Life in France and Some Challenges

Written by admin on March 12, 2010 – 3:04 pm -

Many Bonjour Paris readers question if there’s a way to beat the French system. Well, oui et non. If you’re going to live here you need to acclimate yourself to the country’s customs, recognize there are cultural differences, and grin and bear it.

If you’re trying to get a Carte de séjour (a legally required resident’s card if you’re from a non-EU country and plan to stay in France more than six months a year), the rules say loud and clear (and in black and white) that you must apply for one before you leave your country of residence.

Some Americans have come to France, bought a house, even married a French spouse, only to be told they must return to the U.S. if they want to become legal. During the process, which can easily take six months, they’re not entitled to enter France. It goes without saying this can cause more than a fair bit of aggravation.

A freelance journalist, who’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times, was ousted from Paris and sat in the U.S. waiting and waiting for his papers to be stamped, sealed and delivered. He wasn’t asking for a work visa since he wouldn’t be working for French companies. The French government isn’t quick to hand out work permits to people who might take a job away from a French citizen and who can blame it?

Then system D comes into play. Another friend married a Frenchman, for love and not for papers, only to be told she had to leave the country and it didn’t matter whether or not her husband might miss her—much less his children whom she was helping to raise. This came as a shock since she’d inquired at the French Consulate in New York City and was told not to worry.

System D, which stands for débrouiller or disentangle, came into play. Perhaps it was due to her screaming and her husband’s persistence that the mayor of the town where they live intervened and she didn’t have to return to the States. One never quite knows exactly what takes place. This is why I advise people to seek the advice of a lawyer, who will cost money, but hopefully can save you more in time and aggravation.

Don’t get the idea the French aren’t frustrated by French red tape and stalling, even in domestic life. One taxi driver told me he no longer makes dates with his brother, because he’s consistently late and doesn’t bother to call or excuse himself when he arrives. His compromise is that if they’re going to see one another, his brother has to come to his apartment—and no, not for a meal. Claude said his wife was done with serving overdone food and had gone on strike. You can’t blame her.

When we had a home in Provence, dinner guests frequently turned up more than an hour late, which did nothing for my cuisine or my disposition. My late husband was far more forgiving than I, and ultimately assumed kitchen duties and hoped I would open the door.

Those dinners went on forever and more than a few times, I’d rudely say goodnight at 11:30 and excuse myself. When people say goodnight after two-plus hours in the U.S., I’m surprised. When I lived in Washington, D.C., invariably I ended up walking around the block for 15 minutes so not to arrive early.

In France, people don’t show up precisely on time because invariably the hostess won’t be dressed. As a result, when I’m in the U.S., I have to readapt to the on-time habit.

Another shocker in France: If you call an office and try to leave a message, forget it. You’re usually told to call back and when you do at the appointed hour, the phone line is invariably busy. During an appointment yesterday, I voiced how frustrated I was over not being able to leave a message and having no alternative but to put my phone on automatic redial. The recipient of this minor diatribe explained his office receives 600 phone messages per day and it would be impossible for the staff to field all of them.

Much to my amazement, my response was that if he didn’t want to hire more personnel, his phone system should have voice mail for individual employees. He replied he’d look into it since he found it frustrating when he was out of the office that he was unable to contact his staff by phone.

Go figure and take the good with the bad. If you live abroad or for that matter in the U.S., please register and post your frustrations. But I keep thinking that the French would do themselves a big favor by figuring out how to apply System D to all facets of their lives and, instead of tying everything in red tape, get to the point.


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