July-August - 2014
According to Wikipedia, the Amazons were a nation of all-female warriors in Greek mythology and classical antiquity. Herodotus placed them in a region bordering Scythia in Sarmatia (modern territory of Ukraine). Other historiographers place them in Asia Minor, or sometimes Libya. I realized that all the topics in this issue involve women and show how fearless some of them can be, often taking leadership roles. After the June issue titled BODYGUARD, I thought it is only fair to make sure that women were included this month.
My experience, mainly through my ministry at the church, is that many women from Africa and the Far East who arrive in France alone or with children, but without their husband, will fight and sacrifice just about everything « money, energy, time, effort « to get a legal stable status in France. In their way of handling extremely difficult times, they remind me of female tigers protecting their cubs. This can be true even when their children are not with them.
I have no right to judge if this sacrificial life « rarely for a couple of years, and sometimes for ten or more » is worth it. I have a deep respect for them, for what they achieve and for the opportunities they give their children.
I am often asked my thoughts on illegal immigration and things like people being smuggled into France and other Western countries. I feel very uncomfortable when the topic is presented in terms of political versus economic refugees, or contrasting illegal immigrants with people who arrive with full legal immigration status. I prefer to look at people’s goals, how fast and well they adapt, what struggles they encounter, and, more importantly, their determination of obtaining and maintaining a legal immigration status.
To me, immigrant women are the invisible amazons almost nobody sees; they are the nannies, the cashiers, the cleaning ladies, the seamstresses, the women who run those tiny shops. It happens that they, among others, give a good name to immigration in France, in the USA and elsewhere.
FRENCH WOMEN WON THE RIGHT TO VOTE 70 YEARS AGO
France granted women the right to vote on April 21st, 1944, and the first time they were able to vote was in the municipal elections of April 29th, 1945.
The government had been expected to commemorate the 70th anniversary with a fair amount of celebration. All I saw was a short article in one newspaper, Le Monde. I do not call this « commemorating. »
It is often pointed out that the French are a Latin people and somewhat sexist even today. I have to chuckle as I remind my readers that this legislation was passed, when WWII was not over yet, on the sole initiative of General de Gaulle, never known as a keen supporter of women’s liberation. But appearances can truly be misleading: his action had a lot more impact than any number of speeches and articles. A conservative general proved himself capable of using common sense to repair a disgraceful situation.
FEARLESS IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY: AN AMERICAN LIVING IN FRANCE
I recently received this communication from a reader about my June 14 column:
As I was reading your introduction to this month’s column, something struck me. At first I didn't realize that you were speaking about fear concerning [one’s] actual physical safety. What struck me was how much my French partner and many others in my circle of French friends live in a constant state of fear a Kafkaish (Kafkaesque) kind of fear of the state. I found it rather paranoid at first until I started seeing strange problems arising from clerical errors or sudden policy changes or ignorance on the part of government employees small errors that left friends owing great amounts of money or losing benefits. This is something I've never feared in the US and still don't spend time worrying about here in France. Never overconfidence perhaps.
I’m very interested by what seems to be at least two conversations that have emerged. I find your perspective from your life experience fascinating. I've never thought of safety in this way, but then « I'm not sure why « I'm not easily frightened by physical danger. I know that this fear is very real for most people. To go a little deeper into the American attitude towards « guns » and « visible security, » I think about having lived in NYC during 9/11. I wasn't afraid afterwards. I was sad and at the same time I felt secure because of the reactions of New Yorkers. The strength, resilience and courage of New Yorkers made me feel more safe than the new machine guns on all major subway platforms. The Americans that came to volunteer to help from all over the country gave me security. I was living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and could see the Twin Towers from my window. Immediately after the towers fell, all the subways and bridges into the city were closed, cell phones were almost useless and bank machines and credit cards went offline. Like many New Yorkers, I lived day to day for food with not much cash in my pocket. The deli owner in my neighborhood let me take what I needed with the promise that I'd pay when I could access my money again. This was incredible! As I walked down the streets, we all looked in each other’s eyes. It is the most profound experience of the very best in humanity. It made me sad that it had to come from the very worst of humanity. I know many people were absolutely terrified afterwards, especially those who lived in the rest of the country. I don't know how to explain exactly why I feel safe in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but I do. It’s not the obvious « security, » although NYC police are amazing. It’s the people. Living in NYC is dangerous all the time. You have to watch your back. You have to be smart. You have to be courageous or you'll never leave your apartment.
In France, I've felt more fear than ever before in my life. Nothing personal ... but I don't trust French men (physically). I find the unclear « grey » overly sexually charged relationship between men and women very unsettling. My experience with French women who believe they've been wronged is even more frightening. It’s not really a fear of physical danger. It’s a fear of being tricked into « confidence, » into opening up and then being attacked on a deep psychological level that can really mess you up. I describe it by saying the French have the ability to plant tiny psychological seeds in your mind and then they nurture these tiny seeds slowly over time until they grow into a full blown neurosis. Americans have no defense against this. LOL!
The other fear I was hinting at before is the fear of the government or administration in France that I see in my partner and many others. Coming from a family of lawyers in the USA, I don't have any fear of « justice » in the USA. I believe our system to be just. Of course there are always problems and it’s not always easy to get justice, but it is possible. I don't see this in France. I see a system that leaves the average person without a reasonable pathway to justice. Take something simple like customer service; if SFR makes a mistake on your contract, somehow as the customer it’s your fault and, well, « c’est pas grave » and « c’est comme ça » and you must « laisser tomber. » I’m so surprised to watch people receive bad food at a restaurant or the wrong plate and say nothing. I watch people who are afraid to ask a question at a bank about their money, because they feel they are disturbing the employee of the bank. Of course, as an American, I have absolutely no tolerance for bad quality and bad service and am greatly surprised at the tolerance of customers in France. I'm sure it comes from very old historical/political roots. In contrast, I find French teenagers incredibly frightening in their lack of fear of authority, confrontation and violence.
Ok ... with that I'll stop. I greatly appreciate this conversation because there aren't that many people around me who have your understanding of this fascinating difference between our cultures. It’s subtle and vast at the same time and I find a nice yin/yang. I just wanted to share this little observation inspired by your column.
I served as an officer in the French army. I have been a member of the American Church in Paris for over twenty years. For the majority of that time, I have been an usher specialized in security issues, and I was especially active after 9/11 for about 10 years. So I have some meaningful training and experience when it comes to securing a building or facing a crowd, and I am very rarely scared by situations. But the experience in Oslo made me think once again about what makes people feel safe, and why?
Long ago I concluded that people in some countries do not trust their government or officialdom, and therefore they fear official misconduct and errors of judgment, with the result that the population feels this danger. With the rise of terrorism in the 20th century in Europe, the initial response was to build undercover intelligence forces like the FBI. The latest surge of terrorism made people question whether undercover police forces were adequate to fight this danger. Therefore public opinion seemed to favor visible police forces with uniforms, metal detectors and so on to make sure that terrorists and criminals could not get in. People find this reassuring. Without this visible security presence they feel in danger. I see this presence a lot in the USA and in France, among others.
What I described in Norway was the result of a completely opposite political decision. The surveillance is not visible and this could give the false impression that no one was there to protect a building or a crowd. I could see what was used to monitor security; there were cameras, and not that many of them. During my last stay in Copenhagen, I experienced the same thing but it was several years ago.
Your comment is extremely interesting and goes along with discussions I have had in the USA. Often people ask me if I have guns or firearms in my home in France, and I say, « No! » So they explain that they feel safe because they have the right to bear arms and this makes them unafraid. Not everybody thinks this way in the USA, but many do.
For reasons that are very complex I would not know where to start French people do not easily trust the French administration as well as pretty much any kind of authority. Interestingly, firefighters come first in rankings of civil servants, probably because they save lives in so many different ways. They can be trusted to arrive quickly and do the right thing. My personal and professional experience with the French administration is that it is quite efficient and reliable when the files are perfect. But its track record is quite poor when it comes to fixing mistakes, most often made by individuals who in all good faith have followed guidelines issued by the administration. This creates an impression that the individual is always considered wrong and the French administration is unreliable since it does not do what it is being asked.
Then there is another aspect of the issue: French people rarely believe that the future will bring good things, that the situation will improve, and so on. This pessimism leads to a tendency to reject change, as it becomes synonymous with something bad happening. So yes, there is fear of things and of people, for that matter that are different, strange, unknown.
I will always remember my very first boss in the USA. He clearly stated that, in his view, the fact that I had immigrated to the USA indicated that I was daring and ready to work hard. This is the perfect incarnation of the true American dream, and I owe this man my deep love for the USA. I have never heard anyone making a similar comment in France regarding an immigrant. That is a difference worth digging!
I wanted to share this with you to show that this issue has so many facets that it is very hard to state that such and such is right or wrong. Yet I agree with you that French people express their fear and are afraid of many things, while Americans express their lack of fear and their trust in the future, or at least they did so until recently.
ALUR - THE NEW LAW ON REAL ESTATE IN FRANCE
The loi pour l’Accès au Logement et à l’Urbanisme Rénové sponsored by the former minister for housing, Mme. Cécile Duflot, was published on March 26th 2014 and went into force the following day.
It is the latest step in an evolutionary process in French property law that started a very long time ago. In the beginning, when the Civil Code was established on March 21st 1804, the two key moments in any sale of real estate were the sealing of the agreement between buyer and seller and the closing, which documents the transfer of ownership. The presale contract in those days was short identifying the parties and their respective obligations. The mission of the notaire was and still is, to research the ownership history and secure the soundness of the legal rights to the property. As things have evolved, the right of ownership has become more and more complex. There was the creation of condominium associations, and the continual increase in the information the buyer must have to ensure that he knows everything he needs to know regarding the property. A quick makeover can hide countless problems and lure a buyer in.
The process entered a new phase when the Loi Carrez was passed on December 18th 1996, making it illegal to lie about the size of a property. The seller had to guarantee to the buyer that the apartment was as big as it was stated to be. That started a trend of the seller having to undertake an ever-growing number of tests and statements so the buyer would know the exact characteristics of the apartment and the building itself (the common area) managed by the condominium association (syndicat des copropriétaires, also commonly called la copropriété) and its representative, the syndic de copropriété, the property manager.
The latest law opens a new era, too, since it grants the right to know about the financial and legal well-being of the condominium association. This kind of information is fairly easy to find in recent minutes of annual meetings. So now instead of making the buyer responsible for due diligence, the onus is on the seller, with the help of the syndic (property manager), to provide this information, as well as the bylaws and minutes of the last three annual meetings.
There was a time when the presale contract could be signed about a week after the seller accepted the buyer’s offer, even in a notaire’s office. But now, with syndics being slow to give documents to the seller (or, better, the seller’s notaire), the signature of the presale contract often does not take place for three weeks or more. This delay lasting several weeks weakens the sale; this comes in part because the seller is not signing anymore the buyer’s written offer. Indeed real estate agents, eager to get the presale contract signed quickly, have advised for over ten years the sellers not to sign, in order to avoid the first seven-day cooling off period. This period of seven days for reflecting on this offer looks small and pale compare to the much longer delay that this new law has created. One can hope that the profession will soon push for the seller signing the offer so that at least there is one binding document that seals the transaction during this long wait before the presale contract can be signed.
The complexity of the new presale contract and the seller’s legal obligations toward the buyer are such that even De Particulier Particulier, the leader in France when it comes to facilitating real estate transactions between private individuals without any intermediaries, now strongly advises having the presale contract signed with a notaire.
SOME OF MY SERVICE FEES WILL GO UP IN SEPTEMBER
My fee structure involves more than just the initial retainer and an hourly rate. It includes other fees for specific services, and I have not increased their rates for about 10 years. When I first started, I calculated how much time the tasks would take, on average, but the correlation no longer exists. Therefore I will increase the following fees starting on September 1st:
– Handling mail in my office: from 20 to 30 euros per month.
– Handling mail received at my home: from 30 to 40 euros per month
– Surcharge for out-of-office meetings: from 20 to 30 euros.
I am also raising the only flat fee I charge, for obtaining full residency status as an employee in France. In such cases the employer pays me to do the complete procedure, so the prospective employee gets the right to work as an employee, then the long-term visa and finally the carte de séjour. My fee for this procedure will rise from 800€ HT/1.000€ TTC to 1,167€ HT/1,400€ TTC.
OFFICE TO CLOSE FOR SUMMER VACATION
My office will be closed from the evening of Friday July 25th until 9AM on Monday August 25th. 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.
As usual, there will be no August issue.
ACQUIRING FRENCH NATIONALITY THROUGH A FRENCH SPOUSE
I have just married a French citizen and successfully renewed my titre de séjour on that basis, changing status from travailleur indépendant. We are now starting the plan to naturalize my wife in the US and myself here in France.
For me it seems the path is four more years of being married, after which I can apply and, demonstrating understanding of culture, language and society, perhaps be granted citizenship. For my wife, we must move to the US for three years, with me as her sponsor, after which she can apply for citizenship. The US authorities require me to be an official resident of the US to sponsor her, otherwise I would just officially maintain my residence in France and pay taxes in France.
Ideally, we would want to first move to the US for three years to get her done and then move back to France to finish mine off. Finally, the question: Is it possible to maintain French residency in some form or another while being a primary resident in the US? And if not, does not maintaining residence in France derail the naturalization process and reset the clock on the number of years required?
I know little about American immigration but I believe the minimum stay for naturalization is five years, not three. I advise you to check this before you decide anything, since it would mean a delay in your return to France.
Regarding the French issues you raise, your new carte de séjour is in the vie privée et familiale category, or private and family life. You can renew this immigration status as long as you stay married and living together in France.
As to whether it is possible to maintain French residency in some form or another while being a primary resident in the US, « the answer is no » a person can only have one primary residence. To carry out your plan, you would need to give up your French immigration status when you are ready to move back to the USA.
I would like to expand on your second question, since your assumption is inaccurate: And if not, does not maintaining residence in France derail the naturalization process and reset the clock on the number of years required?
You assume that you can only obtain French nationality if you live in France. But the foreign spouse of a French citizen can obtain French nationality through what the French administration calls la procédure déclarative de la naturalisation par mariage avec un conjoint français, naturalization through marriage with a French person.
The way it works on paper is that the foreign spouse declares a desire to become a French citizen, and the French administration records this statement and awards French nationality. Over the years, however, the procedure has come to require quite a lot more than just expressing a desire; there is a complex file to submit, with proof of the following conditions:
– Etre mariè(e) depuis au moins 4 ans la condition qu’à la date de la déclaration, la communauté de vie n'ait pas cessé entre les époux depuis le mariage;
- Having been married for at least four years and still living together;
– Justifier d'une connaissance suffisante, selon sa condition, de la langue, de l'histoire, de la culture de la société française, ainsi que des droits et devoirs du citoyen français;
- Showing sufficient knowledge of the French language, history, culture and society as well as the rights and the obligations of French citizens;
– Etre assimilé(e) à la société française, notamment par une connaissance suffisante des droits et devoirs du citoyen français;
-Fitting into French society through sufficient knowledge of the rights and obligations of French citizens;
– Etre de bonnes vie et meurs et avoir un comportement loyal au regard des institutions françaises.
- Having a decent lifestyle and being loyal to the French state.
For a while now, especially in the last decade, marrying a French national has not been enough to fulfill the requirement of blending into French society. There was a time when immigrants routinely made huge efforts to adopt French culture, at least in public. Since the 1970s, however, with the rise in recognition of individual personal rights, the French population has increasingly been made up of visible communities that maintain their own culture. In this regard there is a fundamental difference between France and the USA. Each country began with people settling in a new territory and eventually taking it over completely. In France it happened in the 5th century at about the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, traditionally dated to September 4th 476. A barbarian tribe, the Franks, colonized what is now the region -Ile de France-, the Paris region. Starting at the turn of the 20th century, France ruthlessly molded its population into a unified profile. Although such a policy has become unacceptable, there is a lingering view that French people should have a somewhat similar profile. The above requirements come from this expectation. Naturalization by marriage now closely resembles the other procedure for obtaining French nationality, naturalization by decree.
To go back to your plans, you would be much better off living in the USA and making sure your spouse obtains her American citizenship while you work on putting together your request for French nationality. Given the requirements listed above, it would be wise to stay in tune with what is happening in France and to put together a study plan on several aspects of French language and culture so that you can pass the test/interview. This is not like a school test but is more an evaluation of how well the candidate meets the requirements, as I explained in the May 2014 issue. This course of French studies will be good for both of you, for different reasons: it will help her maintain her ties and keep some French breathing space, and it will help you reach the level needed to obtain French nationality. Good luck.
CHANGING SCHOOLS AND GETTING THE STUDENT CARTE DE SEJOUR RENEWED
I arrived in Paris a year ago to study French and art history since I have a very specific project dealing with ancient clothing, costumes, and preserving ancient garments in museums. I explained this to the French consulate, and I chose a French language school based on an advertisement I found on the Internet. Within the first month it was obvious that choosing this school was a complete mistake. So at the end of the first semester, I looked for a more appropriate school. I found one, but the courses will only start in September, when my card is up for renewal. This means that I will have spent more than six months not attending a school. I am afraid that the préfecture will deny me the right to renew my immigration status because of that. I do not see any solution. Please help.
Your concern is legitimate, and indeed if you are not very careful with your coming request for a new student carte de séjour, it may very well be denied. With any carte de séjour request, whether it is a first-time request or a renewal, the applicant must prove that he/she complies with specific requirements, which differ for each type of card. One must really understand these specific requirements and not rely on the list given by the préfecture, since there is always more involved than what it mentions. In your situation, you have to prove:
– that you had excellent attendance and passed the year-end exam,
– that you are registered for another year as a full-time student and are progressing in your studies,
– that you have the financial means to support yourself for another year.
You had good grades while you were going to school, but you did not attend any courses during the second semester, so your attendance over the whole year is rather poor. Also, because of the radical change in schools and probably curricula, you do not give the appearance of having progressed in your studies. Right there, you are giving the préfecture two excellent reasons not to renew your carte de séjour. Therefore, it is imperative to prepare the file to prove two critical things:
The first school was an error because it did not match the project described in your original visa application, whereas the second school does. Since your studies are still in line with the initial project, you are indeed continuing them, and you should emphasize this every time.
The six-month gap, accordingly, is the result of the initial error. It took you a long time to find the right school in France to properly train you in your chosen field. To prove this, you need to document that search, every attempt you have made, all of your research, as well as the results. Build a case that it could not be just a school where you learn French.
Of course, there is still no guarantee that it will work, but you will have given it your best shot and built up a strong file with which to appeal in case of a negative decision.
Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended only as general information. I strongly urge readers to seek professional guidance concerning the legal and tax matters mentioned. This newsletter is intended as a general guide and is not to be taken as professional advice.