau certainly has a propensity for getting himself in sticky situations.  There was the time when we were living in the KB and he got himself trapped in a neighbors' garden (they had 3-meter high walls surrounding the garden), and we didn't manage to find him until 5am at which point Lionel had to scale the walls to save him.  And another time, also in the KB, when he got trapped in another neighbors garden and we had to knock on their door at 10pm to have them open the gate so we could rescue the terrified little critter because he was too afraid to squeeze underneath their gate like all the other neighborhood cats.  And who could forget the time, shortly before we left the US, when he got himself stuck on the roof of my parents' shed while we had my entire family over for our going-away barbeque, and Lionel once again had to climb up and save his furry little life.  Sometimes I think the little guy just isn't made to be an outdoor cat...
Luckily today the weather was so hot that Rasteau didn't really feel motivated to go outside and get into trouble, and instead spent his time trying to find a cool place and position for a nap.  Here he is spread out on the floor of our bedroom (please ignore our ugly rug, I haven't had a chance to go shopping for another one yet) desperately trying to keep cool while silently blaming us for the warm weather.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Adventures in administration, la suite…

Because when you are dealing with French administration there is always a suite.

Disclaimer:  This is going to be another long, horrible rant against French bureaucracy, displaying far less control than my last post.  Read on with care.*

So after speaking to someone with URSSAF on the phone on Tuesday who guaranteed me that everything was fine with my file and told me that I should have my SIRET in about two weeks (and I know she looked up my file because she was able to give me information from it that I hadn’t told her), imagine my surprise when on Wednesday morning I found a letter in the mail from URSSAF.  I secretly hoped that it would be my SIRET, or at the very least a document assuring me that they had received my file and they were working on it, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it would in fact be bad news.  And boy was I right.

URSSAF had decided that the activity that I declared, what I was specifically told to write by the second conseillère after she herself had spoken to URSSAF, was not an activity according to l’INSEE.  So I needed to contact them by email to provide more information on my activity, and preferably the INSEE code for my activity.  Back to square one.  Not to mention, instead of writing this letter on June 28, posting it on July 1, and having it arrive in my mailbox on July 3, complete with a hand-written note informing me that I could provide them the information by email, why didn’t they just  A.) pick up the phone and call the number I had provided in my file or  B.) send me an email at the email address in my file on June 28, which would have made the entire thing go faster.

But anyway, I’m past that conundrum.  Since I didn’t see the letter until yesterday evening, I emailed them first thing this morning, telling them exactly what I have told all of the other people I have spoken to.  I provided a detailed list of all the different activities I perform, in order of importance, starting with customer service (which is apparently just not an activity according to INSEE), and I asked them for their advice in determining exactly what activity I should declare seeing as I had no idea, and apparently no one I’ve spoken to, with any organization including URSSAF, can really tell me.

Surprisingly I got a response back this morning giving me three different options of activities that might apply to my case (none of which have anything to do with what I really do which is primarily bilingual customer service).  One of the options was an activité commerciale, one was an activité artisanale and one was an activité liberale.  Of course, being three entirely different groups of activities, they each have slightly different formalities that are needed (artisanale being the worst) and different tax rates for your cotisations sociales.  Naturally, I was tempted to pick the cheapest (liberale), but as I really didn’t think it fit my case, I felt guilty doing that and feared that somehow that would just cause me more problems down the road.  The commerciale choice scared me for potential legal reasons, so I resigned myself to artisanale and the additional paperwork necessary.  Though, as a sidebar, can I just ask how bilingual customer service by phone and email, billing, bilingual mailings, financial documents and transactions, translation/interpretation, preparing reports, filing, collections and various other business and administrative tasks can possibly fit into activité artisanale which is normally for bakers, pastry chefs, plumbers, electricians, designers, etc!?!?! But, apparently, according to the dreaded website, it does.  The logic seems to escape me though.

Pour faire fructifier votre talent (to grow your talent), what a lie...more like to kill your talent!  Not to mention that the little auto-entrepreneur guy looks like a...

So, once I had settled on the dreaded activité artisanale I looked back at the email which instructed me to redo my déclaration en ligne and instead of sending it in online, to save it and email it to the person with URSSAF along with my ID, which would save me time in the processing of my file.  Wait, what!?!?! I have to REDO my déclaration!?!  Because you can’t just take all the information off of my original form and enter it into your system and then put in the correct activity?  Not to mention, what have you done with the photocopies of my ID that I sent in with my file?  I resigned myself to having to fill out the form again, and, hoping that maybe they had since updated their site, that maybe I would be able to get past the part where I was getting stuck with my titre de séjour information.  Well, as it turns out I never even got that far because, now that I’m declaring an activité artisanale the website automatically redirected me to the website of the CFE, (of course, because I originally sent my déclaration to the CFE who decided it wasn’t their problem and sent it on to URSSAF) to fill out the form on their website which automatically included the other formalities necessary for an activité artisanale (which is l’immatriculation au Répertoire des Métiers).** 

I filled everything out and saved it rather than sending it in, then emailed it back to the person at URSSAF who quickly responded saying that he couldn’t process it, and that, in order for URSSAF to process my file I had to fill out the online form on, validate it at the end and send it to him with the appropriate numbers.  Ummmm….ok, except that your website automatically redirected me to the other website to fill out the form.  And what does it matter.  It’s all the same damn information anyway!  Not to mention that, even if your website didn’t redirect me, it won’t let me get past the box for my titre de séjour information!  So I emailed him back asking if I should print out the same damn one-page paper form, fill it out by hand, scan it, and email it to him or if I should just send in the other form to the CFE on their website. No response yet. 

My fear with sending it in to the CFE is that I will start all over again with a one month wait for my SIRET, and at some point my company in the US is going to start to get really angry that this is taking so long and I don’t want to lose my job because these stupid organizations can’t figure their shit out and don’t even know how their own damn websites work.  If I send it by email to this guy with URSSAF, maybe, just maybe, since he said it would speed the whole process up, I won’t lose any more time and I will still be able to get my SIRET in about two more weeks (I know, wishful thinking Michele).

So, I’m back to square one and as far as I can figure they just threw my other déclaration away or something stupid which means that at this point I have no déclaration being processed anywhere and I’m no closer to goal than I was when I started a month and a half ago!  Ugh!!!  This country can be soooo incredibly frustrating sometimes!  It makes me wonder why I even bother to do anything legally here…I mean I could just travailler au black and make more money that way AND not have to put up with this hassle!

*I apologize for the anger and frustration displayed in this post.  I currently have no one to vent to as I have no friends in Bordeaux, Lionel just does the Gallic shrug and tells me to deal with it and all of my friends in the US are busy (it is the 4th of July after all) or don’t understand.  I had to take my frustration out somewhere, and since this is MY blog, I figured I have every right to do it here, so I am sorry if any of you, my dear readers, are offended.

**It actually gets much more confusing and complicated than this because some sites say that an activité artisanale has to pay one amount in cotisations sociales and other sites give a different amount for this group so at this point I have no idea how much I will have to pay.  Also, some sites say I have to do l'immatriculation au répertoire des métiers for my particular activité artisanale while others say that I don't.  Not to mention that some sites say that for ANY activité artisanale they will have to verify your qualifications (i.e. diplomas in the relevant field or at least three years experience working in the relevant field, at which point I guess I'm screwed because I don't have a stupid BTS assistante administrative or any other diploma for my "field" and I also don't have three years experience in this "field").  So I have to admit that at this point I am lost, confused, angry, frustrated and fucking pissed and all I want to do is throw my hands up in the air, drink a bottle or two of wine and then go punch a few idiots in the face.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Adventures in administration

This morning I was thinking it was about time for a new post on my blog but I couldn’t decide exactly what I wanted to post about.  Plenty of possibilities came to mind – the progress of the renovations, our car, random pictures of Rasteau being cute (because who doesn’t love pictures of cute furry little animals), another post related to our trip to Angers, etc, etc, etc.  But I just couldn’t make up my mind.

But then, as always here in France, inspiration struck in the form of French bureaucracy.  And we all know how much I love French bureaucracy (and if you don’t, I’ve posted about my experiences with French administration a million times on this blog…far too many to keep track of or even link to at this point)!  In fact, probably my second favorite thing about being in the US (after friends and family of course) was being free from the bureaucratic nightmare that is French administration.

Well today I’ve had yet another run in with the extremely pleasant and delightful French bureaucratic system.  You see, since I arrived in mid-May, I’ve been struggling to declare myself as an auto-entrepreneur and set up my own micro-entreprise so that I can continue to work for my American company from France. Everything I had read about the process made it seem very simple, and dare I say, efficient. According to the website all I had to do was declare my activities online and it would be done.  I would receive my SIRET for my company in the mail shortly after (according to the two different conseillères I spoke to this would take 2-5 days).  Et voilà.  Easy right?

Well, naturally, knowing what I know about France, I seriously doubted it could ever be THAT easy.  I figured there would be one or two more hoops to jump through and a few more papers to provide than what was indicated.  But still, I told myself, they can’t make it that hard, right?  Isn’t it good for France to have companies being created, even if they are small ones?  And isn’t it better to have someone with a job as an entrepreneur than have them unemployed and adding to that already extremely high unemployment rate?

No, clearly to France it just doesn’t matter.  Why would they care if someone is legally set up to work, pay taxes, contribute meaningfully to society in any respectable amount of time?  And, of course, this is France, so clearly it is NEVER as easy as it sounds like it is going to be.  I lost my first week to trying to do it all myself.  Big mistake.  At the end of that week I admitted defeat and called up a conseillère at the Maisonde l’Emploi de Bordeaux who said she could assist me and answer any questions I might have.  But she wasn’t available until a week later, so there went another week.  I left my meeting with her feeling more confident, but not entirely sure that I had all the information I needed.  As she suggested, I called up a few organizations to get my final questions answered, and after paying 11 centimes a minute to speak to an extremely rude bitch with URSSAF, I ended up with just more questions.  What do they mean that my prinicipal activity isn’t actually an activity?  I’m pretty sure millions of people around the world do this activity as their job every day…but fine.  I decided to get a second opinion and called up the conseillère at my mairie whose job is to assist people creating companies.  She was able to squeeze me in just before lunch the following Friday, so another week lost.  But she was very nice and went out of her way to try to assist me going so far as to call URSSAF to help me get an answer to what “box” my activity fits in (the problem being that I actually do too many different kinds of activities for my job) and trying, unsuccessfully, to call la Préfecture to get answer to some questions we had pertaining to my visa/carte de séjour stuff.  Naturally, however, the Préfecture in Bordeaux no longer provides telephone assistance, but they don’t tell you that until you’ve gone through all the prompts to get to the service you want.  Since we still weren’t entirely sure what “box” my activity fit in, she finally just told me what she thought I should write when doing my déclaration, something nice and vague; to make them figure it out later.

I left this meeting feeling confident that I would finally be able to declare my activities and get the ball rolling on getting my company set up, so I headed home to get on the internet.  And that’s where I encountered the next problem, the stupid website wouldn’t let me get past the section where you enter your titre de séjour information.  It kept saying that it recognized that it had been issued in a different country and asking me to put the country in, but it wouldn’t accept it or give me another space to enter the country.  I tried everything and it wouldn’t work, so I just got really angry and gave up.  I ended up having to print out the form, fill it out by hand, and mail it in.  But of course the paper version and what I had seen of the internet version didn’t ask for all the same information and the paper version was only one short, poorly laid out page.  I ended up having to leave a few spots blank because Lionel and I couldn’t figure out what they could possibly be asking.  Anyway, I mailed it into the CFE de Bordeaux, as the conseillère at the mairie told me to do because we both agreed after speaking to URSSAF that my activities at least fit into the general box of “activités commerciales.  Well, then imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox the following week and saw a letter from the CFE telling me that my activities are not in fact commerciales, and therefore not their problem.  They kindly informed me that they forwarded my file on to URSSAF to be handled by them.  That was June 18.

Today, as I have every day since June 18, I checked the mailbox hoping against hope that I would have a letter from URSSAF, or better yet my SIRET.  However, rather than getting what I hoped for, I got a letter from the OFII (French immigration office) telling me to present myself at 8:30am on July 15 for my medical visit and "welcome meeting" in order to “validate” my titre de séjour temporaire which is my visa for the first year.  It also explained all the documents I need to bring and what different encounters I would have during my half day of immigration hell.  I knew I would have to do another medical visit, and I knew they would want me to sign a contrat d’accueil et d’intégration which also involves 2 days of seminars on life in France and civil education.  I also knew from previous experience in the Val de Marne that I could get out of signing the contract and the 2 days of seminars by showing that I had studied for at least one year at a French university.  So that was fine.  However, I was shocked that they now also require you, as a “new” immigrant,” to participate in a half day bilan de compétences professionnelles (basically a half day meeting to “help” you plan your professional life and prepare you to enter the job market).  Of course, for those that already have jobs, they can get out of this by showing proof of employment, i.e. job contract, paystubs. Great, except the only way to prove my employment is to have my company get set up and to officially have le statut auto-entrepreneur.

So I resigned myself to having to call URSSAF today to get an update on the status of my file.  And what do I find out?  That yes, they have received my file but no, it is not 2-5 days to get your SIRET, it takes them about a month to process your file and get you your number.  So I should expect to wait about another two weeks.  And no, there is nothing they can give me to provide to the OFII to prove that I have a file being processed.  So now, if I don’t get lucky enough to get my SIRET before July 15 I am going to have to fight with French immigration to avoid losing a half day of pay for a bilan de compétences professionnelles that serves me absolutely no purpose because I already have a job!

Not to mention how angry I am at URSSAF.  A month to process a one-page form!?!?!  And for people who are setting up their own micro-entreprise and who might just need that SIRET as soon as possible in order to be able to set themselves up and work and get paid!?!  Wouldn’t it be better to have the process go a little faster so that people don’t risk losing money or even losing the possibility of having work?  Isn’t the creation of any kind of company good for France?  Wouldn’t they want to smooth the process out a bit and speed it up?  Isn’t it better to have someone working as soon as possible rather than not?  There are some things that I guess I will just never understand in France.  But this whole process hasn’t been very encouraging and I’m really starting to get angry.  Why can’t anything ever just be easy here!?

So there you have it, things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows here at Michele’s Life en Franglais and even though I wasn’t happy living in the US, this kind of administrative crap here in France just reminds me why I was willing to leave in the first place!

There has, however, been some sunshine in Bordeaux recently, leading to this beautiful sunset:

And we've even had some rainbows too (unfortunately it was too big to get the whole thing in one shot):