Tuesday, July 29, 2014

FATCA

The realities of being an American expat abroad really hit home yesterday when I looked over my newly arrived bank statement and read the important note it contained:


FATCA.  The dreaded "agreement" between pretty much every country in the world and the USA to force banks in other countries to share the information of any bank account belonging to an American citizen or resident in an effort to "prevent" tax evasion.  For those Americans abroad who somehow haven't heard about this law or its effects on the banking world, or for those who don't know much about it, I suggest you do a brief internet search for more information.  I would provide links here but I am in a hurry, sitting in a McDonalds shortly before closing because we lost internet in a storm on Friday and still haven't gotten it back.  It's been a true delight for someone working from home..

Anyway, back to FATCA.  I first really heard about and read up on this law last year and have been dreading its implementation and uncertain consequences ever since.  So far I've remained hopeful as La Banque Postale hadn't informed me that they were closing my bank account, and as I didn't hear anything for so long, I started to forget about FATCA.  Until I got my bank statement in the mail and saw the note informing me that American citizens would be required to provide information about their "situation" to the bank as a result of this overreaching law.  Sigh.  Still, I suppose I should be thankful I still have an account.  Now we just have to decide how to handle Lionel's situation...should he still be considered an American "person" because of the 10-year green card he had received?  Or would the US have cancelled his green card by now?  The dilemmas...I guess we will make a final decision if La Banque Postale contacts him regarding his American "personhood." 

Though I honestly have much much much more to say about FATCA, its impact and my thoughts and feelings on it, I unfortunately don't have the time.  Not to mention I will be on vacation all of next week in Italy with friends and certainly won't have any time to blog.  So, I leave you with this parting question...what are your thoughts/feelings on FATCA and have you been affected by it yet?  And maybe when I get back (assuming I have internet by then) I will do a follow up post on FATCA (and this is where I imagine all my readers will run away screaming in terror because isn't the world of international banking just oh so interesting).

Bonne vacances!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My thoughts on Canada

Though my friends and I were only in Ontario for a short time, and for a wedding nonetheless, leaving us with very little time to explore the area, we did walk away from the experience with a number of impressions stuck firmly in our minds.  With this post I don't intend to step on any international feet, offend anyone, judge an entire country based on a very short trip or otherwise feed stereotypes or risk insulting anyone.  I just want to share some over our overall observations and impressions from our short time in Canada, more for the sake of discussion and for memories than as a means to analyze and evaluate an entire country and it's people.

So, what were my overall thoughts and impressions after my trip?

1.  Canadians are SOOOOO nice.  It's just unbelievable really.  The stereotype about Canadians being extremely polite is definitely true, at least in my experience.  Laura, Delaware and I were just floored by how welcoming, open and kind everyone was.  They didn't even know us and were willing to bend over backwards to make us feel comfortable and at home...lending us their phones and GPS when we needed to find a supermarket, their homes for impromptu pool parties, running out to the store to pick up burgers, beer, etc, letting Delaware borrow some items he had forgotten, always checking to see if anyone else needed a drink or anything else, worrying about our experience with border control, making every effort to talk to us and make sure we were having a good time in their country.  The list just goes on and on.  It was amazing!  Canadians must be the nicest people on earth.  Makes me kind of ashamed to be American; we are not nearly as warm, welcoming and friendly as our neighbors up north.

2.  The border crossing was much easier than I expected.  Just goes to show you can't believe everything you hear.  I had no issues driving into Canada despite the fact that I couldn't even correctly answer the first question the border control officer asked me.  He asked where I lived and I said Ohio (because that was where I was coming from) then had to correct myself to France.  And rather than harass me because of it he just asked a few other questions (how long I was staying, why I was coming, what I was bringing with me) and let me go on my way.  Very simple and straightforward and the entire process, from getting into line to driving away only took about 5 minutes.  On the way back out we got a few more questions, but it was also very quick and painless (and I remembered where I lived that time).

3.  While Americans are known for being perhaps overly patriotic and displaying American flags nearly everywhere (and much of the rest of the world likes criticize us for this), I did notice quite a few Canadian flags (though nothing like in the US) like this one at the entrance to the supermarket:


Seems they might have a bit of patriotic pride as well!  Though not as overwhelmingly so as Americans.

4.  I love that everything is in French and English!  It is so much fun and I find myself, as an American, being somewhat jealous of that bilingual tradition.  It was just really cool to see street signs, labels, products, almost everything in both languages.

5.  Canadian roads are very nice to drive on and much more similar to the US than Europe.  I was much less stressed than I am driving in France, and after making it through Windsor I was able to just sit back and cruise along without a worry.  Everything is well indicated, the roads are in good condition, the drivers aren't crazy.  It was just nice.  Except the speed limit - 100 km/hour is far too slow for highway driving!  Especially for such a large country!

6.  Canada is more expensive than the US.  I was surprised by the cost for a number of different things.  Gas overall cost more (not surprising), but not nearly as much as in Europe, but various foods and drinks were more than I expected.

7.  Tim Horton's literally is everywhere!  Trying to get into the Canadian spirit, I stopped at one in Michigan for dinner before crossing the border, but as soon as you step foot into Canada you can't help but find a Tim Horton's.  And they really do love that place!  We ended up stopping at the Tim Horton's near Marybeth's for coffee before heading back to the US.  We just felt obligated to go at least once while we were there.

8.  All Dressed/AssaisonnĂ©es chips are incredible.  And that is what happens when you set three Americans loose in a Canadian grocery store.  They make discoveries.  Once we saw the bag we just had to buy them out of curiosity.  And they are very, very good and extremely dangerous.


9.  Everyone really does say "eh."  All the time.  It's kinda adorable.

10.  I like that the culture, while similar to that of the US, is still quite different in many ways.  I was afraid that everything would be like in the US and so was pleasantly surprised that there are quite a few differences, more than I expected.  It was just enough to make it quite clear that we were not in the US, while also not being overwhelming.

All in all my impressions were quite positive, as I expected them to be, and I hope to have the opportunity to return to Canada one day to do some more exploring and visit with friends.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Canada

I'm finally getting around to posting about my trip to Ontario for my friend's wedding while I was in the US.  Admittedly the only other time I have ever been to Canada was during two prior trips to Niagara Falls when I was much, much younger.  So I wasn't really sure what to expect.  Plus I was driving up from Cincinnati with no real knowledge of Canadian roads or rules, so I was a little nervous.  And I was even more nervous about the boarder crossing.  But it didn't matter because I was looking very forward to my friend, Marybeth's, wedding and to having the opportunity to catch up with some other friends as well.  We are all friends from back in our assistant days in Paris, and the last time we had all seen each other was at my friend, Laura's, wedding two years ago.  So I knew that, no matter how nervous I was about the trip up, the wedding and the entire weekend were going to be a blast.  And I was right!

I'm going to split my Canada trip into two posts so first, the wedding and the weekend with friends and then I'll do a second post about my impressions of Canada.  Since I was driving up on the Friday night from Cincinnati after a full day of work, I didn't end up arriving at the wedding location (where we were staying the night before the wedding as well) until about midnight.  The second I stepped out of the car I was almost knocked over by my assistant friends, Marybeth, Laura and Delaware (actually named Rob but we always call him Delaware).  And the fun began.  I FINALLY got to meet the groom and we all stayed up late with some of their close friends and the bridal party catching up, getting to know one another, goofing off, drinking and just having a good old Canadian time.

The following day was the wedding day and we helped with some of the setup and preparations and then just took it easy (i.e. drank with some of the others who were not in the wedding and therefore not needed for photos) until it was time for the ceremony.  They held the wedding at an outdoor recreation area in Paris, Ontario and the location was beautiful.  The spot where they had the ceremony was surrounded by trees and the sun was shining while they said their vows.  Overall a very nice ceremony, not too long but not overly short, and Marybeth's mother officiated.

 the ceremony

After the ceremony we had some free time before the cocktail hour and reception and they had a bunch of activities set up all over the grounds to keep their guests entertained.  Of course, we didn't really check any of those out, we just met up with a bunch of the people we had met the night before and continued with the drinking festivities! I swear, this group of friends really brings out the alcoholic in me.  Sometimes I think it might be a good thing we don't see each other very often.  At one point (I think it may have been the bride who originally brought it up, but then she took off) the idea of drinking games was introduced, and somehow we ended up playing flip cup and the mother of the bride even joined in.  Finally, after a few too many rounds of boys vs. girls flip cup (and the girls kicked butt!) it was time for the rest of the festivities to begin and we headed over to congratulate the happy couple, grab a drink and sign the guest list in the cabin where the bar was located before finding seats and snacks in the reception tent.  They had a slideshow set up with photos of their lives, including far too many embarrassing photos of us all and our adventures as assistants in Paris, which made for quite the laugh.  A delicious dinner of barbeque ribs was served (I would have been terrified to eat that in my wedding dress so props to Marybeth) and afterwards the dancing started.  And we danced a lot.  In fact, I danced the most I probably ever have in my life.  I was a veritable dancing queen!  Finally the formal reception started to die down, the dancing ended and most of the guests left.  Those of us who had booked a cabin at the wedding location, however, were treated to another surprise - midnight snacks and a late night campfire complete with smores!  We all stayed up chatting, drinking and being merry until the wee hours of the morning.  I think when Laura, Delaware and I finally tucked ourselves into bed in our little cabin the sun was starting to come up.  Overall it was very good times and one of the best weddings I've been to, country theme and all!

 Laura, Marybeth and I before the reception

 Delaware, Laura, Marybeth and I

 The first dance as a married couple!  I'm so glad I finally got to meet her husband...I've heard about him for years but he never made it out to visit Paris and he unfortunately had to miss Laura's wedding two years ago as well.

The following day we woke up in time for the buffet breakfast and mimosas, helped with some of the cleanup, then headed over to Marybeth's new mother-in-law's house for a relaxing day at her pool.  We hauled some of the left over food and booze with us and all just took it easy, enjoying the sun and warm weather while lounging around the pool all day with plenty of snacks and beer.  In the evening we grilled out hamburgers and watched some of the World Cup before heading back to Marybeth's house in Hamilton where we were staying for Sunday night.  Monday we had to head out and I dropped Laura and Delaware off at the Buffalo airport for their flight to Philadelphia on my way back down to Ohio.

All in all an incredible weekend and I'm so glad I was able to make it, even if Lionel couldn't (which ended up being sort of a blessing in disguise as Laura's husband and Delaware's fiancĂ©e couldn't come either so we were all without our other halves).  It was so great to catch up with my assistant friends and to see Marybeth get married.  Plus, who knows when we will all see each other next.  Probably for Delaware's wedding, whenever that might be (they have been engaged for 5 years and still haven't set a date), unless I can convince them to all come out to Bordeaux!