Xenophobia: An Expat Nightmare in Any Country

Every Wednesday, I hang out with a group of mostly British ladies drinking tea and conversing about all manner of subjects at a local cafe here in the Poitou-Charentes. Today, somebody mentioned xenophobia (put that on your scrabble word list) and how it is increasing in France. Xenophobia is a dislike or prejudice toward people from other countries. Seems to be increasing everywhere! world-flag-map

From Brexit to burqini bans, dreams of building walls to extreme vetting, closing borders to policing restrooms (which okay, technically is another kind of phobia altogether), the world seems determined to hate itself and each other–because let’s be honest, hating anyone is nothing more than self-hatred turned outward.

I haven’t been on the receiving end of any blatant xenophobia, but I dread the day I do. So far, the worst behavior I’ve experienced is an insistence in speaking too rapidly “at” me and the occasional roll of the eyes and dismissal from people who clearly have more important things to do than try to communicate with someone who hasn’t mastered their language yet. Can’t say I blame them!

More often, I find myself angry at my own kind talking hate speech and glorifying that kind of ignorance. I get furious with headlines that slant and journalism that tries to tell me what to think. I hate it no matter what side it comes from. Sadly, journalism has fallen into the often-made-fun-of category of professions that nobody likes…politician, lawyer, journalist. I think even morticians rank higher these days. They’ve completely effed up, if you know what I mean, emboldening idiots everywhere to take up their idiot flags and wave them around in sane, educated people’s faces.

Xenophobia aside, now that the UK has voted to exit the EU, I wonder where I will stand when my carte de titre expires in 3 years. Will I still have a right to live here as the non-EU spouse of a UK (formerly EU) citizen? Will my husband have to apply for citizenship in France to keep his rights? Will I? It’s all a muddle of uncertainty and will be for quite some time. It makes me realize just how tenuous my rights actually are. They are all pinned on Stuart and his rights. So, if something happens to him, what happens to me? Only time will tell.

But that’s the expat life…one had better thrive on uncertainty!

 

 

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Merde! My Trip to the French Embassy in Washington

WHAT HAPPENENED:

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!]

[IT GOES ON TO SAY…]

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.

PERSONNAL [NOT MY TYPO] APPEARANCE IS MANDATORY : you cannot apply by mail.

– 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.

[AND THEN ON TO SAY…]

– for the spouse of a citizen of the European Union : – a copy of the French translation of your marriage certificate, – as well as a proof of European nationality. [WHY EVEN SAY THIS IF IT ISN’T EVEN POSSIBLE TO APPLY AS THE US SPOUSE OF A EUROPEAN CITIZEN??? IT’S NOT LIKE THE WEBSITE WAS RUSSIAN. IT’S THE US WEBSITE, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. WHY NOT JUST SAY IN PLAIN ENGLISH (or even plain French): IF YOU ARE AN AMERICAN MARRIED TO A EUROPEAN, DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME FILLING IN THE APPLICATION, COMPILING DOCUMENTS, SPENDING $20 ON A RETURN ENVELOPE, AND DRIVING 30 MINUTES INTO THE CITY. DO NOT APPLY!]

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!

MY OVERBLOWN REACTION BASED ON A YEAR’S WORTH OF CUMULATIVE CRAP:

“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.

MY FANTASY RESPONSE:

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.

Healing Time

So, it’s been several weeks since I’ve written. That’s for several reasons. First, I’ve been somewhat behind in my ability to process my own experiences. Normally, I process by writing, but everything has been happening too fast and furious for that. I think I’m finally starting to catch up. Second, I’ve been all over the place making it hard to settle myself down and write (let alone market my books or have a worklife). I spent a very nice couple of weeks in Asheville visiting friends, then headed back to Virginia before a “little jaunt” to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. This tumbleweed is over living out of her suitcase!

In New York, I received the transmission of Bon Chod from Bon Shen Ling. I’ve been waiting 10 years, since I first heard about the practice, to take it. It was a very powerful experience, though I regret how very quickly the weekend went by and how little practice we actually had to really take in the ritual. I had been recording the chants and drum patterns but was then asked to erase them; I sat outside and cried while hitting the delete button on my phone. It was one of the most painful things I’ve had to do because it was so important to me to learn the practice correctly and well. I want to continue my studies of Chod online when I can, but for now, I just have to be sloppy and wing it. That’s so against my grain!

In Connecticut. I connected with relatives on my Dad’s side of the family. What a sweet, inspiring bunch! It was so special to be reunited with him through them. Even though I hardly know them, they were all very welcoming and loving toward me, and I have to say, it was a very healing experience full of buried memories, forgotten histories, and unknown treasures. It made me realize that my history is important…not something to annihilate as I had once thought. I had learned about the importance of letting go of personal history in my Toltec work and misunderstood the teaching. I tried to erase my past as if it never existed or happened. Now I realize that those stories and connections are an important part of this identity, even if the identity itself isn’t important…if that makes sense. Or as my friend Gene says, “Take the personal out of your history.” My past is to be respected…not as a limitation but as a compass. No one else has my past!

I have to say, New England was gorgeous!!! I probably went at the best time of year. It was cool and the leaves were already changing. Hard to believe I was born up there. I had no memory of its beauty. It makes me want to live there, which is good, because Stuart is drawn to the coast there too. (Now, if it had been the dead of winter, I might be rethinking wanting to live there. But for now, I’ll allow myself to dream of an adorable little house near the coast in our future.)

In addition to seeing the house where I spent my first 6 years, the house of my maternal grandparents now deceased, and my Dad’s old car lot, my cousin took me to a place that had been one of my Dad’s favorites, Kent Falls. There I was able to do little ceremony for myself letting go of 9 of the most hurtful beliefs I carry. On this trip, probably a result of the Chod, and just as a result of everything I’ve been through, I started to gain some clarity and space from the trauma of recent months. I understand better  what my work truly is right now…and it has mostly to do with my mind. I felt the energy of my ancestors present and a certain resonance with the place, later discovering it used to be Indian land…well, wasn’t the entire US once Indian land?…but the sacredness of it was still palpable. My cousin was also instrumental in helping me talk out some jumbled inner feelings helping me break out of a mental straight-jacket I’d put myself into. Now I’m back in Virginia planning a visit to New Mexico to visit another sister and her family in the town where I grew up and went to college.

Stuart and I have been trying to decide what comes next for us. We are still gathering the I-130 Petition documents we need. We’re almost there. But should I settle in the US or go back and visit him? If I settled now, he could visit but only for a short time as he couldn’t work on a visitor’s visa. And I couldn’t really go there if I had rent and a car payment here. That would mean a very long year apart while his CR1 was processed.

Our best shot seemed me going back to visit him before settling. With a short-stay visa, I could stay three months. But that would put me back in the states home-less and car-less again in the height of winter. Not a thought I relished. In the process of collecting everything, something…divine guidance…led me to investigate long stay visas in France. I don’t know why I hadn’t looked into it before. I discovered that I could stay up to a year in France as the spouse of an EU citizen without having to obtain residency. It’s looking promising. In fact, I’ve already completed the application (easy peasy!), and I have an appointment at the consulate next week. It only takes three weeks to process, so I could conceivably be heading back to France in November, and not just for three months. We might be able to be together during the entire wait time on his CR1! And I could return in Spring if necessary to get us established here. It seems things are popping into place after popping chaotically for so long. I have to confess though, I found myself overreacting today when we hit a small snag. It seems I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst over the last several months. But I see that, and I’m beginning to feel a lot more hopeful than I have in a long time.

It’s funny. Leaving France was so awful, so painful. I was so sure it was a mistake. But now, looking back on what I’ve experienced since my return, and seeing also how much both Stuart and I have learned and grown, maybe it wasn’t a mistake after all. Painful, yes. It was that. But it wasn’t the end of anything. It was a necessary side-trip to my own healing. Maybe it all had to happen this way. I find it beautiful that my time back has been all about relationships…to my past, to my family. It has truly been a healing time. And maybe now, finally, I have a better relationship with myself.

 

Manifesting a Carte de Sejour

I have been remiss in my blog writing lately. Chalk it up to STRESS!!! I haven’t been able to keep my lips from trilling, let alone write something cognizant. Not that I haven’t started a couple of posts. It’s just that, half way through, I realize I’ve written nothing but incomprehensible dribble with no beginning, middle or end. C’est la vie in transition.

So much has been “up in the air” lately. It’s like we started to juggle several balls which just evaporated over our heads. Now we anxiously await their reappearance. Stuart and I have adopted this fascinating shoulder shrug and blank look that we make several times a day…just to remind ourselves we don’t know WTF is happening, and we just need to accept that we are “squeaky mouse toys” in the rabid teeth of God. It’s been an exercise in sensing. Do we turn left or right here? Do we proceed with x and forsake y or go through with y and hope it doesn’t make x impossible. And what about z? And what really matters? What steers the ship when there are no stars? (We’ve decided the answer is desire. Desire, and trusting our desire, is all we have to go on.)

Despite the cray-cray, I’m starting to feel more at home here. I’m starting to make friends. I’m getting a bit of a routine. I’m sleeping better. More importantly, Stuart and I are laughing more. It’s taken near a couple of months, but I dare say I’ve survived the 1st passage.

Now for the 2nd initiation…becoming official. I’ve been here two months making it time to apply for my Carte de Sejour, or residence permit. We asked a French-speaking friend to help us out with the process (may our rabid-toothed god bless French-speaking friends everywhere). While we waited to hear back from him, we began the mammoth task of gathering our paperwork in triplicate with translations. Guess we waited a bit too long though because my appointment at the prefecture isn’t until the 2nd week in August, a whole week after my visa expires. Hmm…

After our initial freakout over the fact that I’d possibly be “illegal”, we started doing our research. Would I be mercilessly tossed back to the states or would it be best to use my return flight ahead of time? Would I be fined thousands of euros? Would I be forbidden from ever returning to Europe or unable to return for 3 months if I overstayed? Would I get stuck in France unable to leave? You would think the answers would be fairly straight-forward. Wait, did I just say that? If I have learned anything so far, it is that when it comes to bureaucracy, there are no straight-forward answers!

I have one helpful person telling me to seek help at my Mairie (Mayor’s). I have another telling me to ask for an extension at the prefecture. I have other information that says I have rights as the non-EU spouse of an EU citizen and still another perspective offered that tells me to “chill” as this happens all the time, especially in summer. Yet another new friend with a sense of humor says she’ll see me when I get back from the states (tongue -in-cheek) if they let me back.

After a morning of sweating it, we have now decided not to sweat it. It’s too tiring. We have our French-speaking friend who will be on the horn the next time the prefecture is open (a very narrow “two days a week for a few hours” window for residence permits) with our remaining questions. And who knows? Maybe he’ll get some different answers or even a moved-up appointment. We’ve heard that happens depending on who you talk to around here.

We’re still hopeful. My “Carte de Sejour” ball has been tossed into the air. It is now floating invisibly through the Manisphere (that’s the atmosphere where manifestation happens), and we shall wait patiently for it to reappear hoping we don’t get cruelly bonked! Stay tuned…

Lessons in Shipping Overseas

So, now that I’ve sold most of my belongings, I have been focusing my attention on packing. I’ve reduced a lifetime’s worth of accumulations to my one allowed check-in bag, 2 carry-ons, and Fed Ex shipment of 2 large suitcases, one smaller suitcase and a box. That’s it. That’s all I will own in this world…less than I’ve ever owned, and I used to brag about fitting my life into my car all but 11 years ago!

To say that I have been prone to freaking out this past week is a bit of an understatement. But I have my Bach’s Rescue Remedy at the ready along with a recording of the Moola Mantra which I’ve been listening to once or twice a day. I haven’t been eating much, but I think that’s probably good. My system has enough to process without a full belly. I have nightmares on a regular basis, too. Never experienced that before. It’s been an onslaught. One would think I’m making a huge, irreversible life transition. Oh…I am!

Which brings me to the topic of this post: shipping overseas. Forget the fact that I’ve had a recurring dream about a challenging flight overseas for the last 20 years of my life with the very suitcase I won’t be taking on the plane, thank you very much! That thing is going Fed Ex! I knew my options were:

  • luggage forwarding
  • freight
  • USPS
  • another shipping carrier such as UPS

I’m not even going to get into the whole translated inventory in triplicate piece of this. Needless to say, I’ve used a few trees to prove that I am who I say I am and that I have the right to move to France. My documents have documents. And I also won’t mention how the French Consulate failed to respond to my request last month for a document that would have made this all so much easier. So, back to shipping…

The first thing I had looked into early on was freight. I had this silly idea that I’d be taking more with me. I’m sure that would have been the way to go had I had at least 30 cubic feet of stuff. It would have run me about $850 to ship that amount. Alas, I only have maybe 20 cubic feet…maybe. So, it would have been a waste of space and money for me to go that route. Besides, I would have had to drive my stuff to a service center, the closet being an hour away. They would have picked it up, but that, of course, would have been extra.

So, I also looked at luggage forwarding. They do pick up. Some places price by weight and other places price per bag. Either way, it came out to be more expensive than I’d hoped. One carrier quoted me for $1200 and another for $672. That last number was looking pretty good in comparison to every other option so far. I especially liked that I could just send my suitcases without boxing anything, and that they would represent me in customs. It would be more affordable than checking bags on the plane as well what with the airlines charging what they do for extra baggage. Besides, I hated the thought of arriving in Bordeaux, exhausted, and likely terrified, and having to steer one of those luggage carts piled high with bags. I could just see myself breaking down at the carousel, a weeping heap of nerves.

Something prodded me to keep searching. So, I loaded the car and took a trip to the post office today. I wasn’t relishing lugging heavy bags back and forth just to get prices, but one must do what one must do. The post office offered me a great price. I would have been able to ship everything for around $350. However, once it landed in France, it would be a bit of a mystery as to what happened next. I’m sure it would have been fine, but…

My next stop was a store that represents several shippers. The guy at the counter was very knowledgable and helpful. He checked Fed Ex pricing for me, which was unfortunately even more expensive than the luggage forwarders and airlines combined! I was pretty sure at that point that I’d just go with a luggage forwarder. But as I mentioned, this guy was super helpful. He told me that we could ship everything as a “multi-shipment” and save. He called Fed Ex on my behalf and got a quote of $400! That even includes insurance!! So, that’s what I’m going to do. At that price, I may even add another bag. The great thing is that Fed Ex controls it in the US, and they also have some control in France. They’ll also work with customs and my triplicate documents.

So, if I may say, “Hurray & Amen!”

UPDATE 4/19/14

I brought everything in to the shipping place. They boxed all my suitcases (safer that way). I also did add one other bag. So for all my bags, four of them, which came to about 150lbs., it cost me $550. Everything will arrive in just one week…a week before I do! That works for me, since I have an address to send it to and someone who knows it is coming.

 

Customs – Not Just A Kiss on Each Cheek

Here’s an important piece of information I almost missed. Customs! In order to ship by belongings to France, I need to collect some documentation and submit an application for something called a Certificat de Changement de Residence from the French Consulate. This form allows me to clear my belongings through customs without having to pay taxes or duties.

Here’s a portion of the email I received from French Customs when I inquired:

“You may import personal effects (wearing apparel, jewelry, toilet articles, hunting and fishing equipment and similar effects) as well as household effects (furnitures, carpets, dishes, linen, libraries, pictures and similar household furnishings) free of duty and tax, provided you meet the following conditions:

-those articles have been for your use for at least 6 months before the date of your change of residence (Yes, no problem!)

-each of those articles is itemized in a comprehensive list, in duplicate, signed and dated, of the goods you are importing into France as part of your moving (in one or more shipments), with the identification of their value (Ug! Sounds like such fun! Does it need to be in French?)

-you are in a position to prove, to the satisfaction of Customs, that you have been living outside the European Union for at least 1 year prior to your moving to France (No sweat!) and that you are going to settle down in France on a permanent basis, e.g. by producing a French Resident Card (“carte de séjour”) or a letter from your French employer (or in my case, a marriage license to a UK spouse living in France).

They referred me to the consulate for forms, and I have yet to hear back from the consulate. However, as I understand it, I will need the following to accompany my application:

  •     Copy of my passport
  •     Attestation de Non-cession (basically stating I’ve lived abroad for at least one year, owned all household goods items for more than six months, and that I won’t sell them for at least twelve months)
  •     Proof of residence in France (lease?)
  •     Marriage license
  •     Inventory of goods in French valued in Euros dated and signed
  •     Household goods Inventory must indicate contents of each carton (electrical items listed separately with serial numbers and original receipts)

These items will need to be translated into French. And to be safe, I’ll need triplicates of everything, I suppose. C’est le moyen!

Having learned all this, I now have more questions than when I started. Does the Changement serve as proof of residency or do I need a lease (in which case I can’t apply until Stuart finds our new home)? How detailed does my inventory need to be? Do I need to list every pair of socks, for example, or each sock? Or can I say “10 pairs of socks” or better yet, “clothing”? How on earth should I assign value to 10 pairs of used socks? I’m happier than ever that I’m not bringing much with me! Guess I better get crackin’ on those lists and translations.

Moving Stuff Overseas: More Than I Ever Wanted to Know

So, today, I have begun my research into moving all of my crap overseas. You may be able to tell by my use of the word “crap” that I am less than enthused by the impending process.

It’s a good thing I starting looking into this now, because like every international process, it is incredibly complicated, costly, and full of bureaucratic delights. Today, I discovered, for example, that I need what’s called a “Certifcat de Changement de Residence” from the French Consulate. (What would have happened, I wonder, if I had failed to realize this? A 21.2% TVA on my items?) This gets sent to me, I fill it in, it goes back to them for a stamp, and then gets sent back to me…or something like that. And rats, I think I also need a Certificat de Non-cessation to prove all items are for my personal use which I failed to request when I called the consulate not 20 minutes ago. Doh! Maybe, just maybe, they’ll include it?

There are other things it says I need but I don’t think they apply to my situation as a spouse of an EU citizen. I’m not relocating for work, for example, so I can’t provide documents to that effect.

I am not bringing a lot with me, and the more I learn, the less I feel attached to things. Nothing I own is really worth anything…’cept to me, of course. I have very little furniture anyway, and only three small pieces that I want to have in my new home. I do have several electronics items and my sound healing tools, and hopefully, I can locate some proof that I own all this…ahem…crap because supposedly, I may encounter difficulties without recus or receipts.

I’m also bringing some clothes, shoes, jewelry, suitcases, books, much-loved kitchen items like the colonial flatware I grew up with and ye olde US measuring utensils, and papers. Really, I can’t imagine it taking up more than 25 sq ft. of space. Though I would like to bring my unused cosmetics, supplements, and food items, it sounds like that will be more trouble that it’s worth. Best to start using it up (and yes, I will grieve the loss of my irreplaceable, beloved Neem toothpaste).

I apparently will need a detailed inventory of all items, one inventory per box, electronics separate, in duplicate, signed and dated…and of course, translated into French. Wee. And I’m not talking French! (Please pardon my oui joke.)

Now, as for getting it there, I seem to have several options starting with air or sea. They say sea tends to be more economical, so that’s most likely the way I’ll go. Now within that category, I can pack and transit myself to the carrier, pack myself and have it picked up, or have it packed, transported, and shipped for me. I can also have a private or shared container, in which my belongings would be created with the belongings of others. It can arrive at a terminal in France where I can pick it up or it can be brought to my French residence. So many options!

I don’t know anything else yet…and frankly, even this was more than I ever wanted to know. I’ll post more as I learn more. Wish me bon courage!