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October 2014

The expression « get the message » is used in many different ways and situations. This month’s first two Q&As raise the issue of passing information on or retaining it and getting in trouble for doing so. The two issues raised in the introduction deal with the continuation of poor behavior.

I would say that when someone screams, « Get the message, » very often the message is in fact not clear. Instead of focusing on the message being received, we should probably focus a lot more on how clear, useful and safe the message is. Regarding the first topic below, the status of interns in France, management should understand that the exploitation of interns in France is over. As for celebrations of past events, there is a risk, when creating shows that talk loosely about these events, of the message getting lost altogether. Concerning the first Q&A, about the French healthcare system storing information in the carte vitale, if the insured person does not update the card, it creates problems. And regarding the second Q&A, about giving self-incriminating information to the préfecture: surely it is only common sense to refrain from saying too much to the police!

Because of the rigidity of the French labor market, it is more difficult for a student to get a summer job or part-time job than in, say, the USA. Therefore, higher education in France often includes internships so students get some work experience before taking a full-time position and starting their career. This was originally a good idea that worked very efficiently, and business schools used such arrangements successfully to allow students to learn a lot and get meaningful experience.

But the fact that internships were only loosely structured and the employer did not have to pay a salary meant that for the last twenty years or more, companies have abused the system, with young people (and until recently, not always actual students) working for free or almost free and taking the place of regular employees. Interns generally agree to such arrangements in hopes of being hired at the end of the internship. Now steps are being taken to limit such abuse. Without describing them in detail, the main goal is to give schools some power to control the terms and conditions of internships so that they can only be done as part of a school curriculum.

Last April 26th in Le Monde, I read about an intern at the Institut Gustave-Roussy cancer hospital in Villejuif trying to poison his boss out of desperation. This was not the first time the media had mentioned this type of incident involving an intern, but it illustrates how far the abuse sometimes goes, as well as how difficult it is in the French job market to get that all important first full-time position.

A bill approved by the Chamber of Deputies last February 13th and expected to be voted on by the Senate is intended to improve the situation. The main provisions are:

– An internship cannot last more than six months.

– The minimum monthly compensation is 523, which is not considered salary and therefore incurs no taxes or social charges.

– No more than 10% of the staff can be made up of interns.

The bill has caused debate between employers and schools. Some in the former camp believe these requirements go too far, so that employers will stop using interns. This argument says that their work is often poor, that they are not worth the money spent on them, and that the job experience itself has considerable value and should be promoted rather than constrained. On the other side are student unions and employee unions, along with the political parties of the left, which want to keep employers under close reins to stop abuse that is still far too common.

I feel there is a need for balance between the two sides. More specifically, I believe that French labor law distorts the relationship between the two parties, that French employers and employees are so entrenched in their old, sterile positions that no solutions are in sight soon, and that passing a series of laws does not address the root of the problem, which is the deep distrust between the two parties distrust that this kind of legislation only exacerbates.

Only time will tell if the latest law will do any good or will have more negative than positive consequences. After all, the goal is for students to have meaningful internships and for schools and employers to work together for the wellbeing of all parties. I get the feeling that too many people on both sides of the issue have lost sight of that!

Sometimes I receive very short messages. They can be quite specific and need an answer. This one is an excellent example. It had no text at all, just a link, and I had to figure out what it meant.

70 Ans de la Libération de Paris “MONUMENTAL”SON et LUMIERE le 25/08/14 PARIS

Thanks to the sender. Indeed, it feels like all French media outlets have been talking about this year’s two anniversaries: the beginning of WWI (1914-18) and the end, at least for France, of WWII (1939-45).

Countless newspapers and magazines have written about the Libération of Paris, which occurred August 19-25 in 1944. Some aspects of this fight were heroic and I am glad that several commemorations were scheduled. But even before the celebrations started, I was getting turned off by poor media coverage and poor choices regarding how to commemorate the event. All this is subjective, and my response to this person, adapted below, makes clear there are two sides to the issue. This said, D-day and the Libération of Paris, are the ones everybody has been talking about and rightfully so.

Although I have not given much thought to the question What else should we remember in France about what happened in 1944 during WWII? I would celebrate the following:

La Bataille du rail, which has been shamefully ignored in the American media. To add insult to injury, some American groups are suing the SNCF for its role in the deportation of Jews. But there were also courageous efforts by French railway workers to sabotage trains carrying Nazi reinforcement troops. The story was told in René Clément’s 1946 movie La Bataille du rail (The Battle of the Rails).

Le Maquis du Vercors a misguided but still very important military action led by the high command of the Résistance. As Wikipedia explains, The Maquis du Vercors was a rural French Forces of the Interior resistance ( maquis ) group who fought the 1940-1944 German occupation of France in World War II. The Maquis du Vercors used the prominent scenic plateau known as the Massif du Vercors (Vercors Plateau) as a refuge. Many members of the maquis, called « maquisards » died fighting in 1944 on the Vercors Plateau. ( (

Oradour-sur-Glane, which you should be sure to look up if you have never heard of it. Oradour is a village in the Limousin region of west-central France. The original population was destroyed on 10 June 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company. A new village was built after the war on a nearby site, but on the orders of the then French president, Charles de Gaulle, the original has been maintained as a permanent memorial and museum. (

One last detail: the height of this celebration was held on the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville because it was convenient to use the facade of this huge building as a movie screen. But historically, it is simply quite inaccurate. True, blocking the Porte d’Orléans and finding some way to have screen there of similar size would have been virtually impossible. But it would have been a lot more historically accurate.

Who cares?

I do.

If you are wondering why I would choose the Porte d’Orléans:

-On 24 August, delayed by combat and poor roads, the Free French General Leclerc, commander of the 2nd Armored Division, disobeyed his direct superior, American field commander Major General Leonard T. Gerow, and sent a vanguard (the colonne Dronne) to Paris with the message that the entire division would be there on the following day. ( they did indeed arrive as promised, on the Nationale 20, entering Paris through the Porte d’Orléans where General Leclerc’s statue stands tall today in the middle of the place.

My office will be closed from the end of Thursday November 20th until 9AM on Wednesday December 3rd, instead of for the usual Christmas vacation. As always, I will be reachable by email for emergencies and important matters. The service I offer of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed. I will let individual clients know how to receive or retrieve their mail during this period.

Best regards,


For my readers to understand your situation, I must explain what the carte vitale, is, what it contains and how the French health care system works.

Health coverage in France is offered or mandatory, depending on status, for everybody who lives in France, including illegal immigrants. The way most people get this coverage is through one or more members of the family working, with anyone else in the family covered as dependents. As in most such programs, one registers and then credits accrue in an account, and the coverage is linked to the amount of credit in the account. It is possible to use up all the rights to unemployment subsidies, after which the assurance maladie program switches the insured person to another program, called couverture médicale universelle. But once you are in the system, you stay in it unless you leave France and your file becomes dormant. So while it is possible that your carte vitale, does not have any information on it, you are still covered, that is certain.

To facilitate the way the system works, computer files and databases are gradually replacing paper documents. This is what the carte vitale, is all about. It looks like a French debit card, made of plastic with a computer chip. The chip contains information about your file and therefore your right to coverage. But way too many people do not realize that there is a need to update the information contained in this chip. Doctors, labs and other independent medical professionals have the simplest card reader, with a one-way connection from the professional to the central database. Drugstores have more sophisticated equipment and can update the carte vitale, chip with the most current information. But they cannot access the full file, especially if your professional situation has changed, when there is a need to completely reshape your account. The fact that your card did not work when your husband went to the drugstore probably meant that you had not used it for years at a drugstore, and so it had not been updated regularly that way. The information in it was so obsolete that it became the equivalent of a message saying « no coverage. » You just need to go to a center of the Caisse Primaire d’assurance Maladie (CPAM) near where you live and ask to have it fully updated.

As for why the hospital did not ask you anything and was able to handle the bill, public hospitals have always had a different connection, predating the carte vitale, so they have access to your complete file and can process the claim regardless of what the carte vitale says.

In the meantime, the pharmacist must have given your husband a feuille de soins the old-fashioned paper form to submit a claim and get reimbursed. You should fill it out, sign it and send it to your CPAM to get reimbursed. You can do this even before you update your card, since CPAM has your file and knows you are covered. It will take several weeks, or maybe even a couple of months, since it is now a very slow process.



After a couple of years studying French in Paris, I wanted to change my status to start a career as a Pilates instructor. So I contacted the préfecture and I got an appointment five months later. It was so much later than I expected that I ended up staying with only the convocation for this appointment as proof of my legal stay in France. I never managed to get a récépissé from the préfecture and I tried all the branches and locations I knew about.
At the end of the appointment, the préfecture refused to give me the carte de séjour and, even worse, the letter stated that I had 30 days to leave the country. I am positively furious because while I was presenting, the civil servant was very impressed by the quality of the proposal and indicated that I would have no problem obtaining this self-employed status. The reason for the total refusal is that I worked during these several months after the carte de séjour expired. Did they expect me to starve and give up before the meeting? Of course I had to work to support myself. I have never imagined such a bad faith excuse for denying my request when it was perfect according to their own evaluation. Can I appeal such a lame and awful decision?


There is so much to explain here. Clearly the préfecture and you are looking at two very different aspects of this request. You see it through a common sense point of view, and your action seemed the best solution, considering the situation. The prÉfecture looks at the request as a legal case: do you qualify for the status? It only takes one thing wrong, no matter how small it is in your eyes, for them to deny the request, since they hold proof that you have violated French law prior to submitting the request. Their approach is to state that because you have violated the law, and in a major way, you are not worthy to stay legally in France. It is a strict application of the law.
Before expanding on what happened, I need to explain exactly what grounds the préfecture used against you. According to your account, you were without legal documentation for several months. This means your legal status was upheld until the day of the appointment. The main consequence is that you lost all right to work in France but your presence in France was tolerated until the appointment. Now, apparently not knowing this, somehow you gave them the information that you worked during those months obviously because you needed to feed yourself. So you acknowledged violating the law to a representative of the préfecture who can also function like French police, and then you were surprised they used it against you? Don’t you recall what every cop show states at least once every episode?

You have the right to remain silent when questioned. Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish. If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

True, those are the Miranda rights, and the rules are somewhat different in France, so not all of that statement is applicable here. But essentially the préfecture did exactly what the second sentence states. They used something you said or gave them against you.

I suspect that, in an excess of zeal, to prove that you did the right things and are self-sufficient, you might have said something about whom you worked for while waiting for the appointment, or, even worse, without being asked, you showed pay slips proving that you worked during the interim. The préfecture then used that information against you.

In hindsight, the best thing would have been never to show anything that proves you have violated the law, unless it is covered by a statute of limitation so the préfecture cannot use it. As a general rule, always answer their questions as briefly as you can so as to give as little information as possible. If the préfecture wants more information, they can ask a second question. There is a common sense limit to this, but still. For example, when asked, « What have you done all these months prior to this meeting, » you could have said, « I was waiting for the meeting and preparing for it as best I could. » This would have been the absolute truth, without giving away that you were working. The problem is that in normal conversation people go way beyond what is asked of them. When someone asks, « Do you know what time it is? » the literal answer would be either yes or no, but everybody goes further and tells what the time is, because that is really what the question was about. With the police (or their equivalent, such as the préfecture), your answer to his type of question should pertain strictly to what was asked, and not go beyond.

It is easy to forget that the immigration division of the préfecture functions like a police force, but forgetting it can hurt a lot. So, to answer your question, I do not see any grounds on which you can appeal the decision. You need to find different grounds for staying in France, or travel to your home country and submit the request, properly cleaned up, to your French consulate. Then, if the file is as good as you say, you should get the immigration visa related to your project.


Survival Home in Paris

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