Archives for April 2014

We finally get our Cartes de Séjour (residence permits)

Up all night celebrating our new cartes de sejour and Hugh's birthday

Up all night celebrating our new cartes de sejour and Hugh’s birthday

Since November we’ve been working to assemble the paperwork required to spend another year in France. The French name for the residence permit we need is carte de séjour. A week ago we had an the appointment at the Préfecture de Police to present our dossier and receive the permit. We documented in an earlier article how we started the process and got permission to stay in France until our official appointment. In that article we showed how we had assembled all of the details we would need to provide. From there it seemed like it would be simple enough to assemble the final documents and present them to the French authorities. Not so!  What might normally be straight forward became convoluted and difficult because we don’t speak or understand French very well.

In mid-March, about a month before our meeting at the Préfecture de Police, I contacted the service assisting us to prepare for the carte de séjour, Mon Ami Andy. We met with Jennifer Denison. Since all of our translations (birth certificates, marriage certificate, health insurance policy) were more than three months old, they had to be redone. The same with the documentation of all of our assets and account balances, sources of income, etc. With Jennifer’s help we planned the following activities to get ready for the meeting:

  • We resolved questions and completed the application forms for the carte de séjour
  • We resolved that Mon Ami Andy would update the translations
  • We would need to make new copies of of our passports and the visa pages and copies of our current récépissés (temporary visa extension document)
  • We would need to include copies of the health certification from our original visit to OFII (agency who cleared us for our visa when we arrived in France).
  • We would need to rewrite our letters promising not to engage in work while in France
  • We would need to collect three months of French and US bank statements and retirement pay statements. We would also provide the letter from our French bank stating we have an account in good standing.
  • We would need to collect the latest financial account statements
  • We would need to make a spreadsheet showing all sources of income and assets, both in France and the US.
  • We would assemble three piles of documents, one of originals and all details of all documents, including our latest tax return, one with copies about Brenda, and one with copies about me.
  • We would make color copies of all color documents, black and white copies of all black and white documents. Copies of financial statements only needed the page showing the account balance. We could look at the original if there was a question.
  • We were encouraged to use a highlighter on each document, highlighting the important information we wanted the administrator to understand.

In addition to this overarching plan, we thought we needed to change our address since we moved to a new apartment in early March. Our understanding was that we needed to update it within 8 days of moving. As soon as we had what we thought were the required documents (rental contract, utility bill showing both our names, receipt showing we had paid rent, and our current passports, visas and récépissés), we went to the Préfecture at Rue Truffaut, where we had gone before, to attempt the change. They sent us away, telling us they didn’t handle changes of address. We had a difficult time figuring out where to go after that. We were told that the police station at Rue Truffaut could do it, and that might have succeeded except that they told us we didn’t have all the required documents. We needed proof of insurance, which we didn’t have with us. They told us that we could do it at our local Préfecture in the 5th arrondissement, but a policeman there told us we couldn’t. We thought maybe we could do it at the downtown Préfecture, but then found out that was not the place. Then we were told we might be able to do it at the Mayor’s office in our arrondissement, but that wasn’t correct. Finally we discovered that what the policeman told us was wrong, and that we needed to go to the 5th arrondissement Préfecture. When we finally met with them, they said we didn’t need to change the address yet, and we should just do it at our carte de séjour appointment.

By now we were closing in on the end of March, so I started in earnest getting the packages of documents together. We don’t have a printer, so every time I needed to print something I had to walk 6 blocks down the street to “Copy Self”, a local printing and copying store in our neighborhood. The guys inside know me, even though I don’t pick up much of their French chatter. I think they talk “copy speak”, mostly consisting of terms of art about toner cartridges, document settings, color correction.

I carefully planned to print as many of the documents I needed as possible. I went to Copy Self and plugged my USB flash drive into their computer. For some reason I could not print my tax return at my usual printer. The office assistant came over to help me. First he printed my tax return to another printer in the back. It came out completely distorted and sized wrong for the paper. He then asked if I wanted to print all the documents at once, which I agreed to do since it seemed easiest. He moved my USB drive to another computer, selected all the documents, and hit print. My tax return document required that I type in my password. Only one hitch – I didn’t know of any password for that document. The assistant asked his boss for assistance. They exchanged copy speak – soon the boss took over. Every document required a password, but he did something to get them to print. Everything printed in portrait even though a good percentage of the documents are set up to print in landscape. It was printing disaster!

I took my 80 plus pages of financial documents home. That night I lay awake worried about identity theft. The next morning I assembled another package of summary financial pages and pages that needed to be printed in color, plus my tax return. I returned to Copy Self and kept things under control this time. By then my packages were coming together, but I was sick of getting ready for this meeting. All my time in France was being spent preparing to get a residence permit. I complained to our French tutor. I complained to Brenda. They tried to make helpful suggestions, but I was having none of it. I wanted this monkey off my back. I complained to my coach, who pulled me up short to ask how was I taking care of myself. We figured out that I needed a rest. Also I needed to recognize that others were making suggestions to try to help me because they could recognize better than me that I needed help. My real job at that point was to help myself.

A few days remained until our appointment. I agreed to take time off – we surfed the web at the Luxembourg Gardens and walked around town. I went to the gym and went to bed earlier at night. I resigned myself that if there was a problem, they would give me more time to fix it.

Our package was assembled. We had another meeting on Skype with Jennifer from Mon Ami Andy to go over everything. I highlighted the places in our documents where the income stream on my spread sheet showed up as deposits in the three months of US bank statements. I highlighted where transfers occurred from the US to France, and provided copies of the transfer documents themselves. I downloaded and printed the Tricare Overseas (retired military medical insurance) pages to show that we were enrolled and to show the list of recommended physicians and hospitals in France. I created an example of a bill from our doctor that I paid and for which I filed a claim and received reimbursement. I went over the checklist again and again, finding a few more mistakes and fixing them (and trudging back to Copy Self to print new copies). Brenda and I rehearsed how we would assemble our documents, how we would present them, and what we would say. On Sunday before our Monday appointment, we rested.

On Monday we went about 2 hours early to our official appointment at the main Préfecture office on Île de la Cité. We got through security and lined up outside of the room where we were to have our meeting. A man at the front door greeted us and quickly checked our paperwork, which he pronounced as “magnifique”. Then he gave us each a ticket and told us to sit down. In our room full of people, there really weren’t others like us. There were corporate employees with their families and a corporate attorney to shepherd them through the process, spouses one of whom is a French citizen and the other requiring to establish residence, students following the instructions from their schools, and others who spoke good French. People always ask us, why are you here, to which we shrug and say because we thought we would like it.

We were finally called to our meeting with a young woman, I would guess in her ’20s. She first went through Brenda’s paperwork and then through mine. She asked questions about our medical insurance, but after we demonstrated the process for reimbursement, she checked with her supervisor and accepted the plan. She was happy with everything else. Finally she wanted to know why Brenda’s last name was neither mine nor her maiden name. Brenda had been married in Australia in the ’70s. The woman asked for a copy of the divorce decree. I told her that I didn’t have it with me, but could get a copy at our apartment. She said she was going to lunch, and for us to get it and meet her back afterward with it.

We raced home and got our copy of the nearly 35 year old document, which I had attached to an original copy of our marriage license in an envelope of extra stuff I had brought first to San Francisco and then to France just in case. 25 years ago we sent to Australia for it so that we could obtain a military ID for Brenda when I was in the Navy. No one had ever asked about it since. We raced back to the Préfecture, entered back through security and waited for our inspector to return from lunch. When she finally returned I gave her the document, and she asked me for the translation. Checkmate – I told her I didn’t have a translation. She consulted her supervisor and bought back three documents for us to sign, two swearing that we were married and one for me to agree to accept whatever liability France might bear for our not having a good enough divorce decree [my interpretation]. Since I have already signed many software end user agreements, I readily signed what was put before me.

Our inspector printed new récépissés for us to verify and sign. We are once again legal residents in France. She also gave us each a Convocation (appointment slip) to pick up our real Cartes de Sejour on or after June 25th. The new permit is good through the end of January 2015. To renew that one, we need to start 5 months ahead of time, which would be next October.

In the aftermath I came down with a cold, which I’ve now passed on to Brenda. Still, we celebrated our new cartes de séjour and my birthday with our French friends Cat and Jacques, including a night of dancing. I just hit 21 for the third time (63), still trying to grow up.

A new apartment in Paris

Boulevard Saint-Germain when it was first created

We’ve moved just 3 blocks from our first apartment in a medieval building along the Seine to a new apartment in Paris built on Boulevard Saint-Germain during the Haussmannian era of the mid 1800s. From roughly 1850 to 1870 France was governed by Emperor Napoleon III, who as a main priority set about remodeling Paris to open up the view from the narrow, cramped medieval streets and to install sewer and water systems that would serve the city as it grew. To do so, he appointed an exceptionally strong public administrator, Georges-Eugène Haussmann, as Prefect of the Seine Department of France. Haussmann carried out a program to demolish crowded and unhealthy medieval neighborhoods, to annex suburbs surrounding Paris, to relocate many thousands of people from central Paris to the suburbs, to create a series of wide, straight avenues with parks and squares, to construct new sewers, fountains and aqueducts. He overcame tremendous opposition to do this, and in 1870 he was dismissed by Napoleon III to assuage pressure from his critics. The third phase of Haussmann’s plans was still unfinished, but work continued even after he was fired and was finally completed in 1927. In the end, hundreds of old buildings were razed, and more than 80 kilometers of new avenues were constructed.

Our new apartment building

The Paris you know today was the Paris created by Haussmann. The uniformity spelled out in Haussmann’s building codes created a look that is distinctly Parisian, but if you’ve seen one Haussmann apartment, you’ve seen them all. There is still a certain sentiment for the old medieval streets and wood beamed buildings.

We moved for several reasons, but our new place has both pluses and minuses compared to the old one. We looked at apartments all over Paris, but in the end opted for another apartment in the 5th arrondissement simply because we like that neighborhood the best. The basic improvements we sought were a quieter location with more space for guests and a kitchen with an oven. The new apartment is about 50% larger and has a much better arrangement for guests. It has high ceilings and appears much more spacious. Also the fixtures and appliances are better quality. It looks on a courtyard rather than out into a noisy street. On the negative side, the new apartment was quite dirty, and we spent many unanticipated hours cleaning. We were able to negotiate a rent credit for some of the time we spent. The new apartment was not nearly as well furnished as our first, so we’ve spent considerable time and money buying missing pieces. The old apartment had double paned windows, while the new one has the original single panes – you can see the glass flowing. Brenda misses the view of Notre Dame and the light and bright feel of the old place, as well as the large luxurious marble bath with double sinks. Hugh loves it that the new place is quiet at night.

Our medieval street, Rue de Bievre. The French President François Mitterand had lived halfway down the block.

The medieval street, Rue de Bievre, at the old apartment shows how Paris was before Haussmann.

It was the first time we had to arrange for gas and electricity, since utilities and Internet had been handled by the landlord in the first apartment. We were able to call the Frech utility EDF and make our arrangements in English, which really helped since we had to estimate our usage of gas and electricity to properly size the capacity that would be allocated to us. We pay a flat rate that can be adjusted based on meter readings each quarter. The start up of our service went very smoothly. While at the old apartment the heat was electric, here we have gas heat (radiators) and hot water. The old apartment had two electric meters, one with a lower rate from 11pm to 7 am, the other with a higher rate during the daytime. Here we have only one electric meter and one gas meter, the assumption being that since we use the cheaper gas for heat and hot water, we don’t need the same incentives to save power. Gas in Europe generally costs 2-3 times as much as we pay in the US. We have become much better conservers of energy.

It was also the first time for us to sign up for Internet service. Since we already had two mobile phone accounts with Orange, a provider of both mobile and residential communications services, we shopped with them first. For and additional 25 Euros per month, we arranged bundled services that include, in addition to our two cell phones, fiberoptic internet and HD TV with extra on demand movies and TV (all in French of course), unlimited calling to US land lines, plus a mobile hot spot for up to 4 devices that has unlimited data usage. Telecoms are competing in Europe! Our total bill for two cell phones and all our residential communications needs is about 75 Euros per month, far less than we pay in the US.

Installation was not easy. Hugh made an appointment to meet the installer, but when he contacted our building concierge about getting access to the basement for part of the work, she refused him and told him it would have to be after 6 pm because she had other plans for that day. Hugh went and requested that the appointment be cancelled, but the installer showed up anyway. It took over 6 hours to figure out the best way to pull fiberoptic cable from the connection point outside our apartment into the place were the “set top box” was to be located. The installer was quite ingenious and revealed many secrets about how these buildings from the 1800’s can meet the needs of today.

Shortly before 6 pm we again contacted the concierge, who argued with the installer for about half an hour about why we should need to upgrade service, also noting that she had not agreed to assist prior to 6 pm even though she was now there talking to us. She called down some of our neighbors, who testified on our behalf that what we were requesting was necessary. We remained quiet throughout the process and let the installers and the neighbors settle the issue. Finally the concierge relented and our installer was able to complete work in about 5 minutes.

Living room and dining rooms – picture on left was my Valentine’s present

We had to change our address with the mail service so that mail sent to the old address would be forwarded. In France it costs 35 Euros for the service to forward mail for 6 months. Unfortunately, there was a parcel had been sent though the mail that could not be forwarded. Brenda purchased a French print for Hugh to be delivered on Valentine’s Day. It was being sent by mail through La Poste. Unfortunately, the company promising delivery notified us that there was a delay. Perhaps a week later they sent email to us that the print had shipped and included the tracking number for the package. Hugh tracked the package but noted that it remained at an unidentified location at La Poste (somewhere in Paris) for more than a week. We contacted the company that shipped the print and also visited our local post office, who could not help us with locating the parcel. Finally we received email from La Poste that they would be contacting us for delivery. Unfortunately by then we had moved. After the mandatory 2 tries to deliver (we think you need to be standing by your mail box when they show up because they made no attempt to contact us), we received notice that we could pick up the parcel at the post office. We went there the next day with our notice. The postal clerk asked us for identification. He would not accept any ID except an original passport (not drivers license or copy of passport). Hugh had to go back and get the passports before we received our package.

When we opened it we discovered it was damaged – a small dent in the tube caused a crease the length of the print. Eventually we were able to return the print to the company that shipped it and receive a new one. We were able to purchase a frame and hang it a month or so after Valentine’s Day. Voila! All’s well that ends well.

The new apartment remains a work in progress. Here are some photos comparing old and new and showing what it’s like in the new place. It has been a pleasant surprise to discover that there is a world of new shops and activities right in the same area where we’ve been living the past year.