Thursday, May 6, 2010


I'm not convinced that anyone reads this blog anymore, so I feel no shame or guilt in taking this opportunity to vent and analyze some of the feelings I've been having about France. :)

Our contracts as assistants are at an end, and it's been an interesting ride. Our relationship with France can best be described as one of love/hate. Suprisingly, the things we once thought we'd hate have since been reversed. As Andrew points out, "It used to be that we loved France but hated the French; now we hate France and love the French."(In all honesty, I never hated either, but there is a certain stereotype that Amercans hate the French. My step-father once told me, "Why would I want to go to France? There are French people there!")

It feels, much like it did in Mali, that France did everything in its power to make us hate it. Most, if not all of our problems came from administrative issues and not from interactions with individual people. Here's a brief synopsis of our experience to date:

1) The Assistant Program that placed us here initially placed us in two separate regions of France, despite the fact that we not only indicated on the application, as requested, that we were married, but we chose the same regional preferences, and mailed our applications in the same envelope. Obviously, we initially worked that one out, but not without a lot of complaining and stress.

2) The School District took it's sweet time paying us our salary. We started work on October 1. I don't think we were paid until the end of November.

3. The CAF or the housing subsidy to which all other assistants are eligible, refused to pay us this subsidy because we're married. Explain that one to me, please. Most volunteers, all of whom have roommates, and some of whom even live together as a (unmarried) couple, pay between 80-150€ a month in rent. We pay about 275€ each. The real kicker is that the CAF didn't tell us we were ineligible for six months. They just kept asking for different forms, none of which were demanded with the initial application, until finally they ran out of bureaucratic shit to distract us and just said no. A typical interaction with the CAF would go like this:
Us: Why haven't we received our subsidy yet?
CAF: Oh, you're just missing your 2007 tax form/visa photocopy/pay stub/other random paper.
Us: Uh, why haven't we been told we needed this before?
CAF: (Insert completely bogus excuse, one of which being that we were obviously incompetent)
Us: Ok, here you go.
CAF: Great! everything should be fine. You'll get your money within a week.

Repeat every month or so.

Finally we received the final NO, and after begging others to intervene for us, we were told, "Yes, we know it's not fair to you, but that's the way it is." At least they admitted their incompetence. So there goes 2,000€ we'd been counting on.

4. The MGEN or supplemental health insurance, has been another pain in the neck. We opted to buy the additional coverage because French health care only covers 70 % of our costs, and it seemed like a good investment at the time because we planned to visit the dentist, get new glasses, etc. Well, the MGEN never issued us our health cards, which meant that we had to pay all costs upfront and then submit receipts to be reimbursed. This resulted in us never being reimbursed. The first time Andrew visited the doctor, the MGEN lost his forms, so they never reimbursed him. He had to send them twice before they gave him 50% back. The second time, they reimbursed him only 30%. Now, the French system is supposed to automatically give him 70%, so at least he should've gotten thatl. When we finally got a hold of someone at MGEN, she said she had no idea what the problem was, and that she'd look into it. Cue Jeopardy music. My experiences are similar. I did get reimbursed one time, but the first time they also only gave me 30% because the date my document was signed was technically after my appointment since the doctor didn't have the appropriate forms on hand and I had to return later in the week to get it. Since it was my first appointment, it counted as though I had seen a doctor who was out of my network range since he wasn't officially registered as my doctor. Touché.

5. The University, where Andrew got a part time job teaching, just informed him that although he finished his last class weeks ago, he will not be paid until mid-July, at the end of the semester. Of all the things, this is probably the most infuriating, non-sensical and unjust thing that has happened. Andrew has talked to everyone he knows to help him out, but there doesn't seem to be a chance in hell. They have a "very strict pay calendar." In what world can you get away with paying your professors only twice a year??? Goodbye 800€ that was to be used in Italy. Looks like we'll be credit-carding it all until July, when he should be paid. My biggest worry is that if he's not here to fight with them, they might decide to not pay him, knowing that he'll be out of the country and can't do anything about it at that point.

6) Our landlady is the only person we've had a particular problem(s) with. First, she seemed really nice. Her name is Leroy-Dragon, or "The Dragon-King" (no joke) and we affectionately call her (behind her back) "The Dragon." When Andrew arrived in France, he convinced her to let him stay in the apartment before it was technically ready for us, and she didn't charge us for the couple extra days we were there before the start of the month. That was probably the last nice thing that she did for us. After that, she never got our buzzer fixed, which meant that anyone visiting had to call us on our cell phone and we had to go down 4 flights of stairs to let them in. We also never got packages delivered because the buzzer didn't work. In addition, she had us under her own electricity counter, and then never received the bills, and once she did, we always ended up paying half, even though her apartment is 2x the size of ours, and the electricity was always being blown because she had every light in her apartment on and we couldn't even turn on our electric stove. In January she finally put us onto our own counter, for which we have to pay 65€, something we just found out yesterday (isn't that what landlords are supposed to do???) but the power was even less than before, so that we had to turn out all the lights to turn on the oven. We learned to cook by candelight real quick. When we complained, she said to call the company and ask them to come out and raise the power. Well, it cost a fortune to call them (no such thing as 1-800 numbers in France!!) and when we finally got a hold of someone, they said it was 30€. We grudgingly made the appointment, but they never turned up, and we couldn't get a hold of them for a long time. Finally, they said they hadn't sent anyone because the counter was still in The Dragon's name, not ours! We *thought* we then changed it into our name, only to find out months later it had never happened. In the process of moving out, we confessed to the Dragon that we'd been under her name, not by choice, obviously, and she then had a fit and demanded all this money. Andrew was able to read our counter and multiply the kwh used by the rate of the electricity company to determine how much we owed, but she wouldn't believe that. And of course none of us can reach the company by telephone to figure out our bill, so she's ready to just keep our whole deposit. The worst part is that even if we pay for our electricity now, she refuses to return our deposit for three months. The other assistants received their deposits when they left. Again, bye-bye 450€ that we'll probably never see again. Another bad things about the Dragon: she offered to buy our Netbook, so we saved it for her though there were others who wanted it, then she gave us the money and the next day said she didn't want it anymore because the print was too small. It's a Mini HP, what did she expect??? So now we're screwed because we leave in a couple of days and don't have the time or the contacts to re-sell it.

I do have a lot of positive things I want to say about France and the French, but I'm gonna wait a couple of days because I'm so steamed up right now!


  1. Hi there, cousin-in-law!
    I still read. And your comment on Facebook about cheaper but just-as-painful things in France made me laugh. How cheap?? I'm jealous.

  2. 14€, or about $18! Surprisingly an eyebrow waxing is 7€!

  3. That is crazy cheap! There are salons and spas all around where I work, but I've been to scared so far to check one out. I miss my waxer in Utah. :( It's a hard/weird relationship to develop, I think.

    P.S. All of the above sounds awful!!! I didn't mean to overlook all of that. Hopefully there will be some happy, mellow, cheap downtime before China.

  4. I still read it!

    And yeah, that does not sound like fun. Lauren has told me many shitty things about French administration, and I can't say that I would want to deal with it. Hopefully China will be better?...maybe...

  5. Nothing like getting entangled in government bureaucracies.

  6. She said nothing of my visa problems, nor little OFII screw-ups, nor that we didn't get the reimbursement for the netbook we bought (€100), being unable to watch t.v. because the cable hookup was in the bathroom. We had to convert our dollars to euros when the dollar was weak, now we have to convert our euros to dollars when the dollar is strong, and we had to buy a whole new wardrobe because everything from Mali was destroyed, but we didn't know the cheap stores so we spent lots extra. Okay, I think that's it.