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Archive for September, 2010

I Have Arrived In France!

25 September 2010 3 comments

No, you aren’t having déjà vu.  No, I am not being an air head. I have arrived in France officially.  This week was an important one, I had my entry interview with the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration (OFII).  This interview could not have come soon enough.  Part of the visa process here in France is to pick up your permit de travail (work permit) at the French Embassy in your native country (i.e. Washington D.C. for me) and then to go through a series of interviews with the local OFII office in the area of France you are choosing to reside.  The result of passing this interview is that you receive your carte de séjour, the official declaration from the French government that you are registered resident of the country.  For now, my carte de séjour will reside as a page in my passport but if I stay longer than 3 years, they will issue me a formal ID card with my picture.

I'm Cleared!!

I'm Cleared!!

My interview lasted the entire afternoon on Monday.  Of course I wasn’t alone, there was a classroom full of non-French citizens waiting desperately to be sanctioned into the land of 530 cheeses.  There was a general briefing at the beginning to review key forms.  Luckily I already had a job so my paperwork was less than some of the other individuals who were still in the process of looking for work in France.  Then they would call us each one by one into the grand hallway.  Each of us took our turn in the separate offices that outlined the hallway.  One office was an opportunity to have a one-on-one session with one of the agents for general questions.  Another office they took an X-ray of your chest for TB clearance.  Another office was a doctor to do a basic eye exam.  Another office was a general medical interview for medications and past hospitalizations.  Finally I had my linguistic meeting to see if I knew enough French to survive in the country.  If I failed this one, the government would require me to take so many weeks of French class (government sponsored) on my Saturday mornings.  Clearly I passed in spite of the fact I was a little overwhelmed by the process and my French phrasing was short and broken.  I did get complemented by the woman stating vous parlez sans accent (you don’t have an accent).

Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration

Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration

In any case, after almost 4 hours of bouncing around the OFII like a ping-pong ball I walked out in hand my linguistic certificate, medical certificate and the seal of approval, carte de séjour.  Yet my love affair with the OFII is not over yet.  There are two all day training courses that are required of everyone.  One session is on civic law going over the rights you have in France.  I am actually looking forward to this session as I believe there will be a lot of helpful information.  The other session is more about the life and culture of the French people.  They better serve wine and cheese at that session are else it wouldn’t be considered French at all. 😉  My two sessions are scheduled for later in November.

Another critical point about this appointment is that now Amadeus can officially sponsor me for my social security number. Since they were the ones offering me the work contract, they have to be the one to apply to the social security department on my behalf.  Part of the application requires a copy of the carte de séjour.  Receiving my official social security number will truly be the last step in my integration process.  Until I have that magical number, I have to pay for all medical bills 100%.  It will be a major relief to have that number in case something were to go wrong medically and allowing me to easily go into any hospital in France (or Europe for that matter) and not have to worry about a single bill.  🙂  I will have another post on that subject alone later on.

I have to say in conclusion that this integration process has been a little odd.  For one, I sat in the OFII classroom looking at the big picture of Sarkozy on the wall smiling big to all the soon-to-be French residents.  Outside of that classroom is a political state actually deporting groups of individuals (the gypsies) to their native land.  Outside of that classroom is a political state seriously considering a second class citizenship for anyone not born in France.  It is fascinating to witness France’s own xenophobia that is becoming very contagious these days.  France, like the States, does advertise that it has open arms to welcome individuals to become a resident or citizen . . . but to a limit.  Other countries like Germany and Italy are also grappling with similar immigration issues.  Who qualifies to be let in?  Who does not? I have been in total shock that the state of France has waited 4 months before proceeding with this immigration interview.  Really?  You are just letting a total stranger wander into your country for this long without documenting him? Of course  I am not a threat and I am sure the state knows that fact.  I have a job and contributing to French society.  I am already paying taxes.  I am an American.  I am sure there are other immigrants that they need to spend more time to figure out the answer to their integration.  (Plus you can’t overlook the sluggish pace of governmental bureaucracy in general)  Despite one’s political persuasion, the western world needs an immigration flow for continued economic prosperity.  The challenge faced by everyone is how to control it.

So as I file away my certificates and lock away my passport / carte de séjour, I have another gift from the French state to deal with – my x-ray.  A clear view of my chest; a proud emblem of my integration.

Categories: Everyday Life

Let’s talk around those Roundabouts in a round about way . . .

16 September 2010 Leave a comment

So it took me over an hour to get to work on Wednesday.   Yes, I experienced my first major traffic back up on the infamous A8 this week and unfortunately due to a major traffic accident.  I wouldn’t say that the French are that worse at driving; I would say traffic is traffic regardless which corner of the global you reside.   Yet the statistics aren’t in the French favor as it holds some of highest rates of traffic accidents on the European continent.   There is good news – the rate is coming down.

Scooters, Motorcycles and Bicycles . . . oh my!

Scooters, Motorcycles and Bicycles . . . oh my!

The unique experience here is the number of scooters and motorcycles.  They are the complication.  Nearly all the accidents that I have witnessed involved a scooter or motorcycle.  Personally I am always so conscious of where they are in reference to me on the highway.  I bow down to them and allow them through and never try to out run them.  They have the road as far as I am concerned because they are the one taking the risk.  When I first arrived I actually had the concept of owning a scooter here thinking that might be a cheaper alternative to the expense of a car.  Now, that thought is nothing more than a fleeting memory.  Yet the French carry on usually wearing their helmets but with inappropriate footwear like flip-flops.  This morning as I walked to my car there was a man on his motorcycle waiting at the light.  His barely 3 years old son was clinging to his back perfectly emotionless.  It was an awesome moment and captured the contradiction of France’s approach to driving.  At least the boy was wearing a helmet.

Living in a worker centric society even affects what happens to you in an accident. If the accident happens on your way to work or from work, you are covered by the State.  Clearly I am not going to work by choice, I have to go in order to be a good citizen. 😉 So why shouldn’t the State cover me?  Of course this law is annulled if you go to the mall or visit someone else on your way to work.  That little deviation is your personal choice to go on that road, at that time and get into that accident.  It is also time sensitive.  It is hard to make a claim that you were going to work at noon when your shift starts at 9:00.  Consequently we have to communicate to our managers if we come into work excessively late so that there was written proof that you were starting your day later than normal.  Of course there is one exception clause . . . you are allowed to stop by the boulangerie (bakery) on your commute and still make a claim. 🙂

Of course you can’t avoid the topic of driving in Europe without the addressing the rond-point (roundabouts).  These inventions can be either your worst nightmare or brilliant example of engineering.  I was nervous when I first arrived and having to navigate these . . . things.  But I have come to appreciate this controlled chaos that is a daily routine for any Frenchman.  There are several positives to this feat of engineering:

  • they save electricity,
  • they handle multiple streets intersecting at once,
  • and most importantly if you miss your turn just keep heading straight as there will be another roundabout allowing to U-turn easily back to the same place.
Around and Around

Around and Around

Of course there are certain rules you have to play by such as:

  • the folks already in the roundabout have the right-a-way (there are exceptions to this rule),
  • if you aren’t exiting immediately have your blinker on to the left indicating you are staying in the  circle; then flip to the right when you approach your exit,
  • if there are two lanes then the guy on the outer ring has the priority and if he is blocking you – well just take another spin around.  Don’t worry, you’ll make it out . . . in spite of the rumors!
Categories: Everyday Life

At the Car Wash, yeah, ohhh, yeah yeah!

12 September 2010 Leave a comment

Of course I am going to have to follow-up from my last blog. I left you hanging a bit and I am sure you are anxious to hear how the week went.  It all came out a little unsatisfying.

Starting Position

Starting Position

In reference to the national strike, I was only affected minimally. I breezed through my commute to work and back even though there were a few more cars on the road, but not enough to create an abnormal back up.  The news station I listen to on the radio during my commute did participate in the strike so they just played random music all day long without any commentary.  The urban bus lines were not running but I was surprised to see the regional lines that would take me to work were still in operation.  The airport was mysteriously quiet and my co-worker had relatives heading home that day but clearly they were postponed to another departure date.  Paris felt the brunt of this strike compared to other regions in France.

Notice the water sprays underneath the car; notice the black round brushes that cleaned the hub caps perfectly

Notice the water sprays underneath the car; notice the black round brushes in front that cleaned the hub caps perfectly

The manifestations were in large numbers all around the country.  Sarkozy has not moved on his position on the issue of retirement, the core reason for the strikes.  The unions are already calling for another one later this month.  Everyone clearly sees the problem (lack of funds for the future), it is just a matter of finding the right solution.  Plus the matter is not purely financial, the young generation fresh out of university is getting more frustrated.  That age range has an enormous unemployment rate and literally sitting on their degrees and doing nothing with it.  They don’t want these older workers in the jobs any longer than needed.  The sooner the older ones can retire, the sooner the young can get the job and start contributing.  We’ll continue to watch as this key legislation moves to the French SénatYou also review my colleague’s blog for further reaction.

Then later at the big staff briefing at Amadeus this week, things were not better. As a new employee I got a lot out of the morning long session.  Mostly I was appreciative of the background information presented.  I now understand better who Amadeus is and our competition.  We are doing incredibly well financially in making profits but at the same time we do have debts due to the IPO that happened this spring.  Our IPO went so well we are considered a flagship model for our industry; a text-book perfect example.  So this information is comforting in that we have job security for the short-term and no one will really attempt to buy us out (a risk of the IPO process).  Amadeus is actively hiring even in this gloomy economy.  On the morale landscape, the meeting was not good.  There was clearly defensive posturing from the CEO and VP’s on stage presenting.  There was a Q&A session at the end and the unions did formally ask a question but of course the management danced around the IPO payment disparity issue.  I won’t go into detail here on the Internet publicly.  If you are really curious, just e-mail me directly or set up a phone call.  Everyone left the session in silence with the stereotypical French frown on their faces.

Metal beam going across air dried the car, perfectly following the shape of the car.

Metal beam going across air dried the car, perfectly following the shape of the car.

So let us wash out this bad taste! I went to the car wash on Friday after work that is right next to my building.  I can sit on my terrace and actually hear the machine being used on a regular basis.  Now I have experienced it myself.  I was amazed at this feat of French engineering.  I am use to the American model which is that you drag the car through the car wash as it was cleaned.   Consequently there is minimal movement (if at all) of the machinery.  Here, I witnessed the car remain parked and all the mechanics of the car wash move around the car.  I was amazed of how this car wash immediately identify the key places of my Twingo and adapt to its shape.  For example there were these black round brushes that came out to do my hub caps and it knew exactly where there were located.  Now mind you, I did not have to enter my car model into the machine, it figured out the size and shape of my car automatically.  Some of you may laugh at my intrigue but I guess after 10 years of being carless in Philadelphia, I forgot about these simple pleasures.

At the pool with the city of Cannes and the bay in the background.

At the pool with the city of Cannes and the bay in the background.

I did end the week with an incredible Saturday. A friend invited me to a small private pool party at a villa that overlooks Cannes.  The weather was absolutely perfect and we could see the entire bay below.  We closed the evening with a pleasant meal at a restaurant named after a famous Jane Fonda movie, Barbarbella.

Categories: Everyday Life

Realignment Is Needed . . . and We Are Not Talking Tires.

5 September 2010 Leave a comment

Some important stuff is happening polictically here. At the national level Sarkozy, the president of France, is making a direct impact on the face of Marianne.  Yes, the French see their country as female and have a formal name for her.  You can review French pop cultural history to identify which celebrity posed with pride to be the Marianne of their age.   In any case, there are two dominate issues on the French news these days.

Marianne representing La République Française

Marianne representing La République Française

First the French government reacted to a police conflict with a colony of gypsies by deporting them back to Romania.  The essence of the government argument is that they are not contributing to society but just feeding off of it.  Thanks to my fellow Domer Micheal Barrett living in Paris, you can dig deeper on the issue with this excellent FAQ on this topic.  Of course there is an uproar about this measure, both internally and externally.  The government of course is not in unison on the topic.  Key political figures have used the metaphor of the Nazi deportation of Jews that occupied France did participate in during World War II.  The Catholic church has openly expressed disapproval with even one priest wishing a heart attack on the president.  To complicate things further, both France and Romania are part of the European Union.  The laws of the EU state that the citizens of participating countries can freely travel and reside in the other countries.  So to simply put them in another corner of the EU only means they will return in due time.  What are the citizens thinking?  The polls show the deportation as favorable as most French are concerned with their gang mentality and failure to integrate into French society.  It is a tough issue.

The other issue with directly impact my life and good old fashion strike.  Yes, this Tuesday there will be a national strike of all sorts protesting Sarkozy’s initiative to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.  Of course the precursor to this change is the recent economic downturn and looking ahead of how to pay for the social security system for the retirees within France.  France is enjoying the lowest retirement age within all of Europe.  My American mindset is having a hard time to empathize as this move is nothing more than a reality check.  Yet many political figures and the populus feel the money can be found else where, particularly by taxing the rich.  For this week, I just want to get to work and back and make sure my American friends arriving this week won’t get stranded.

AmadeusNow let us turn more locally for the realignment of Amadeus. This Wednesday and Thursday there will be a company wide meeting on our status as a company.  Due to the fact we have over 2,000 employees they have to run the 3 hour meeting four times to give everyone an opportunity to participate.   I signed up for the very first one Wednesday morning.  Right now, Amadeus looks great on paper.  Our 2Q earnings were recently reporting as having a total revenue growth of 11.9% (in a global recession) giving us a net profit of €246.8 million . . . no complaints right?  Not so, remember my previous blog on our strikes earlier this summer.  These good figures are making many employees further disgruntled.  Remember last year the average employee got a zero pay raise, not even for inflation.  This year, the average employee is finally getting a simple 2% inflation adjustment.  It begs the question where all this money is going?  Not to the employees.  Consequently at the meetings this week, the unions asked everyone to wear black as a visual representation of employee dissatisfaction.  I’ll be anxious to hear what will be presented at Wednesday’s meeting as I will wear my neutral white shirt and jeans.

This Coke is on Me, Tom Peadon.

2 September 2010 2 comments

Today is not a happy thought. I am sadden to share the news that my long time French professor at the Alliance Française de Philadelphie, Tom Peadon, died last week.  He was a hallmark at the Alliance, a presence always felt at every event hosted there.  I remember fondly of my first class at the Alliance.   Tom came in with his bottle of Coca Cola and patiently allowed us to stammer through our first phrases to explain what we did the day before.  That Coca Cola bottle became his signature as he never had a class without one.  So much so that the one time he forget his Coke, he literally stopped class and ran out to the kitchen to grab one.  To this day, Gina Moore (another student and now life long friend) and I look at each and laugh over Tom’s benign addiction.  It is a treasured moment etched into our memories guaranteed to produce a smile on our faces.  Gina and I followed his classes for several years thereafter until we graduated to the advanced levels.  His tenure at the Alliance lasted for 30 years.

You order a 'Coca' in France

You order a 'Coca' in France

So how do I begin to celebrate his life? For one, I am drinking a can of Coca as I write today’s blog.  The French specifically say Coca (two syllables) for this beverage so don’t order a Coke or a Coca Cola as you will only receive blank stares. The other way to celebrate his life is to talk about music – he loved music.  It was because of Tom that I was introduced to Zap Mama, a Belgian world music group and actually attended their concert in Philadelphia along with Les Nubians.  His postings on his Facebook page during his last weeks were always of some music video clips of all genres.  So what happened in Nice recently that was musical?  Le Prom Party! 😀

Le Prom Party in Nice

Le Prom Party in Nice

Linguistically Americans instantly think of high school, immature drama, uncomfortable dresses and the fear of beer with such a party label. In Nice, it was just a catchy phrase to get everyone out.  The city of Nice hosted several Prom Parties over the summer and last Saturday was the last one.  The city shuts down the famous Promenade des Anglais to cars and makes it pedestrian only for the evening.  Since the French are good at shortening their words, it is only logical that they shorten the word promenade to prom’ for the festivities.  They literally drive out several stages throughout the area and each stage had a different type of band playing music.  (I kid you not, these stages had four wheels and steering wheel.)  There was even performances walking and dancing down the street.  Then suddenly all the music stopped on queue and the street lights went dark.  An announcer came over the loud-speaker and told us to get ready for a tour around the world and immediately the fireworks went off.  These fireworks were brilliantly timed to a specific soundtrack.  As the music changed reflecting a different corner of the world, so did the fireworks.  Of course there was more than one American rock ‘n roll segment in the presentation. 😉  As I finished my dinner with some American students at the Grand École here in Nice, we were in awe of what was happening above our heads.  I do have to say this presentation won out over the Bastille Day fireworks that I slightly complained about in an earlier post.

All in all, I have to say this Prom Party was absolutely fantastic.  It was a great way to put closure on summer since the temperature is starting to drop and the tourists are all gone.  More importantly it was an awesome way to remember Tom.

Categories: Everyday Life