Tuesday, April 19, 2011

First Observations as a Resident

A crudely photographed sunset taken from the
window of my Isle Saint-Louis apartment.
Bonjour my friends,

It has been a long and hard journey to return to Paris, but worth every sacrifice along the way.  I'm back, baby!  I’ve been repatriated to the city that I have come to love so much.  I’ve completely emptied out my suitcases (for the first time in 2 years), filled the refrigerator with crème de camembert, pate and Chablis, and set out my French books for study. 

Yes, my French is still quite terrible.  Between learning more French and filling out loads more paperwork for banks, apartments, drivers licences and a host of other things, I will be very busy at becoming a full-time resident.  In the mean time, my eyes have been wide open enjoying the sights that I’ve missed and making new observations from things that I continue to learn about this amazing city.

Please enjoy my fresh observations as a first time resident of Paris:
  1. Everything in Paris is the same and different from when I left.  New shops have sprung up where old ones have gone away.  I struggle to remember what the old ones were.  Unlike other cities I’ve seen lately, there are few spots that remain vacant for long.

  2. If there were such a thing as a national coffee machine, then in France it would be the Nespresso machine.  In Paris the release of a new variety of Nespresso machine was heralded with the same pomp and ceremony as the unveiling of a national monument.  Of course, I bought one.  I’ve long been a fan of Nespresso and in Paris; there is a Nespresso store on the Champs Elysee … so I can take a short ride on the metro to fetch my capsules.  Nom!

  3. The island that I live on called Isle Saint-Louis has more ice cream parlours per capita than people.  Traffic has to slow for cars to get around the people getting around the long queues for delicious flavoured ice cream.

  4. A generic indoor parking spot in Paris will sell for just under 50,000 Euros.  If you’ve failed to impress someone with your car, you might get a second chance to amaze them by showing off your shiny new parking spot.

  5. A French bank account is needed for a great many things in Paris, particularly the acquisition of a cell phone contract that doesn’t amount to statutory rape (by Swedish definitions). When you first apply to get your shiny new bank account, banks will want to see your:  a) passport, b) apartment lease, and c) letter from your previous Canadian or US bank (not all banks).  With luck, these three things will get you a shiny chipped debit card that works all over the world, but especially well in Europe.

  6. I don’t know if it’s because I’m living on an island, but I haven’t seen any vampires since I left the Charles de Gaulle airport (where many vampires are permanently employed).  It must be that they don’t like water, but I’m really going to have to look into this to be sure.  Another possibility is that the proximity of Notre Dame Cathedral upsets them.

    A dinner-cruise boat sails past my apartment,
    set squarely between me and watching vampires.

  7. My sister came to visit with her baby, my neice Baby Cait… and I learned a lot about what it might be like to be wheelchair bound in Paris.  In a word… ‘suckful’.  Paris is just not very baby-stroller friendly.  Firstly, the average Parisian apartment has several flights of horribly windy stairs and secondly, so does almost every Parisian attraction.  To mention a few, the Arc de Triomphe is a stairs only ordeal (nearly 300 steps up, and nearly 300 steps down).  So is Notre Dame.  Versailles will not permit strollers in the castle, but will permit almost anything on wheels in the gardens.  The Eiffel Tower is tricky, but possible; the smaller the stroller/wheelchair the better your experience will be.

  8. The farmers’ market in the Bastille area is amazing. It operates during the day on Wednesdays and Sundays if I translated correctly and features not only veggies, but fish, meat, and various other arts, crafts and even pots and pans.  Most vegetables seem to go for about one Euro per kilo and the quality is outstanding.  Oh, I wish I knew how to cook!

    One of many stands at the farmers market in Bastille.
  9. I imagine that every place in the world has its residents that boast about their sunsets.  I was not expecting this, but I’ve seen some spectacular ones in Paris.  Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that a city that already has so much can also have such beautiful sunsets.

  10. For reasons I can’t exactly explain, renting an unfurnished apartment looks like it will be more difficult than renting a furnished apartment.  The law permits agencies to demand a guarantor (someone to pay the rent) for an unfurnished apartment.  I hope this law doesn’t cramp my grand designs.
Well as you can see, I'm glad to be back.  Many thanks for my Parisian friends who have helped and welcomed me home and warmest wishes to those I miss so dearly around the world.

Your most grateful of friends,

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Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Live in Paris - Part 2

A snow covered wing prevents the plane from leaving the
Toronto Airport.  The last obstacle between me and Paris.
Bonjour mes Amis!

To establish myself in Paris, I decided that the proper path was the Long Stay Visa entitled the “Visitors / Staying in France without working nor studying” version.  As I mentioned before, the list of paperwork required is lengthy, requiring up to separate bits of paperwork (I’ve posted a link to the list here: http://www.consulfrance-vancouver.org/spip.php?article409 ).

Please note that this list is different than the list for French consulates on American soil, or other kinds of soil.  You must have the list that is specific to the consulate in which you are applying.  If you use the wrong list, your visa appointment will be very, very brief and unsuccessful (as my first appointment was).

Now for the paperwork; if you’ve clicked the link above you have seen the list of 14 things.  Here are my observations about this list:

  1. You will need RCMP Police clearance or a Number [8].  This is probably the hardest bit of paperwork to get back in a hurry and should be the first thing you apply for.  I was “lucky” to be in Saskatchewan at the time and submitted my information, which included electronically read fingerprints for a fee of $75.  This slightly higher fee got my clearance note back in 10 days.  If you submit your paperwork with the old fashioned inky fingerprints you can wait as long as 3-4 months to get your clearance back.  Note: If you have a blemish on your criminal record, you will need a pardon. If this is the case, Google Canadian pardons and then find a lawyer to help.  I have no idea how hard it is to get a pardon or how long it takes, but I’m sure that without one, your dream to live in Paris will end right here at point #1.

  2.  The last bit of paperwork may be very difficult (Number [14]).  If you have kids that you want to bring along on your adventure, you must find schools for them.  You’ll have to Google this on your own, since I have no idea how easy/hard this might be.  If you find a school online and manage to place your child, simply ask them to scan and send you a set of .PDF’s for your child’s enrollment information.

  3. Number [7] and [4] kind of go together, since you may be going to the same source for both depending on your situation.  You basically have to prove that you can live in Paris (France) and not starve or be forced to sell water and/or umbrellas at the Louvre.  This may mean a letter from your Canadian employer or client explaining that they have plenty of work for you.  This may mean that you can show a bank balance of at least $25K (this is a guess) or more per person.  You may have a trust fund or a retirement pension or some other form of income that generates at least $1800 per person and will continue to do so for the one year period of the visa.  You will also have to provide bank statements, income tax receipts, etc. to show that you actually did get the money promised by the employer, client, or other source of income.

  4. Numbers [12] and [13] are for health insurance and civil liability insurance, respectively.  You may have insurance up the wazoo, but they French government may not recognize your insurance company.  This is always a bit of a gamble.  To be sure, you can insure yourself with these guys: http://www.france-insurance.com/index.php  They got me insured and sent me a set of .PDF’s that I needed for my application very promptly.

  5. Your living conditions are the concern of [10] and [11], which is renting vs. staying with a friend, respectively.  The best plan is to go for [11].  Ask a friend to let you stay with them until you find a permanent apartment (which is nearly impossible to get before you get here).  Make sure you get the friend’s ID cards, lease or proof of home ownership, and an electric bill or whatever proves that they have the ability to host you.  They must also sign a letter that makes the offer.

  6.  If you have no friends, I recommend you sign a 3 month lease (at least 3 months) with a short term vacation rental place.  I’ve personally used these guys: http://www.nyhabitat.com/paris-apartment.html, but there are many, many others.

  7. You need 3 recent and identical photographs, formatted 35mm X 45mm.  This is an inconvenient format and an inconvenient number to need since most passport photos come in pairs.  Make sure that you get this right.  They provide a PDF with the correct sizes for the photo and your head inside the photo… get it wrong and you’ll be scrambling around for new photos in a hurry.

  8. The rest of the paperwork can be filled out in a day including the OFII form, your application form [2], your letter of oath saying you won’t work [5], and your "Attestation sur l’honneur" [6].

  9. Make sure you photocopy any original documents including your passport [1] and submit only photocopies as you may need this paperwork at a later date.
  10. Once you’ve got your paperwork together you are ready to apply.  You do this by setting an appointment here on the website of your consulate.  Don’t forget to print the receipt of the appointment or you won’t be granted an appointment.

  11. IMPORTANT:  Lastly, the thing that nearly killed my visa application was proof that I lived in British Columbia.  I had a lease, but no electric bills or anything since the utilities were included in the lease.  They can, if they wish be sticklers about this, so make sure your lease/ownership papers/bills (all with the same address) are included in your package at the end somewhere.  It could make the difference between getting a visa, and not.
My first long sunny day with Poseidon at Versailles.

You should be able to book your travel for 2-3 weeks from when you have set your visa appointment.  The rest is all nervous waiting.

Good luck!

Your friend and newest addition to Paris,

How to Live in Paris - Part 1

Please get me out of this snow!!!  I want to go to Paris!
My poor old car awaits word about my visa.

If you’re like me or maybe even if you are not, then you probably want to live in Paris.  After my first 90 days I made the decision that I wanted to spend a lot more time in Paris and I made a list of the practical ways that I could do this.  As the age old proverb states, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

As a Canadian, I am allowed to stay in any of the Schengen countries (a list of the countries is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Area) in Europe for 90 days out of every 180 day period.  For those unwilling to do the math, this is roughly 6 months of the year with considerable breaks, e.g. three months on, three months off, every other month, every other fortnight, every other week.  For me, this period seemed inadequate, particularly considering that my Parisian fantasy was to acquire an unfurnished apartment and fill it with furniture of my very own.

To accomplish my dream I would need a visa that would allow me to stay at least a year without interruption.  The French Consulate in Vancouver provides a list of the possible types of Long Stay Visas available to citizens of Canada wishing to apply (http://www.consulfrance-vancouver.org/spip.php?rubrique111).  There are similar websites in the United States.  Be sure that you look up the website for the area for which you.  A Torontonian can’t apply in Vancouver and a Vancouverite can not apply in Toronto, so the Francophile must first choose the correct embassy.
My first meal in Paris.  Lamb, potatoes and some kind of
yummy sauce that was just really really good.

I decided that I would not seek employment in France.  I love a challenge, but my high-school French would likely outweigh all of my job-hunting skills and also, I hope never to get a job ever again, even if it means a visa for France.  I also ruled out school.  When I parted with academia, I was quite certain that I’d never return.  Religious training?  No.  Artist?  No.  NGO volunteer?  No.  The only thing left for me was the visa for “Staying in France without working or studying.”

My chosen visa would require that I prove three basic things to the French government, 1) that I had enough money to stay in France for a year, 2) that I would not be a liability to the state and 3) that I was able to follow instructions on a visa form.  The list of paperwork required is lengthy and the three basic things end up being 14 separate bits of paperwork (the list is here: http://www.consulfrance-vancouver.org/spip.php?article409  Please note that this list is different than the list for French consulates on American soil… seek the list you need!).

The Consulate will point out that it will take 2-3 weeks from when you have your visa appointment until you will have your passport returned with the visa physically stamped inside it.  2-3 weeks is nothing! This paperwork will take 3 or 4 months to complete!  Plan to be scrambling around gathering papers for at least 3-4 months before telling your friends and family that you’ll be in Paris.

Stay tuned for Part 2!  I’ll tell you how to get the papers together that you’ll need for your visa.  I may even do another step to talk about shipping a car... which appears that it will be almost as difficult as shipping myself.

Your friend,