loi-travaille

French Work Benefits: truly unbelievable

We were in line to pay for our portions of the meal.  It was in Grenoble and many of my native French companions had opted for raclettes, the delicious and hearty mountain food of the Alps.  I wanted to encounter Savoyarde cuisine a bit more “head on” and opted for tete-de-veau.  As the guest in front of me paid, she ripped off a sequence of cheques, each denominated in 10€.  My eyes drifted to the bottom of the cheque: it read “cheque vacance.”  I made the mental connection, and then incredulous, I started laughing.  “Quoi?” my friend nudged.  “You…you…you people get money to go on vacation?” I queried.  Julien laughed, “Oui, mon ami.”  As we got into the car to drive back to Paris after a weekend of skiing, I made a note in my journal: “Hunt down all French work benefits.”  That was almost two years ago, and it’s high time I finally shared my findings with you.  Americans, please take a seat.  You’re not going to believe this.

I’ve divided the benefits into two categories.  There are the benefits that are required by law, which everyone gets, and there are those “optional” benefits which are only provided by certain companies.  I’m going to leave aside the discussion of cadre/non-cadre as well as CDD vs. CDI for another time.  I just want to focus on benefits.

Standard Benefits (required by law)

RTT (Réduction du Temps de Travail)

Everyone knows about the 35-hour work week, but what you don’t know is that the French are required to be compensated for the time they work beyond those 35 hours, and that comes out to a minimum of 2.5 days per month, every month of the year, at most large companies for those on a CDI.  That adds up to 30 days per year using that accounting – though some have told me they get as “few” as 10 days per year as they are only on the clock for 38,5 hours per week.

CP (Congés Payés)

Everyone is required, after the first year of work, to be provided with an additional 5 weeks of paid vacation per year.  If you add the RTT and CP, you can begin to understand why the entire country is gone from roughly July 15-September 1st, and still has leftovers for personal vacations in the Winter and Spring.

Fêtes Nationales

The National Holidays were actually more numerous before the disestablishment of the Catholic Church (“holiday” is simply an elision of “Holy Day”) and because Napoleon wanted to show his power over the Church, in the Condordat he signed with Pope Pius VII in 1801, he suppressed a number of ancient feast days.  So, the number of national holidays would be even higher if it weren’t for Napoleon, who had a bit of a workaholic streak in him.  As it is, the national holidays of France, long called “bank holidays” in England, to commemorate that country’s true religion, finance, include:

The Circumcision (January 1st)
Easter Monday
Labor Day (May 1st)
Ascension Thursday
V-E Day (May 8th)
Pentecost Monday
July 14th
The Assumption (August 15th)
All Saints (November 1st)
Armistice Day (November 11th)
Christmas (December 25th)

If you were keeping track, that’s 11 days.  For a so-called secular state, the French do keep an overwhelming majority of ancient Catholic feast days, with only one “commemoration” of  bloodthirsty revolution.  I suppose you could count Armistice Day and V-E Days as commemorations of the wars that democracy gave us.

Public Transport subsidy

If you take public transportation to work, your employer must subsidize at least 50% of the cost of your pass.

Food subsidy

I couldn’t get a clear answer on the exact amounts, but you get vouchers called “ticket restaurant,” which are a 50/50 split between you and your employer.  This means if you get a series of 10€ daily vouchers, you have contributed 5€ and your employer has matched 5€, making for 10€.  Some, like my friend Adam, get as much as 19€/day, and keep in mind, you aren’t limited to buying lunch only with those vouchers: you can use them for grocery shopping.  There is some movement away from the vouchers into a electronic debit card-based system (to prevent hoarding and mass-cashing at the end of the year), but that will take a while.

American reaction: “You get free money!”
French response (glumly, with a frown): “Yeah, we pay half.”

American glares at French person.
French person shrugs, repeats and says, “What, it’s true!”

Tuition Reimbursement

If you wish to take classes or training, possibly even training to change your career and quit your current job, your employer has to pause your job and allow you to take those classes.  Your employer may refuse twice, but may not refuse if you request a third time.

Compte Professionnel de Formation (formerly droit individuel à la formation)

You earn points in a personal account even via part-time work.  You can use these points towards paid training and certifications either in your career or to change careers.  These points do not expire and belong to you, not your employer.

Wait, there’s more vacation: Maternity and Paternity Leave

French women are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and French men are entitled to 11 days of paid paternity leave, though the French men are having to be encouraged to use this benefit as its culturally quite new.

Life Days Off (yes, more vacation)

If you get married, you are entitled to 4 days off, if you get into a civil union, you can get 1 day off.  If there is a death in your direct family (spouse or children), you can get 2 days off.  If one of your children is getting married, you can get one day off.

Mutuelle (because inexpensive health care wasn’t good enough)

Beginning this year, the Mutuelle, which was a paid private plan you could acquire (from a number of different companies) to make up the balance of payments of the 30% of medical costs you often handle (the State takes on 70%) now has to be provided for you by your employer.  So that bit of health care you did have to pay for?  That’s been taken care of as well.

Optional Benefits (yeah, there’s even more)

Treizième mois

So, some companies pay you for a “13th month” each year.  The purpose?  So you don’t have to set aside savings to pay for your taxes.

Cheques Vacance

You heard about this already – this kicked off the idea for this article years ago.

Cheques Cadeau

Well, because at Christmastime, you can’t actually be expected to pull from your savings to buy gifts.  Grab your chequebook, with 10-15 cheques denominated in, you guessed it, 10€ increments.

Comité d’enterprise

If you have at least 50 employees, this is required and .2% of the company wages must be diverted to fund the benefits it provides, which includes discounted movie and theater tickets, among other things.  Smaller companies do not necessarily have this.

* * *

So, whenever I begin to catalogue this list of benefits to the French, I get some silly speech about how they “fought” for these “rights” and that they have been “earned.”  This is, of course, absurd.  No one has a “right” to a job.  Those of us who have actually signed the front of a paycheck, not just the back, know that.  These laws are coercive measures that are leveled by the French government on companies that do business in France.  It is to maintain a standard of living in this magnificent jewel of a country.  The only price?  Innovation.

The reason that the US and other countries so far outdistance not just France, but Europe, in innovation, is because startups are allowed to figure life out before they are yoked with the duties of taxation.  France, as the laws are currently construed, is a fundamentally anti-business country.  There is no balance whatsoever – it is all about the responsibilities and obligations of the employers, which must take all the risk, while the State and the citizens/employees are completely shielded.  This is not real life.  This is the artificial reality created in France.

What do the French retain in exchange for losing the ability to innovate at the speed of the internet?  Stability.  The French have a really good life, thank you very much, and they don’t care if they aren’t keeping up with the rest of the world.  And that’s what those of us who come to this country to make our lives are fundamentally at peace with: the unbelievable burden carried solely by the private sector of the French economy is the price that is paid to have such a good life.  No one forces these French companies to stay here – they can leave and go anytime they want – and the young French don’t have to create companies here – they can go to the US or other friendlier climes.  This isn’t to say that there is no startup scene here in France.  There is – it’s exciting – and I’ve been pleased and privileged to work with and interact with some of these startups in the guise of my own small French startup.  These French are earnest about the opportunities, okay with the lack of a safety net, and grateful for the flexibility that the startup universe offers.  But they face challenges they simply would not have to face in America – and it slows them down.

But that’s the question at the heart of this: is speed what you’re after?  If so, then France isn’t for you, anyway.  Come here for stability, tradition, and pride.  But let’s be clear: these benefits cannot reasonably be construed into a narrative of “rights” that were “earned.”  It’s a ransom that is extorted.  It is paid perhaps reluctantly, but it is paid, nonetheless.  Because life really is that good here, despite all the hassles, paperwork, and these days, bombs and bullets.

The photo was taken at the hottest times of the protests against the new reform of labor laws this year, back in May.  That was, of course, before severe flooding prematurely dampened the resolve of people complaining about gold-plated privileges they never earned and consider “rights.”

11250209

Book Club: Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell

George Orwell is perhaps best known for his seminal works 1984 and Animal Farm.  One of his lesser-known works that I’ve come to appreciate is Down and Out in Paris and London.  The book is an examination of working class poverty in 1929 Paris and London.  It is true that George Orwell had a safety net.  Just as Thoreau lived on Emerson’s property for free and often went back into Concord to either dine or do laundry while he toiled away writing Walden, Orwell always had the ability to contact his middle-class family for help if he did get into real trouble.  Knowing that does, in a way, vitiate some of the desperation we read about.

That being said, the short chronicle, weighing in at just past 200 pages, is worth the read, if only to appreciate just how “first-world” our problems these days really are when so many of us have running water, indoor plumbing, and a bed to call our own.

For, when you are approaching poverty, you make one discovery which outweighs some of the others.  You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming feature of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future. (from Chapter III)

Obviously, there is a stoic positivity to this – who needs to worry about tomorrow?  Focus on the daily.  And yet, that annihilation of the future also implies a destruction of dreams and goals.

There’s a humorous moment in the book when I realized that immigration problems don’t just belong to our century.  Orwell recounts a visit to the pawnshop:

And then, after all our trouble, the receiver at the pawnshop again refused the overcoats.  He told me (one could see his French soul revelling in the pedantry of it) that I had not sufficient papers of identification; my carte d’identité was not enough, and I must show a passport or addressed envelopes.  Boris had addressed envelopes by the score, but his carte d’identité was out of order (he never renewed it, so as to avoid the tax), so we could not pawn the overcoats in his name. (from Chapter VII, emphasis mine)

There’s also an unexpected insight into the life of waiters and service staff in Parisian hotels and restaurants, where Orwell has to turn for work as his money dwindles away to nothing.  One would hope that hygiene and other practices recounted in the book have improved…but perhaps they are simply toned down rather than gone.

A good 65% of the book is dedicated to Paris – the rest to London.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was how prepared the English were to accommodate the homeless through a series of government shelters.  They were dreadful, but still offered room and board for a night.

In one of the final chapters Orwell reflects that: “The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually.”  If the book inspires you to do anything, it may be to help people out of poverty, and the first world does have real and practical tools to do that, starting with sites like Kiva, which allows you to loan as little as $25 to people looking to improve their lives around the world through various endeavors and projects.

But perhaps the lasting lesson for me is that today, as in Orwell’s time, it is possible to live meanly, or even well, for not a lot of money.  Reading about the darkness Orwell experienced makes you appreciate the City of Light that much more.

If you enjoyed what I wrote here and want to support it, consider tipping.

IMG_2748

August in France

It is quiet.  Wonderfully quiet.  Not just in Paris but everywhere you go in France.  On July 15th, after some national holiday that will go unnamed, the French decide that it’s been a solid 10.5 months of work, and that it’s close enough to 12 to round up and call it a year.  They depart in all directions, with a plan to return on or around September 1st.

Effectively this means you’re on your own if you choose to stay in your particular part of France.  90% of the local restaurants and shops close, and here in Paris, it’s the tourists who now outnumber the locals.  Everything feels slower because everything is slower.  Normally I would say this is in part due to the weather, but given the fluctuations of the last six months, I’m uncertain as to whether there is a correlation any longer between the season of the year and the expected climate.

My second card

The last card said “Visitor” and specifically prohibited working.  This one recognized my new status and interestingly was dated from the date of my follow-up visit to the Prefecture in April, not the date I received my first recipisse, in January.  This permanently shifts my renewal date to April, which is nice as I can now avoid the end of the year congestion that I have grown used to.  You’ll also see a new permanent entrance to the Prefecture at Cite:


IMG_2509

It ostensibly provides more safety via a double-doored security controlled entrance.  It’s just to the right, about 50 meters from the entrance you are used to.

IMG_2499

No, I’m not mad, bro.

Interestingly, the lady who issued me my carte took about five minutes (which felt longer due too the dread) rechecking all the paperwork from the previous two visits.  I remained stoic and impassive, and I kept telling myself, “Don’t sweat it, you’ve got everything in order.”  Sure enough, she stamped and signed all that was needed and that was “case closed.”

Please don’t make too much of my facial expression.  You’re specifically prohibited from smiling in official French photos.🙂

Grand Train

Last weekend I took one of my meetup groups to Grand Train.  It’s part of an 8-year redevelopment project and rather than just have a boring old construction site, some smarties got together and created essentially a pop-up party that reminded me of the gently convivial atmospheres of the ruin pubs of Budapest.

Entrance is free and in addition to numerous train exhibits there are pop-up food shacks and indoor and outdoor seating galore.  It runs through October and you would do well to get in early (around 15h-17h) and leave early (before 22h) as it starts to get very crowded at that point.

IMG_2744

Outdoor Film Festival is back on…but not outdoors

La Villette, on the edges of the 19th, usually plays host to an outdoor film festival all summer long.  However, following the attacks in Nice, the Mairie de Paris laid down specific security expectations for outdoor events and the film festival couldn’t comply and it was tentatively suspended “until further notice.”  After a couple weeks of hand-wringing it was decided not to waste all the planning that had gone into selecting the films and organizing showing dates and the festival has been moved indoors to the Grand Halle.  If you want to join our Film and Supper Club we are going to watch Akira Kurosawa’s Ran next week.

Happy to be here

Despite this being my third year in France, this is my first full August in Paris, as the last two summers I was working in Switzerland.  Alas, they passed a law that went into effect earlier this year that restricted the number of non-EU persons that could work on temporary summer contracts, and my wings were clipped.  I was certainly down the first week I got the news, back in March, but the summer has proved what I suspected to be true back then: more opportunities would arise while I was in Paris, not in Switzerland, during July and August, and I would have more of a chance to explore parts of France that I have not before.  There are still two weeks to go before the Rentreé and I’m very glad to have these quiet summer days pretty much to myself (or to accompany friends who have never had Five Guys to taste their first one).

EH 5738P  Ernest Hemingway, Paris, circa 1924. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

Book Club: A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

After the November attacks of last year many French begin reading this book as an act of defiance.  It was left among some of the tributes at Republique and other places.  More than one French friend told me that it was a chance to look at Paris through a foreigner’s eyes, and its sudden resurgence made it okay to read something that is often seen as too “cliché” for the French to read.

For those of us who write in Paris, it’s impossible to avoid Hemingway’s shadow.  Whether we are browsing the stacks at Shakespeare and Company, or walking near the Place Contrescarpe, or even when writing in a cafe, we might imagine Hemingway himself toiling away in a corner over a notebook near empty glasses of rum.  He’s writing, and he glances up to see a girl sitting by herself waiting for someone.  She has a face “fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.”  If the description of her strikes you, you can imagine the effect she had on Hemingway as he tried to refocus and concentrate on the story at hand.

“I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought.  You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

And what was that writing process like?  “So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there” and “Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”

While Hemingway describes some measure of poverty during his time here, it’s nowhere near the harrowing account that George Orwell gives in Down and Out in Paris and London, a book I will cover in a future installment of this series.  Yet, almost 100 years later, I think this is still very true: “In Paris, then, you could live very well on almost nothing and by skipping meals occasionally and never buying any new clothes, you could save and have luxuries.

More than anything, this book is a snapshot of life of life in Paris, amidst writers and artists, between 1921 and 1926.  We see all the usual suspects – Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald (and Zelda), as well as so many landmarks that are still around like Le Deux Magots and Brasserie Lipp.  And of course, there is his wife, whom he manages to lose in the course of the writing, due to his own self-admitted infidelity.  She’s not an integral enough part of the work for you to really feel the loss, but she does provide bookends to the story and to his time there.

Read it because you’re an American or because you’re not but want to get the quintessential “American in Paris” viewpoint.  Or because you want to see just how little the city has changed in a century.

The featured image is of Hemingway in his Left Bank apartment in 1924. 

If you enjoyed what I wrote here and want to support it, consider tipping.

maxresdefault

OFII checkboxes: two classes done

In my last post chronicling a visit to OFII since getting on the path to citizenship, I attended the two classes which were mandated as part of my immigration classes: “Living and working in France” and “Civic Formation.”

Both of these classes were unexciting 8-hour affairs, punctuated by lunch.  The lunch was provided for us and the training itself was completed by an agency known as SJT which was responsible for certifying that we were the persons we claimed to be, that we knew our stuff, and that we weren’t sleeping in class.

In both classes an English translator was provided to give delayed translation to the English speakers in the room.  In both classes the English speakers comprised more than 35% of the class, and no doubt it could easily have been a half-day if the classes were separated into the languages that were easiest for the students to understand, but that would have ironically undermined the fact that these classes were to welcome immigrants to FRANCE where they speak FRENCH.🙂

The classes themselves provided some interesting information and were deeper dives into themes discussed at our first briefing at OFII.  In the Civic Formation class we took a closer look at French history, from the time of the Romans and then Clovis all the way to present day and the French Republic.  We explored the themes of liberté, egalité, fratérnité, and laïcite.

The “living and working in France” class also included some 16 and 17 year olds as the law only recently changed to exempt those who had emigrated to France at an early age from these classes.  And, indeed, it felt like a high school class, in some ways.  In the “getting a job” section we were instructed in granular ways how to create a CV (that’s “curriculum vitae” and in Europe is often what they say when they mean “resumé.”  It’s not to be confused with the academic CV that’s often submitted when you apply to graduate programs in America.) as well as how to dress and act in an interview.  I was once again astonished at the amount of social help available to the French in terms of nursery schools, job finding, housing, and subsidies.

Social housing was a subject of a prolonged digression in our class, as one woman, an Ivorian, shared (thankfully, in quite deliberate and paced French) her travails in social housing with her three children in a 20 square meter apartment.  The French State does guarantee very low rent for those who get social housing, but it can’t guarantee spacious accommodations.  Our instructor told us that the wait inside the Peripherique (the 20 arrondissements) was roughly 8-10 years, and that you had to renew your place in line each year or you had to start over.  If you were wiling to live in the suburbs you could get a place within 18 months or even sooner.

At the end of each class we were given a multiple choice quiz which was graded on completion, not accuracy, and we went over the answers as a class and noted whether we had known this information prior to taking the class.

So, all is now clear for me to pick up my actual carte de sejour, over 6 months since I obtained legal rights to work and live in France beyond my previous visitor status.  Apart from keeping up on my regular payments to the various social and governmental agencies I needed to as a French business owner, I wouldn’t need to start thinking about my next visit to the Prefecture for at least another…3 months.🙂

If you enjoyed what I wrote here and want to support it, consider tipping.

fff

Losing at Home

My heart sank.  In the fan zone at the Eiffel Tower, tucked away behind one of the smaller screens I was standing in front of, the small group of Portuguese near us lost their minds in celebration.  I hadn’t ever been here before – in France, watching the National Team play in a Final – but I’d watched plenty of football, and given how the game had gone, I knew this was probably it.

* * *

The police were dressed in riot gear and were prepared for all manner of shenanigans.  What they got instead was a quietly compliant group of Parisians, eager to get home to perhaps more easily hide their disappointment.  As I got off at Opéra to change to Line 3, I observed a girl in her mid-20s quietly crying, the tears muddling the tricolor she had proudly painted on her cheeks that afternoon.

* * *

I do love football, especially the spectacle of an international tournament, but travel kept me out of France during most of the group stage play, though it did allow me to watch with thousands of Viennese as their national team played Portugal, or with the Swiss who live in Liechtenstein as they played Romania.  I watched the two semifinals on my street here in the 2nd arrondissement and while I was the only one in the entire bar watching Wales and Portugal, I had to make reservations and arrive an hour before the match to hold on to those seats before the France-Germany game, which was a treat to watch.  Further down the street is an axis where three sports bars are nearby and many people danced in the street to celebrate the heroic efforts of the French team that night.  The whole city was buoyed by it.

This morning its another Monday in what has been a tough 12 months for the French, and yet I sense resolve so often attributed to the British and known in their “keep calm and carry on” mantra.  Disappointment is part of football, but it’s part of life too – and those of us who know football know that Portugal was defeated at home in the Finals of Euro 2004 by the Greeks.  They know what happened last night because they were on the losing end of such a situation once.  And they came back to fight another day and won their first European Championship.

* * *

More than anything in these days of political pygmies, as we see Australia divided by a General Election, a narrow Brexit, and an America eager to shoot itself to death, we can enjoy a simple thing like a football tournament, that brings together people from 24 different countries, to cheer, laugh, learn, and cry.  Among much disappointment, in football and otherwise, there are always opportunities to learn and grow.  It remains for us to take them.

IMG_2356

London Calling

I often tell people I never expected to like London as much as I do.  Don’t get me wrong – I would never, ever live there – it’s too expensive, rushed, big, and dense.  But for a few days at a time, quietly sipped, it’s a wonderful retreat for a native English speaker.

For one, most of the museums are free.  Over eight or so visits I’ve gotten to see the great treasures of the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert, the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum, as well as had the chance to venture out to Greenwich to see the marvelous nautical museums out there.

Then there’s the food.  Just saying the word “spicy” is enough to make French people reach for their throats, pre-emptively coughing.  It’s not their fault.  There’s not any native spicy food in France.  Same for the cuisines in Germany and Switzerland.  But the British palette, early on stretched by colonial ambitions, can tolerate quite a bit of spice, and so you see many more Indian and Malay restaurants here, done using authentic spice profiles.  You can find those cuisines, and dozens more, for bargain prices.  There’s also the theatre.  As a native speaker of the language I appreciate all the nuance, humo(u)r, and wordplay without the need of a translator or intermediary.

In a way, London is where I go to remind myself what it feels like to freely breathe in my native language, whereas in France, my French reading comprehension has far outpaced my speaking speed, so while I scan through Le Figaro or Le Monde at my regular English reading speed and truly understand what is written, my speed in discussing issues spoken about between those pages, or any issues in general, is slower.  I’m always a bit more cautious and held back with witticisms, jokes, or the casual jump-in of a serious conversation in my new language.

As for getting to London, having flown in and out of Luton, Gatwick, and Heathrow from Paris, I’m a very big advocate of taking the Eurostar.  If you book 6-8 weeks in advance, you can routinely pay around 50€ each way, which is not only competitive with the lowest rates you can pay to fly, but it’s one of those rare instances in which taking a train is actually faster than taking a plane.  The Eurostar is 2 hours and 20 minutes, Gare du Nord to Saint Pancras, and is city-center to city-center, connected by the Metro and Tube, respectively.  Even the fastest trip from Gare du Nord out to CDG is going to take you at least 30 minutes (slightly longer to get out to Orly), then you need to get through security, and then you need to be there at least one hour before your flight.  By the time you have done all that, you could have already been in London, and you haven’t even left Paris yet.  So, if you want to take a few days’ trip to London, you can get there and back pretty quickly, and pretty affordably.

The question might be accommodation.  And that’s a fair point.  Over the years I’ve developed a really wonderful group of friends in London and if they are in town I can often crash at their places.  But if everyone is out of town, I can find a hostel (25-35€/night) or an airbnb/hotel (55-75€/night).  Just be prepared: in London they aren’t shy about renting out spaces that would be glorified closets in America.  You can get more space, of course, if you’re willing to pay for it.

You don’t need to regularly visit, as I do.  Just go once and see how you feel.  I definitely underestimated it when I first visited as a tourist, back in 2009.  Summer, with Wimbledon and sunshine everywhere, is a great time to give it your first try.

I took the picture from Westminster Bridge on the day after the Brexit Referendum, just some minutes after I had left College Green by Parliament, where I had been doing some short informal interviews with some MPs and MEPs on their reactions to the referendum result.  The article I wrote on it is here.