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???

Grapes of Wrath?

Van Gogh and I have something in common. I wish it were talent, but alas, it is our fascination with grapevines!

Every time my husband and I drive somewhere, I have the benefit of the passenger seat where I am free to look out at the beautiful scenery here. The vineyards are exceptionally interesting at this time of year, naked as they are. Their twisted and contorted shapes are absolutely captivating. 20160305_155737 20160305_155610

Not too long ago, I took a walk through a vineyard with my camera. I saw all kinds of fairy-like shapes among the vines…cute little pixies poking out their bottoms, tormented ogres with wound-up faces, animal shapes, and even religious motifs. There are so many wonderful spirits in the vineyards!

gr1Yesterday, driving to Cafe de la Gare in Gourville where my husband was going to be teaching an art lesson, we came upon a strange sight. In fact, I made my husband pull the car over, I was so gr2astounded. An entire plot of grapevines had been beheaded! It was quite an eerie site.

I took some pictures of the strange vision. It actually made me quite sad; all those spirits decapitated! (I guess that’s the price of having a good imagination.)

20160305_153728I have since learned that this is something that forces all the energy of the plant into growing grapes instead of foliage. Makes sense. But what a massacre! Maybe that’s why the vines so often resemble Christ on the cross. They sacrifice themselves every year and give us wine in return.



Pourquoi les Américains? Allow Me To Explain…

Turnaround is fair play! For years, American musical theatre goers have been singing, “I Don’t Understand the Parisiens”. Here’s the adorable Leslie Caron as Gigi:

Now, the Parisiens (or more generally, the French) are all “a-twitter” and asking “Pourquoi les Américains…”

I thought it would be fun (and hopefully not too depressing) to respond to some of their questions. So here goes…

Zee Française demande:

Pourquoi les Americains font pas l’effort de parler un minimum français quand ils sont en France alors que les français le font aux USA ?

— C.A Civil War soon † (@MarieL_Winixon)

Zee Americaine répond:

Because a lot of the time, when we DO try and speak French, the French person we’re talking to just comes out with English…or the English person across the room takes care of it for us. I doubt a”minimum” of French would ever satisfy anyone for long anyway. If we’re not fluent in a year, we apparently have a motivation problem…so I’ve heard. I know for a fact my doctor was not impressed with my ability to say “merci” during my full-blown panic attack, which by the way, was precipitated by a French lesson. Truth is, we expect the French to be more worldly and know a bit of English. Think of it as a compliment.

Zee Français demande:

Zee Americaine répond:

I’m so glad you’ve asked this question, Gogo! Consider it a science experiment brought to you by the bastards of adulterated food, coming soon (and actually already having infiltrated) a French grocery store near you. But it isn’t too late. Fight to ensure your country remains free of Monsanto and sugar as an additive in everything. Stay away from the American slop known as soda pop, white bread, and processed burgers. It may actually be too late, though. I see a lot more fat people in the grocery stores these days, their carts piled high with Coke, chips, and American brand names only a fool could love…and a McDonald’s in every city.

Zee Français demande:

Les afro-americians ont vote a 95% Obama. Pourquoi? Parce qu’il était chinois? Qui choisit en fonction de sa couleur de peau déjà ?

— Roland Mac Dana ﻥ ‏@skinnmacdana

Zee Americaine répond:

Um…who the f&#* else were they going to vote for? McCain/Palin? Romney/Ryan? And hey, they’ve been smart enough to disassociate themselves from Carson. So it can’t be all about color, dude.

Zee Français demande:

Pourquoi les Américains ne voient que des images made in US, que 93% n’ont pas de passeport et pensent être les rois du monde libre? Ploucs?

— HappyMan974 @HappyMan974

Zee Americaine répond:

Zee Français demande:

Pourquoi les américains votent Trump ?

— MBS @MattBSteer

Zee Americaine répond:

Pourquoi les francais votent Le Pen? Because many people the world over are incredibly ignorant. Ignorance doesn’t have a nationality.

Zee Française demande:

Les américans font beurre de cacahuette confiture alors pourquoi pas miel ?


Zee Americaine répond:

Ah, finally! A really important question and an intelligent suggestion. Maybe I’ll even try that tonight for a snack. Sounds yummy.

I have a question. Why don’t the French capitalize nationalities?

Healing Imprints of War

When I was a  little girl, I can remember my mother watching a series on public television about the Holocaust. The introduction of the show is hard to forget, because photographs of Jewish people…men, women, and children…were surrounded by flame. I remember that it terrified and fascinated me. It certainly made a deep impression on my psyche; but I sure didn’t want to know the story behind such gruesome images.

Now I live near a town in France where I take French lessons in a building that was once used as Nazi headquarters during WWII. Apparently, there are many locals who still refuse to enter the building. I can’t say I blame them. Interestingly, the town was divided between those resisting and those assisting. Makes for some uncomfortable relating at community functions, no doubt…even after all these years. Someone who now works in the building told me that they used to execute people in the square outside. Chilling thought. Would my desire for survival or my humanity have won out? Would I have resisted or assisted? I know what I’d like to think.

I believe in the lasting resonance of things that occurred in a space and time. It isn’t so much ghosts I fear. But I do believe an energetic imprint remains. If you close your eyes, you can feel the soldiers, feel the villagers, feel the mixture of hatred and fear. You can hear secrets whispered and the orchestrations of betrayals. I can’t help but wonder about the people who had to live through it. And I can’t help but be shocked to realize it happened less than 100 years ago. That isn’t so long! Even if few remain who lived through that awful time in history, there are many alive who heard the stories first hand from their relatives.

These kinds of experiences must have such a deep and unfathomable impact, not just on a community, but on a culture. I feel completely blessed to have grown up in the USA. We’ve fought our share of wars (hell, seems like we start most of them!), but in my own lifetime, we’ve never fought on our own soil. Of course, historically, we had the Revolution and the Civil War. But we were fighting ourselves. We’ve never faced a foreign enemy on home turf…not like elsewhere. The point is, I wonder what kind of impact an occupation has on the people of a town or country. I wonder what beliefs nestle their way deep into the subconscious of a people who have lived in such fear and oppression, who have had to face the decisions one only ever faces in wartime. What insidious seeds get planted and passed down?

There really is very little here than isn’t stained by war…from one time or another. Things are old here, and you can feel the history, almost smell it as it oozes out of stone walls and rises like smoke from a damp earth. It isn’t just a metaphysical thing, of course, because in every town, there is a monument to remind everyone of the dead from two world wars. Blood has been spilled, great grief and loss compiled over centuries of human arrogance and power-mongering.

By the way, years later, I did learn the story of the Holocaust when in middle school we had to watch the same series whose beginning sequence had so frightened me as a small child. Ever since, I’ve been endlessly fascinated with movies focused on that time period like The Reader, The Pianist, Sophie Scholl, The Black Book, and The Counterfeiters. Eventually, I even taught units on the Holocaust to my own middle school class. It was too important; they needed to know the terror of which man is capable. They needed their eyes opened and their hearts broken lest they ever fall into the hateful patterns from a history forgotten, though it is no better to get frozen in past tragedy as if it was the present moment.

So now, here I am. I walk this land conscious of its history, breathing in the air. And I pray that through me, with each exhalation, some healing takes place. I pray that the despair never comforted, the anguish never extinguished, finally releases into peace and light. I pray that restless and vengeful souls find their way home and that the energetic stains of their pain be purified within those that still live and still love. I breathe not to erase the memories of a horrific history but to transcend them. I also pray for the day when mankind isn’t hurling itself towards another war.

What else can I do?

Read the account of Jean-Jacques Auduc and the French Resistance.
On women’s role in the French Resistance
Charlotte Sorkine: French Resistance Heroine
On 1) Nazi Collaborators and 2) Nazi Callaborators in France
On a country split by inconvenient truths.

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”.

More Bureaurcrazy

Wanna know something that sucks big time? As a US Citizen living abroad, not only am I still accountable for annual filing to the IRS, but as a self-employed (or soon to be anyway…or at least I thought) person, I must pay self-employment tax on my entire net income including royalties. This is regardless of the fact that I also will be paying tax in France. This would seemingly put me somewhere around the 30%or higher tax bracket. Cool, eh? Will the wonders of my bureaucratically poisoned life never cease?

I actually have to file taxes in two countries. Why? Because the US is such a “this one here’s trying to be independent and get away with it” screwing *&%@ard! They even have claims on any bank accounts my husband and I jointly own…or any over which I have signing authority. No wonder expats are waiving adios to Uncle Sam and becoming citizens of other countries!

On top of this, supposedly authors living in France are not allowed to have what is called autoentrepreneur status, with a simplified tax scheme and are actually taxed at 45%, paying into the system as if they had an employee. I have yet to confirm this, but so says the link. So 45% in France and 15.3% in the States leaves me with less than half of my income!!! This is insanity!

It is enough to make me scream and literally has…all day long…for two days.

Why can’t I just go about my business? Why is everything so god-damned hard? Why does my government only want to screw their citizens into conformity and slavery while spewing bogus platitudes about liberty and justice and the most laughable of all…free enterprise?

Sometimes, it feels like we just can’t win.


In continuing my panic-stricken research, I came across the site of CPA, Dan Nelson. He writes:

“An exception to paying social security on your foreign self employment income occurs if you reside in a country which has a social security agreement with the US. In that event you can elect to have your earnings covered by the foreign country’s social security (only if they have a social security agreement with the US), and not have to pay US self employment tax (social security).”

So now, I’m thinking though I’ll still have to file, I won’t have to pay the 15.3% on top of everything else…which is a huge relief…if it is indeed the case. However, I’m still confused. Will I have been in France long enough this year for all this to apply to me?


I just found an easy to understand PDF offered by GTN.com that explains, in plain English, US Foreign National Taxation.