Monday, January 14, 2013

it's official: I can stay!

This news dates back a week and a bit. At the beginning of this year, I received a letter inviting me to pick up my 10-year residency card at the prefecture in Auxerre. While I was still on holidays I decided to drive the 50 km into town to pick it up. The office hours are from 1:30-4:00 pm (so very practical!) and so I got there around 3:15, thinking that I had plenty of time. They told me that they were no longer giving out numbers because there were too many people. I wasn't the only one wanting a number, so I thought I'd bring out my inner French complainer and told them that I was just there to pick up a card (how long could it take?) and that I had driven 50 km just for this card - plus they were supposed to be open until 4pm... Luckily for me and the other two guys also hoping to get in line, a worker came back and said that the numbers could be given out again. I waited my turn, signed a form, handed over my fiscal stamps (162€) and I got this puppy which is good until October 2022.
Oh, and are you curious what fiscal stamps look like? Here they are!
The steps to finally getting this card started on August 6th of last year. I filled out a request for a new titre de séjour and had to address a letter to the prefecture stating that I wanted to apply for a 10-year card this time (I finally had the right to do so after three years of marriage). In October I received a letter, giving me a date and time in late November that Jean-Marc and I were to come to the prefecture together. I thought they may have wanted to interview us both to make sure we're really married, but all they needed the two of us for was to sign a paper saying that we live together. After that I had a private interview with a fellow, while Jean-Marc had to wait outside.

The guy asked me about my education, work, associations I belong to (I had to scramble for that one!) and he duly noted down all the answers. I then was given a paper with two sections that I had to sign: one that said that I'm not currently living in polygamy and another saying that I will not live in polygamy in the future. He then told me I'd have a written test to see if I was integrating into French culture. Here's a sampling of the questions along with my answers.

1. name two specialties of French cuisine (mains dishes or desserts)
- boeuf bourguignon and crème brûlée (we do live in Burgundy, after all!)

2. name a French singer
- Johnny Hallyday (I stayed with a safe choice)

3. name a French athlete (help, I don't watch sports!)
- Zidane (he was the only one I could think of, and I'm not even sure he's 100% French!)

4. where is it illegal to drink? (I had to think about this one - it seems you can drink anywhere!)
- while driving

5. what's the speed limit on routes (I had to ask if it was outside city limits)
- 90 km/h

6. what's the river running through Auxerre (luckily Jean-Marc is interested in rivers!)
- l'Yonne

7. name a person who has influenced the history of France
- Napoleon (which one, Jean-Marc later asked! Erm... )

8. how is the president of the republic elected (huh? By election? No, that's too simple)
- the answer is 'suffrage universelle' but I wrote election/vote. I had honestly never heard that term before, or if I had at one point I never clued in!

9. do men and women have the same rights in France?
- yes! (although it's kind of hard to get your maiden name to stick)

I can't remember the other questions, but you get the picture. I figure I got 19/20, with my only slip being that election question. I'm just glad they didn't ask me the words to the Marseillaise! Although I think that might be coming next year when I ask for my French nationality and passport (something I'm planning on doing, just to make things less complicated and less expensive - but I'm still keepin my Canadian passport, don't worry).

I had better start studying!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

11 - 12 - 13

You knew there couldn't be just 10 things, right?

11. white tile
The French love themselves some white tile! Kitchen and bathroom, sure, I get it, but once you start taking it into the living room, dining room and the bedrooms, I start to get cold. I heard from my old ESL students that they thought it made for less dust and dirt, which is true if you sweep and mop your floor everyday, but who does that? What's wrong with a hardwood floor? At least it's warmer under foot! Or a good quality carpet? Sure the dirt may stick around a bit longer, but studies have shown that there are fewer dust particles floating around because they get "stuck" in the carpet. Plus it's cosy for the feet, so that seems like a win-win situation to me! Our old apartment in Savennières had off-white tile absolutely everywhere and we constantly had cold feet, even with multiple pairs of socks and slippers. In Vézelay, our house has vintage coloured concrete tiles (in a plaid pattern) on the main floor, but then we are lucky enough to have oak floors on the other levels.

12. speaking at the same time
French talk shows are funny. They prefer round-table discussions to one-on-one interviews (à la Letterman, Leno, Fallon etc.) so quite often they will have 5 to 10 invited guests at one time and then they like to talk at the same time. This way nobody can hear what anybody is saying and it gets very exciting. Oh yeah, and the audience is on camera all the time in the background behind the guests. There's this one late-night Saturday show (not SNL, unfortunately!) where there are around 7 - 10 invited guests and they all take turns sitting in the hot seat, where they may be ridiculed or told how stupid their book (CD, film, play, political career) was by the resident peanut gallery (two critics), while all the other guests watch in horror and/or participate in the lambasting of the guest. This is done in all seriousness. And - you guessed it - the show lasts 3 hours! This talking over one another is also noticeable in day-to-day life. Ok, I know that I have interrupted people in my time, but it comes nowhere close to the kind of interrupting I witness. I guess that's where I'm a little more anglo-saxon and they're a little more latin (at least this is what they claim!). The thing is, it really gets my heart pumping and I have to hang on tight to remain calm and not get caught up in the tornado. Even when I witness it on TV. How Canadian of me!

13. la gourmandise
At the end of a meal, when one has had quite enough, thank you, but then is offered a dessert or a little something extra, saying yes means giving into gourmandise. "Oui, mais ce serait par gourmandise" means "Yes, but it's because I'm up for some pleasure." There are no negative vibes to it, really, not like with caving or giving in (or gluttony, which is its cousin and its English literal translation). It's more of a gentle pleasure kind of vibe. The word can also be used to describe a treat such as candy, cake, pastries or other delicacies.

It's funny how we don't really have an English equivalent (except maybe 'treat') and how we're quick to denounce our indulgences. "Oh I really shouldn't! Well, maybe I'll give in to just a bite. You've twisted my arm." The French just go for it and assume it!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

top 10 things

Hello! I know it's been a while, sorry about that...

So to start off the new year, how about a top 10 list?
Top 10 Things French People Like

1. soft things
I have this idea that French people like to eat soft things. Bloody steak? So that they don't have to chew it as if it were a semelle (shoe sole). Green beans cooked to within an inch of their life? So that you don't have to chew them and thus you can avoid the squeaky crunchy aspect of green beans. Personally I love my beans to be squeaky! The same systematic overcooking goes for all vegetables, really, which must be served fondant (mushy).

2. set meal times
There are times you eat and times you don't eat. God forbid you want to eat lunch outside of the hours of 12pm - 2pm or supper before 8pm. Most restaurants just close up shop at 2pm and they don't care if you might bring in a little extra business. What restaurant owners don't understand, especially in a tourist town like Vézelay, is that holiday-makers are not on French meal times and that people from different countries eat at different times. Not only that, I am convinced that there are French people who would gladly eat outside the set hours. Gasp! If you stay open, they will come.

I personally see a huge window of opportunity in Vézelay for a cool little café/salon de thé that is open all day and serves up soup, quiche, salad, cakes, tarts, coffee and tea. Any investors out there? There are a million tourists who come through here every year, most of whom are unable to buy a little something to eat but would gladly do so given the chance.

3. paperwork
You've heard me go on about it before and nothing has really changed. It's always a paperwork issue, usually in triplicate, along with a proof of address, to be sent by registered mail.

I recently had to close down the farmhouse's no-contract internet service. I first had to bring the modem back to the shop - I only had to wait approximately one hour to be served! - and then I was handed a receipt which stated that the modem had been returned. I thought the guy would be able to cancel our service then and there (we can turn our phone # on and off online, after all!) but no, I had to write a cancellation letter and send it along with a photocopy of the receipt by registered mail to the headquarters. Then I got another internet bill. I had to call to see why they were still charging me, and after about 30 minutes on the phone with three different people they finally had it figured out. Luckily I had my registered letter receipt to be able to tell them when my letter had arrived at their headquarters!

Oh, and by the way, I'm still waiting for my diploma and degree equivalencies to come through. I sent them off in December 2010!

4. râler
Râler means to complain. You may have noticed that I have taken up this national state of being when I rant on about something (paperwork, for example!) but I do really try to not complain about stuff. The thing is, French people LOVE to complain - it's one of the things they do best. Even when there is nothing to complain about, they will find a reason to complain, even if it's just for the sake of complaining. It's dangerous, toxic and an unfortunate national illness (or sport, depending on your point of view).

5. things that are closed/enclosed
One of the first things you notice when you come to France is the number of shutters on the windows and that virtually all houses have some sort of enclosure, be it chain-link fences, concrete walls, dry stone walls or hedges. Must keep people out! Closing the shutters every night is a ritual and many people swear that they cannot sleep if the shutters are open. In the early evening closed shutters keeps prying eyes away from people's living and dining rooms, unlike in Holland, say, where everything is open all the time. Even inside the house, people like to live with all the doors closed all the time. This personally drives me nuts because it makes for a dark house - the light can't go from one room to another or the hallways - and the rooms end up being stuffy. And the WC can't air out!

6. long TV shows
If you don't have a TV this is not a problem, but if you should get sucked into a show, be prepared to go to bed late. First of all, things are on a different time schedule. The 6pm Evening News equivalent is on at 8pm here, so prime time shows don't usually start until about 9pm (or some weird time like 8:52pm - nothing starts on the hour here, except the News). Then the show goes on for three hours! We like watching shows like Top Chef and if we watch it live, we're not done until midnight. We have started to watch more things on demand so that we can control the time we go to bed. For American TV series, they like to have back-to-back episodes, meaning that if you want to follow the storyline, you need to stay up and watch them all - usually four in a row - and they're not available on demand. I suppose the simple solution is to not watch TV, which is something we are trying to do, but in the cold dark months of winter when there is nothing to do in the middle of nowhere, it is rather tempting.

7. long work days
The French have one of the shortest work weeks of anybody - just 35 hours! And yet, I feel like I'm at work for much longer than I ever was when I worked in Canada.  Why is that? Well, lunch, for starters. I'm officially allowed 2 hours for lunch, although I usually only take one hour or even less. That doesn't change the perceived number of hours that I am expected to be at work. We don't note down our hours at work (which bugs me) and all I know is that if I leave before 6pm it's looked down on. Same thing if I arrive after 9am. A lot of people who start at around 8:30 or 9am stay at work until about 7pm and don't usually get home until after 8pm. Don't forget that school kids also have long days, usually from 8:30 - 5pm. Little kids, even! Then they go to after school care until after 7pm when their parents pick them up. Gotta get them trained for the long work days ahead!

8. small coffees
Sometimes I'd like more than two sips of coffee. Enough said.

9. fiscal stamps
How do you pay for a parking fine, a speeding ticket, a new passport or a residency card? With fiscal stamps of course! You need to find a tabac that sells them and present them to the authority in question. Our closest tabac place that sells them is 15 km away, so it means 30 km roundtrip to pick these puppies up. I once asked why we couldn't just pay by cheque or bank card  - seems reasonable and simple to me - and the answer was "no, this is France." Fair enough.

10. the impossible
The preferred default answer to any request is "non, c'est impossible!" to which I have learned how to argue until the person sees that it is, in fact, possible. Yes, it's possible! I can hardly blame them. Things are so complicated here that it's just easier to say something is impossible rather than stir up the "complicated" pot. But sometimes that pot has to be stirred, no matter how uncomfortable and frustrating it is.

Alright, now that I've gotten that off my chest, perhaps I'll follow up with some personal news in a future post? 'Til then!