Tuesday, 3 July 2018

"I'm standing you on my car"

Clients often ask me what is the best way to learn French and apart from the obvious answers such as ‘listen to french radio, practice as often as you can, talk to the locals whenever possible’, my sure-fire cheat’s way to learn French is – to live with a Frenchman! 

Most of the time we chatter away in French and I think I understand 90% of what he is saying – although there have been times when I have joined him in the garage to help him look for a ‘Tournevis’, for example, without having the slightest idea what I’m looking for (it turns out to be a screwdriver). Even if I know the word, how to pronounce it is another matter – and the day I manage to naturally roll the letter ‘r’ and pronounce the word ‘Ronronner’ (to purr like a cat) I will get the champagne out.  I had enormous trouble with the word Grenouille and he helpfully suggested I practice by repeating the word ‘Couille’ several times – and I apologise to the young secretary in the office who had to explain to me that it was actually the word for a certain part of the male anatomy… 

But if there are times when I struggle with french, there are even more times when he struggles with English, so we speak a strange version of Franglais together, which seems to work; for example when I received a text saying ‘I am standing you on my car’ I immediately understood he was waiting for me in the car!  It only gets frustrating when we are having a heated debate (or normal discussion, as the french call it) and by the time I have got the dictionary out to make my point, I have already lost.

Much as we English like to use french words such as cul-de-sac, faux-pas, and bon-appetit, similarly many English words have crept into the french language – le sandwich, le weekend, le snack.  But please don’t tell me how to pronounce my own language - I know for a fact that the supermarket Lidl is pronounced Liddle and not Leedurl, discount is discownt and not discoont, I drive a Honda not an Onda, and the river running through London is absolutely not the Tameese.  One of my favourite french TV programmes recently was called “The Island” – and I so enjoyed hearing the announcer welcoming us to The Island - ‘Bienvenue sur Le Zer Eeeslond’.

The best result of our Anglo-French collaboration is that the dogs are now bi-lingual and respond to ‘Come ici, Pipi in the garden, Allez in Car, Cherche your coat’ etc.  The cat appears to be deaf….

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Keep calm - and prepare for Brexit...

In view of the anxiety and uncertainty (mainly in my head!) over the future effects of Brexit, I have just applied for a Carte de Séjour.  While none of us ‘ex-pats’ in France think that we are going to be asked to leave next March, many of us feel that it is better to do ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’, and applying for a Carte de Séjour appeared to be a good option for me.  It also seemed to be easier than applying for French citizenship which, due to the fact that applications have increased ten-fold this year, can take up to 2 years to be approved.   This process also involves a mind-boggling amount of paperwork including providing translated copies of parent’s birth/marriage/death certificates, full education history (mine wouldn’t take long!) employment details, financial information and a language test.  Apart from the time and effort involved, there is also the considerable expense of applying for official copies of all the documents and then having them translated by an official translator – Google translate doesn’t seem to impress French officialdom.  By comparison, the application for the Carte-de-Séjour seemed less complicated…

Firstly I emailed the Prefecture de Perpignan with my request and they replied very quickly, attaching the form to fill in, together with the list of all the documents required (no mention of a Birth Certificate), and offering me a rendezvous in 3 months’ time.  Page 1 was pretty easy – Valid Passport, Proof of Address, 3 recent photographs (took some time to get one I wasn’t too ashamed of).  I also managed to rustle up an impressive batch of documents showing my self-employed status; ie ‘auto-entrepreneur’ declarations.  It then got more interesting - they needed proof that I have been resident in France non-stop (apart from holidays etc) for the past 5 years.  They asked for 1 document per trimester for each of the 5 years – ie 20 .  With a slight pang of guilt at destroying yet another rain forest I duly printed out the relevant pages of bank statements.  As a double back-up I also photocopied garage bills, prescriptions, a cat kennel bill and as my ‘piece de resistance’ attached a copy of my dog’s Pet Passport showing more than 5 year’s worth of dates!   I didn’t provide a copy of my Birth Certificate, as they hadn’t asked for one.

On the appointed day, armed with all my paperwork (but not my birth certificate as it wasn’t on the list of required documents), I arrived at the Prefecture.  A security guard asked if he could do a search of my handbag –  I have no idea what would have happened if I had said no!  I had imagined the application interview to be a formal affair but arrived at the relevant booth in front of a girl who seemed to be 14 years old– so realised that the fact that I was wearing a t-shirt with I 💜 Barcelona written on the front wouldn’t count against me!  She flicked through my paperwork, didn’t seem interested in any of my vet or dentist bills, asked to see my Carte Vitale (equivalent of a Health Card) and made a copy of it – even though there was no mention of this being a requirement on the official list.  She then stamped something, stuck my picture on a document and stamped it again, and asked me to put my fingers on a machine to take my finger-prints.  She then asked for a copy of my Birth Certificate.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this but nowhere on the list of documents do they say that they require a copy of the applicant’s birth certificate.  She admitted this was the case but shrugged her shoulders, (as only french bureaucrats can do) looked almost apologetic, (very rare) but said that they needed it. – but not to worry, I could put it in the post and then my Carte de Séjour should arrive within 1 month!   

I have now sent the photocopy of my birth certificate (but not translated into French) and am crossing my fingers that they will manage to put it in the file  with the rest of the documents and that I will receive my Carte in the post.  If not, is anyone available to pick me up from Dover on 30th March next year…..?