How to Stay in France

After years of detailed research and surveys (not), here’s my answer to that million-dollar question (okay, million-dollar for a select number of non-Europeans in France on short-term visas):

Dumb f*cking luck and determination.

Though my journey to living in France long-term has come to fruition, I’ve been reliving the stress of that quest recently through a couple of friends. It’s reminding me that even though I somehow worked it out and it’s all over thank the lord, no two paths to a life in France are the same, because there’s no simple way to do it. So I can’t actually give much advice. I wish there was some magic membership card I could just share with these people, but of course it doesn’t work that way. And if in the end it works out for me and not for them, what’s that about? Did I do it right and they do it wrong?

Blurg. Here are the different elements of my dumb luck:

  1. My maître de langue position allowed me to stay a second year in Poitiers, during which I started working on the CAPES, even though this was technically against the rules (like so many things in France). On a side note, I did ask if I could have my old job in Reims before applying to new places, and was told that that contract was strictly limited to one time, for one year.
  2. The rectorat somehow accorded me a titre de séjour for my stage year (wtf? they will probably never do this again in the history of time).
  3. I met, fell in love with, and moved in with J, who is wonderful (definitely also luck) just in time to get a vie privée card the following year.

Here are the different elements that could be more chalked up to determination:

  1. I sent out dozens of CVs and forged my own way to get a lectrice position and later a maître de langue position.
  2. I got a really fun and really useful masters degree in foreign language education, which I loved (LOVED—though speaking of luck, that program doesn’t exist anymore).
  3. I blazed my way through CAPES preparation and passed it the first try.
  4. I also had a plan B, which was an M2 (just the second year of the MEF masters degree), which probably would have worked out in some way, if it had come down to it.

That feels a little like bragging, but I’m trying to say that I think that with a good dose of dedication, staying in France can work out. The path to it working out is just always foggy, probably involves some back-up plans, and possibly a return trip or two to the US.

I mean, if anyone’s asking.

 

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How to Understand Nothing about Your Job: Work for the Education Nationale

If I were to give this week a name in terms of work, I’d give it one of the following:

General Confusion Week

No Good News Comes without Bad News

How to Feel Like a Worthless (?) Immigrant

Take your pick, as you read the following details about two different things that happened this week.

1) I got a promotion. When you start out as a stagiare or as a titulaire in the Education Nationale, you can apply to have your former contracts taken into account to give you ancienneté (=senority). What with my years as a maître de langue, a lectrice, and an assistant, I had 3.5 years of ancienneté to ask for. Unfortunately, according to the list of what counts as ancienneté, none of this counted because I was American, and not French or other European. I decided to ask for it anyway, and sent off the request in January of 2012. I got an answer in November of 2012 (yes, ELEVEN MONTHS LATER) saying it was not possible to credit me those years because I wasn’t in the right categories. I contacted the union about doing a “recours hierarchique” but the union guy I wrote to just cited me the same rules, plus, it looked like it was too late to appeal. The appeal has to be done within two months, and what with my surgery, I only got around to thinking about it three months later.

So last week the CCMA (comité mixte académique and some other C word I don’t know) met with all the union representatives, and lo and behold, in my box on Wednesday morning I found two different notes saying I’d been bumped up to échelon 4 because of ancienneté (I was at échelon 3, where you typically stay for a few years). Don’t ask me why, or how, but it is wonderful, and I’ll get retroactively paid 48euros more per month since September 2012.

Edit July 2013: Turns out this ancienneté promotion is good for all teachers after their first stagiaire year, and was automatic for everyone at my status. So, still nothing for the three and a half years I worked for the EN before passing the CAPES.

2) I have to technically reapply for my job every year till I become French. I found this out yesterday after the rectorat asked me what the status of my new carte de séjour was. Of course, I’ll get my new carte de séjour probably in September, after getting a récépissé at my appointment on July 2nd, so, really, there was not much to say except that I’d asked for an appointment. I then got an e-mail asking me to apply for my own hours when the open positions are published this coming Monday. My boss has assured me that the hours are reserved for me, and that it’s just an administrative problem, but still, applying for my own job in case I don’t have a titre de séjour next year (the chances of that being zero, of course…) does make me feel like the bastard child of the system.

In short, the rectorat doesn’t like the fact that my carte de séjour is always valid only for a year, and there’s nothing I can do about that. I can only get a ten-year card starting in September 2014, which is also the month when I plan to drop off my naturalisation request. Does that mean I’ll only be applying for my job again next year, and after that this bulls*** will be over? I’m not counting on it.

I’ve been had

That’ll teach me to be overly eager.

…by overly efficient French bureaucracy.

Some explanation: To renew my vie privée carte de séjour, I have to have a PACS attestation that’s less than three months old. My prefecture appointment is July 2nd. Last year, when I wrote to Paris to get the attestation, it took three weeks to get it. So I thought I’d be all on top of things and write them on March 23rd. I’d get the attestation around two weeks later, right?

Wrong. Sigh. The Tribunal in Paris must have turned that attestation around in like five hours. I got it on March 26th. It’s worthless to me.

Developments

A few developments…

1) I go back to school tomorrow, starting with the 2e. In my groups there are a few really great kids that I had in 3e last year, and only a couple of trouble-makers, but not the worst of them. I’ve been told I have some great students in my 3e and 5e classes too. Here’s hoping it all goes fairly well for as long as possible. The optimist in me speaking…

2) I got my titre de séjour today. The Rectorat did indeed freak out last week about my titre de séjour, since all they knew was that I had to have one, and not how the process actually works. For future reference for anyone in this type of situation, the prefecture cannot give you a titre de séjour before it takes effect. This makes sense, since they take your old one from you at that time. But the people at the Rectorat (not the same woman as last year, unfortunately) were living in some alternate world where they imagined I could ask for my new titre de séjour whenever I wanted (whereas it’s really 3 months maximum in advance) and get it whenever I wanted. So I had to send them the links to the laws explaining that my récépissé allowed me to work. Here they are in case anyone ever needs them:

The Rectorat backed down quickly but the whole thing was not, as the French would say, “normal.”

3) I made a date at the polyclinique in Poitiers to have foot surgery. I’ll go into hospital on November 21st and leave on November 23rd, but will most likely be out of work till the rentrée in January, owing to the fact that I won’t be able to walk much. The French orthopedist was very reassuring, seemed very competent, and suggested the simplest of the surgeries that I knew about for this problem. It’s not a permanent fix (there is none for osteoarthritis) but walking should be much easier afterward, for several years.

4) J and I bought our plane tickets to go to the States in February. He’ll be taking a three-week trip, spending a week without me at Hueco Tanks State Park near El Paso, one of the best bouldering sites in the United States (the best according to some). I’ll meet up with him there when my vacation starts, spend a few days there, and then we’ll fly (yes, fly) to San Antonio to spend a week and a half with my parents. This will be J’s first trip to the U.S. though not his first trip to North America. I’m SUPER excited. I’m making a list of things that I’ll show him or force him to try:

  • Texas barbecue
  • Elaborate pancakes from some sort of diner
  • Tex Mex
  • Margaritas
  • Bagels
  • Cheesecake
  • My mom’s homemade bread

It appears for the moment that the list is entirely food-based. Hmm.

That’s all for now, cross your fingers for me that this school year will be ten times better than last year!

My titre de séjour is ready!

We got back from the south yesterday at around 8 and today Ju went to the mailbox to sift through all of the ads we’d received in our absence. Tucked in the middle of one of them was my letter from the prefecture saying that my new titre de séjour is ready. This wouldn’t immediately be clear to the untrained eye from the letter they sent, where it does not actually say that a titre de séjour is ready for me. Instead, it states clearly that I’ve asked for one and that I need to bring my récépissé, passport, and old titre de séjour along with the tax (of 106 euros) the date of my new appointment.

I’m relieved as always. This year the relief is because of the lack of J’s avis d’imposition with our common address on it (see this post), and because the rectorat sent me another mysterious e-mail telling me I needed a titre de séjour for this year. I’m not sure why they’re stating the obvious (which they had already done by phone and e-mail back in March), but I assume it’s because they wouldn’t have jumped through the tax hoops to get me a titre de séjour again. I’m not sure why, but it’s true that now that this is a permanent position, it would be much more expensive for them. Last year it was just a question of around 200 euros.

Anyway, the fact that my récépissé still said “célibataire” and “travailleur temporaire” and “n’autorise pas son titulaire à travailler sans APT” also bugged me. The woman at the guichet had told me that the changes (as in, I’m not célibataire, and this was not for a “travailleur temporaire” cds) wouldn’t show up on the récépissé, only on the new carte de séjour. But it perturbed me, and I was worried it would perturb the rectorat since I have to start work at the end of August! I had reassured myself by looking into the immigration code that a récépissé of this type DOES give you the right to work, but the rectorat knows less about this than I do and I was always worried they’d freak out unnecessarily.

Coming soon, a non-bureaucratic post about my little jaunt to the south this past week.

Trust no one!

So this year, as I may have already mentioned, I’m asking for a “vie privée” carte de séjour. In English, that means a family residence permit. Since J and I are PACSed and not married, that means proving a year of living together, which we can do, because my residence card expires August 31st and we moved in together August 25th last year (I know, we cut it close, but there were just no good houses to be had before then).

All year long I knew I’d be applying to change status so I kept every bill we ever got. I had our renters’ insurance contract, our water and electric bills, our rent receipts, and since the prefecture asked for them, I got our separate (but same address) health insurance/social security attestations.

Back in May, J and I declared our taxes. The first year of the PACS you can still do it separately so we ran the application twice to see how much it would cost. Individually, it cost us 80 euros less. So we declared individually. At the time, I wondered if I would regret such a decision for a measly 80 euros.

Yes, yes I would. At my prefecture appointment a couple of weeks ago, I turned in everything and the agent said that I needed to bring in our “avis d’imposition” (tax notifications). I mentioned that we had declared separately and she said it didn’t matter, we could just get an attestation from the Tax Service saying we’d declared at the same address.

Turns out, after a couple of phone calls to the Tax Service and rummaging through J’s papers (he hadn’t kept a receipt of his internet declaration OR kept his original mail-in declaration), that J forgot to change his address when he declared. According to the tax service, he still lived at our old flatshare*. JOY. We wrote to them to change it, because he needs to pay his housing tax here and not there, but they can’t give us any sort of attestation since he sort of (precisely) declared, on his honor, that he lived somewhere else. JOY. The only thing we can have from the tax people with both our names on it at the same address will arrive in October or November, and that’s the housing tax.

I wrote a letter to the prefecture this morning saying all of those things, sending in MY receipt for my internet declaration (because I am organized like that), and hoping that they’ll let it pass this year, since the tax calendar doesn’t really lend itself to a residence card application in June (official tax bills won’t arrive till August).

What have I learned from this? I’ll be on J’s back from now on about any paperwork that might help me stay in the country.

I’m counting on this working out, as it always has, with more or less angst on my part. But honestly, I hate asking for a carte de séjour. It always reminds me that the French could kick me out of the country if they wanted to (though the ties to J through the PACS are a bit stronger than what I had before), and that normal people who live in their native countries don’t deal with this mess. It’s not even on their radar. They can feel free to screw up their taxes and without it messing up things for their copine.

*Oddly enough, our taxe d’habitation from two years ago, when we were just flatmates, has only our two names on it, without the other two flatmates.

Vacation!

It’s Christmas vacation! I had an awful week, in terms of morale at work, and am hoping the vacation will bring me back up. Since Poitiers’ Place D’Armes/Place Leclerc was finished last summer, the town is back to normal in terms of Christmas decorations:

Christmas season 2011 in Poitiers

Here is an explanation of all the Christmas activities in Poitiers. There’s no ice rink this year but the chalets de Noël are back on the Place D’Armes along with a beautiful, huge carousel and a big Christmas tree. The crèche vivante on the Place Notre Dame has a camel (a dromedaire in French where they make the distinction between an animal with one hump and an animal with two) and a baudet de Poitou, an endangered species. We stopped by to see the hairy baudet and he was in the process of eating one of the Christmas trees that had been placed not very thoughtfully right next to his stable.

It is a mess getting into and out of Poitiers in a car right now. I think I’m actually going to start parking my car at the parcobus and taking the bus in. Tomorrow I hope to do some exceptional Sunday grocery shopping and then head into town to grade papers at What’s Up Coffee which has very yummy bagel sandwiches. I discovered the yumminess of the bagel sandwiches yesterday when I went into town to pick up my new carte de séjour. The Vienne prefecture has been renovated as have the cartes de séjour, which are now credit-card-sized and biometric! I found this excessively exciting. As every year, I paid a completely different amount in stamp taxes from every other year I’ve had a carte de séjour.

Otherwise, J gets back from his week in Picardie tomorrow late because of a rock-climbing competition in Arnas this weekend, and we PACS first thing Monday morning. Then I have two whole weeks of nothing, except for grading/lesson planning and spending Christmas with J’s family, because I’m not going home this year! This will be my first French Christmas! Even my assistant year I managed to escape to England.