Archive for November, 2010

Here's hoping the Secu will give me some Euros for my piggy bank

Having read several posts over at Traveling Amber regarding her battles with various French administration departments during the late stages of her pregnancy, I decided to follow her advice and start tackling some of my administration problems now, rather than leave them until later on.

Ambers’ tales have left me weak kneed about what’s to come and have made me realize I seriously have to get my act together. So I have listed everything that’s not right with my relationship with the French Social Security people and have tried to start attacking my list as best as I can:

With the impending move, its best I get everything sorted now; otherwise a change of address and department will make things even more complicated than they already are.

I did start trying to sort things out this summer and things came to a head in September when my Doctor disappeared (read post here). After writing this post, I waited a while in case my Doctor showed a sign of life and come mid-October I still hadn’t had any news either from my old Doctor (who really has disappeared off the face of the earth) or from the lovely people at the CPAM (social security).

In order to achieve any result in France it’s best to think like a French person and act as they would. In this case sending a registered letter should do the trick. So I wrote to them, in my best French, explaining my situation and including as much documentation as I could.

They also still owed me money for the month I had off work in February after my fondue fork stabbing incident and a whole months salary is not a little amount. I reminded them in my letter that I was still waiting for this payment to come through and again I included documentation supporting my case.

Feeling pleased with myself for having attacked the problem head-on and in due form, I posted the registered letter and sat back and waited for a response, certain that everything would be resolved in a timely manner.

That is, until today. My kind Outlook calendar burst into action and reminded me to check my bank account for payments. I dutifully did so, rather hoping to have received a windfall (I’m owed a couple of thousand Euros), but niltch, nada, nothing.

Feeling really peeved I called the CPAM (social security people) and tried to find out why over a month and half after doing everything they told me to do nothing had happened. My situation is really complicated and I could hear the woman on the other end of the phone switching off as I tried to explain.

My braces were shredding at my tongue and my cheeks and I was in agony as I applied as I applied my very best French accent (not easy these days since I’ve had lingual braces fitted) as I outlined everything that was still wrong with my health cover and payments.

Rather amazingly, the lady managed to summarize what I had spent the last five minutes trying to say in a couple of phrases (does this mean this type of problem is common?) and told me that she couldn’t help! WHAT? I had gone to all that trouble for nothing, steam was coming out of my ears!

She took my telephone number and said that she would pass a message on to the appropriate service. When I enquired as to when I can expect a call she informed me 21 days!! How pathetic is that? I told her that I’d already written in well over 21 days ago and that I hadn’t heard anything. All she could say was that she was sorry and that she couldn’t do anything more.

I know it’s not her fault so I really did manage to reign in my anger and frustration but I was absolutely livid. This is a lot of money we’re talking about and at this time of year after all the taxes etc have wiped out my account and with all the baby stuff we need to purchase, I really could do with getting what I have contributed into the system for as per my rights.

Afterall, if I stopped contributing they would soon stop paying but they’re not even paying when I am contributing! What to do?

I’ve decided I’m going to give them another 10 days and then I’ll be sending another registered letter with copies of previous correspondence, details of calls and I will also be addressing a copy to a mediator or something (gosh, I hope one exists, any ideas?).

Until then I’ll be keeping a close eye on my Carte Vitale (the essential French healthcare card which contains all my social security details and is required at every medical occasion) so not to lose it and further complicate matters. Unfortunately my brilliant pregnant brain is playing havoc and I keep loosing it. The Carte Vitale is the size of a credit card and only this morning did I risk loosing it again by absent mindedly putting it in yet another car parking payment machine.

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Friday saw Mr Piglet and I embark on yet another day of house hunting. We still have the farmhouse in mind as a practical choice, but we are keen to find a property that sweeps our heart away.

So we set off in the cold on the motorway from Lyon towards Grenoble and quickly encountered huge snowflakes and fields of the white fluffy stuff. If you’ve ever tried taking photographs whilst traveling on the motorway you will know it’s near impossible so I didn’t get to take any souvenir photos of the journey there unfortunately.

I have always found snow rather magical, and whilst Mr Piglet wasn’t very impressed that we were house hunting in the snow without snow tyres (irresponsible), I was enchanted, very excitable and was looking at everything through fairy tale glasses.

The first house we visited was set in a small valley amongst the hills and consisted of a farmhouse (we have a thing for 200 year old farmhouses) and stone cottage with a cute garden, flanked by Christmas tree covered hills.

If you’re a sucker for fairy book settings then you could not fail but to be charmed by the location of this house, especially on a snowy day, just one month before Christmas.

A Fairy Tale Location

The house was livable and offered plenty of space, even though the decoration was a mish mash of partition walls, old fireplaces and orange wall paper. We could easily have converted two of the upstairs rooms into a master bedroom with ensuite and dressing room, had an office and a lovely nursery with room to spare.

To continue with the fairytale theme, one of the views from the house was looking out towards a Chateau. I had to zoom to take this photo, but not all that much, you could easily see it with the bare eye.

View of the castle

The stone house just opposite the property needed finishing and drainage as well, as it was a bit damp and with a bit more imagination it could make a beautiful, cosy guesthouse and office. It was spacious and homely at the same time.

The downside of visiting property in the snow is you can’t tell where the sun is and the fact that the property was surrounded by hills (or mountains as I kept calling them) probably meant that it didn’t get much sun which was a huge negative for us. This property definitely needs a second viewing to work out the suns logistics.

We soon had to leave as we had to make our way to a second property and had a battle with a snow storm on our hands.

Picture postcard driving conditions... NOT!

On leaving the little village we came across a goat that took a liking to me. Every time I cooed at it would turn its head towards me and look at me. If I stopped cooing then it would stop looking at me! It either liked me or thought I was a strange English nutter!

My first new friend in the country

We then went on to view another house which was also fantastic but is another story (think more skeletons in the chimney!). Part two to follow soon.

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After the house that came with a llama we discovered two more interesting selling points on Saturday. We saw two of the saddest properties that I have seen so far. I won’t post pictures in case I’m identified, you will see why especially for the first property!

The first property was in the middle of no-where. Literally. There was a house opposite and that was it. There was an eery dark feeling about the house even though it was early afternoon. The air around was very still and there were no trees. It was a lifeless, soulless place.

Mr Piglet and I had strange vibes whilst visiting and the fact that the owner looked rather like a witch and was following us around with frequently giving us the evil eye whilst puffing furiously on her cigarette didn’t help.

Parts of the house were really smelly and stunk of dog pooh and petrol and rotten food. With my morning sickness persisting, I had to discreetly cover my nose with my hand so to avoid gagging. After all, I didn’t want to suffer the wrath of the witch by vomiting everywhere.

The bad feelings continued as we ventured to the upstairs of the property. I followed the agent into the bathroom and immediately had to divert my eyes as I was confronted with an array of gothic erotic underwear laid out on display. Not knowing where to look and having my suspicions confirmed (surely she must be part of a witch sex sect?) I could barely contain myself and wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

My face must have been a picture as back on the landing the estate agent launched into the final part of his sales pitch, obviously hoping to clinch a deal.

The information he revealed would be something that I would be desperate to bury in the garden and keep a secret forever and ever, certainly not something that I would take glee in revealing!

The house was in fact the only neighbour to a prominent murderer’s house! Seeing my shocked reaction (I nearly passed out), the agent was quick to home in on the celebrity factor: the murderer was a well known international rugby player. Great! I can just see me telling everyone that, as if it makes it all better!

Needless to say we couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there!

The second property we visited wasn’t anywhere near as creepy it was just sad. A typical result of France’s inheritance system: the ownership of the property had been passed down to the children upon the first spouse passing away and had then been owned by the children and the husband. The husband remarried, had children and then when he passed away, ownership again got passed down to the children.

After a while I gave up trying to understand how many people currently owned it. The long and the short of it was that the property had been abandoned by the owners for a long while, whilst they fought about who should live in it and what to do with it.

During this time the property was neglected and started falling to bits. I felt rather sorry for the property but angry at the greedy owners who were now looking to try and make a mint and yet had failed to look after the property in question over the years.

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For all good news I believe there is bad news, so let’s get my weeks bad news out of the way first.

The last couple of days I have been suffering from the world’s worst headache (in my humble opinion) that not even a 1000 mg dose of paracetamol or sleep will cure and I daren’t take anything else or too much paracetamol because of being pregnant.

I managed to identify part of the cause of the headache as originating from my braces. I had noticed that part of the wire’s had popped out on the bottom set of braces, thus causing a major tightening of the wire and pulling my teeth. I got that sorted and my head feels less like it’s on fire but I’m still suffering and cannot bear to lie down or watch TV. Any suggestions to remedy this would be most welcome!

Bloody TomTom GPS broke down again, just 5 days after I picked it back up from Darty after they supposedly repaired it. This will mean another trip to the huge shopping centre which makes me faint (I nearly passed out there last Friday) to take it back again. I am not a happy bunny and am going to be making some enquiries into French law and things being fit for purpose before going back. Navigating in the dark through the French countryside is not funny or easy and as many of you will know, the French aren’t too hot on signposts!

Anyway, enough moaning. Or maybe not…

In the time it took me to go food shopping the other day, I returned to the house to notice that our wheelie bin had been nicked. Mr Piglet, usually quite the pessimist, tried to convince me that someone had borrowed it and was more than likely to return it and tried to coax me back inside. I think my hissy fit and the scene I was creating by marching up and down the street inspecting everyone’s bins was maybe a bit too much and he wanted to get me indoors before I started insulting people or worse, throwing things!

So I realize my bad news pales in comparison to some people’s and it’s not really bad news at all, but the pregnancy hormones are wreaking havoc in my body and I have spent most of the week on a rollercoaster rolling around in joyous laughter or in hysterical tears of despair.

Now, on to the good news:

The Compromis de Vente for our city pad will be signed this coming Tuesday. I will finally be able to sleep at night, especially now that we also have possible second and third offers on the table. This means a lot to me as the stress of keeping this place going with the mortgage once mini-Piglet arrives was giving me nightmares (you can figure that I have been getting a lot of nightmares lately).


I am finally beginning to look like I’m pregnant rather than like someone who ate all the pies.


Baby Bloat or Baby Bump? 17 weeks + 2 days


I had my fourth month pregnancy follow up visit with my nice midwife on Wednesday and was supposed to have heard mini-Piglet’s heartbeat. I cannot honestly say that I heard anything and after five minutes of trying to get me to hear it, I told the midwife that I believed her and to leave it at that. It was stressing me out more trying to hear it than than the re-assurance it should have been giving me!


Finally, yesterday, we spent the day viewing houses and after seeing a lot of RUBBISH (Twitter followers would have sent my rants yesterday) have quite possibly found “The One”. It is almost perfect for what we are looking for in every way other than price and the fact that it is missing that outside wow factor, but even so, it ticks enough boxes to make me think that I’d be happy to live there. We’re not making any rash decisions yet and are going to continue visiting but it is nice to know and be reassured that good properties that meet our criteria do exist and only slightly over budget.

Master Bedroom

With some softening this could be THE place

Now, it should be my old fave time of the day, Wine O’Clock but tonight I think I’ll treat myself to an Orangina!

Bon weekend!

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I have loved this November so far and have had lots of positive energy, something I have been somewhat lacking previously. What I like even more, is the two bank holidays we enjoy here in France, one for the day of the dead (All Saints) and one for Armistice. I especially liked Armistice Day this year as it was on a Thursday which meant I got to have a long weekend as I closed down on the Friday too!

On Thursday, after over 12 hours of labour, my sister in law gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Alyssa. We went to visit them at the maternity ward in Beaune (such a beautiful town in the Burgundy area) and I was astounded by how something so big could possibly have been in my SiL’s tummy just twelve hours earlier! I left the hospital feeling slightly nervous about things to come for me, slightly older now that I’m an Aunt but overjoyed for my SiL and her boyf.

Bienvenue Alyssa! Born 14.11.10 at 0130, weighing 3.4 kilos

On Friday, we took advantage of the long weekend and visited a property in a town called Groslee. If you don’t get the pronunciation of the town 100% spot on then you end up saying (or hearing) Gros which means fat and Laid which means ugly. So imagine me with my lovely English accent telling someone where I live? Fat Ugly!!! Not good!

I should have known from the start that a property in such a badly named town would not be appropriate; it had to have something wrong with it and the name should have been a warning sign. Needless to say the property was no good and I could have strangled the agent as we had once again wasted our time despite best efforts to eliminate inappropriate properties before visiting.

We had asked our list of questions before arranging the visit, one of the questions being: is the property on a busy road?

We were informed “que non” it was on a quiet village road with little passage. LIAR! The agent is a big fat liar! In the 10 minutes that it took to tour the outside of the property, no less than 5 lorries went hurtling by. I was fuming! It turns out that the road was the main road to a nearby town and it was the only road the lorries could take once they left the motorway. So, a wasted trip!

A shame really as the property corresponded perfectly in terms of size and style – built from stone, lots of outbuildings, spacious inside and beautiful white shutters.

Beautiful house in Fat Ugly

Whilst looking for properties we have also come across some really strange adverts. I think the strangest so far as been for a private sale where the owner is selling their llama with the property.

Yes, you read correctly. The property is being sold with a llama. The llama comes part and parcel with the property! In the property details you get a full description of the property, the land and the llama as well as a couple of photos! I can just imagine the owners considering their llama as being a major selling point and surely there must be something wrong with Mr Piglet and me for not having this as part of our criteria?

Is a llama really a selling point?

Have you ever seen anything really strange whilst hunting for property?

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SOLD!! The city pad is sold!! We finally accepted an offer that put an end to negotiations on Monday morning and can confirm that come January, if all goes smoothly, the Piglet family will be homeless unless we find something quick!

As is always the way, as soon as we had agreed a price (less than the asking price but nonetheless a price we are happy with) we got a call from another interested person, an international footballer! Tempted by the money but morally aware that the property was already sold, we politely, but regretfully sent his agent packing. I don’t think they’re used to being told that sold means sold and not if they pay more then they can buy it! Anyway, at least we know we made the right decision on a moral basis even if it was a hard one to make financially.

In anticipation of the sale, Mr Piglet and I started house hunting on Saturday. We had spent some time looking on the internet but had not started really looking as I am very superstitious and didn’t want to jinx selling the property. I could not imagine the heartache if I’d found the perfect property only to not be able to buy it because we hadn’t sold.

Rather rapidly we chose two properties that looked great on paper and seemed to answer everything on our wish list:

– spacious, ideally 200m2
– outbuildings
– rural but not isolated
– character building if possible (shouldn’t be hard in France)
– ADSL required!
– Not on a busy road
– No structural renovation required in the main property

Easy right?

Arriving in the village I desperately needed the loo (being pregnant meant that Husband did not moan for once!) so we stopped in the village bar for a coffee. Entering the small room, I was overwhelmed by the stench of cigarettes and alcohol – it’s been a while now since smoking was banned in bars and restaurants but that law has obviously not reached parts of rural France as yet.

I glanced around, taking in my surroundings and saw a woman about my age showing off her new purchases to some other women in the bar. Thrilled at the thought of sharing a shopping addiction with other villagers I looked on. Now, I’m no fashionista, but the excited exclamations and squeals of joy she was receiving lead me to believe that she had acquired a pair of Louboutins or similar coveted footwear, and incited me to take a closer peek into the box she was holding. What a shock! The contents were silver, sparkly trainers! Not quite what I was expecting!

It was daft of me to expect someone to have these in rural France!

As I continued to scan the bar area, my eyes were drawn to a caricature of a man, the type of person I’d always expected to see in France when I was about 10 but who, rather disappointedly in reality doesn’t exist. You know, the man with the beret hat, the mariner t-shirt, closely cut hair and brightly coloured belt? Well, I had to do a double take, as this guy at the bar was exactly that, the typical French guy that I believed didn’t exist. All that was missing was a baguette and some onions. He was drinking Pastis (at 1130 am) and was discussing hunting so maybe the lack of baguette and onions can be forgiven as he’d obviously not caught anything so wouldn’t be making lunch. Afterall, that would explain why he was in a bar drowning his sorrows in Pastis!

My stereotypical image of a Frenchman

Feeling rather out of sorts in the bar, Mr Piglet and I left rapidly after downing our coffee, bemused by the characters we had encountered. Was village living really going to be the right thing for us? Then again, I’m sure if we went into any bar in Lyon at 1130 in the morning we’d meet some strange souls so we decided to discount this experience as being unrelated to country living.

As for the properties we visited, all I can say was the trip was a waste of time and nothing was suitable.

The first property was being advertised as habitable and requiring comfort refreshing (ie. Decoration) yet, walking around I was scared stiff that the ceilings were going to cave in, that I would be electrocuted or the floor would give way.

The second property was being advertised as being 200 m2 and as having outbuildings, but reality again turned out to be different. Entering the front door, I was immediately confronted with a close up view of the back door. Now, I’m a bit short sighted and things normally look quite far away, but the back door was only 5 metres away from me! The kitchen was a non-existent black hole and the bedrooms could only be called single box rooms at best. Not quite what I was expecting! At best, we estimated the house measured no more than 140 m2. As for the numerous outbuildings advertised, there was one, measuring 20 metres squared on the ground, so maximum extension potential of 40 m2!

Our quest for space may seem excessive but when both spouses work from home, an office in the spare bedroom is not really practical, so we need space to work, to live and to welcome house guests especially now that we have a mini us on it’s way!

All in all, a disappointing first outing. Our next visits are being planned with military precision and hopefully, just hopefully, we will stumble upon the perfect property very soon otherwise we really will be homeless!

ps. I did take some pictures but they’re stuck on my camera for the time being and don’t want to come off!

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I need luck!

It’s been nail biting stuff in the Piglet household for the last 12 hours. Everything started yesterday evening when I had a feeling of anticipation that we were going to get an offer on the house. I could just feel something in my bones, a sort of premonition of electric shocks that lead me to believe something exciting was going to happen.

We had had five house visits so far this week which is pretty good going given that Monday was a bank holiday and it’s the French school holidays.

So, yesterday evening I was like a child and couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t face cooking dinner and was having major cravings for McDonalds (please, don’t comment reference the nutritional benefits or lack thereof), so I invited Mr Piglet out (how generous!) and we went to the local drive in.

In my state of excitation I think my driving skills were worse than usual and the darkness of the night didn’t help either as I always have problems judging distances. Mr Piglet sat beside me in the car looking as if he was going to gag at any moment. Anyone would have thought that it was him that was suffering from morning sickness! His worry was certainly justified by all the little accidents I have had lately; the other evening when I reversed into another car, or the other week when I missed the garage door when trying to drive in, or how about when I got the car stuck between two walls when I picked him up from the hospital?

A look of terror was permanently fixed upon his face and you could hear his sudden intakes of breath as I swerved to miss a van or braked sharply at a red light. Things came to head at the drive in when I very nearly ran over the lady taking the orders. Mr Piglet promptly decided that I needed to take driving lessons!

“What?” I told him. “I know how to drive!” I said indignantly. “I’m just having some problems concentrating at the moment, it’s because I’m pregnant!”
So, it looks as if I’m going to have to really concentrate for the next few weeks otherwise I will be getting driving lessons again! I’m sure this is yet another pregnancy thing as I have never struggled with driving before (aside from the odd parking mishap) – any comments?

Anyway, back to my feeling. The evening passed with no major events and feeling disappointed off I went to bed. Before falling asleep, I decided that Mr Piglet’s laptop was making THE most horrendous noise and had to be turned off before I could even contemplate trying to get 40 winks.

Curiosity, and the fact that I’m a workaholic, got the better of me and before turning it off, I decided to check the emails. And there it was. THE OFFER.
Sitting in his inbox since 11 pm was an offer for the house! Needless to say after reading it, all sleepy thoughts immediately left our minds and we spent a very restless night, verbally dreaming about our new life in the country (and in my case fretting about moving and the availability of osteopaths in the wilderness!) so we’re both feeling a bit tired today!

Negotiations have commenced and we hope to have agreed a sales price by the beginning of next week. In the meantime we’re crossing our fingers for good luck and hoping everything goes smoothly!

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I just went to post about how I’m becoming fed up of living in a show home when I realized that I hadn’t yet posted that Mr Piglet and I had decided to leave our city loft and move on to pastures greener (literally).

As some of you may have gathered from my last post when I revealed how I could easily have moved to The Grenadines, I have been restless lately and Mr Piglet and I have a common disease known as La Bougeotte. We are completely incapable of staying in one place for more than a couple of years and always looking to move on.

Since I was 14 I have counted that I have moved homes no less than 14 times in 16 years, including three international moves (two to France, one to the UK). That’s a lot of moves, most of which were motivated by ice skating but even so, Hubby and I managed to move 3 times in 4 years in the UK and it’s a miracle that we’ve managed to stay put for the last 3 ½ years in Lyon!

I sincerely thought that our current house would be our forever home but it just hasn’t turned out like that. The recession has meant that our mortgage now seems huge and staying here just doesn’t make financial sense. Couple that with the fact that I am having more and more difficulty in coping with everyday city life and my road rage outbursts are ever increasing, I have been yearning to be surrounded by green fields and trees for a while now. Finally, if you throw in the mini piglet that we’ll hopefully be having in April then we just have to get out of the city.

Life in the city has become something that I no longer enjoy; I no longer get the buzz from the late opening hours, the smell of pollution or the hustle and bustle. It just annoys the hell out of me. People look grumpy, the streets smell, there’s dog pooh everywhere and no-one smiles or says hello. Just plain, miserable city living.

I no longer go out and dine in nice restaurants or sip cocktails in hip bars, have great parties at the house that last all weekend, and cinemas have become synonymous as a place to fall asleep and have a nap whilst comedy clubs and theatres just start too late. Maybe this is all part of growing old or simply growing up? Basically everything I love doing in the city costs no longer interests me or costs too much money. Money which I don’t have (I did try to grow a money tree but it didn’t work) right now and looking into the future and how expensive babies are, money that I’m not going to have anytime soon!

So, we have decided to sell our forever home and move away to the countryside where properties are far cheaper (because no-one else wants to live there maybe?) and we can dream of possibly living a mortgage free (or almost mortgage free) lifestyle.

We would like to live in a house like this...

However, don’t feel sorry for me. I’m actually really looking forward to the new country lifestyle and have already planned many activities. Where we’re looking at, we will be close to no less than three lakes where we enjoy water sports, nearer to the mountains for skiing and still within easy reach of cities like Lyon, Chambery, Aix Les Bains and Grenoble so it’s not as if we’re going to be cut off from the world.

I can already imagine spending our weekends lazing in a garden (where I can do proper gardening), out on a boat (that we’ll be able to afford to buy one day), fishing, walking or cycling. I can also imagine myself with cash to spare at the end of the month and organizing little trips to Paris, London and Milan for shopping sprees!

But to realize this dream of moving, first of all we have to sell the city pad. This is not going to be an easy task as it’s not an easy property. Think modern factory conversion loft style, big open spaces, metal structure with polished concrete floors and a big price tag.

For Sale

We’ve only had it on the market for a few weeks and have already had a lot of interest, a very low offer and a few visits. Unfortunately however, French strikes got in the way and visits were cancelled but now we’re in business!

We’re marketing the property ourselves and have an agent onboard also; however, that was an experience in itself! After meeting a few we decided to go with one that would actually speak to me! You can read about my run-in with a chauvinistic French estate agent over on Expat Focus.

The house is totally depersonalized and all my knick knacks are hidden away discreetly at the back of cupboards. Nothing is left out, ever, and I clean every day. Cleaning has become a full time occupation for me. Dust is my enemy. The cats have been taught how to act friendly towards potential visitors and everything is neat and tidy. You would never believed that I lived here as I’m the messiest person in France (probably), however, it’s amazing how old habits die fast when you’re motivated enough!

Since yesterday we have had three visits and are currently awaiting an offer. Fingers crossed something will come through soon as I really, really would like to move before being too heavily pregnant!

Has anyone else realized a dream of moving from city to country or vice versa, or experienced moving home whilst pregnant? How was it for you?

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