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Fear no. Strength yes.

17 July 2016 2 comments

I found the motivation, or the motivation found me. I walked the twisted rope of the Promenade des Anglais post . . . something. I guess a date, 14 juillet, is sufficient. Maybe that’s why we created calendars, to never forget our future nor forget our past. I moved forward into a panorama, so authentic. A sunny summer day found only in travel logs. Leisure individuals soaking in the sun and absorbing the azur salted waters. One has to identify this as a graveyard with open wounds.

Fear no. Strength yes.

Little did I know one of my first greeters would be Barbie, herself. This fragility was clearly marked but her words were piercing: “to you who confuse extremism with religion or ethnicity understand nothing!

Fear no. Strength yes.

Lovers attempt to be playful again. Smiles continue to be contagious. Where are we going? New arrivals come for their summer holiday only to be greeted by flowers of condolences. The daughter, of a clear malady, reached her limit and asked for her mother’s embrace. Bus stops now give timetables and missing person questions.

Fear no. Strength yes.

Flags are at their adolescent stage knowing one day they will return to their prime. The republic rests limply in the wind. Sugar rings worth a million smiles are imprinted into the street pavement by an unforgettable tire. The graves multiply. The memorials grow. Not one tells me that fear is real. Don’t stand there – be strong and move forward! If anything else, see oneself in others.

Fear no. Strength yes.

The background laughter can’t be silenced. A wake of flip-flops, sunburns and beach towels. Whose eyes are we seeing this through? Camera people and news reporters from all corners of the atlas squeeze in to find their place. This event must transcend; don’t loose sight. Please don’t make this stale, or even worse, a #hashtag.

Fear no. Strength yes.

I’m a republican! states an elder of the Muslim community. The source of all this is greater then the republic of France. Overshadowed by a memorial of international proportions. Something continues to grow, and it just might be love, life and colourful unity.

Fear no. Strength yes.

The memorials don’t end, even in the blinding sunlight. The shot must be perfect. Who are we as a human community? Freemen? Equals? Brothers? How could we not? Life is a one-way street and there is no reverse.

Fear no. Strength yes.

Words of a loyal city pick at my feet. A place on the globe that is the globe. Arguments of reverence break the air at the last memorial. Emotions on edge. “I am the world.” Chanted together it becomes the first person plural.

Fear no. Strength yes.

Does one really run away from all this? Or stay connected to the absence? It’s always warmer in someone else’s home. Finally the conclusion was an image. A small family took a photo in front of a monument dedicated to the republic; an icon niçois. Ordinary, no? The daughter was blind. How could her father explain the beauty of the moment in words? The image is everything and she couldn’t see it. However she could feel it. I could not muster the conviction to take a photo of them just like I couldn’t take ones of the incoherent stains of lost life scattered across the ground. It is these moments that can’t be seen but only felt.

Peur non. Force oui.

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Little did I know one of my first greeters would be Barbie, herself.

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This fragility was clearly marked but her words were piercing: “to you who confuse extremism with religion or ethnicity understand nothing!”

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New arrivals come for their summer holiday only to be greeted by flowers of condolences. The daughter, of a clear malady, reached her limit and asked for her mother’s embrace.

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Bus stops now give timetables and missing person questions.

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Flags are at their adolescent stage knowing one day they will return to their prime.

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The republic rests limply in the wind.

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Sugar rings worth a million smiles are imprinted into the street pavement by an unforgettable tire.

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The graves multiply. The memorials grow. Not one tells me that fear is real. Don’t stand there – be strong and move forward!

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If anything else, see oneself in others.

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Whose eyes are we seeing this through?

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Camera people and news reporters from all corners of the atlas squeeze in to find their place. This event must transcend; don’t loose sight. Please don’t make this stale, or even worse, a #hashtag.

IMG_3487

I’m a republican! states an elder of the Muslim community.

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The source of all this is greater then the republic of France. Overshadowed by a memorial of international proportions.

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Something continues to grow, and it just might be love, life and colourful unity.

IMG_3495

The memorials don’t end, even in the blinding sunlight. The shot must be perfect.

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Who are we as a human community? Freemen? Equals? Brothers? How could we not?

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Words of a loyal city pick at my feet. A place on the globe that is the globe.

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Arguments of reverence break the air at the last memorial. Emotions on edge. “I am the world.” Chanted together it becomes the first person plural.

Categories: Everyday Life

Crime, Crime, Everywhere

15 February 2012 1 comment

Many have shared concerned when I lived in Philadelphia, a leader in murder rates in the United States.  Well I always felt safe there as long as you avoided key neighborhoods and just keep aware of your surroundings.  I often took public transportation at night without allowing fear to get the best of me.

Of course Europe is often looked at as a paradise immune to street violence that Americans accept as ‘normal way of life‘.  I would say that overall, that statement is very true.  I am not naive enough to let me garde completely down here, but on the other hand the French news isn’t obsessed with fear and how ‘bad‘ it is out there with violence.

Violence still does occur.  Nice just experienced an Italian mafia crime scene this past week; read further details from this blog.

Categories: Everyday Life

You Aren’t In Kansas Anymore, Dorothy . . . Okay, Wait I Take That Back . . .

20 December 2011 Leave a comment

Here is another cross-posting but the Côte d’Azur had a very mild automn but we are finally feeling the winter chill this week.  (My nose has made the season clear with its sniffles.)  Winter made a grand entry with a truly bizarre entrance . . . tornados.  There were no sirens nor did the city go into panic.  I was actually walking downtown with a friend Sunday afternoon when the tornado happened.  I saw out of the corner of my eye an Air France flight coming in for a landing to the airport but it appeared much closer to the city than the typical flight patterns.  I pointed it out to my friend but then we continued on our walk.  Not till the next day did I read in the newspaper that explained why we saw that plane so close to the city center (avoiding the tornado out at sea).  The abnormal weather also explained why I was woken up Sunday morning by the tapping noise of little chunks of ice . . .  or the beginnings of hail? . . . hitting my window.

Check out the photos linked on this English blog that follows our local newspaper, Nice Matin.

Categories: Everyday Life

Sometimes . . . You Have to Clean the Pipes

27 November 2011 Leave a comment

Back in October I was riding one of the night buses back home and it passed the main train station serving the city of Nice.  I looked out the bus window and through the autumn rain the clear bustle of a European train station.  I experienced a feeling of peace that makes you pause.  Yes, I am in a different place and it makes me happy.

Often we don’t take the time to appreciate happiness regardless of which corner of the Earth you choose to make as your ‘home’.  Your home is your home; no one else can force that upon you.  But we are all guilty of getting too distracted with our daily worries to realize that maybe happiness never left you; you left happiness.  Well that is too strong of a phrase.  Maybe ‘overlooked‘ happiness is a better way to understand these thoughts.  This past year has been filled with a lot of distractions for me.  These distractions haven’t been uniquely French nor American.  Everyone can relate.  The distractions of personal finances, taxes, work deadlines, catching the next bus to work and determining how to better budget your grocery list.  Then add the challenge of a linguistic barrier (of any kind) and those distractions hold a greater power over you.

Valley by Moutiers and lake Sainte Croix in the background.

Valley by Moutiers and lake Sainte Croix in the background.

I had to two small excursions that allowed me to clear my mind and appreciate this new land that I am calling home.  A couple of weeks ago, I drove over two hours to the village of Moustiers-Sainte Marie for the weekend.  A close friend has a family home there and it was available to us for a weekend getaway.  A classic French village perched on the side of a mountain and a flowing creek down the middle.  There was a charming chapel further up the mountain that has been a site for Christian pilgrims, past and present.  You can feel the history as you made the long journey to the top.   The stone steps were so smooth and slick from age that it was difficult to climb.  You look further up to see a golden star strung between two mountain peaks overlooking this village.  That star was a symbol of gratitude by a villager of a previous century who safely returned home after battling the Crusades in the Middle East.  In the afternoon we drove a little further to the beginning of the Gorges du Verdun; an amazing canyon holding its own geological patterns and vegetation.

The church, Notre Dame, overlooking Moustiers.

The church, Notre Dame, overlooking Moustiers.

The following weekend, I discovered another village a little to the north of Nice, Levens.  There this village proudly held a festival dedicated to Franz Listz, a master composer on the pianoforte.  Even though he wasn’t French by birth, he did spend a portion of his career in France among artistic peers such as Chopin and George Sand.  The motivation for this séjour (trip) was to listen to concert of classical, romanticism music.  Part of the program included an American singer, Amy Blake. A new companion who I can reminisce of expatriate dramas at the local Préfecture for obtaining the famous carte de séjour.  Again this village was postcard perfect and could not be replicated.  Small shops and brasseries near the village center with continuous water fountains that allowed the water to flow through the small streets and down into the valley below.  Levens proudly holds in its possession a pianoforte Érard dating back to Listz’s era of 1835.

This is France.  Authentically France.  Often the bling-bling of Nice can sometimes distract you from recognizing we are in France.  In these moments of experience, I can clear my head.  I have climbed another mountain to obtain a goal, a dream, a new reality.

Gorges du Verdon

Gorges du Verdon

Let’s flip the coin.  France is not paradise.  In Moustiers the one café had one cranky lady serving our boissons chauds (hot drinks).  Once we paid at the register and left, she came running out declaring that we cheated her out paying the bill in full.  Only few minutes later does her colleague yell out the door that in fact, we did pay for the bill in full.  There was no further discussion.  No apology was given either.  The next morning we were determined to have breakfast somewhere else than that café with the cranky woman.  Well in a tiny French village, there are limitations.  We had to go back because nothing else was open.  Even in Levens, after we did a quick exploration of the village before the concert we discovered similar limitations.  It was 18h00 and we wanted to have a beverage and to relax.  Well everyone was closing right in front of our eyes: the café, the brasserie, the bar . . . they clearly rolled the carpet up.  With time to kill and nowhere else to go, we ended up back in my car hovering over the heater.  There is a price to be paid in order to be authentic.

So why was I on that night bus to begin with?  Well my shower pipes were clogged.  (Unfortunately this event is not uncommon in France.) When I took a shower in my apartment the water no longer drained out.  I had to go to a friend’s place to literally take a normal shower and shave.  The agony of an ordinary distraction.  One that could challenge you in thinking why did you make such as change in your life?  But you have to let it go.  That clog can remain a little longer because there are more villages to discover.

Categories: Everyday Life, Travels

You Lost! (No Apologies Necessary)

9 October 2011 Leave a comment

The other day I was buying my frozen foods at the local Picard.  This store is a true gem of French commerce.  They specialize in nothing but frozen foods.  See my previous post How Painful It Is to Shop on what it is really all about.  At first I was very skeptical about this place due to my American roots.  I always felt that frozen foods in the American supermarket were literally . . . crap.  They were routinely tasteless and unsatisfying.  So my shopping habits never really included the frozen aisle except maybe for some ice cream.  In France, such is not the case.  My colleagues at work encouraged me to check my local Picard stating that they even use their products to serve to house guests – its that good.

My point on this blog is not to be an advertisement but to share my recent experience at the Picard.  Like many French stores, they are trying out American marketing gimmicks to get you to come back.  Right now Picard is having a promotion that if you buy something you get a free scratch-off ticket to win a prize.  La di da.  We all know the routine.  You take the card home and then scratch it off with a coin hoping you get a cute little prize making you feel good.  As if the store is soooooo nice for giving the gift that you will come back and be a faithful customer.  Well maybe the phrase consumer addict might be more appropriate.  In any case, I returned home and put my new purchases in the freezer.  Immediately I got out a coin and began scratching feverishly at the card to acknowledge my cadeaux (gift).  In big letters, one word stared at me.  Perdu! (Lost!) For a second I thought the words were actually laughing at me to rub in the fact I lost.  I thought “Well I am never going back there again.” What a let down after trying to develop a relationship with a frozen Chinese dinner.  Then I snapped out of my entrapment.  Why am I being so sensitive?  It is just a marketing gimmick.  It was also an American in Paris moment.  I don’t have French skin.  The same gimmick in the States would have said Please try again!  Words of encouragement.  Words that wouldn’t be deemed as offensive or inconsiderate.  Even though the French know how to be formal their constant pleases and thank yous, they are definitely more honest and direct.  In the States we care more about niceties and how one feels then accepting a reality.  I lost.  I can’t change that reality.  Accept it.

Did This Man Win or Lose?

Did This Man Win or Lose?

Another variation of this dichotomy is new employee orientation at work.  I read that French companies don’t have them (or a very small one).  At Amadeus we didn’t really have a formal orientation except a few hours with our Human Resources representative.  She covered the basics about our work contract, pay cycles and insurance.  We didn’t get anything in reference to dress code or even who is Amadeus?  The attitude is that we are adults and you are smart enough to figure things out.  The French are not about hand-holding.  They feel it would be rude to treat you like a baby and show you every little thing about the company.  You want to know something?  Then ask a question – the right question.

I reflect back on the new employee orientation at my previous job in Philadelphia.  We actually hired a consultant from . . . you guessed it . . . Walt Disney to redo our orientation.  He came up with a fun-filled, feel-good, one-day session.  There were games, videos and lots of animation in the PowerPoint slides.  Even a group picture taken at the end of the day.  A true sensory experience whose goal is to make sure you came out with a smile.  After having worked in a European setting for well over a year, I can tell that my current colleagues would not have made through lunch.  They would have left to go look for another job.  Why?  Their reaction more than likely would have been “Don’t treat me like a child, just tell me what I need to know.”  In other words, let’s not sugar-coat reality.

This difference in approaching reality even starts out young in schools.  French parents get nervous when their children’s backpacks are lighter than the weight of the kid.  Homework and more homework is their mantra.  American parents won’t hesitate to go to the teacher to tell them they are assigning too much homework.  I read a brilliant metaphor between French parents and American parents when they drop off their kids at school.  The American parent will say ‘have fun!‘ whereas the French parent will say ‘work hard.

I am not the only one who has observed this difference.  My good friend Clara has pointed out similar examples in her blog Pardon My French!  (sorry, it is mostly in French)  She witnessed during her brief time in the States how kids at an award ceremony all received something (no one was loosing) and the American obsession with the superlative in describing everything.  [How many times have you walked out of movie theater and the first thing said is “Wasn’t that a great movie?” instead just acknowledging that it was just an okay movie?  Think about it.]

Even in the banal responses among friends you catch the subtleties.  You invite your American friends to a drink after work and not too common you hear “sounds great!  let’s do it!”  Then you turn to your French friends and receive a straight forward “pourquoi pas?” (why not?)  Notice the usage of the negative in the French response.

So where do I fit in? For those of you who know me well, this post may show my slight advantage.  My ex-colleagues told me more than once that there were unsatisfying moments in our professional relationship.  A major change would occur in one of our work projects and they would come and tell me.  I would listen and then simply say “okay“.  My colleagues were disappointed because they wanted an emotional reaction to the change.  They wanted a “That’s ridiculous!” or a “That’s awesome!” or a “No way, that is so much more work!“.    Another example was when I answered the phone.  If it was a close colleague identified on my caller ID, I would answer with a simple “yes?”  Why?  Because I knew they had a question for me and didn’t feel the need to go through the niceties of “Hello.  How are you today?”  Graciously I have always worked with intelligent people who accepted me for who I am.  No apologies necessary. 😉  I gave my ex-colleagues plenty of memories triggering smiles and laughter over their cup of French pressed coffee.  😀

Yet in my new sugar-free reality, I may have actually gagné (won).

This Relationship Cannot Be Avoided . . .

25 September 2011 Leave a comment

Usually I am busy creating my own posts but this week I took particular notice of these blogs.  I can’t help but share these posts as they all shed light on the current Franco-American relationship.

Guess who loves Paris the most?  According to Adrian Leeds, the American tourist still tops the list!  We just can’t seem to get enough of France as international travel destination in spite of current economic woes.

Of course there is the reciprocal.  President Nicolas Sarkozy was in the U.S.A. for bilateral talks.  My good colleague Michael Barrett was able to catch a little of the French President’s humor in this news post.

Then I am told to leave and take a vacation!  The Best of Nice Matin (the local newspaper) highlighted the upcoming G20 summit here in neighboring Cannes.  The region will be in an absolute mess with traffic and infrastructure congestions during the first week of November.  So I took this American blogger’s advise.  I booked my flight to JFK from October 28th till November 11th.  I wouldn’t want to get in the way of others enjoying the French Riviera. 😉

Categories: Everyday Life

Taxes Are a Matter of Perspective

19 September 2011 2 comments

So my checking account is breathing a sigh of relief now.  Why?  Because there is barely any money in it.  The big tax deadline in France just passed on the 15th of September.  I just paid mine in one sum for all my income earned in 2010.   So how painful are taxes in this country?  So far, I don’t find them that much more painful than the American experience.  Plus there are other European states that have a higher rate of income tax than the Gauls.  I’ve heard rumor Germany can be as much as 60% and let’s not talk about Denmark.  So what is different?

First I believe there is a psychological impact that makes one feel that taxes in France are significantly higher.  How so?  Well for one, it is 100% the responsibility of each citizen and resident to manage their own taxes.  Not a single company in France assist their employees in managing their incomes taxes.  (Please note that French companies do contribute towards the social security taxes of each employee that funds the health system and sick leave.)  In the States, we always fill out our W2 forms on the first day of hire declaring how much we are authorizing the company to take out of your paycheck to send directly to Uncle Sam.  In France, the company stays completely out of this relationship.  It is the only European nation set up in this way as everyone else has followed a variation of the American model.  So your paycheck in France may feel a bit bigger in the pockets but you have to remember that there is a big tax bill arriving in your mail later.  And that is where the psychological impact comes in – you get a full lump sum of taxes staring at you in the face.  (Instantly any foreigner will know how to curse in French upon receipt.) In the States the average person is contributing a little here, a little there throughout the year and then trying to claim a tax rebate because they have contributed too much.  Tax rebates don’t exist here; the best you can do is have a zero tax bill (which does happen).

Donnez-moi votre argent!

Donnez-moi votre argent!

Now the French government has done progressive things to enable the average citizen to pay this daunting bill.  First, I have heard more than once that the people working at the tax office are actually nice (contrary to the stereotype of French customer service) and more than willing to help you as long as you show willingness to pay.  Next there are actually 3 due dates throughout the year: February 15th, May 15th and September 15th.  The government will graciously divide the previous year’s tax declaration into thirds.  Of course if there is a change in your tax declaration for the year, you calculate that difference on the last date in September.  Another support mechanism is the famous Livret A account.  This is a savings account that automatically comes with your checking account at your local bank.  The benefit?  It is tax-free interest.  The motivation is for you to put aside money in this account to pay your taxes.  If you are good at managing your money and depending on your income, you can easily gain a few hundred euros by the end of the year from your Livret A.  These mechanisms help form the French society to be more known as savers and not spenders like their American counter-parts.  The French are apt to save up for a big purchase instead of buying on credit.  Credits card do exist here but aren’t seen in your average French poche (pocket).

Click to expand image.

Cross Comparison of Income Taxes

Another interesting approach is that the French government approaches taxes by people’s address than the actual person.  I created a very high level flow chart comparing the two systems.  Of course I have left out a lot of details on both sides but it gives a general sense of perspective.  I welcome my reader’s feedback on the flow in case of errors.  As you can see, you are declaring all revenues earned at your home address.  Those revenues include all accounts you have signature power over, all accounts your partner has signature power over, all accounts your parents (if living with you) have signature power over and all accounts your children (if living with you) have signature power over.  Notice how revenue remains vertical along family lines and not by individuals.

By law, when you die your estate is automatically given to your children (looking down); if they don’t exist the estate is given to your parents (looking up); if they don’t exist then your partner (looking horizontal); if they don’t exist then your declared beneficiaries.  You can’t override this algorithm by moving your declared beneficiaries to the front of the line.  It explains why estates in this country have remained along family lines for centuries – literally.  I even read a legal advice column advising a woman seeking divorce to demand alimony on the basis of her children’s financial needs, not hers.  By approaching the legal situation this way, she will be awarded more money in the French courts.

Sound crazy?  Not really.  You have to keep in mind that France has been around a lot longer than the United States with a legacy of royalties, monarchs and empires.  The United States is culturally too dynamic to view finances, taxable revenues and estates this way.  Plus you see direct results of your taxes in France.  The infrastructure is top of the line throughout the country.  Public transport is well-developed and affordable.  Cities and villages provide so many cultural opportunities free to the public.  You have a landmark distribution of health care.  Education is at a shockingly minimal cost compared to American rates.  The biggest public sector is the department of education, not the military.  It is also nice to simply pay one governmental system instead of several like in the States.  There is one Public Treasure that will gladly accept any of my checks for taxes.  Then that system will allocate the funds to my corresponding Région, Département and Commune.  Again it is a daunting system but streamlined and maintainable.

Give me your money!

Give me your money!

What is crazy is I can never escape Uncle Sam.  My American social number is tattooed to my fesse (butt) and Uncle Sam knows it.  Looking back at the French model, you may wonder how does the French tax its expatriates that live in another country?  Well they don’t.  The French views it that if you are living in another country, you should be paying that country’s taxes.  Your address is no longer in France allowing you to escape the tax flow.  Uncle Sam doesn’t see things this way which is flip side of taxing by individual.  The United States is the only country that taxes its citizens regardless of where in the world that citizen resides.  (yea, read that sentence one more time)  Many will argue that “Wait, there is a tax treaty between the United States and France!”  True, no denying that fact.  As they say the devil is in the details.  Americans living in France are in no way exempt from filing taxes with Uncle Sam; they are simply given a tax credit.  Currently that limit is set at $91,500 for a calendar year.  Once an American earns in revenue greater than that amount, they are expected to pay American taxes in addition to the French taxes they already paid.

Luckily I am not near that threshold but I still have to watch out and be attentive of that figure.  Remember that wonderful Livret A account I mentioned above?  Well it is tax-free through Marianne’s eyes but not through Uncle Sam’s eyes.  I have to declare that interest on my American tax form.  There are other ways of saving for the future here in France that I have to keep in mind how it will play out in the American tax system.  Then don’t forget there is the currency exchange.  I may not earn more salary in a year but if the Euro becomes that much stronger, I get that much closer to the threshold.

Also as a resident outside of the States, I now have to declare two forms to the government.  My tax form goes to the IRS and a thing called the FBAR goes to the Treasury Department.  That FBAR form doesn’t declare my revenues but just lists all foreign bank accounts in my name.  If the IRS decides to audit me, they knock on the Treasury Department’s door and asks for my FBAR.  If the accounts don’t match on the two forms, then I get a lovely fine.

So now who do you prefer to pay, Marianne or Uncle Sam?

Categories: Everyday Life