Saturday, February 11, 2017

Healthcare...

Jude recently spent 4 hours in ER at a local hospital here in Paris.  A couple weeks later a bill for the visit arrived.  It was less than 28Euro.  This included medications, doctors analysis, and treatment.

The cost of the visit comes as something of a surprise.  It's a pleasant surprise, to be sure, but still, it's a surprise.  Ten years ago in the USA we paid over 1200USD for a very similar ER visit.  The US ER costs these days are surely higher, right?  How is the number one ranked healthcare system in the world able to charge so little?  One possible answer is that the French government is actively involved in negotiating the best trade-off between cost and quality.  Another possible answer is that healthcare in Europe is not run as a for-profit business.  However one looks at it, the costs of being tended to are significantly less here than in America.

Jude did a little research and one day said we needed to apply for French healthcare.  What she found was that part of being an immigrant in France includes the right to ask to participate the in single-payer state-sponsored health care system.  It's called l'assurance medicale or securite sociale.  When successful, the insured persons receive their carte vitale, which is the insurance card issued by the French government.  It's not free, but it might be a lot less than what a person pays in America.

In our case the process took us two years to complete.  This isn't "normal" in that the process should have taken only three to six months after meeting certain basic conditions.  We were turned down the first time we submitted our papers and that cost is over a year to figure out where we went wrong.  The devil was in the details.

French law grants immigrants the right to ask for their carte vitale three months after arriving.  That's how one of the laws reads.  But there's a second law that says an immigrant needs to reside here six months after the start of the civil calendar.  The civil calendar starts on January 1.  So you can start the process three months after January 1, but we needed to prove we lived here at least six months over the course of the year.

This means that when they ask you for scanned pages from your passport, if you have a stamp from a non-Schengen country, you might be denied your health insurance request.  This happened to us.  We went to a friend's wedding and cleared out our Plan B storage unit back in the States in May, five months into the French civil calendar year.

Even though we hadn't left the country for the two prior years, our health insurance request was not valid since we couldn't prove we'd been here six months in the year we filed our request.  A friend of Jude's has a very kind husband who helped us understand what went wrong.  In retrospect is all seems so simple.

In short, here's what we did.

  1. We visited the local CMU office and asked for an application.  We filled it out, attached the requested documents, and mailed the application to the address found on the application.  
  2. We answered the French state's further requests for documentation.  In our second attempt we were asked to provide two additional pieces of information.  One of these was a request for our tax information.  It was our income that was used to calculate what we pay.  I had wrongly assumed the calculation of what we were to pay was what we spent living here, but it's not.  This was an important distinction for us.  What we spent was more than what we earned in interest.  Happily, the number on the letter was given to our doctors and the benefit of the French healthcare system was immediately realized (by reducing our already very low out of pocket expenses). 
  3. Some time after we received our letter which stated we were being granted health insurance, we were asked to send our photo to another part of the French processing system.  Within a month we received our cartes vital, complete with the aforementioned photo.


Sculpture ~ Paris, France

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

So you say you want to move here...

Let's say you have your reasons for moving some place else.  Let's say you've chosen France as your destination.  Well, today's your lucky day.  Um, well, most likely not.  However you see the outcome of your day (luck vs no luck), we've been encouraged to share our experiences in following the immigration process to legally live here.

As background, we are retired from our working lives.  We have what we hope are sufficient financial resources to live in retirement.  We were looking to "get out" while the "getting was good."  More properly said, we wanted to experience something new and different and knew that wherever we landed we'd be putting down new, perhaps strong, roots.  Leaving the US for us was not a halfway, uncertain thing.

We recognized immediately that we would become immigrants.  And in becoming immigrants we made a conscious decision to set aside our American "exceptionalism" and to try as best we could to follow all of the rules and laws of immigration of our new home country.  We did not want to run any risk of being told we could not live here.

Here's an overview of the process we've followed -

  • Researched immigration requirements through a French Consulate website
  • Discovered we could not simply move to France on our travelers visa (3 months automatically granted to US citizens).  We had to apply for our long stay visas through a French Consulate in our country of origin.
  • Rented an apartment for three months (so we could show the contract to the French Consulate officials)
  • Purchased one-way airline tickets (to show the French Consulate officials we meant business)
  • Visited the French Consulate nearest us with all of the documentation they asked for on their website
  • Received our passports with a large page filling Visa sticker (valid for one year)
  • Sold our home in the US
  • Boarded a plane and left
After landing in France
  • Greeted our short stay apartment owners, went through the contract and details they felt important to point out and moved in
  • Sent required documentation to the immigration authorities and received our appointment time/date
  • Visited OFII for a medical exam and receipt of a second page filling sticker (seems like it's good for a long time)
  • Opened a French bank account (to pay for utilities)
  • Found a long term (in our case furnished) apartment and moved in
Eight months on...
  • Made our first appointment with the Prefecture de Police
  • Gathered required documentation and had translated into French, using a state approved translator ONLY, all documents originating in English
  • Visited the Prefecture de Police and received a récépissé that granted us permission to remain in France until our Carte de Séjour (Visiteur) had been prepared a few months later
  • Picked up our Carte de Séjour (Visiteur - valid for one year)
Annually thereafter - 
  • Make an appointment with the Prefecture de Police
  • Gather required documentation and have translated into French, using a state approved translator ONLY, all documents originating in English
  • Visit the Prefecture de Police and receive a récépissé that grants us permission to remain in France until our Carte de Sejour (Visiteur) had been prepared a few months later
  • Pick up our Carte de Séjour (Visiteur - valid for one year)
We understand that after ten years the French state might grant us without our asking a version of the Carte de Séjour that is valid for ten years.  They also may allow us to apply for the ten year Carte de Séjour after five years, but we have yet to test this.

Reading the list of steps we've followed to living legally here hides the very many details and small dramas that arise at seemingly each and every stage.  There are language issues.  There are process issues (usually stemming from our lack of understanding of why something is being asked for).  There are personality issues (though these are very rare and we've only encountered two, perhaps three, nasty fonctionnaires in all our time here).

Taking all this into consideration you might wonder if it's worth it?  Afterall, a made famous by TV person who lives here has been known to advise Americans to not worry about all that silliness and just come live here without a proper visa.  Their contention is that the authorities leave Americans alone and won't bother them.

For us there are two ways of answering the question of "is it worth it."  The first is very practical.  When you look at the list in it's entirety it's easy to forget that all of this unfolds over the months and years.  There is plenty of time at each stage to do what is needed.  Sure, it can feel sometimes like you'd rather be out enjoying the day than sitting at home working through all the things immigrants are demanded of.  But if your experience is anything like our's, there will be plenty of time in a day to do the needful.

The second way of looking at it is from the perspective of emotion and experience.  When looked at this way, following all the details of processing an immigrant's stay here is a small price to pay for living in a truly civilized place.  The quality of food and drink is second to none.  Art museums, monuments, and cultural experiences simply can not be duplicated anywhere else.  The beauty of our surroundings extends many times from the biggest, grandest things all the way down to the smallest detail.  And then there's the people.  After you get to know the locals and after the locals get to know you, friendships can bond you in a way never before imagined.  For us it's been very much worth the effort to stay "legal" in living here.  The peace of mind is worth every minute spent on the details required by the French state.

We took a look elsewhere around Europe to see what their immigrant processes were.  We wanted to see how difficult it might be to move to a different country (the French Carte de Sejour is only good for living in France).  What we found is that the processes are largely the same.  Though we're sure there are differences in the details.  For instance, when looking at the visa requirements for Portugal there seem to be no requirement to have English documents translated by a state licensed professional.

We hope this blog entry helps.  We can't vouch for how this would go for you.  We're not immigration professionals, so take all this with a grain of salt.  Still, we would like to give people some idea of what they might go through and to give them hope that it will all work out OK in the end.


Autumn in Paris

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Profound? Clever? Not so much...

I wanted to end the year with a series of profound and clever utterances, but I can't.  Others have already said what I wanted to say.  Others have already noted the many obvious things that have happened in 2016.

A rather large number of good musicians died.  Good actors and actresses died.  In fact, a whole lot of notable folks have passed to the other side.

In our little corner of the world it seems like things have been anything but fine and good.

English friends who live in south-western France experienced something traumatic when L's (I'll use letters in place of names) hip failed.  We hear they're OK, but life was in a moment changed.

In our French/English conversation group we've made quite a few friends.  An American couple whose families are involved in US politics and international diplomacy are facing challenges around R's cancer.  We hear it may be a treatable form and can only hope for the best.  They're not coming back to Paris until this is resolved.

A couple we spent Sainte-Sylvestre with realized the seriousness of their challenges when C was diagnosed with metastasized cancer.  We're not sure how much life is left in this wonderful human being and it makes us feel sad just thinking about it.

In our apartment building, a couple with whom we've shared a few aperos haven't had all that great a time, either.  T's mother very recently passed away and things have been rather quiet chez eux.

A couple who we are close with have had a terrible year.  First J's brother was diagnosed with cancer and died.  Then J's sister came down with something terminal.  These were followed all too quickly by M's (J's spouse) stroke and subsequent need of a pacemaker.

It feels like we're all falling apart.

No, not everything this past year has been horrible.  Still, it's the negative things in life that seem play so strongly on our thoughts, feelings, and memory.


Paris ~ Endroit au Coin de la Rue

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Lovers of Wine ~ la deuxieme part

Our favorite super-bio Bordeaux vintner wasn't at the salon, but they sent an email saying they would, however, be at an all-bio salon the following weekend.  I noted the dates, printed the invitation, and when the open day arrived, Jude and I headed off to le carreau du temple.  Only to find that they were still setting up.  My mistake was to assume (yes, I'm an ass, and you can fill in the rest of that statement) that Friday was when it started.  No.  It was Saturday through Monday.  We got busy over the weekend and I came down with a cold, so we didn't return to le carreau.  Oh well.

Paris ~ Endroit au Coin de la Rue

When we lived in the States Jude found a vintner who picked and crushed his biodynamically grown grapes and let nature take it's course.  That is, the vintner added nothing, no yeast and no sulfites to his wines.  Jude and I purchased cases of the stinkin plonk over the years.  It always tasted as if it had an aliveness that other wines simply didn't.  When we moved here one of the first things we tried to do was to replicate that experience.  We tried to find a place that sold organic wines with no sulfites added.

We thought we found a place here in the city that's located over in the 14eme.  Yet when we visited them they had one, maybe two wines indicated "no sulfites added".  Further, none of the wines on offer were labeled "bio".  Jude tried a few things and bought a few bottles and gave up on them when she found bio sans sulfites ajoutés over at our local Monoprix.

In the past three years of visiting the huge salon des vignerons independent with our Teacher of All Things Wine I've developed an understanding of how the French talk about their regions, their cepages (grape varieties), their soils, their production methods, and modes and methods of distribution.  I'm beginning to hear all the words in a conversation, know what they mean, and am starting to ask semi-intelligent pre-cro magnon man level questions.  This is how Jude and I were able to be more successful in selecting wines at this years salon.  A grunt here.  A scratch there.  Et voila!

Paris ~ Search for Wine

A couple of days after behaving like the Old Man that I am by confusing dates for the All Dancing All Bio salon we read something interesting over on the Local.  It turns out the article might just have given us the last and most valuable piece of the Understanding Wines in France puzzle.

Apparently winegrowers in this part of the world can be just as crazy, or as the article calls it - extreme - as their American Klickitat Canyon counterparts.  Here is an immigrant, here is a man from Japan no less (they love beer in Japan), here is a steep steep hillside that's been cleared and planted, here are the bare feet that crush the grapes, here is the airborne yeast that starts the fermentation, here is the lanyard that holds the Japanese man upright should he pass out from too much CO2 off-gassing from the crush, and here is the finished product.

I have to say, most syrah cepages we've drunk have been rather odd.  They can be cloyingly cough-syrup-py.  They can be slightly sweet.  They have often been rather unbalanced.  They can have what I'll call a strange nose.  Most are best suited for wine-ing rats into oblivion.

Independent of what we've felt about syrah, these rats (my wife and I) were piqued by the article.  We had to try some Domaine des Grandes Collines.  But where to procure something as obscure as le canon rouge?  *tippity-tap-tap-tap* went the clavier and... hmmm... in the city of Paris... yes... I see... yes... there is one and only one store that could, that might, that remotely possibly cross your fingers and hope to die offer le canon.  You guessed it.  Might they have a bottle or two at la cave des Papilles?

Well.  Alrighty, then.  Off I go...

... and home I returned.  With a bottle.  They had one in stock for the attractive price of only 11Euro.

Paris ~ Endroit au Coin de la Rue

*pop* and out came the cork on le canon.  Into a glass with just a little bit... and... well... the color is beautiful, actually... plenty of leg... *sniff*  Oh my... are we sure this is a syrah?...  ummm... this is beautiful, too...  *sip* ... oh... *sip*  ... my... *sip*  ... gawd!...  *sublime*  This can't be, can it?

Et voila! we've discovered the very thing we started looking for over four and a half years ago when we first moved here: An all natural no yeast no sulfite-added made by a madman wine worth drinking nearly every night of the year.

Two trips later we have purchased what's likely 50% of la cave's allotment (caution: I exaggerate, it's true).

For those of you who know French wines like nobodies business, please correct me where I'm wrong.  But if it's too painful to read (I drink beer, remember?), feel free to cover your eyes, block your ears, and scream into a pillow while I'm not looking.  For the rest of you, here's what I've learned about finding a great organic wine just about anywhere in France.

1) What you're after is something with less than 20 parts per million of sulfur dioxide (SO2, aka - sulfites).  The UC Davis chemically engineered approach to winemaking typically uses far more SO2 than 30ppm.

2) Bio is "organic" in France.  But that's not enough and they use the words slightly differently than you do in the States.  If you attend un salon des vignerons just look for an indication that a vintner's wine is "bio" or "biodynamic."  These words have caught on here in France and are more than just a marketing exercise.  The much dreaded by the English EU bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg carefully legislate anything that might cross country borders.

Paris ~ Search for Wine

3) Mais, et il y a toujours un mais, you may be overlooking or as in my case simply didn't know about a huge lake of fabulous wines that haven't been put through the EU's bio food certification process, and yet are more "extreme" in the care and attention given to the EU bio labeled plonk.

Here is all you need to ask for - vin nature.  These are fermented with airborne naturally occurring yeasts only.

If you're neurotic or want to make the guy or gal behind the counter smile and giggle feel free to ask which pesticides were sprayed on the grapes.  I've yet to find one that has had anything more than an SO2 bomb lit off in the fields on cold cold nights (to keep the molds from spreading too quickly).

If you're sensitive to SO2 like Jude (headaches, flushing red in the face, etc.) simply ask about what the vintner measured.  I've yet to find a vin nature with more than 20ppm SO2.  Many, or dare I say most, that we've tasted have less than 15ppm SO2.  In either event, such dosages are well under anything Jude reacts to.

*sublime*

Paris ~ Search for Wine

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lovers of wine... la premiere part

A couple years ago I wrote about how it felt to be a Beer Drinker in the land of Perpetually Flowing Wine.  Things have not changed for me and are very unlikely to, but...

The Wine Season started with a pleasant bang.  Remember the nouveau Beaujolais I posted an image of recently?  Well, it turns out the nouveau B's of my youth were indeed sh*t.  The stuff on offer here is, quite frankly, FABULOUS!  No need to age wines.  Nope.  None at all.  My internal compass for what's good and what's not, vise a vis my expectations, has been appropriately re-calibrated.

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
To le salon with friends - Night One

The Wine Season quickly reached Full Bellow just the past weekend.  This year le salon des vignerons independent held their vast Wine Selling Spree in Salle Trois à la porte de Versailles.  More than nine hundred vinters showed up to hawk their wares.  Imaginez vous, nine flipp'n hundred stands offering free tastes of wines and liquors.  I said free and I meant what I just said.  It's a very dangerous place to visit and they won't make things more difficult for you, either.  They hand you a cute little tasting glass, at no cost, free, nothing, pas de sou, when you enter Salle Trois.  Gods!  Be still my quivering liver.  It took three visits to properly cover the event.

Day One was actually Night One in that we visited the salon after sundown.  In the process of walking around the show we purchased cartons of our favorite cremant d'Alsace.  We uncovered a second crement, it's something fun (Pinot Noir and a couple other cépages) from le Bourgogne.  All we needed to do was to collect them the next day when le diable was at hand.

We went with friends.  We laughed and had a good time.  On the more serious side, they taught me about les pineau de Charentes.  I'd been looking for something tasty to supplement our rapidly and seriously dwindling Coelho Porto supplies that were provisioned from the Porto Institute in Lisboa last March.  Deborah may have just introduced to us a good French supplement.

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
With our teacher of wine - Day Two

Day Two quickly arrived with a call from Jacky.  Whenever I visit le salon with him I learn so many things that I can't keep it all straight.  This year was no different.  We worked our taste buds down le Bourgogne and concentrated our attention on the whites.  The Big Names like Gevry, Chassagne-Montrachet, et Meursault all called to us and were duly sampled.

Sorting through the various vineyards was a very enlightening exercise.  I knew these were cent pourcent Chardonnay.  Yes, there were small differences between each of the vineyards.  Yes, the better plonk came from the tops of the hills.  Yes, the clay or limestone soils influenced the taste.  But...  and yet... I wasn't Blown Away by any of it.  Sure, some of it was pretty good.  Particularly the 30Euro bilge-plonk.  But...

We Ping-Ponged our way down the aisles.  After tasting a particularly good Meursault, Jacky spied something across the way. Over we went and he proceeded to explain to me where this vineyard was from.  It's just north of Beaune in an area with what they call a mountain (though it's more likely a nice big hill of some kind or other).  Around this "mountain" are several vineyards.  This particular vinter owned three plots.  So we tried a little white from each of these three.

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
Explaining how a "mountain" is surrounded with different 
vineyards and plots - Day Two

Into our glasses went the first taste.  To the lips came our portions.  *swirl* *swish* *inhale*  Jacky had a radiant look on his face when I asked him que penses tu?  He raised my eyes to the heavens and said one single word.  "Sublime"  C'est tout qu'il peut dire.  Finally we found something of note.  From my side all I could think was how interesting it was to have passed through some of the very best vineyards in the world to stumble upon something truly spectacular from a vintner who may not be known outside France.  Je prends trois bouteilles, s'il vous plaît.  Et le même pour mon ami.

Loading up le diable with quatre cartons de crement plus the three Ladroix we were off and headed for home.  That's then disaster struck.  Le diable shed a roulant and I was nearly dead in the water.  There I stood with nearly ninety pounds of wine.  Ugh.  What to do?  As we were only half a block from the apartment I lifted/drug the poor dying diable home.  No crement was spilled.  Nous avons eu de la chance.  Except for the sore back.  The things we suffer for, right?

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
How le salon is laid out.  
There were 9 aisles like this.  
Each aisle holds more than 100 vintners hawking their wares.
Yes.
It's true.
This was photographed half way down one of them.
The other half is behind me.
Vasty tracts of vin, me-thinks.

In preparation to Day Three at le salon I was up and out early the next morning to acquire a new diable.  Suitably diable equipped Jude and I returned to le salon to find her a few vins rouge.  But this was no easy task.  It turns out the reds of le Bourgogne are terribly expensive and, well, they don't taste all that great.  I know.  *shock* *horror* *gnashing of teeth*  Same with les vins de Bordeaux.  Ugh.  What to do?  The two "greatest" red wine regions in the world (according to well paid marketers) and nothing appealed to us.

I remembered something our wine teacher said two days prior.  When I told him what Judith liked he suggested the cabernet franc of Chinon from the Loire.  So off we went and, guess what?  Jacky is right.  Several vintners were approached.  Two good vindages were located (for an amazingly low price).  A couple cartons were purchased and we finished off our visit by adding to the haul a carton of Rhone and one of the Languedoc-Roussillon.  Le nouveau diable est charge and to home and hearth we went.

I moved les crements into le cave and rearranged our upstairs cave (aka closet) to take les vins rouge.  We're nearly fully stocked for the year.  Life is good.

Little did we know la vie des vins was about to get even better.

[To be Continued...]

Salon des Vigneron Independent ~ 2016
Le Diable un peu charge.
Just prior his leaving us.
Sure.
The wheel looks intact, but it's not.
And I didn't realize it until it was too late.
He's soon to be mort dans le champs de bataille.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Re-entry...

Gird your loins for herein lay a sad tale of mold, mildew, and discarded clothing.

Sometimes living here in Paris has felt like we live in a third world country.  The plumbing can be dodgy.  Plaster falls apart.  Paint peels.  Crotte de chien (dog poop) rests peacefully on the sidewalk and remains untended for days at a time.  People stand in the middle of the sidewalk (adjacent to the crotte) quietly smoking their lungs out and sharing clouds of nicotine when anyone who is brave enough to walk by.  Clothes seem to rot without any encouragement.  Mildew abounds and fungus spreads unchecked.  We've often wondered why we moved here.

During our trip to visit family back in the States we rediscovered the joys and happiness of clear and clean plumbing.  Walls are straight, true, and remain upright.  Paint faithfully does what paint should do.  Dogs are more normally picked up after.  People on the sidewalks don't hinder progress.  Lungs are less often subjected to the hazards of smoking.  Clothes are usually clean and dry.  By these measures America has a lot going for it.

When we were in Lisbon Jude asked if I'd please throw away some knit shirts that had mildewed.  Our clothes drying arrangement is the typical European hang-dry on racks bodge-up.  We have two of them (racks that is, we already have plenty of bodge-ups).  Using this approach we can do two or three loads of laundry in the early morning and have some of the things dry by bedtime.  But this happens only if we turn up the heat in the apartment and put the racks near the heat sources.  By accident clothes sometimes get put away not fully dry.  Hence the mildew problem.  I can't tell you how many articles of otherwise good clothing we've tossed out.

Heaven must have clothes dryers.  Surely.

On a fait un peu de recherche.  C'est a dire, we used Google to see if there might be a suitable alternative to drying clothes en plein aire.

*tappity*tippity*tap*tap*tap* went the keyboard, and... what's this?  Huh.  We can live in Crotte Paradise and Clean Clothing Heaven at the same time?  How is this possible?  No.  Say it isn't so.  We've lived for over four years without one of these and now we learn we needn't have suffered?

Salvation comes in many forms.  In our case it is a condenser dryer.  We don't need to run a big tube through an ancient crumbling plaster wall to have dry clothes.  I know.  It's shocking.  But we're here to tell you that it's true.  It turns out that self-contained dryer units are much more common than I ever thought.  We went down to Darty to confirm what Google suggested.

Et voila!  C'est vrai.  Voici notre nouveau meilleur ami.

All it took was a valid credit card and a day or two wait for the kind garcons (qui était vraiment costaud) to make the delivery and we are now the proud owners of a condenser clothing dryer.  We simply plugged it into a wall outlet and away we went.

No longer are our days spent managing laundry.  We can now get up in the morning and have our laundry duties done by noon.    We can process as many loads of laundry as we need in a day.  Into the wash machine go the clothes.  Over to the dryer when the spin is finished.  Ding goes the dryer when the clothes are ready to fold and put away.  Repeat until done.  Completely done.

Bonus:  Our afternoons are now free to explore the city in scent-free never again to be donated to the homeless garments.

We feel as if we've just left one of the lower level's of Dante's Hell and have passed through St. Pierre's Pearly Gates to enter Heaven.

It's strange how suddenly little things like smokers and crotte and plumbing feel rather less important.  Afterall, isn't there room for these people and these things in heaven, too?



Thursday, November 17, 2016