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The Muppet Show: Statler and Waldorf

February 2021

First of all, I would like to wish all of you a very happy and prosperous 2021!
It has to be better than 2020, an annus horribilis by just about everybody’s account.

French custom dictates that New Year’s wishes can be expressed until the end of January, 
so I have managed it a few hours before the deadline.

Now that Joseph Biden has been sworn in as the new US president, tension has considerably decreased. For many, Senator Bernie Sanders stole the limelight: the picture of him trying to stay warm at the inauguration ended up pretty much everywhere on social media. To me he looked like a family elder, the grandfather figure looking over the ceremony with what appeared to be a grumpy face.

This reminded me of The Muppet Show – specifically, Waldorf, one of two elderly men sitting in the balcony constantly criticizing and mocking what is happening onstage.

Statler and Waldorf are a pair of Muppet characters known for their cantankerous opinions and shared penchant for heckling. The two elderly men first appeared in The Muppet Show in 1975, where they consistently jeered the entirety of the cast and their performances from their balcony seats.

Of course, it might just be my imagination but I had the feeling that Senator Bernie Sanders was not just there as the elder, happy to be present as he celebrated the installation of President Biden, but that he was also checking him out in case the Biden policies were not to his liking. The senator is known for passionate speeches that often sound a little like a parent scolding children.

None of this is meant to express my political opinions. It was truly refreshing to be able to experience humor and irony while watching the Biden inauguration. Also, I am not sure when my caustic mind will have another opportunity to play like this when so many dramatic situations need to be fixed. I just hope the situations in the USA – and France, for that matter – significantly and rapidly improve.

It is obvious to me that, even once the pandemic is completely under control, none of us will be able to return to what the life was before. I just hope that a new normal comes sooner rather than later, and that major world economies do not collapse.

This past year was terrible in many ways and I went through some pretty difficult moments because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences in several aspects of my life. Like many, I could list those and complain about them. But instead I would like to talk about the benefits I got from the year. I am not a masochist; some really nice things resulted from the strict regulations with which we have had to live.

Spending time with my daughter
Lucille came back from South Korea a couple of weeks before the first lockdown began on March 17th. After missing her for about a year, my wife and I managed to live in close company with her, without going out much. Thus we got an extended time with her before she left for the UK, from where she will probably go back to South Korea. We knew her plans and thus did as much as we could to make the most of our lockdown time together.

Being in better physical shape
As soon as I realized the first lockdown would last several weeks, I knew if I did not have the discipline to do some exercises every day, I would gain weight and might not be able to handle the strict confinement that well. This activity gave some structure to my day and I managed to alternate work and family time. Even though I did not leave the apartment the entire time, I lost some weight.

After that lockdown ended, I decided to ride my bicycle everywhere and no longer take public transport, which also had the benefit of avoiding a possible source of infection. More important for me was that, even though I am 61, I managed in a few days to regain enough energy and strength to enjoy this new lifestyle, as so many Parisians were doing at that time. Hence I am starting 2021 feeling physically much better and weighing significantly less than a year ago.

Taking advantage of an early curfew
With the kind of work I do, leaving the office at 5:30PM is unsustainable, so I do my best to work some when I am at home. This radical change has led to a complicated situation professionally. But, at the same time, it means dinner at home every day and a different rhythm of life, which I welcome at my age. For quite a while I had looked into various ways to spend more time at home, but without much success. Yet this desire, combined with the strict regulations, means I now enjoy more family time.

I am fully aware that I am quite fortunate to have the means to do this. I have been helping people in very bad situations, which ended up being even worse either because of being isolated for so long or having survived COVID-19 but in worse physical condition than before. I make sure to count my blessings and stay aware of what others are going through.

Over the holidays, so many topics addressed in the media, both in France and in the USA, mingled public health and political issues, which in my view should stay separate. Now the discussions about vaccination and the campaigns going on in the USA, France and other countries involve heated debates. When I was a child, vaccination programs were part of the school system and there was never any discussion about it. Even in the 1990s, when my children were born and vaccinated in France, there was no discussion in the media. I do not intend to address the many reasons the debate is now so heated. I saw a meme on Facebook in which 2020 was represented by a mask and 2021 by a syringe. The fact that it was posted by so many people shows how important the topic is. Still, a vaccination campaign could be illustrated in many ways, so the choice of the syringe is symptomatic of the fear people have about what is going to be put inside their body.

That made me think of a couple of songs from artists I like:

“The Needle and the Damage Done” is a 1972 song by Canadian-American singer-songwriter Neil Young. The lyrics describe the effects of heroin addiction on musicians Young knew, including his friend and Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten, who would die of an overdose the same year the song was released.

“The Needle and the Spoon” is found on Second Helping, the second studio album by Lynyrd Skynyrd, released April 15, 1974. It featured the band’s biggest hit single, “Sweet Home Alabama”, an answer song to Neil Young’s “Alabama” and “Southern Man”.

Of course, these songs are about heroin addiction, not vaccination. What drives the global push to get the coronavirus vaccination done as quickly as possible is the hope of freeing people from a deadly pandemic. Yet at the same time sadly there is widespread fear that what is being put in the body could be deadly, like heroin.

I have yet to see anyone else address the issue from this angle. Coming up with those songs says a lot about my taste in music.

I wish that scientists, those in the medical profession, and drug manufacturers had the same weight and authority in serving the public interest as in the 1960s when I was getting all my shots. Vaccination will almost certainly dominate the media discourse in 2021.

I promised myself that this year I would stay even farther away from politics, especially US politics. Yet on the night of the inauguration, just for a second, I had an image of all those people standing before the Capitol listening to fans of Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd singing their old tunes about how hard life can be for the working class. It was a very refreshing vision, totally unrealistic yet soothing to my soul, especially after the horrendous images of the Capitol a week earlier.

For a long time the French post office required a tiny green form to be filled out whenever a package was sent outside France. Basically it listed the contents, their weight and value, and perhaps most importantly, whether they were a gift. This form, glued to the box, was the only document needed to clear customs inspection.

This declaration, like so many other government forms, must now be done online and much more information is required to fill it out. Among other things, packages consisting of gifts or property belonging to the recipient must be identified as private, not business, transactions. Packages sent by private individuals are not supposed to be subject to VAT and customs duties. I wonder, if one buys a new product and sends it in its original wrapping as a gift to a family member, is it still seen as private shipping? So, yes, now instead of a green sticker there is a four-page online form, but it may make it easier to avoid paying unjustified taxes.

“We inform you that any customs declaration must henceforth be made online so as not to expose yourself to a customs blockage of your goods. You can access the customs declaration form via this link: 

“You are required to complete these formalities for your shipments outside the European Union but also to Great Britain and Northern Ireland from January 1, 2021.

“We thank you for your understanding.”

I wanted to elaborate on what happened at the Chicago airport. We flew Air France and they called us July 31st, the day before we were scheduled to fly, and said F., our fourteen-year-old son, needed a French passport. So many people wanted a French passport because of travel restriction that we were unable to get an appointment until September 24th. It took four weeks for his passport to arrive. While we were at the French consulate, I was told that I needed a visa also. I called the appropriate center to request a visa. I left ten polite messages over the next two weeks and never heard back. I was told by the French consulate staff that the center’s personnel took several months to return a call. So I essentially gave up. I was reassured that by having a livret de famille and a carte de séjour, even an expired one, I could travel. At Air France the woman in charge told me I could not travel. A French man overheard the situation and said that he was satisfied with my documents. I was very relieved. I was asked again for a visa at customs, but ignored the question and I was not asked again. The official just stamped my American passport and F.’s French passport. So, I was extremely lucky, including for my expired carte de séjour. Note: during our flight, we were asked for Covid-19 negative test results, which we had. I was asked for these negative test papers four times: at Air France, at boarding, at customs and in a random check outside customs. I would say the majority of the French passengers did not have a test and had to wait in a huge long line at customs before entering. Also the flight appeared to be only about 40% full. Anyway, we were really lucky. So, I think I might have needed a visa, but that I was able to travel because a nice Air France agent took pity on me. I had made arrangements to stay another month in our apartment in the USA in case we were turned away but we made it through. I am very grateful to be back with my husband and our son F!

Many foreigners are settling outside the Paris region and some choose some very rural places. It used to be that people living in farm country were hostile to newcomers, that it took decades before one could bond with the rest of the population. Now some of those places have so few inhabitants that they welcome those from the city, even foreigners. The Dordogne region has long been known for having a lot of British residents. I had this exchange recently with a reader who lives there.

Jean, a very interesting letter. I was taken by your description of the ‘Bones’ series, particularly the episode about the Chinese women. The Chinese, also the Vietnamese, but particularly the Chinese, bring over illegal women and young people to work in their ‘Chinese’ restaurants. They have their very own mafias. They have been in existence for as long as they have been in the US. We call it ‘people laundering’. The immigrants live in small quarters amassed mostly with women, usually young women. I have been to many restaurants in the US where this is true, not only in the big cities. Their importation supposedly gives them a start in life, but I do not know how much money they ever see from waiting on tables and washing dishes. I stopped going to the restaurants, as it was all too obvious and terribly sad. They treat their own this way. Not Americans. By the way, not all Chinese restaurants do this. There are many upstanding Chinese in America who have brought their culture to share with us. They are respected.

Jean, I really understand what you are saying. In the West, many just write a check and think they have done their duty. It helps, but not in the long run. I guess my not going to Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants was my protest. It was the best I could do at the time that was continuous and not giving up.

I also see the young Moroccan population entering our towns, many staying together, and having their own slogans, such as Berber vs Islam. Can you explain this? I have a man who picks up cartons of things arriving at my apartment. He is a Berber. It is fascinating. He came today to help a man deliver a large carpet to me.

M., my Berber handyman, asked me to go on eBay for him and order a silver Berber cross. I did. It has arrived and I will give it to him this week. They live here under the radar, no papers, etc., but work very hard and have great senses of humor! There is so much to learn about France that a trip to Paris does not give you. I love it here.

Thank you for your message. There are many different topics to address.

Our family church, the American Church in Paris (ACP), has had a Filipino Fellowship for about 30 years. When I was just a new member without any responsibilities, I attended their lunch and meeting every Sunday for about two years. I raised their awareness of the risk their undocumented members faced in those days.

Once this was done, I proposed a project to protect them from bad employers. They were against this. The reason was that they needed the employers so as to earn money. I was often told that you do not bite the hand that feeds you. They explained that their solution was to inform the community about the bad employers so they could be avoided. It took me a long time to come to terms with the situation, but I finally did so by acknowledging that they had found ways to handle the consequences of moving to a Western country and that they accepted their plight.

Unfortunately, undocumented aliens are exploited even more than legal immigrants. So this shifted my attention, and caused me to address and sometimes get involved in extreme cases involving those without papers. Very early on, as part of this group, I became aware of the existence of modern-day slavery in Western countries on an individual basis.

I remember vividly the reaction of a woman from Mauritius to the 1995 World Conference on Women, which was held in Beijing that year. Many Western feminists were upset due to China’s poor record on women’s and human rights. This woman was elated that the meeting took place in China; she thought that was wonderful! She said many developing countries would attend without facing the massive criticism they encountered in the industrialized countries where meetings had been held previously. The developing countries’ national medias would cover the conference, she said, and added that this could be the first time many women learned about the existence of women’s rights. Her reasoning pierced my heart, and gave me a different way of looking at things. Meetings under these conditions could potentially lead to more progress than just bringing awareness to developing countries as well as developed ones.

One point that should not be overlooked is that there are exchanges occurring alongside the official agenda at such conferences. A common criticism of aid to developing countries is that the reality of their societies is ignored and Western methods are used, often doing more harm than good. The changes the industrialized world wants to see in developing countries can only occur from inside and therefore through voluntary and progressive policies. A country alone, or an alliance of countries, or, at a lower level, one person, cannot suddenly impose change, which is almost always unwelcome and lead to resentment. The most recent trend is to provide resources and guidance tailored to local conditions. That way countries can build their own infrastructure meeting their own specific needs.

This woman’s reaction illustrated for me the disconnect between human rights legislation and the dialogue surrounding it in developed and developing countries and taught me to listen more before proposing any solution. I have concluded that developed countries and activists often miss the point when dealing with situations outside what they consider normal.

I take no issue with patronizing a Chinese restaurant, for example, even though I know there is a chance of human rights violations occurring in the kitchen. Also, I have come to terms with the fact that only the community in question can change the situation. Therefore, my mission has become to find people in these groups and help them address such situations their way.

It is only quite recently that I have been involved with people from North Africa. I took a crash course in their history and culture, which existed before the Roman Empire. The historical situation is complicated. In French, the term “Berbère” can designate tribes, an ethnic belonging, or a culture called Amazigh, which is found in the Kabyle region of Algeria. This term comes from the ancient Greek language (from βάρβαρος, which is also the root of “barbarian”). It literally meant “people who say blah blah” (i.e., people whose language the Greeks could not understand).

At its peak, the Berber kingdom extended over all of northern Africa, from Morocco to Egypt. It became Muslim when the Arabs went to conquer Spain and passed through Berber territories in the 7th century. Today, around 90% of the people of Morocco, Algeria. and Tunisia are ethnically Berber, but a majority of them speak Arabic and consider themselves Arab and Muslim. However, in the last twenty years there has been growing demand to have the Berber-Amazigh language, culture, heritage, and religion recognized. In 2011, Morocco made Amazigh an official languages alongside Arabic. Algeria followed in 2016. These late dates show how much the rulers of these countries resisted recognizing their own cultural diversity. This is currently a problem in both Algeria and Morocco. My assistant is Algerian and she taught me the essentials on this subject.

One thing I discovered that was a true eye opener regarding the complexity of this situation is that it is generally agreed that Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the first great Christian theologians, was a member of a family that had been Berber at the time Rome conquered Numidia.

Augustine of Hippo (Latin: Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis; 13 November 354 – 28 August 430), also known as Saint Augustine, was a theologian, philosopher, and the bishop of Hippo Regius in Numidia, Roman North Africa. His writings influenced the development of Western philosophy and Western Christianity, and he is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers of the Latin Church in the Patristic Period. His many important works includeThe City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and Confessions.

Over the holidays, my assistant, Sarah, took an interesting initiative and created a new Facebook page. It is a good move for her, since she and I both moderate it. She can show off her expertise and her ability to give good advice and clearly explain solutions. She does this in French, leaving the queries in English to me.

Since I am already active in a few Facebook groups and my website is my main showcase, I did not feel I needed such a page. On the other hand, it should no doubt benefit her sooner than later.

You are welcome to join:

Best regards,


Ininterrompu can be translated as “uninterrupted,” but that does not help, since what really matters is what constitutes an interruption..

Let’s look at several situations linked to different types of immigration status.

1 – Not residing fiscally in France
According to the law, almost all kinds of immigration status require a French income tax statement. If a year is missing, residency in France is considered to have been interrupted. You mention requesting acarte de résident, the equivalent of the US “green card,” and the necessity of proving five fiscal years in France. If one year is missing, the calculation of the five years resets the following year with a French income tax statement. This means the “visiteur” carte de séjour holder must submit an income tax declaration and ideally on time, which is during April and May when the declarations are normally filed. This year it should be between April 19th and June 11th, 2021. Back filing for foreigners holding visiteur status has become increasingly difficult.

2 – Spending six months outside France per calendar year while holding visiteur status
In a given calendar year, the person must stay in the country more than six months to qualify as a French fiscal resident. The foreigner must declare worldwide income to France, regardless of where it is taxed. Under the Franco-American treaty, all unearned income is taxed in the USA, and there is no income tax to be paid in France on this money. Many do not understand that owing no tax in France does not exempt one from the obligation of filing a declaration in France. Furthermore, the French tax office, unlike the IRS, does not issue fines to those who do not file declarations. The prefecture checks one’s presence in France and can refuse to renew the status if the length of presence has been insufficient.

3 – Exceptions to the six-month presence

  • Holding French self-employed status allows you to stay outside France for pretty much the entire year if you can prove it was for professional reasons. Since your business is anchored in France, your fiscal residence is secured this way.
  • Holding family status, which requires living with a French spouse or partner, for example, limits the absence to three months. If the absence is longer than three months, the prefecture may suspect the couple does not live together anymore.

4 – Requirements to obtain a carte de resident
The carte de résident first and foremost requires French fiscal residence of at least five years’ duration. The necessary income is mentioned on the avis d’imposition sur le revenue, which is the statement the tax office sends in late August or early September. It must be at least the French net taxable minimum wage (SMIC), which is about 15,000€ a year.

The prefecture looks at those fiscal documents to see if the applicant qualifies. Then a more general analysis is done.

I remind you that the law itself does not go into that much detail on the requirements to obtain a carte de résident. It simply says the level of integration in French society is sufficient to obtain the card.

From there, the Ministry of Interior has defined the requirements as follows:
The applicant must hold a carte de séjour. The immigration status of ‘student’ (carte de séjour étudiant) and that of ‘expat’ (carte de séjour, passeport-talent – salarié en mission) do not count towards the five-year stay.

Your stay in France must have been uninterrupted, but certain absences are authorized (maximum absence of six consecutive months for a total of ten months of absence) and taken into account in the calculation of the five years.

You must pay for public or private health insurance.

You must have stable, sufficient and regular means of supporting yourself, which means at least the SMIC, which is currently 1,554.58€ gross monthly, 18,654.96€ gross yearly.

The prefecture evaluates what it considers to be your republican integration into French society, which goes beyond an A2 level of French. It also includes your commitment to respect the principles governing the French Republic and compliance with these principles. To assess your integration, the prefect asks the mayor of your municipality of residence for an opinion.

This description indicates a very in-depth and rigorous review. Often the incredibly preferential treatment by the prefecture, especially in Paris, of North Americans (US and Canadian citizens) gives a false impression. They are almost never asked to show any tax documents to renew their visiteur immigration status. And yet this should be a must, as there is a true legal obligation for it. North Americans are thus misled into thinking they have no obligation to declare in France until they ask for the carte de résident and are asked to show theiravis d’imposition. Even then, on very rare occasions, they obtain thecarte de résident without showing French fiscal documents.


You are enduring a phenomenon that is familiar to many social workers and people working with NGOs that help the homeless and destitute. It is the fact that financial help does not gradually diminish as earnings increase, but rather stops when a set limit is reached, so that the situation is better with a lower income than with just a little bit more. The situation you have experienced discourages many people going through this transition. It takes a lot of dedication and determination to overcome this hardship. It means you have to earn somewhat more, until that the aid lost is less than the increased earning power.

Explaining why it happened does not help much. But at least if you understand how the system works, you can be prepared for the next phase if your situation continues to improve.

I believe this is what happened to you:

You have declared an annual income exceeding 9,032€ or 12,193€.
CMU-C (couverture médicale universelle complémentaire) covers 100% of your medical cost for free without any limit, with no copayment, as long as it is medically prescribed. In the system’s view, anyone earning so little does not have the means to pay for public medical coverage. This program is often linked to receiving the RSA (revenu de solidarité active), the equivalent of basic welfare in the USA. This subsidy is paid by the CAF (caisse d’allocations familiales) because at one time you either received it or your annual earnings as a single person were below the limit of 9,032€. If you earn less than that, the CAF pays the balance. This is why there is a quarterly declaration of your earnings and unearned income. Once your income exceeds the limit, this information is passed on to CPAM. The result is that you are out of the CMU-C program and are told you can sign up for another, less advantageous one called ACS (aide au paiement d’une complémentaire santé). In fact, those two programs were merged on December 1st, 2019, becoming the complémentaire santé solidaire. The transition from one to the next is now automatic. The maximum level of earnings for the ACS is 12,193€.

You say you work at minimum wage for 32 hours weekly. Since full time is 35 hours, a ratio of 32/35=0.9143 is used. The net taxable annual SMIC for 2020 was 14,614.60€. Multiply that by 0.9143 and you get 13,261.92€. Thus, your current income just exceeds the ACS limit, which is probably why you lost the benefit.

You might get some tiny satisfaction from knowing that your employer must pay for secondary health insurance, known as amutuelle, which may not cover as well as CMU-C but should be quite close – or even better, perhaps; who knows?

As for the 75% discount on the cost of the Navigo pass, Paris Solidarité Transport handles this program for people with very low income. The pass may be free or 75% off. The program is directly linked to the CAF and CPAM, so people benefiting from the RSA and CMU-C get the discount automatically. Once you are no longer eligible for these benefits, you also lose this transportation benefit.

I would remind you that your employer must pay half the cost of your Navigo pass as part of your compensation, so you are not losing everything by having a job.

Your employer incurs costs for your mutuelle and half of your transportation. But I understand if this does not make up for feeling that programs you have benefited from for years have been stripped away from you.


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