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Second Chance

December 2020

“Second Chance” is the seventh track on Bay of Kings, the seventh studio album from English guitarist Steve Hackett and his first entirely instrumental one, released in 1983. He was lead guitarist of the band Genesis from 1971 to 1977. Genesis of that period is one of my top five bands, and has been since I was 16.

Seconde chance was also the name of a French TV series that first aired in September 2008.

Somewhere, somehow, everybody has hoped to get a second chance. Some acknowledge that they did indeed get a second chance in life. Others objectively never do.

Many today think the USA as a country has a second chance, a sort of revival. But almost half the people who went to the polls voted for a second term.

Some people see moving to another country as a second chance in life so they can fulfill their dreams. Others are economic refugees who see moving to a Western country not as grabbing a second chance but more as a financial burden that will allow them to take care of a family back home, often an extended family. Their journey to the West is very different. One described it like this.

“I was in this maid’s room, crying all the tears of my body and of my soul. So I was a newlywed. I was also the mother of a newborn, and I was stranded in this foreign country, being the servant, taking care of someone else’s newborn.”

I do see 2021 as a revival, but like many I need to fight the illusion that we will finally get back to what we knew before. More realistically, I see the situation like this: My past life stopped on March 17th 2020 with the first lockdown. By March 2021, I hope that we will have created a new normal, as the pandemic will be truly enough under control that the more extreme measures will be gone for good. With luck, that will be just in time for us to rejoice in large gatherings celebrating Easter.

I would have liked to wish you all the usual season’s greetings, but how can anyone hear them right now with a de facto stay-at-home order pretty much all over the USA and a rock-solid official one in France. The silver lining is the hope that some of the current restrictions will be lifted in France so there can be some family gatherings under reasonable conditions. What I hear from the USA chills me to the bone: “Be reasonable, stay home alone, so you can celebrate with them next year; if they come this year, chances are they will not be around next year!” Nevertheless, against all odds and hoping that we all can find a way, I wish for all of you to have


I look forward to the year to come, 2021. Like many, I feel that 2020 was nightmarish and promised, at best, a glimpse of light sometime in 2021. It was a very hard year, challenging in so many ways, and I am eager, like everyone else, to see it end.

Speaking of a chilling effect and bones, my nearly-retired and lock-down wife has been watching a fair number of American TV series. One of the most recent is Bones. I rarely watch it in full but I have seen a few full episodes. The struggle of first-generation immigrants is often used in series and movies, as it makes for an easy story line on the clash of cultures and how it is overcome or not. One of these in Bones is season 10, episode 6, “The Lost Love in the Foreign Land.” It excellently illustrates complex situations, with a few scenes describing a painful reality. When inspectors interrogate one of several Chinese woman who are in the country illegally, she pulls out of her purse a picture of her child, and within seconds all the other women are showing pictures of their children, left in China with family. The women live in horrid conditions and are exploited at work. They are prisoners of a US extension of a Chinese mafia. They have been told that if they are not totally docile, their child will be killed in China. Everybody, including the inspectors, knows this is not an empty threat. Spoiler: At the end it is revealed that the Chinese woman found dead at the beginning of the episode was killed by one of the others, with the silent approval of all the rest, because she planned to escape. The murder was committed to keep all the children in China alive.

How does a Western criminal justice system determine such a case? A crime has been committed and there must be a trial and a sentence. No Western country can excuse a perpetrator because of his or her motivation. One defense could be self-defense, but this crime was planned and will be probably be tried as premediated murder. The episode gives a glimpse of the living conditions of the immigrants who do the dirty jobs in Western societies.

At about the same time, I stumbled across a French movie called Cookie. It is about a Chinese mother who is deported by the French police while her son is with her French employer, and how the French woman handles the situation. One scene shows how undocumented Chinese immigrants live in the Belleville neighborhood after the employer finds the real address where the boy lives, not the one on the fake papers his mother used to be hired. The child runs through a sweatshop open to the back of a courtyard, up several flights of stairs and straight to where his mother used to sleep. It is full of bunkbeds, crowded with people and possessions, with chickens running loose in the courtyard. The male immigrants are angry and threaten violence. The women immediately understand what is going on and help the employer and child to escape safely. Last time I heard about this kind of lodging in the Chinese community for illegal immigrants, the monthly rent was about 150€ for a bunkbed in a walk-in closet.,_2013)

It is rare to be able to visit people living in such conditions, and always extremely delicate to handle. Having helped Filipino citizens since 1994, I have been invited for a visit, and sometimes even for dinner, by some with whom I am close. Most of the time, there are bunkbeds and just a tiny space to sit; there is a sense of shame to overcome before one can be invited to see these living conditions. I always feel honored and humbled by what they are going through.

Many years ago, my cleaning person and handyman for ten years, an undocumented Filipino who at home was fully qualified as a civil engineer, said to me with tears in his eyes, “You could have done what I did. You are just as tough.” Also emotional, I answered, “I believe I would never have been able to do it.” I also remember discussions with Asian women about being a good mother. Just having such a conversation is rare; it takes many years to mention the topic. They all have cherished pictures in their wallets, and it makes them cry to look at these photos every night and not be there.

I cannot count the discussions I have had about what it means to be a good mother when they are on the other side of the globe, working as cleaning ladies and nannies while holding university diplomas as nurses, midwives, teachers. Because of globalization, they earn much more money this way than being a professional in their country. It allows them to provide for their spouse, their children, their parents. This is a part of life for so many Filipino people that it has entered the statistics on the national economy. Consumption in the Philippines is largely fueled by financial transfers from more than 10 million expatriates, who sent USD 31.3 billion in 2017, equivalent to 9.8% of GDP. So yes, they are good mothers because they care for their children, choosing this way to express their deepest love.

I would like to end this topic on a much lighter note. It has to do with an unforeseen consequence of the strict regulations in France to fight the pandemic. The last day of the month I send out my column in HTML. For several years, a Filipina woman who cleans for seven employers comes in the late afternoon and helps me do the formatting. Holding the printed draft, she literally looks over my shoulder to check that I am not making errors in the HTML markup. She needed the infamous permission document to get back home. So I did one for her with my company’s stamp and my signature, giving her the title computer assistant. She was beaming!

Many Filipinos I know have domestic jobs and at the same time serve as committee leaders at the American Church in Paris, hold other important responsibilities (e.g. at the ACP lending library) and sing in the choir. As far as I know, the same is true in all the Anglophone churches, Catholic and Protestant alike. The Filipino community is a pillar of those churches, pitching in for almost all events, doing cooking and decorating. Their Christmas decorations for the ACP sanctuary are always a masterpiece.

So Merry Christmas once again.

This year there may not be as much decoration in the church, as there might not be much in-person Christmas celebration. The same may be true this year of your home, but still, try to catch the spirit of Christmas – and sooner rather than later, as it is coming up fast!

It may be surprising to many that I am saying nothing about the American elections. In my own way, I believe I already have.

The French government allowed shops and small businesses to reopen as of Saturday, November 28th. So clearly Black Friday could not take place on the usual day this year; most businesses postponed it to December 4th. Instead of making fun of French businesses that advertise “Black Friday Week,” I would like to talk about the downtowns in midsize cities that are dying as too many shops and small businesses have closed. 2020 gave a huge boost to e-commerce and severely hurt traditional retailers.

In France, this trend is taken seriously, as deserted shopping districts have an impact on the entire city, especially the safety of the population. What happened to Detroit in the USA is inconceivable in France. The condition of several neighborhoods in Marseille, France’s second largest city, has made the national news and triggered action at the national level. Yet progress cannot be stopped, and e-commerce is here to stay. Many small French cities are subsidizing shops to help them stay open. Some of them also offer public services, such as postal service.

When I draft my column and especially when I pick topics, I follow my interests and desires, assuming that my readership will be reasonably interested in them too without necessarily being directly involved. Interestingly, I usually get few reactions to topics I think could provoke emotional reactions and possibly even hate mail. And sometimes I am surprised by a flow of reactions I had not expected at all. Whatever the reason, I always welcome emails from my readership, even the challenging ones. Below are the most striking comments I received in response to the November issue. I had forgotten that many of my readers are retired, living in France, and are in their 60s, 70s or even older, so what I was describing was their teens and young adult years.

Reader 1
Your latest newsletter really resonated with me. Al and I were university students in the late ’60s and were both active in the anti-war movement – both tear-gassed at various demonstrations and both arrested. Today, even as retirees, we still consider ourselves activists. The Netflix film about the trial of the Chicago 7, which I remember vividly from newspapers and TV at the time, brought back many memories. It’s hard to see the U.S. once again so divided, maybe even more violently polarized today than it was in the ’60s. I’m too nervous about Election Day tomorrow to think straight, but I hope there will be some serious change in the near future.

Reader 2
Thank you! We enjoy your missives very much. We have several “Imagine” posters.

Reader 3
Your comments here about American history are appropriate. The absence of Abbie Hoffman’s name in reference to the Yippies is unfortunate since his humor was the essence of their politics.

I knew Abbie from working beside him during the Civil Rights era in Mississippi. He was the liaison for our group of law students who went to Mississippi to help register black voters. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee were our sponsors.

It was a shocking experience for us young law students from the Pacific Northwest to see how bad things really were and that people were actually trying to kill us.

All of us were ‘clean cut’ white boys in suits and ties, Abbie included. He was unknown at the time – nobody knew the name Abbie Hoffman.

One of the key things I remember was how he insisted on driving us to a ‘wet’ county on the first weekend. We were in a ‘dry’ county, meaning no alcohol. After a long drive through dark and dangerous wooded areas, he pulled up to a black roadhouse where live blues music was playing, and people were dancing.

Of course, we were the only white people there. It only became apparent why Abbie had brought us there when he insisted that we all get up and ask one of the black girls to dance with us.

Years later I and a friend attended a meeting to organize protests against the upcoming Iraq War. At one point we were all called upon to announce what, if any, political organizations we represented. Both of us declared ourselves to be Yippies. There was a moment of silence before someone said, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them.”

The office will close for three weeks over the Christmas holidays, starting on Friday December 18th in the evening and reopening on the morning of Monday January 4th. 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. Of course, Sarah or I will honor prefecture meetings already scheduled, as well as a couple of other engagements.

I would like to remind everyone that there is no January issue.

Best regards,


I wrote in that issue that the policy defined by the déclaration de la politique d’urgence sanitaire, i.e., the health-related emergency policy, had been extended until February 2021. It allows special programs to be run when dealing with a medical crisis, which is exactly what is at stake.

« Le projet de loi prolonge jusqu’au 16 février 2021 l’état d’urgence sanitaire, déclaré le 17 octobre 2020 pour un mois. Il prolonge également le régime transitoire de sortie de l’état d’urgence sanitaire jusqu’au 1er avril 2021. Une série d’habilitations à prendre des mesures économiques et sociales par ordonnances complète le texte. ».

“The bill extends the health emergency policy, declared on October 17, 2020, for one extra month until February 16, 2021. It also extends the transitional period to exit the health emergency policy until April 1, 2021. A series of authorizations to take economic and social measures by ordinance completes the text.” The regulations can change overnight, so by the time this is published, probably half of what had been in effect will have been altered and new policies will have taken their place. Therefore I prefer to describe the policies that have been applied so far and how individuals have been affected.

1 – Complete lockdown
This went into effect on March 17th 2020, when almost everything was closed and the signed authorizations that everyone had to carry only had a few grounds for being allowed to go outside. From May 11th, things gradually began to reopen.

2 – Partial lockdown
Also known as the second lockdown, the partial lockdown went into effect on October 30th to halt the second wave and is supposed to last until mid-December, with the first loosening occurring on November 28th. The French administration and more shops were open, and there were more options to be outside.

3 – Curfew
This applies regardless of whether there is a lockdown: people are not allowed to be outside their homes between 9PM and 6AM (7AM as of December 15th). It is not currently implemented but there are rumors that the next loosening of the lockdown will be accompanied with a curfew.

4 – Mask wearing

 Any time you are outside your home, it is mandatory to wear a mask: in the streets, in shops, at work, visiting family and friends.

I do not believe France will get full control over the pandemic until it adopts a systematic testing policy every time someone is outside their home. South Korea did this, testing for fever and then, for anyone found to have a fever, testing for COVID-19 and quarantining anyone who tested positive. My reasoning is that the logistics of vaccinating an entire population are extremely complex, will take a lot of planning and requires an enormous amount of personnel. Therefore, there should be a tracing policy, which necessarily involves the kind of testing described above.


People commonly assume that it must be easy, that being the spouse of a French citizen opens all doors so there is no need for a visa. While there is some truth in that, taking it for granted could lead to poor decisions. First, because of the COVID 19 pandemic, right now it is virtually impossible for an American citizen without a visa to board a transatlantic flight and be allowed to enter France, even if the French spouse is there and has all the documents proving the situation. I would go even further and say that in most cases it is in the best interest of the family to ask for a visa ahead of time. Even though this is a short question, it opens a LOT of issues, which will make my answer quite complicated.

There are three totally different topics, which I am going to address in this order:
1 – Being the spouse of a French citizen grants you the right to obtain French citizenship while living in the USA (and only in the USA at that moment).
2 – Entering France as an American immigrating to your spouse’s country of citizenship means asking for a visa.
3 – Entering France as an American tourist to your spouse’s country means being an undocumented alien(sans-papiers) and having to ask for a carte de séjour through a procedure of régularisation.

To explain further, there are three totally different, mutually exclusive solutions.

1 – Naturalization by marriage
Here are the conditions you must meet to adopt this option:
a) Your spouse must have been of French nationality on the day of your marriage and have retained French nationality since that date.
b) On the day you submit the naturalization request for this “declaration” procedure, you must have been married to your French-nationality spouse for at least four years.
c) The marriage must have been transcribed in the French civil status registers.
d) You must not be the subject of an expulsion order or a ban from French territory still in force.
e) You and your spouse must have maintained a community of emotional and material life continually since the day of the wedding.
f) You must prove that you have sufficient knowledge of the French language.
g) You must prove that you do not have one of these on your judicial record (or, if you do, that rehabilitation or erasure of the conviction from bulletin No. 2 of your judicial record took place): 

  • Sentenced to 6 months or more in prison without suspension
  • Convicted of a crime or an offense constituting an attack on the fundamental interests of the nation
  • Convicted of an act of terrorism.

Looking at these requirements, I assume that you qualify, since you were married in 2007. The problem is that this procedure takes a long time. As you can see, some documents concerning one or both of you could be complicated to obtain from the USA. Even after you submitted your request, it usually takes about two years. Certain official French administration sources will suggest it takes a year, but that is unrealistic. So, although it is an excellent move in the long run, it does not meet your requirements unless you agree not to move here until two or maybe three years after submitting the request.

You can review the requirements and find further links here:

2 – Entering France as an American immigrating to your wife’s country of citizenship, which means asking for a visa
This option follows both the letter and the spirit of the law, since a non-EU citizen cannot immigrate to France without a long-stay visa, which is another name for an immigration visa. It is very easy to obtain. The French consulate in Washington, DC, issues them and is doing everything it can to allow families like yours to come back to France for the sake of the French citizens (all members except you).

You must prove your marital status, the French nationality of your spouse, the fact that the two of you maintain a community of life and that you intend to continue it in France.

Here is the list of documents to submit and other requirements:
a) passport (pages relating to civil status, validity dates and entry stamps)
b) birth certificate extract with filiation or a full copy of the birth certificate
c) your spouse’s French passport or identity card (carte nationale d’identité)
d) your spouse’s American ID document (passport/Green Card, …….)
e) your French marriage license
f) the complete French birth certificates of your children
g) a French utility bill or statement, dated within the last six months, proving you have an address in France
h) a rental lease or rent receipt, or proof of ownership, concerning the place of residence, dated within the last three months
g) in the event of accommodation with a private individual, certificate from the host, dated and signed, along with a copy of their identity card or residence permit and deed of ownership (or resident tax statement, copy of the host’s rental lease, or proof of electricity, gas, water, landline telephone or internet access).

Then, once in France, you provide the following in a file to the prefecture.

• Proof of payment of the tax on the residence permit and stamp duty to be submitted when the permit is issued.
• OFII certificate of closure or follow-up of actions provided for in the Republican Integration Contract (CIR).
• Medical certificate issued by OFII to be submitted when the title is awarded.
• Declaration on honor that the foreigner does not live in France in a state of polygamy (if the applicant is a national of a state authorizing polygamy).
• Proof of marriage: full copy of the marriage certificate (in the event of a marriage celebrated abroad, transcription of the marriage in the French civil status registers).
• French nationality of spouse: valid national identity card or certificate of French nationality less than six months old.
• Community of life: declaration on the joint honor of the couple attesting to their cohabitation and all documents establishing it (lease contract, EDF receipt, bank identity statement, etc.), unless the cohabitation has been broken off due to domestic or family violence, which may be proved by several means (complaint filing, conviction of the spouse for violence, testimonies, medical certificates, etc.).

You enter legally with the visa, which is stamped at the airport. Everything is done through the website, so you can click “entered with a visa – 1st request,” which takes you to another page where you can immediately start the procedure with the prefecture. Depending on the prefecture schedule when it comes to issuing your documentation, you can start working right away if you can find an employer, as your situation will be cleared soon and your employer will have a copy of your temporary French ID in due time.
You can review the requirements and find further links here:

3 – Entering France as an American tourist to your French wife’s country, which means starting as an undocumented alien (sans-papiers) and having to ask for a carte de séjour throughrégularisation
All the requirements listed above apply here; the only difference is that you do not get the visa ahead of time. Right now you may not have the right to land in France because of the pandemic, so the airline could refuse to let you board even if you have your ticket; there would be no refund since it is your responsibility to ensure that you comply with the immigration and administrative regulations.

But let’s imagine that when you travel it is like the old days and you are able to get into France without a visa as a tourist. I am 99% sure that those procedures dedicated to the ‘sans-papiers’ will continue to be online. You will have a difficult time going through a system that blocks sans-papiers from starting the procedure as much as it is legally possible to do.

Another issue, which could be critical for you, is that as a sans-papiers you must wait six months before you can ask for immigration status, and you will have to go through the back door. The guidelines are that the spouse must have been married for over six months while living in France OR have lived in France for six months as the spouse of a French citizen.

Before the pandemic, this third procedure was realistic and the inconvenience minor. As long as French borders are closed to American citizens, however, this procedure is not an option.

I would like to go back to the first solution, naturalization. If you know you will not be moving right away but are waiting for over a year or maybe two, then submitting such a request makes sense, for several reasons:
1 – You have the opportunity to do it, and it will smooth a lot of things once you are in France.
2 – The procedure is suspended when you move to France, but can be resumed once you have secured your French immigration status and are settled at a long-term French address.
3 – You keep the full benefit of the portion of the procedure done in the USA.
4 – You might not have to have more than one carte de séjour.


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