The French Health Care System: Carte Vitale

I’ve been writing recently about the wonderous ease of the French Health Care System, hailing it for the way it functions. Today, the “wonderous wheel” has ground to a halt. I feel like I’ve just woken into yet another bureaucrazy nightmare. I’ve written about several of those on this blog, sad to say.

It all started when several weeks passed, and I had yet to receive a reimbursement for a doctor’s appointment I had in early January. Reimbursements tend to happen fairly quickly, so I was getting concerned. Since I knew my French was not up to the task, I hired someone to help me out. images

You see, when I arrived here, I applied for my Carte Vitale as a dependent of my spouse. That process went fairly (and surprisingly) smoothly. But once I went into business, I was responsible for my own cotisations (taxes paid to healthcare) and no longer a dependent of my spouse. I never used my Carte Vitale that first year. Didn’t need to. I used it for the first time last year in the Fall. Ironically, I was reimbursed by check for a trip to my general doctor with no problem whatsoever. So why now all of the sudden was I not being reimbursed?

When my helper emailed me back saying I needed to apply for a new Carte Vitale, the card that coordinates the coverage, along with a copy of my translated birth certificate, I thought he might be joking. Birth certificate? They already have my birth certificate. That’s how I got the Carte Vitale I have now. But no. There was no joke.

He wrote: I just spoke to someone who works at La RAM. The Carte Vitale that you have worked last year when you used it – even though you had already registered as a micro-entrepreneur – because it takes them a certain amount of time to process the administrative change. They call this period a “temps de mutation”.

Damn mutants! Figures!

Turns out, the Carte Vitale I have now is no longer valid and still tied to my husband, despite the fact that it has my French social security number on it. Supposedly, it hasn’t been valid since opening my own business in January of 2016. Nevermind the fact that it has been OVER A YEAR, and they never mentioned anything to me this whole time. Nevermind that no one asked for anything in the correspondence that said, “Welcome to RAM.” Nevermind that I have an online account with them stating I am covered and that reflects my chosen general doctor. Nevermind that check I cashed with my reimbursement back in November.

No. Forget all that. Now I have to send them a translated birth certificate and my bank details. After some time, they will decide to send me yet another form I have to fill out and send with a copy of my passport with a new photo. After some time, they might process that and send me a new Carte Vitale. Seriously?????

So now, I am required to collect a pile of “feuille de soins” or papers that verify any medical treatments I receive in order to be reimbursed retroactively. Seriously?????

Ah, another day in the life in France.

Common Expat Problem #2367: The Cost of Self-Advocacy

There are incredibly creepy corporations everywhere that feed on the certainties that people have busy lives and limited free time, and that those people’s desire to live in peace outweigh concerns over the pocket. Cable, phone, and insurance companies come to mind. When you are in your home country, battles over billing errors are frustrating but manageable. Most consumers don’t need to hire outside help to get things sorted…although some certainly do.

When you live in a foreign land and lack sufficient grasp of the language, when billing errors and account problems arise, you have no choice but to get help. You might be lucky enough to have a pool of friends to turn, but if not, or if you already feel terrible begging them for help repeatedly, you have to shell out some dosh to get matters under hand. It can be rather expensive.broken-cell-phone

My husband had a contract with #SFRMobile for several years. It had long expired, and we were paying month to month for an old phone we didn’t need anymore, so we cancelled the contract and switched to #Free, which saved us 70%. Cancelling was easy…relatively speaking. I managed to find a template letter en francais, edited it, and sent it recommande to ensure its receipt.

SFR cancelled the account promptly enough, but with no trace, making it impossible to log in and follow-up or even call. “Sorry, no such account exists.” In a letter, they said they would send a box to use to return the phone. They never did. Some time later, a letter came claiming we owed them 80 euros for the phone. My husband absolutely refused pay. In the meantime, we tried finding a place to drop off the phone with no luck.  Mailing it ourselves would have cost us as well, and the point was not to spend what we didn’t owe. Eventually, after several emails from SFR, we got a notice from a collection agency. By this point, we knew we needed help.

We hired someone to call the agency. He explained we were told we’d get a box to return the phone and never did. They agency told him that it was SFR’s fault and that they were forgiving the claim. Of course, none of this was in writing. All we had was an email from our friend and a verbal promise:

I had someone on the phone at [the collection agency].
I explained the case and they agree you should not pay !
They blocked the claim and asked me to call SFR, giving me a trick to bypass the problem of the ID (your number isno longer registered which makes impossible to reach the service). Unfortunately, the trick didn’t work.
I then called back – they are sending themselves the information to SFR, who may soon send you the
prepaid envelope. They said it could take some time, such intern mails being (slowly) treated by sfr.

So months later, we got another letter from the same agency again requesting we settle the amount we don’t actually owe to SFR. My husband, in his procrastination, had put off dealing with it, day after day, until we received a notice that the claim had escalated. Brilliant.

By this point, hubby just wanted to pay the frickin’ 80 euros and be done with it. In the end, we gave in, because who has several hours and 100+ euros to throw at an 80 euro problem? That’s my point. That’s what they count on. I suspect that companies like SFR are so bloody tenacious because they KNOW people will just up and give in. They must make most of their profit that way! It is nothing short of criminal.

I know this problem isn’t just ours. Recently on a popular expat forum, several of us were getting into the trials and tribulations we’ve suffered at the mismanaging hands of SFR. Even a quick visit to their Facebook page reveals disgruntled comments. Ridiculous!

I hope this is the end of our story, at least, but there is a tiny little niggling something inside that says it still might not be. For example, how long does it take, once they get the check, to go through and cancel all the bogus claims and processes against us? Pain in the…

I’ll take a problem in my own language over one in a foreign language any day!!!


Bureaucratic Nutters

Stick ShiftI’ve been holding onto this post for quite a while. I was waiting for the dust to settle. Today, it has. I have picked up my French driver’s license! This all started back in early March of 2016. Here’s the story…

Recently, driving home from our local prefecture on a license exchange issue, my husband exclaimed, “There’s nothing scarier than a nutter with power”. He was referring to a woman at the prefecture who has been hell-bent on making my life miserable.

You see, certain US states have an agreement with France for license exchange. My state, Florida, is one of them. So, according to the Service-Publique France website, I can exchange my Florida license for a French one if I apply within one year of the date of my carte de sejour. So, I drove up to the prefecture to meet a friend and translator to make my application several days before the deadline.

Knowing from past experience just how French bureaucracy works, I made sure I was over-prepared. I had every single document listed on Service-Publique, in triplicate, translated when necessary, in addition to one or two other things I thought might come in handy.

Here’s how it went:

First, the woman to whose window I was called had to check that Florida was in the US (I’m not kidding). Then she claimed she couldn’t read the license (hence I pulled out my certified translation). Then she said it was too new (2013) and that the best they could do was give me a provisional license reducing me to a new driver despite 30+ years of experience and a spanking clean record. So then I explained I previously has a NC license which I exchanged for this FL one when I moved in the US. She said there was no note of that on the license and shook her head (at which point I pulled out a certified translated drivers record that said exactly that!) Then she said she had no history for my former license in NC (which I produced). Then she said, “We don’t have an exchange policy with NC.” No shit, Sherlock. But my license is from FLORIDA! She couldn’t have cared less.

She said all she could do (as it was out of her hands completely…forget the fact that the previous year this same woman somehow found the courage to make an executive decision and issue my husband’s license on the spot) was take half my application, tearing up the required form to request the exchange claiming it was unnecessary. Then she told me to return the following week if I didn’t receive a letter beforehand denying my request.

This did, regrettably, ruin my day. I was despondent. But after a night of very little sleep tossing and turning over whether or not to roll over and play dead over this or to go back and face her royal highness, I chose to go back. For one thing, it donned on me I had failed to ask for a recipisse or receipt for my dossier, something that the Service-Publique website clearly stated should have been issued. It took all my faith and courage but I was determined that A) this woman not determine my destiny and B) that I do something productive and healing with the toxic feelings in me.

I called upon my French teacher at the time who met me at the prefecture and filled her in. I went with the intent of asking for a receipt for my visit the day before because I didn’t get one, and if possible, to plead my case to someone else. No such luck.

Madame bore her usual sour expression, at first scolding my friend for skipping line (we hadn’t) and then rudely refusing a receipt when my friend requested it. That’s when Madame noticed my phone. It was like a light went off in her head. Yes, I was recording everything! Suddenly she smiled brightly. She said it wasn’t a problem that there was blue ink on my application (which yesterday she claimed was an issue), and she helpfully asked if I had with me a record that she refused to take yesterday. Imagine!! She still wouldn’t take my required form saying it wasn’t important “yet” and that I’d still have to go back next week…yes, with the very form she wouldn’t take.

I didn’t know what would happen next, but I was hopeful Madame would think twice about yanking this yank’s chain again. Camera-phones rock! She may not have given me a receipt, but I left with one all the same! It’s unfortunate. Miserable people spread misery. They can’t contain all that agony themselves. In believing in their powerlessness, they fail to see their true power lies in helping people overcome their difficulties, not in creating more for them.

Anyway, after three more appointments (one to turn in that form, one to pay for my license, and one to pick it up, in addition to the two already mentioned, for a grand total of 5 trips), I finally have my license in hand, and it only cost me just under 300 euros factoring in translations, administrative help, all that gas, and the actual cost of the license! I’m not complaining. I’m really one of the lucky ones not having to take French driver’s lessons! Do I hear angels singing???

Business in France – A Whole New Kind of Logic

I don’t know whether to laugh, be disgusted, or terribly afraid. In January, I registered in France to start business as an auto-entrepreneur…er…scratch that…as of 2016, it’s now called micro-entreprise. Whatever it’s called, I have one…or became one.

My husband, on the other hand, has had his own micro-entreprise here for many years. Only he’s always been called a micro-entreprise because he started business before “auto-entrepreneur” even existed. Now, though, all auto-entepreneurs are called micro-entreprises. (Oh wait! I shouldn’t be using hyphens in those terms! The French just did away with hyphens…and the oignon which is now ognon but as far as I can tell, still a vegetable….which incidentally the French call legumes. But I digress.)

Art by Stuart Davies

Confused yet?

Perusing my Expat Facebook forums this morning, I read of yet another panicked businesswoman who has received notice of owing CIPAV, an agency responsible for retirement, a whopping sum of over €50,000. Sadly enough, this is an all too common experience here. French and foreigners alike doing business in this country are frequently driven to harakiri over such tribulations.

My fellow Americans, imagine if the IRS sent you a letter that said, “We’ve made a mistake. We are so very sorry. However, because we failed to collect from you the appropriate amount in social security contributions over the last several years, you now owe us $50,000 payable immediately. Have a nice day.”

It brings to mind memories of last year at this time, when my husband and I were dealing with a very similar issue. We discovered that he owed some €6000 to this same organization and were having some other very stressy troubles around money. We lived through that time, but we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop because that seems to be what happens here. It’s almost as if these business agencies just make up things as they go along. And according to inside sources, this isn’t just the perception of expats but natives as well.

It just seems like if you don’t set aside at least 60% of your income here, eventually someone somewhere is going to claim that all that money you spent on food and rent was actually supposed to have gone to them. The problem is that nobody seems to know what the $#*& is going on in this country…EVER.

When I was preparing my business, I went through a program for the unemployed. It was very helpful, actually. My counselor was wonderful and even spoke English fairly well. She alerted me of my rights to join an organization called ACCRE which would result in a reduction of “taxes” or “cotisations” that I paid in the first three years of my business. What new business doesn’t need that? Of course, I affiliated myself…or at least, I tried to. At first, the registering agency claimed they had not received my application, so I had to resend everything, including a copy of a signed receipt that says they actually did receive my first application. I’m still waiting to hear back.

Yet again this morning, I read another panicked Facebook post from a businesswoman affiliated with ACCRE who is now being charged €3000 in back pay for going over some kind of income threshold. It threw several of us into a panic because it was a mysterious threshold that none of us had heard of!  Eventually, someone was able to cut through the underbrush and clearly explain the facts, but more often, the explanations sound something like this:

It’s because cotisations are regularized by a percentage of your expected income for the first three years plus the amount you didn’t make when you weren’t in business at all multiplied by the number of cats and dogs in your household. This is only reported in January, and only if you fill out form 8067 which you can only do online between December 13th and 31st of the prior year, but which is actually due Dec. 1st, and only if the website is working at the time. So really, everything is just as it should be. Simple!

Case in point. My husband recently hit his own threshold and was required to start collecting TVA (VAT)…sales tax…on his invoices. So, being dutiful, he registered for a tax number and proceeded to collect sales tax. Several months later, a business associate in the UK relayed to him that they shouldn’t be paying this tax due to some agreement between countries. Even our French accountant said, at first anyway, that this was not true; he did have to collect tax. Eventually, the accountant discovered that he indeed did not need to collect the sales tax after all, meaning he now had to reimburse this UK business several thousand euros in taxes. Thank God he hadn’t paid it to the tax department yet. I shudder to think of the chaos that would have induced.

Nothing ever really adds up in France, at least not in my experience so far. What good is an estimate if it’s off by thousands of euros or a schedule of fees if they are just guidelines? And the worst part is, there is ZERO protection, it seems. (If I’m wrong, someone enlighten me.) Banks, agencies, bureaus…they all seem to be able to make up things as they go along and never inform anybody…let alone each other! Talk to one person, get one answer. Talk to another and get another answer. Choose the answer you like best, but be prepared to pay heavily for it in two or three years when someone just back from vacation decides they don’t like the answer you’ve chosen!

This is one crazy Matrix, here.

Believe it or not, it’s been good for me. It’s forced me to let go of my high ideals of efficiency and organization. It has also given me excellent practice in reigning in my total freak-outs to find that the sky hasn’t actually fallen and that the sun still rises in the East. Of course, the Sun is one of the last remaining free enterprises!


Merde! My Trip to the French Embassy in Washington


Well, today was a complete waste of time. The French Embassy refused to even look at my visa application because Stuart is in the EU.

I almost left completely defeated, but then I went back thinking “ask a different person and get a different answer”. It didn’t work. I left completely defeated anyway. I tried to explain that I wasn’t looking to establish residency in France. I just wanted to be with my husband for longer than the three months allowed on a Schengen while his US immigration went through. That didn’t make any difference, apparently.

I swear to GOD! Why TF does the embassy’s US website say…and I cut and paste here directly (bold for emphasis):

Visa for the spouse of a French national or European Union citizen

Visa for establishment in France

The foreign spouse of a French citizen (with exception to members of the European Union, of European Economic Space, of Switzerland, of Monaco, of St. Martin and of Algeria) [WELL I’M NONE OF THOSE; I’M A US CITIZEN!!! I REALIZE IN HINDSIGHT THIS MIGHT BE A CASE OF A POORLY CONSTRUCTED SENTENCE THAT THEY MEANT THE EXCEPTION TO APPLY TO THE FRENCH CITIZEN AND NOT THE SPOUSE] must obtain a long stay visa, valid as a resident card, in order to spend more than 90 days per semester in France. If granted, this visa is also a resident card at the same time, valid for as long as a year. You will only need to register at the local branch of the OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration) upon two first months of arrival in France.

If you stay more than a year in France, you will then need to apply for a Resident Card (“Carte de Séjour”)

This visa applies to all nationalities but Algerian or EU spouses of French nationals, for whom different agreements exists. [AGAIN, I’M NOT THE EU SPOUSE. I’M A US SPOUSE. CLEAR AS MUD! WHY THE HELL DOESN’T IT SAY “US SPOUSES OF EU CITIZENS”? THEN I WOULD HAVE KNOWN THEY WERE TALKING TO ME!]


If you would like to settle in France, the following documents must be presented:

You have to apply with all the required documents in original and one copy. The visa section does not make any copies.


– passport valid for three months after the last day of stay in the Schengen States. Please make sure the passport holds at least two spare pages for the consulate to affix the visa. Your passport should also be in good condition to be accepted.

– copies of the 5 first pages of your passport.

– 2 long stay application forms (only ONE for US citizens) [SOUNDS TO ME LIKE THIS BEING A VISA TO FRANCE WHICH IS IN THE EU MEANS ONE CAN ASSUME THE FACT THAT THEY MENTION US CITIZENS WITHIN PARENTHESES MEANS US CITIZENS OF EU SPOUSES CAN APPLY. IS THERE NOT A PROBLEM HERE?] filled out and clearly readable. Please use black ink. Make sure your cell phone number and e-mail address are also added upon the forms,

– 2 photographs (more information about the photograph) (only ONE for US citizens) [AND AGAIN – I MEAN, IF US CITIZENS OF EU MEMBERS CAN’T EVEN TAKE THIS ROUTE, WHY THE HELL DO THEY EVEN MENTION US CITIZENS?]. All photos must be recent, identical, passport size – 1,4″ x 1,7″ (3,5cm x 4,5cm) and showing face front the forehead hairline and ears on a white background, the face must take up 70-80% of the photograph.



So that’s what happened today. All those caps, hells, and other expletives might be a giveaway of how overjoyed I was to experience this today. Lesson: DO NOT GET HOPES UP!


“That’s it. It’s over. I want a divorce! I can’t do this anymore. I’m sick and tired of banging my  head against a wall. This is just too hard. It just isn’t worth it anymore. It’s killing me. I’m starting to associate my love for Stuart with nothing but suffering. I’m a wreck. I think I have PTSD. I’ve had dark circles under my eyes for a year. I can’t think. I can’t do that whole “request residency” at the prefecture again making a million copies of every document known to man. I’ve already been through that chapter.  We had tried to play by these rules during my 1st visit to France. We had called within one month of my arriving to make an appointment which we couldn’t get until two months later plus a week after my visa would have expired. Then I would have been waiting around for God knows how long for them to process it all, unable to leave the country without having to start all over again.”

Were they fucking yanking my chain? Pardon the French. I left the embassy in tears. My poor brother-in-law having driven me must have been quite uncomfortable.


Okay, this isn’t the end of the world. It sucks. Yes. Okay. But you can do it. It’s just one more “giant but illusory” obstacle meant to make you stronger. Heck, you could probably make the appointment at the prefecture NOW and get a head start. You don’t even have to bring a complete application. Who cares if they say it is incomplete and send you away with a recipisse (a receipt proving that I applied)? At least you’ll be able to stay longer than three months. If that’s the game, play it. But don’t let this steal your heart and soul away. Don’t let this be the end of the world. Don’t give up NOW! And don’t bark at your family like it’s their fault. Let it all just roll off your back like marbles. Forgive even this.

I’m working on it.

Seriously, is this process for real? I mean, how many people have to go through this garbage? How many stories are out there besides mine? I’m sure there are much worse. This system is obviously designed to completely destroy what would otherwise have been perfectly delightful relationships. I tell you what. If I had my own country, I would completely annihilate this type of BS.

As it is, I just have to learn to accept it. I really am doing my best.

One-Woman Exodus

Back to the story. So it’s July 31st. I’ve just been informed by email I’ll owe money at the closing for my house happening later that day. Due to a six hour time difference, there’s no way I can get hold of my realtor. My five bags (six counting my backpack) are packed, and we’re ready to head to the airport an hour away. Stuart and I are both feeling extremely meh. We’re numb with sadness over what must be done…the very thing I was for some reason trying so hard to avoid…life in the states.

We arrive. I get in the ticket line. I am then informed I missed my flight which actually left two hours ago.

“Say what?”

The airline employee pointed to the customer service desk. We made our way over.  They couldn’t get me out again until August 6th at the earliest. Did I want that ticket?

Now, my visa was expiring August 4th. What would happen if I overstayed two days? Anything? Would I get grilled leaving Amsterdam? Have to pay a fine? Be forbidden to return? So we held off on reserving that ticket and went home to sort things out.

As soon as we were outside, Stuart and I looked at one another and burst out laughing. I don’t think I’d ever felt so much relief in all my life. So, we rolled my enormous luggage back to the car and went home. How did this happen? How did I mess up? Was I sabotaging myself?

When we got back, I checked my email. Sure enough, it stated that my departure time was 10AM, just as I had thought. This wasn’t my screw-up. Apparently, the airline had changed the flight time, but somehow, I missed the notification.

Stuart said, “You’ve got to call and ask for a refund!”

So, I called. But I wasn’t offered a refund. Instead I was offered the same flight out, August 6th. I wanted to grab it, but there was this visa issue that needed to be resolved first. I explained that and said I’d call back.  Stuart and I were both over the moon that we would have another week together.

We then began the “investigation” about my visa. The first thing I did was call my friend who happened to be in France and happened to be French. I asked if she’s help translate our situation at the police station. We needed to ask if I could get some kind of visa extension by explaining my situation. We drove into town with my friend on stand-by, pressed the buzzer outside the police station and were bruskly told to drive to the next town another fifteen minutes away. It was lunch time after all.

Fortunately for us, we spotted a gendarme on the street a block away speaking to someone. We parked the car, made our phone call to our translator, handed the phone to the officer, and waited to hear his response. He was very helpful (I’m not being sarcastic) and suggested we go to the airport to speak to the police there. We weren’t really up for another hour drive, so we went home again. On the way, we had a now familiar conversation about how challenging life was proving to be for us in France. Even with speaking better French, situations like this were so complicated, we’d still have to rely on translators.

Once home, I called the airline again, and that’s when I was told they had a flight out “tomorrow”.  “What about the 6th?” I asked. No longer an option. They had a seat tomorrow. It was the only one they were offering. Did I want it? Ug! All that sweet relief and joyous irony suddenly turned sour. I had minutes to make a decision. All my bags were packed. It was either go now or stay in France and go through the residency procedure there, which once started would have meant I couldn’t leave until I got my carte several months later, or it was pay $2000 for another plane ticket, or leave Stuart the very next day, going through the whole airport drive and luggage thing all over again. And remember, there was the question of whether or not my house would indeed close without a hitch. I didn’t like any of my choices. With the pressure on, I surrendered and took the flight.

The following day, we packed the car and off we went to the airport. It was one car ride I never wanted to end. I kept hoping the car would break down or something, but of course, we got there with no problems. We got in line and when I approached the desk, I was informed that I was flying to Washington. Thinking she meant Reagan Airport, I explained to the desk agent that I was flying to Dulles. No, she said, Washington. But my original flight was for Dulles! I have a hotel reservation a block from Dulles! She checked her screen.

The only flight is to Washington.


So, Stuart and I were back at the same customer service desk where we had an identical conversation with two more desk agents. By this point, I was shaking and quite broken down. Reagan and Dulles were at least an hour apart, maybe more. I was already arriving at midnight. I was sleep-deprived from the week’s other stresses. Not only was I flying to the wrong airport, I was flying through Atlanta instead of direct. That meant I’d have to claim my massive luggage in Atlanta and recheck it. Did I mention I’d hurt both my right knee and left toe several weeks before and was having to limp? Now I’d have to take a costly taxi to my hotel too? I could not do this. I didn’t have the strength anymore. Over several months, I had been burned to a nervous frazzle.

Stuart and I roamed the airport pushing my mountain of suitcases around trying to pull an answer down, “Does this mean I stay or does this mean I  go?” I was so confused. I was beyond confused. I was angry. I was sick to my stomach. Everything inside said that I wanted more time in France…just a little more time. I had given up so much to be there…everything! Now I was leaving? I felt like a complete failure and a total idiot. Why was everything such a mess? And where was I going? I didn’t even know. My guts were wrenched. I was beyond decision-making ability; so was Stuart. With the clock ticking, always ticking, we just looked at each other with blank faces, not knowing what to do. I got in line again, then got out again. More time passed as I sat on the cold airport floor unable to move. Finally, five minutes to boarding, some energy flooded me and took over. If I didn’t know what to do, then I’d do something. I’d get in line. If I was meant to be on that plane, I would be. With nails clawing the walls of the airport, I made it to my gate, the last one to board, eyes full of tears. But I have to admit, I felt some relief just to have made a decision.

France is indeed a beautiful country. Exquisite, in fact. I love the way time moves more slowly there and how soft the light is. It’s a great place…to visit. And visit I will. Living, on the other hand, was proving to be quite a challenge. At least, it was for me. Maybe in different circumstances, at another time…

…as it stood, I had bitten off way more than I could chew.

Stay tuned for my arrival story featuring “Crabby Cabby”.

Bureaufrenzy: A Trip to the Embassy in Paris

If you’re wondering why the blog has been so quiet as of late, the last couple of months have been very, very difficult in so many ways, but I’m finally starting to feel de-traumatized and able to process everything Stuart and I have been through. Here’s one story that happened at the end of July…

The sale of my house, which I wrote about in other posts, was set to close on July 28th. Stuart and I had been talking about what to do if anything went wrong and the sale fell through. Since I was in default simply for no longer living in the house, if it didn’t sell, I would be facing foreclosure. We decided that, should that be the case, it would be best for me to return to the states.

Now, I just happened to have a return flight as part of a round-trip ticket…just in case. This flight was for July 31st, about a week before my visa would be up and just enough days after the closing to know whether or not I’d need to use it. Here’s what happened…

With the days ticking away, the Thursday before the closing, I was told that documents were being mailed overnight which would need to be notarized. Hmm…so much for closing Monday. That’s not so good, thinks I. Where will I find an English-speaking notary in the country, let alone someone to translate all the documents so quickly? The good news is that before I left the US, I gave my sister power of attorney. I could just have everything sent to her and signed on my behalf. Easy! Problem solved!

Not so fast. The lawyer then thought to ask if I was married. She informed me that according the  state law, Stuart would then also have to sign the documents. Great. That meant everything would indeed need to be sent to France for us to sign. We should have everything by Friday…or was it Saturday? I can’t remember. So, our next step was to make an appointment at the US Embassy in Paris, a five-hour drive. We learned that they handle notarizations there. Appointments must be made online, and while they had appointments, they were all after the new closing date of the house and the date of my return flight…July 31st. This also happened to be the last date the buyer’s would have funding. Talk about a pressure-cooking experience! I emailed the embassy requesting an emergency notarization wondering whether we’d hear anything before the weekend.

So, while we “waited to see” on that, we tried to find another alternative. We visited the local mairie (like a mayor, basically), but they explained they couldn’t witness our signatures without knowing what we were signing and hence we were back to needing expensive translations.

Fortunately, the consulate came through with an emergency appointment on the following Monday in the morning. In the morning? With a five-hour drive? Thus began the search for relatively inexpensive accommodations in Paris. If we arrived Sunday, we could figure out where we needed to be the following morning and also plot out our journey to the nearest Fed Ex so we could mail everything immediately. We were feeling pretty good until the confirmation email from the embassy arrived stating that anyone not named on the appointment would not be allowed to enter. I had no idea about this and had made the appointment in my name only. My only option was to email the embassy and add Stuart to the appointment crossing our fingers it wasn’t too late, seeing as it was the weekend and the appointment was first thing Monday. If it was too late, we’d be going to Paris for nothing. And boy, would I have fun explaining that to my realtor. Fortunately again, we received confirmation from the embassy. I have to say, I was impressed.

So off we went to Paris. We found a nice AirB&B apartment to stay in. We figured out the metro, found everything, got our papers signed, made copies of everything and had it all in the mail by late afternoon Monday. Time to breathe! I don’t think I’d taken in any oxygen since the preceding Friday.

Now, Stuart and I had been discussing the new closing date and my return ticket July 31st and whether I should still go back or what. If anything happened and the house didn’t close, I’d need to go back anyway. Did we really want to buy another ticket if that happened? Besides, at this point, we’d been talking about all the difficulties we were facing in France and whether or not we really saw ourselves living there long-term. We spent the remaining few days deliberating this very difficult decision. In the end, my bags were packed, and I’d be returning to the states to petition for Stuart’s immigration.

The morning of the new closing date, the same morning of my flight, leaving my beloved behind for an unknown period of separation, going to I didn’t even know where with my five suitcases, I got an email from my realtor. Due to a mathematical error, instead of walking away with $1500, I would actually owe money at the closing. EXCUSE ME? AND YOU’RE TELLING ME THIS NOW??? Needless to say, at this point, I was a nervous wreck with no remaining mental capacity to think straight. I replied with a rather acidic email, and to my realtor’s credit, he did the right thing and gave me a credit. To top it off, it turned out that the bank had miscalculated also, and that I had paid off more than they realized. So I ended up making more than I originally thought.

Can you hear the rattling marbles in my head?

Oh,but the fun didn’t stop there. But I’ll leave the story of leaving France for another time.




Dispelling the Myths about Habitat for Humanity

I finally feel free to write about my unfortunate experiences with one of the most hypocritical and rigid “charitable” organizations with which I have ever had the mixed blessing of doing business. I am quite sure that there are people out there whose lives have been changed by Habitat for Humanity for the better. I also know there are volunteers out there with their hearts in the right place. And I certainly believe that Jimmy Carter, the founder, has his heart in the right place when he created Habitat. But like most patriarchal structures today, even charitable ones are not learning to roll with extraordinary economical changes, creating hardships for those they claim to help instead of staying aligned with their proclaimed mission. So, this is the truth of my experience.

In 2006, when everyone still believed that a home was the best investment one could make, I accidentally looked into the possibility of home ownership. I say accidentally because I didn’t think I would ever qualify. I went to a housing fair where I met a Habitat for Humanity representative. I was under the assumption that Habitat was for people with no income. She explained to me that Habitat homeowners actually have to meet minimum income guidelines. I wasn’t “too rich” for a Habitat home. With my credit rating, I would likely qualify.

So began the long process of applying for a home followed by hours of sweat equity (even with a bout with Mono and later, Shingles), and finally, closing on my home.

The way their lawyer treated me at the signing was a symbol of things to come. I was hearing a lot of information for the first time at the that meeting and doing my best to take it all in. He was abrupt and treated me as if I had no right to question anything since I was “being given a house”. Those were actually his words. I was ready to walk out then and there…wanted to, in fact. But I didn’t think I could. And, legally, I probably couldn’t. But what did I know? The whole day left a bad taste in my mouth.

I certainly didn’t know then that I could have had the home appraised and inspected before buying it. I trusted blindly and completely. Nor did I have the sense to ask questions about my other rights. This was Habitat after all. Surely, they had my best interests at heart and would inform me of anything truly important. And while I was given an interest-free loan (sort of), I still paid way too much for the house blind as I was, as we all were, to the overinflated market and impending real estate collapse of 2008.

Before I go much further, let me explain how Habitat works for those who are either misinformed or simply unaware, as is often the case. It certainly was for me. Habitat does not “give” houses away. Nor does it really offer interest-free houses. The interest is compiled into a 2nd mortgage, one that is forgiven once the house is paid off, but one that becomes due if the house is ever sold before that. Habitat claims they don’t sell their homes for a profit. But really, that is only true if the owner of the house stays in it for the full 30 years of the mortgage. How many people do you know who stay in a house for 30 years…in this economy? In this day and age? And as in my case, a single woman at that?

What I didn’t know is that by signing an agreement with Habitat, I was signing away my freedom. Essentially, I became a renter with all the responsibilities of home ownership and very few of the benefits.

I couldn’t change my yard or exterior without “permission,” and often by the time I got it, I no longer had the money or promised help to follow through. I had to be in the somewhat impotent homeowner’s association (though they were really quite good at sending out notices of “rules and regulations” being ignored). I couldn’t travel for extended periods without “permission.” I wasn’t supposed to rent a room, though I once did to make ends meet. And naturally, I had to pay to fix everything that went wrong, even if it was the result of inferior construction or workmanship, once the warranty ran out. I had to keep up with house payments through 2 layoffs and eventual unemployment. And I did! I lived up to each of my responsibilities.

I should mention in all fairness that my house was beautiful. It was new (obviously), clean, and very, very sweet. It was safe and nurturing, and though it had its faults and often challenged me, it was a huge gift for which I was (and will always be) grateful for.

Now, at the time of buying the house, I had no idea what life would bring 7 years later. In 2013, my life changed quite a bit and in some unexpected ways. It started with the publication of my book and resultant need to travel. That’s when I first became aware of the fact that I wasn’t allowed to be out of the house for more than two weeks out of every month without being “in default”. To be fair, Habitat was willing to work with me on that. As long as I arranged to have the house looked after, they would overlook my extended absence. But I couldn’t just “do it.” I had to grovel. They had to know about my personal life when really, they had no business in it.

On top of that, courses that I was supposed to teach at the college where I worked didn’t fill. Another program there in which I worked was undergoing lots of changes, and I knew my time there was also limited. I needed to find a land more opportune than the one in which I was living. Besides all of this, later in the year, I met and married my husband, who unfortunately for the both of us, lived overseas. I needed to sell!

At least I wasn’t exactly underwater anymore, as so many people have been, but I wouldn’t be making anything after 7 years either. I put my house on the market in October and began making my plans to move to France as soon as possible. Winter came and went. Spring brought a few lookers, but only one offer that didn’t even meet what I needed to pay off the loan. I was getting worried. I didn’t want to foreclose. I had an absolutely perfect…yes,perfect…credit score. I spoke with Habitat about my options. Could I rent the house? No. Could I offer an assumed mortgage? No. Could I find an investor and pay off the first mortgage with the 2nd forgiven? Ha! No! And months later, would they please allow me a forbearance while I resettled? No. Reduced mortgage temporarily while I got situated overseas? No. Short sale? No. Deed in lieu? After all, it’s not like I was upsidedown, and they’d lose money. In fact, they’d be making a pretty nice profit by getting back the “forgiven” 2nd mortgage, wouldn’t they?


This was the treatment I got from a so-called humanitarian organization that is supposed to care about and help people. I’m just going to say it: really, they are just another bloated corporation with inflexible self-protective rules and inflexible structures that merely serve their own preservation. Okay, to be fair, they don’t want to give their houses to people who are just out to flip them and make a profit. They want to protect their interests too. The problem is, such protections blanket everyone and everything into impossible situations! They have a built-in rigidity to which they can cling regardless of all logic and reasoning.

Now, 7 years after buying my house, the reality of the terms of my deed of trust became fully known to me. If I left, I’d be in default, even if I kept up with my payments. My life would have to wait. I was bought and sold…to a house. Basically, if my house didn’t sell, I was screwed.

But I’m thankfully not the type to keep my life on ice forever. In late April, I finally left for France, come what may. I received my certified letter from the bank two weeks later that they intended to foreclose on me in 120 days…and probably only because of the new laws passed in 2014 that said they had to wait that long. Mind you, I’m totally up to date with all my payments. In fact, I’d been paying ritualistically early every month for 6+ years. I’ve been doing this despite being unemployed twice. So bear in mind, this foreclosure would be solely based on my not living in the house anymore.

So now, I’d not only been a mere glorified renter, losing all equity, but I was also about to have my credit destroyed…for having paid my mortgage (aka: rent) on time for the past 7 years…all because I needed to move for a better opportunity and the love of my life.

I don’t really care that I’ve lost all my equity in the house. It bites, but that’s life. As I see it, I had a pretty affordable ‘rent’ for 6+ years. But I do care about my credit. These so-called charitable Christians couldn’t care less if they destroyed one of their homeowner’s credit. In fact, maybe they want to. When I was doing my sweat equity, I was often witness to attitudes towards partner families that surprised me. For example, one family chose redo their landscape, and one of the construction foreman said sarcastically, “I guess we didn’t do it right,” as if it was some kind of insult and lack of appreciation on the part of the homeowner. I’ve heard of other Habitat horror stories as well. [see and and and] Time and time again, the attitude is that Habitat is “good” and “just” and that the homeowner is “lazy” and “unappreciative.” Years ago, I would have held that same attitude. Not anymore!

I myself was never the groveling and overly appreciative, agreeable little lamb they wanted me to be. When they mailed us letters requesting our true thought and feelings over the Habitat process and how it changed our lives, I told them my truth. I said it left a lot to be desired, that I never felt “in control” or informed. I felt that they were all too happy to have me be completely ignorant of the process and my rights in it. The set-up unwittingly put me in the position of not being able to ask for anything or question anything. And when I did, I was made to feel that I was an ungrateful whiner complaining over nothing. After all, as their lawyer had said, they were “giving me a house.” In many of the forum links above, this arrogant attitude is echoed by others who have been completely blinded to the reality. I’m not saying Habitat is evil by any means. But it is no angel either. And it is this misconception, that they can do no wrong, that can and must be corrected. They need to learn to meet people half-way in extraordinary circumstances (such as the housing collapse) and in unforeseeable life changes.

Fortunately, everything worked out and my house sold within one month of the looming deadline saving me from foreclosure. Fortunately for the new owners, they won’t have to deal with Habitat’s silly rules. I share this story now not to bash Habitat (I know they have their side of the story), but because maybe, just maybe someone inside will start to question how they do things and start making some changes. As for me, I feel like my soul and freedom have been unapologetically reclaimed. Woot!


A Special Hell for Bureaucrats

I know. I know. I haven’t been keeping up with the blog as well as I might. Real life keeps getting in the way. We are currently in the midst of our latest head-butting practice having to do with my US house closing from the distance of France. I’ll leave that fun story for another time…suffice it to say, it involves multiple complications, strenuous efforts, and lots of walls, oh…and a trip to Paris!

During this latest trial, Stuart and I were both struck with a certainty that there must be a special hell for bureaucrats. In fact, we’re pretty sure what goes on in that hell.

* * *

[The bureaucrat arrives in hell which is disguised to look exactly like the gates of heaven. He approaches the front desk.]


“George Bureaucrat.”


“Proof? I don’t have any proof. I’m dead.”

“Sorry. I can’t let you in without proof. Here. Fill out this blue form.”

“Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

“Yes. That’ll be $8543. Cash or charge?”

“What for?”

“The pen.”

[moments later]

“Okay, here is my completed blue form.”

“This will never do. We need at least three copies…”

“Is there a copier here?”

“…three copies, that is, of your birth certificate translated into at least 5 languages.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“And I don’t see your parents’ signatures on here.”

“But my parents are dead. In fact, they’re probably here.”

“No excuses! I can’t let you in without their signatures.”


“You have another option.”

“What’s that?”

“Make an appointment for a signature exception.”

“Okay, I’d like to make an appointment for a signature exception.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t do that here. You’ll need to take the stairs down 567 flights, past the red tape, to the Signature Exception Department. They’ll be closed for the next six weeks, though. It’s vacation season.”

[Arrives at the Signature Exception Department and waits 6 weeks.]


“I need a signature exception please.”

“May I please have your stamp?”


“You were supposed to get stamped at the front desk upstairs.”

“I don’t…they didn’t…but…but…”


[Goes back up the 567 flights of stairs to the front desk.]

“I need a fucking stamp.”

“There are people ahead of you. Take a seat.”

“No! I demand a stamp now!”

“Fine. The stamp department is through that rotating door.”

“Thank you.”

[Goes through rotating door. Bureaucrat is now locked out in the freezing rain. Eventually, he finds his way back in again, gets his required stamp and goes back down 567 flights to the Signature Exception desk.]

“I need…”

“Oh, you again. Stamp? Let’s see. The next available appointment is 9 years and 37 days from today at 11AM.”

“‘Scuze me?”

“Do you want it?”

“What am I supposed to do for 9 years and 37 days?”

“Well, you can start on the application.” [hands over an inch thick packet]

“This is the application?”

“Well, it’s the first part.”

“You mean, there’s more?”

“Yes. That’s Part A, the shortest. There is also Part B, Part C, Part D, Part E…and a few others, but the worst by far is Part ZZZ. Oh, and this too. This just requires you to name all of your siblings.”

“I only have one brother.”

“By siblings we mean cousins…1st, 2nd, 3rd once removed, and twice, and third removed cousins as well. This will need to be certified by a notary…from Belarus…with an affidavit from the North Korean government. All parts must be translated into every known language on the planet including dead languages such as Latin, Akkadian, and made up languages such as Klingon and Ubba-dubby. This must then be submitted in triplicate, no staples, along with a four leaf clover.”

“And where am I supposed to get a four leaf clover?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that. It’s not my department. But when you find the right department, they’ll ask you for a recent photo…no more than one minute old. I have to warn you, they usually have a very long line. I’d bring a camera…and a printer.”

[So finally, our weary bureaucrat hands in all his paperwork after many years of struggle and toil.]

“Here. I’ve finished my application. Can I please go through now?”

“What is this?

“My application.”

“But these are the old forms. We can’t accept those anymore. Dear me. You’ll have to start again using the new forms.”

* * *

Something like that anyway.