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Archive for August, 2010

For a blog about a foreigner living in France there’s not that much stuff on here about the horrors of French bureaucracy and you could be lulled into a false sense of security that everything was hunky dory and not that hard in France – just as I was.

As I’ve been living here for quite a while now, a lot of my French paperwork has already been taken care of – a kind of “been there, done that” thing. Furthermore, there is no longer any requirement for Europeans to have a Carte de Sejour (a type of residency permit) in order to live in France so I do not have to worry about this either. I do have plenty of horror stories from my days of having to apply though; student residency, short term residency and then the final 10 year residency permit which I now keep in my bed side table as a special souvenir of how I overcame the French system.

These days my experiences are much less frequent and since starting this blog things have been relatively calm on the paperwork front… That was until last month. Since then, paperwork problems have become a common occurrence: Our Avis d’Imposition (tax document showing how much tax you have to pay) arrived accompanied with a cheque for a couple of hundred Euros :) Kerching!

If you’re a regular reader you may remember reading my sarcastic comments back in April when I received the tax declaration form to complete. Well thanks to Sarah at St Bloggie de Riviere, Hubby and I decided to have a go at completing the forms online and since I was cutting it fine on the date (I had missed the limit date for sending your application by post) internet seemed to be the way to go.

After hours of battling with the forms (yes, hours!) and constant verification of last years declaration to ensure that we put the right figures in the right place on the right form, we were finally finished. Success! We were so pleased to have completed this highly ennuyeux tast that we celebrated with Cremant. Thankfully the celebrations only took place after having printed out the confirmation page and after having carefully filed this away.

So back to our Avis d’Imposition and the cheque. A closer inspection of the document revealed that they had not taken any of our income into consideration, just a meager portion hence why they were sending us a cheque.

“Great” I thought, “an easy way out of paying tax this year, we had submitted the correct information but they had chosen not to use it and to send me a cheque instead – what could be better?”. I started to day dream about what I would spend the money on? A new bag from Lancel that I had seen in their preview collection? A romantic weekend in Paris or maybe put it towards our plane tickets to Nairobi?

Moral quibbling got the better of me though as a nagging part of my brain kept telling me that it was our responsibility to inform Les Impots of their mistake and to rectify it. Years of hearing horror stories of people being investigated by Les Impots had got the better of me and had turned me into a quivering being in the face of their presence.

So I picked up the phone to them, ensuring that I was not calling just after they started in the morning, therefore giving them plenty of time to relax into their days work. I did not afterall want to risk speaking to an employee who had not yet had their dose of coffee that morning.

I explained the problem to the employee who told me it was not possible that they made a mistake and that I had not submitted the correct information. “non, non” I insisted “I have the proof that the information I submitted contained my full income and not the figures that you have here”. So the employee checked the system and was still indignant that I had not submitted the correct information and started speaking of penalties and false declarations. Desperate I asked him what I could do and was told I had to go and see them with the proof of what I had submitted.

So now today, I have to take my sorry self down to the tax office (mine happens to be the other side of the damn city) and sort their mess out. This is what I love about France – I have done everything correctly on my side, they make a mistake and the onus is on MOI to sort out their problem.

Fingers crossed it all goes well otherwise you may just see a story about a deranged English women assaulting a tax office employee on the TF1 news this evening!

UPDATE: So after plucking up the courage necessary to take myself down to the tax office this morning, I got a ticket and waited for an hour with what seemed like the rest of Lyon (seriously, that place is huge and there were loads of people there). Eventually my number came up just as I was about to fall asleep, so I woke myself up and set off to meet the Taxman! Quickly I explained my problem, showed him the forms, the copy of what I had submitted and the cheque that they had sent me. Just as quickly he explained that I would have to come back as their computer system was down and that he couldn’t do anything today. NIGHTMARE! Seeing that I was furious and obviously a reader of this blog (he must have seen Fly’s comment about the Guillotine) , he was quick to want to give me more money, telling me I can cash the cheque (handbag!) and that furthermore I was entitled to a Prime pour l’Emploi and that I can get this rectified too when I come back. So they want to give me more money??? Something’s not right here so I was careful to take his name and am now back to square 1 regarding this whole matter…

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I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week both here and on the blogosphere in general as I decided to take some me time in honour of the French holiday season.

Last weekend we went back to Lac du Bourget and spent a great weekend in the rain, constantly hoping for it to stop so that we could get out on the lake and wakeboard. After hours of watching the drizzle and storms, the clouds finally dispersed so we made a mad dash down to the lake, jumped on the boat and went out. Five minutes later, the clouds started to gather again and we just made it back to shore before the mother of all storms rained down upon us. No wakeboarding took place :(

So quite a disappointing weekend really.

View from the house - how I would love to have a view like this

Our next trip was on the Monday back to Aix les Bains and was more promising. We spent the first afternoon baking cookies with Hubby’s Godson and the little cousins. Cookie making with a 2 year old, 6 year old and 9 year old is an interesting experience. Once they were finished I had to keep reminding myself not to eat them as I had watched the dough go all over the floor, in and out of the kid’s mouths, behind their ears, in their hair…

Hubby monkeying around

After a while the sun decided to come out and we went up the mountain to a monkey park. I say monkey park as it is an activity park where kids and adults swing from trees like monkeys. The French call this accrobranche (accro for acrobatic and branche for the tree branches). For ages I thought it was called aquabranche and had something to do with water. How very wrong was I! Needless to say I was not equipped: heels and palazzo pants aren’t quite the right the right attire for walking on a tightrope or swinging amongst the trees and nobody could care less that I had a swimming cossie and towel in my bag.

Not being able to do anything and faced with waiting in the cold for hours (14 degrees!) whilst everyone perfected their monkey swings (how appropriate!) I was relegated to looking after the two year old and helping him around the kiddies course.

It was not easy as I had to keep hooking him up and I think the other parents considered that I was a Mere Indigne (not a good mother) as after all, who would take their kid to a park dressed like I was? I must have been a funny sight as I tried to scramble up through the trees so that I could unhook and rehook him all whilst he was wailing or looking at me as if I was an idiot.

On one part I got stuck and couldn’t get down, so there I was with a two year old stood 3 metres off the ground hanging by a rope and me, stuck. Thankfully a parent came to my rescue (or more so to the child’s) and helped me out, all whilst I was trying to explain that he wasn’t my kid and I had no idea what an accrobranche was! Thankfully we were able to complete the course unscathed and the little boy enjoyed it so much that he he looked up at me expectantly and asked if we could do it again. I told him that no doubt his Daddy would take him another time… I was not going to risk his or my safety anymore than required in one day!

It was 14 degrees at the Monkey Park!

After that we went down to the Beaux-Parents for a few days where the temperatures were stifling (39 degrees, what??) and I convinced my Mother-in-Law to teach me to make legumes farcies (one of my fave French dishes). She was very patient and spent a whole morning talking me through the family recipe – I didn’t realize it would take so long to make! You can see the recipe in my latest Expat Focus article here.

So quite a funny week and oh yes… how could I forget? I quit smoking! Desperate not to pile on the pounds I have taken up a new hobby to keep me from nibbling or becoming anxious – fly swatting! Seriously, at the BP’s I spent hours swatting flies. It’s like keep fit. Keeps your mind off the ciggies, off  food (essential) and gives you a full body work out at the same time! So far, the scales have stayed the same and I’ve managed to stay off the weed so to speak so all’s good.

Fly Swatting Results! Yuck!

Happy Fly Swatting Day everyone! (because I decided that today is fly swatting day)

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No where for me to spend my Euros!

I wish I could close. Shut down for a month. Not answer any calls, any emails – just bugger off and leave a sign like this:

Shop notice saying they're closed from 25th July to 26th August

This is a common occurrence in France unless you live in an area popular with tourists such as the Cote d’Azur, but for us mortels that are not lucky enough to live in a place so desirable that everyone else wants to come and visit, we are stuck with the majority of shops being closed!

It’s true that the streets of Lyon are pretty much deserted at the moment, but wandering aimlessly to my Osteo appointment this morning I really thought it was a Sunday. I walked down a whole street, 1.2 kilometres and every single shop was closed! This was in a middle class neighbourhood and there were plenty of people buzzing around in the nearby market so surely proof that not everyone had gone on holiday?

I do not know why shops here and elsewhere in France shut down for a whole month and as a business owner I feel that it is ludicrous. I really wish I could either join in or that the shops would open again!

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Common sense is obviously somewhat lacking at the French Fedex’s offices during the summer. At almost the same time last year I had a run in with them (my first of many) which you can read about here.

It would appear that their corporate brain goes on vacation during the month of August. Or, maybe they’re working in collaboration with organized crime and earning themselves a neat profit from criminal activities?

What leads me to think this?

Fedex have mastered the knack of finding unoccupied properties during the summer months and marking them clearly as targets for all and sundry to see.

How do they do this?

They put a bright yellow sticker on your front door saying that you’re not there!!!

Fedex advertising to Criminals when a property is empty! BRAVO FEDEX!!

Yes, seriously. Whilst La Poste, DHL, UPS and other courier companies are behind the times and simply leave a calling card in your letter box, the intelligent folks at Fedex have over-engineered the calling card and have diversified their business activity at the same time.

Thankfully, the bright yellow sticker was only on my front door (which is street facing nevertheless) for one day, but imagine if I had been decided to stay away for longer? As it was I had been away for 5 days due to a bereavement in Hubby’s family, but I could have quite possibly stayed longer in which case my property would have been advertised as empty all that time! Or, some clever monkey could have nicked the post it for a bit of fun and I would have been none the wiser that they had tried to deliver.

Seriously Fedex – get a grip and use your brains! Do you really want to be responsible for burglaries and missed packages when you could just go back to basics?

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Coming back from Corsica I decided to have a “clear the freezer” week. Having checked my bank balance upon my return, I ws sent into a state of shock to see we’d spent far, far too much money and that Hubby and I were going to have to live much more frugally for the rest of the summer. How we managed to spend so much I don’t know, I didn’t even think Corsica was expensive compared to the South of France or even some places in Lyon! I think maybe mischievous TomTom had got hold of our Carte Bleue too?

So clearing the freezer seemed like a good idea, a better option than bread and pasta in any case. We have one of those American style fridge-freezers (do the Americans call them American fridges too? Anyone?) and the freezer is always bursting full of frozen goodies from Picard, home cooking, frozen veggies and other bits and pieces including 3 bottles of vodka!

After much reflexion, I decided the vodka could stay as I’m sure it’s not very healthy living on vodka for a week and started to attack the rest of the contents vigorously in order to make some type of meal plan. A freezer week normally means for some weird and wonderful meals and sees me having quite an ad hoc approach to cooking.

Unfortunately on this occasion we had some bad family news and my Beaux-Parents came to stay unexpectedly. As I was still trying to live off the freezer I had a route around to see what I could find. I have already spoken of the Belle-Mere’s excellent cooking here so I had to be careful not to disappoint and to ensure that everyone was fed correctly as they needed it.

Some puff pastry, beef burgers and chicken pieces were found so along with the tomatoes in the garden and some mustard from the fridge, I was able to make a bizarre, but tasty meal of tomato tart served with either beef burger or chicken. I think the tart would make a better dish on its own with some fresh salad but that wasn’t an option I had.

So, if you have some tomatoes, some pastry and some mustard here’s something really easy you can try your hand at:

Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart
Serves 4 – 6 people

What you need:
6 tomatoes (enough to cover the pastry) or enough of any type of fresh t’s you can get your hands on
1 Roll of pastry (shortcrust or puff, its the pastry that you buy already rolled out in a circle)
French mustard
Salt & Pepper
Herbes de Provence or other to taste.

What you need to do:
1. Place the pastry on a tray or in a quiche dish. Roll up the edges slightly to form a crust when cooking it.
2. Slice the tomatoes removing any excess juice and pips as you go along.
3. Paste a thin spread of mustard over the pastry.
4. Cover the pastry base with the sliced tomatoes.
5. Season to taste.
6. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees (or as per pastry instruction) for approx 30 minutes or until pastry is golden

You can also add some goats cheese on top but I’m not sure how traditional that is.

Do you have any frugal, fridge/freezer clearing recipes?

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So, I’m back from Corsica and will share my adventures with you soon although I’m lucky to be back no thanks to GPS TomTom!!

I often wonder how many marital disputes, family fall outs and accidents are caused by GPS’s giving wrong directions. All the men I know never listen to directions and will certainly never stop and ask for them and yet if I force the TomTom on them they’ll quite happily listen to the soothing voice of Jane (or whoever, I heard you can have the Simpson’s voices if you wish) and then follow her instructions without applying any degree of logic or direction.

When affronted with a rubble road (think The Flintstones here) the Man (or in my case Hubby) becomes enraged and the angry swear words and obscene gestures are directed at TomTom and thankfully not at you. However, this means that the atmosphere in the car becomes heated, with much huffing and puffing, more angry gestures and then silence.

Sometimes the misdirection’s from TomTom won’t matter and laughter will break the silence such as the time we drove through a field on the outskirts of Lyon only to be met by an intrigued farmer coming along on his tractor in the other direction. But it can also be the difference between catching or missing your flight. Going home or being stuck where you are, having to fork out hundreds of Euros (if not thousands in peak season?) to wait until the next available flight which may not be for another week.

This was our case. We left Calvi at 11 am knowing that we needed to be at the airport in Bastia for 3 pm allowing us time to return the hire car and affront the huge queues typical of the last Saturday in July. I wanted to stop by Saint Florent on the way back and according to TomTom it only added 40 minutes to the trip, so in total we would be looking at an overall driving time of 2 hours 20 minutes. Perfect. Plenty of time to get there, to allow for traffic and even enough time to stop somewhere along the way and enjoy some more Corsican food and wine.

All was going hunky dory until we left Saint Florent (this was probably due to the excellent sign posts though) and started along the windy, mountainous roads towards Bastia. These were not dissimilar to those we took to arrive in Saint Florent after leaving the main road, but after a while the pot holes were becoming bigger and bigger, until suddenly there was no road left and we were on a rubble track. Continuing along, convinced we were on a great short cut and were avoiding all the traffic jams, we passed a small hamlet and smiled smugly to ourselves as confused locals looked on in amazement at us bumping along the track in a filthy, dust covered so no longer bright blue, Peugeot 206 hire car.

A short while later we were confronted with this:

Is TomTom having a laugh at our expense?

Yes – that is the road. With the sign in the middle (and the big rock blocking all access behind). There was no way we could (or wanted) to continue further down this road. So rather bashfully we made our way back down the track, back past the villagers (who must be used to this sight and probably have their act of astonishment down to perfection) and then past a Parisian registered Mercedes hurtling in the direction we had originally come from – with a TomTom firmly affixed to his windscreen!

Eventually, an hour later than we had wished for and with just 20 minutes to spare before check-in closed, we made it to the airport and managed to catch our plane home! Phew!

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