Bad information

“This can’t be right.”  I looked down at the address for the shop on the map: 250 rue de rivoli.  But I knew that address didn’t line up with its drawn position on the map I was holding in my hand.  “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll go to one of these other shops marked as adjacent to the phantom one in question, even though they were 194 and 194 bis.  I was just past the Hotel Regina, which some might remember from the very first Bourne movie.

I poked my head into what looked very much like one of those standard money changing places I so despise.  “They take passport photos?” I wondered.  Sure enough, they didn’t.  The “helpful” map, which I had gotten from the US embassy which allegedly showed locations that took US-standard passport photos, was wrong on three counts.  Alas.

I wandered into a nearby copy shop and asked in French if they took American passport photos (slim chance) and they gave me directions to a shop that did.  Photo Pyramides, 14 rue des Pyramides, in the 1st.  10€ gets you four photos, and you’ll only need 2 for your application.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve run my poor passport into the ground with stamps and I need to renew three years early to make room for future travel in that time.

I’ve added this resource to my FAQ, which contains contact information for English-speakers in Paris for banking, renter’s insurance, apartments, cell phone and internet coverage, health care, taxes, etc.  I give this FAQ to all who use my consultation service.  This FAQ also features a checklist for visitor visa renewal and obtainment of Profession Liberale.

Moral of the story: trust, but verify.

 

Doughnuts, networking and other writings

There is just a little over a week to be involved with a cool new doughnut startup by (no surprise) a fellow American in Paris.  Check his story out here.

Speaking of startups, I had my first meeting with someone via Shapr, which is the “tinder for business networking.”  It was, oddly enough, with someone on the Shapr team, and it was heartening to see someone in a tech startup be so excited about delivering a great app, against lots of obstacles, in a country that has a long way to go to become startup-friendly.  Give it a try – it’s slowly rolling out in parts of the US as well.

I was watching the PSG Champions League match this week with friends and at half time a French friend remarked that the extension of the “state of emergency” had him worried about civil liberties.  “It’s like the Patriot Act,” he told me.  I nodded, and didn’t say much more, as I was in football mode.  But I recently wrote about this, and other themes, for an American magazine’s April issue, and as such, I don’t own the digital rights to share it with you at the moment, but I can share some other writings I have done following the attacks, like this piece for Front Porch Republic and this one on Medium.

I also occasionally answer questions on Quora, write on business themes on LinkedIn, and share my thoughts on where to eat in Paris and lots of other places on Yelp.

Paris: frontline of Airbnb and Uber’s wars

As a resident of France I appreciate that the French hold on to their traditions and ways of life and are generally skeptical of change.  Unmoderated and unguarded acceptance of change isn’t always the best thing.  Nowhere is this more a topic of conversation these days than with Airbnb and Uber.

These two American juggernauts have seized upon a simple idea and commercialized it: there is spare space in your home or car – if someone wants to rent that space for some period of time, and you are willing to allow them to rent it – you can complete an exchange of commerce.  Furthermore, in many cases, the necessary taxes are paid by the company, the provider, the end-user, or all three.  So what’s the problem?

In France?  “Les acquis.”  This term refers to the amorphous set of benefits and “rights” that the French feel broadly entitled to, and are willing to march in the streets to protect.  Not only (in their mind) are these rights guaranteed forever, but in all likelihood, these rights will only get better and sweeter with time.  I’m not going to talk about this concept for the moment.  I only want to use it as a reference point to help you understand why the hotels and taxi companies are absolutely livid about these two unicorns.

In a universe of acquis you have jobs and economic systems for life.  No pesky disruptions.  Year after year your universe is set and perfect.  Taxi-driving schools collect millions of euros in tuition and hotels collect hundreds of millions of euros in bookings. Never mind that both taxi companies and hotels employ tens of thousands of foreign workers and hence this can’t be argued to be about “French jobs.”

Indeed, it is a question of secrets.  In his book Zero to One Peter Thiel talks about the discovery of secrets as key to billion-dollar businesses.  The discovery of sharing unused space was a secret.  Overnight it created, in essence, the largest room-provider and largest transportation companies in the world.  Not by a massive capital spend, but by really intuitive software that could connect the provider and the end-user.  This massively democratizes micro-entrepreneurship by lowering barriers to entry.  You would think this would be welcome in a country that carves “liberte, egalite, fraternite” into the stonework of their buildings.

And yet, the French, used to the idea that anything you do with your time for money has to come with an enormous raft of benefits, including 2 years of unemployment pay, burn and flip cars and raid apartments in protest.  Who are they hurting?  Uber and Airbnb have more money, time, focus, and brains to devote to winning this matter legally – or they will simply pick up and leave.  In the meantime, people who own cars or apartments in Paris who are simply making some money to defray their costs of ownership, as well as everyday commuters and travelers looking to save money, are the ones actually penalized.

Despite the fact that “entrepreneur” is a French word, fundamental disconnects like this happen.  Entrepreneurs don’t get acquis.  We build our own acquis over time, with hard work, perseverance, and a tremendous amount of sacrifice.  No one forces us to do it.  We provide willing services to those willing to pay us – we’re even happy to pay taxes…to a point.

It is the convergence of these two attitudes – the inbuilt idea of acquis and a population that prefers guaranteed jobs for life to entrepreneurship (because they are fundamentally risk-averse) that leads to such a strong pushback against these services in this country.

And yet, it seems to be politically motivated.  Many of the people my age (and younger) actively use Airbnb and Uber here in Paris.  We know what hotels are and we know what taxis are.  We have used them, many times.  We also know that airbnbs and ubers are neither hotels nor taxis, and come with their own risks (as if hotels and taxis are risk free!).  But we understand that it’s important for people to have lots of choices.  Transportation-wise, that’s what makes getting around easier: buses, metros, taxis, ubers, bikes, scooters, and yes, walking.  Indeed, Uberpool is even an innovation among taxis – using intelligent software and gps to save everyone time and money.

And yet, despite a multi-million euro settlement with Airbnb last year, the City of Paris is being pressed by the hotel lobby for more raids.  And the ride-sharing industry is under pressure after a recent taxi strike.

In English we say, “the cat is out of the bag” to say what has happened has happened, and that you can’t go back.  Parisians have discovered that they can make money renting out their homes and cars.  Hotels and taxi companies have discovered that their guaranteed monopolies are over.  The City of Paris is caught in between them.  But the secret is out, and the hotels and taxis are in for a very rude awakening should any real move be made to ban Airbnb and Uber in Paris.

The photo used comes from the Independent.

This article was also published on Medium and LinkedIn.

Mailbag: Passport Pages, transferring your visa, and taxes

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but it’s often helpful for me to share some of these answers to questions I get in email so that others who are also wondering might have their questions answered as well.

How does adding passport pages to my (US) passport or renewal of it affect my visa?

Well, this is a two-parter.  As of December 31st, 2015, the US Embassy in France is no longer adding pages to your passport.  What that means (and I confirmed this in person at the Embassy) is that you will have to apply for an early renewal of your passport, as US citizens living abroad are not permitted to mail their passport back to the US for pages to be added there.  For my battle-worn blue book, that renewal ends up being roughly 3 years early.  But given that I’m down to room for exactly 5 more stamps, it’ll have to do, especially since I have a lot of travel later this year.

As to how it affects your visa: it doesn’t.  If you’re in your first  year of your long-term stay visa, your carte de sejour exists in the form of the sticker that OFII put in your passport roughly 90 days after you arrived during your follow-up visit.  If you add pages/renew your passport you will get your cancelled passport back and still show that sticker, if you need to.

If you’re in your second year and beyond, you will be issued an actual carte de sejour after your renewal, which effectively functions both as your ID and your visa.  Those stickers in your passport from years ago are then like the rest of the stamps in your passport – memories – but nothing legally important.

You said recently that you had to file taxes?  How did that go?

Great question!  Funnily enough, despite sending them a properly filled-out French tax return appropriate for a foreign filer, in which I indicated that my income had not been derived from French companies, they still sent me a bill for 1781 euros.  After some laughter with my accountant and attorney, an email was dispatched to the relevant department:

réf de l’avis:15 75 XXXXXXX XX
Nº fiscal déclarant: 30 25 XXX XXX XXX X

Messieurs,

Je reçois cet avis d’imposition dont je conteste le fondement. En effet, l’assiette de la CSG et de la CRDS est l’ensemble des revenus français quelque soit leur nature et montant.

La totalité des revenus composant l’assiette de cette imposition a été d’origine américaine, perçue et imposée aux USA conformément au traité fiscal franco-américain.

En conséquence, de par la définition même de cette double imposition CSG – CRDS, l’assiette de cette imposition ici présente est non conforme. Je demande donc son annulation immédiate et sans condition.  

Cordialement,

Stephen HEINER

The next day, which is essentially light speed by French standards, had this response in my inbox:

Monsieur,

Votre demande a bien été prise en compte. Vous allez bientôt recevoir un avis de dégrèvement.

Salutations.

Translation: You’re right.  You don’t owe any money.

Stephen: Gee, thanks. 🙂

Picard: a dirty little secret of the French

So before we arrive in La France, we non-French perhaps imagine that all French people have an advanced knowledge of wines and cheeses, and while we don’t expect the full Julia Child/Jacques Pepin experience, we expect that most native French should be able to make a few classic French dishes from scratch, from maman‘s recipes or perhaps from grandmere.  This is not an unreasonable expectation.

What you don’t expect, what you can’t possibly believe, is that a store like Picard exists.

picardIt only sells frozen food.  To be warmed up in an oven or microwave.  No, this isn’t some monstrosity dreamed up by an American.  This. Is. In. France.  And it’s wildly popular.

“I, I just can’t believe Picard exists,” I sputter to my French friends.  A slow smile often creeps into their mien – but Stephen, it has good food, bio (organic), you know – I wave my hand dismissively.  “Do you realize your word for kitchen (cuisine) means, essentially, thoughtful or good food in my language?  And then I find out that you guys are warming up premade food?”

“Oh, but Stephen, you know, no time, metro, boulot, dodo, etc.”

“In the land of the 35-hour work week?” I ask plaintively.

Now, I’m being a bit unfair about that 35-hour work week as I’ll explain in a future article about the work lives of the French.  Suffice to say I have more than one French or expat friend who works until 20h00 on weeknights, so I fully understand and believe the, “I’m too tired to cook” response.  I know, because I’ve been there.  I’ve come home later than 22h00 many nights when I lived in America.

But when life becomes a succession of warming up food (or buying takeaway), what is the point of living here, or anywhere, for that matter?  One of the things I enjoy so much about France is the superabundance of fresh food and produce; butchers, fishmongers, cheesemongers, produce sellers, bakers: they are out at all hours, replicating what has been done for centuries, giving you the key ingredients to make food for yourself.

The thirty minutes you spend warming up some second-rate boxed lasagna, organic or not, could be spent making an omelette or a salad.  Or pasta.  Or grilling some veal, or rabbit, or lamb, while boiling some potatoes or steaming some veg for garnish.  In fact, 30 minutes would be long for “end of workday” versions of any of those suggestions.

I don’t expect all to take as much pleasure as I do in buying food, making my mise-en-place, and delighting in the cooking process, down to the colors of my food in correspondence and interplay with whatever season we find ourselves in.  But I do expect those who inhabit a country conscious enough of their own pride in everything to put a cock on the crest of the national sports teams to live up to the inheritance, the patrimony, they have been bequeathed, and has been bequeathed to the whole world.  The whole world looks to France as a (perhaps the) standard of cooking.

Which means Picard is simply not good enough.  Ever.  Generations who worked in the fields and offices long before Picard existed managed to cook and eat well.  You should too…whatever country or galaxy you live in.

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Postscript: I should note that it’s simply more expensive to eat processed food, both in terms of financial cost and health cost.  However, I tend to see these as “last ditch” arguments.  People should accept the premise that cooking their own food is a good to be desired in and of itself.

Absence/Podcast/A trip to the police station

I apologize for the very long break from the blog.  It was an amazing summer – my second spent working in the spectacular beauty of Switzerland (here’s one of my favorite images from that time).  I kept a journal, but didn’t have Parisian reflections to share with you.  But I am back in my beloved city and regular programming will resume 🙂

I’m not yet certain if I will continue a podcast for the blog next season – but episode 2 was on the “Au Pair life.”  Take a listen here.

Finally, on my travels I was stupid to lose my wallet, which contained things that were by and large replaceable, but which contained my French identity card, which allows me to travel passport-free inside the Schengen area.  For those who face the calamity of losing a wallet, in addition to shutting down all your cards and getting new ones – you need to go to the main Police station of the arrondissement you live in – ideally this address should match the one on file with OFII.  I have said this before but do everything you can to maintain a consistent address throughout the immigration process – you’ll be surprised that many gardiennes are willing to keep your mail for you even after you’ve moved out – if, of course, you maintained a positive relationship with him/her (who am I kidding, there’s no such thing as a male gardienne in Paris!).

Once you’ve identified which station is yours, bring your passport and/or another form of ID (remember the rule of always overwhelming the French with documentation, thereby removing their ability to intimidate you).  If you show up around 15h00 on a Friday (as I did last week), the whole process should take about 5 minutes.  You will need to clarify whether you lost it or it was stolen.  If it’s the latter, be prepared for a lot more in terms of questions (where did you lose it, what else did you lose, etc?).

You will then obtain a “récépissé de déclaration” which will allow you to apply for a new identity card.  Since I’m only 2 months away from renewal I’m not going to drop the 100 some euros to get a replacement but will simply wait to get a new one when I get my new visa.

What would you like me to write about this next year?  #YearThree in Paris begins December 11th.  I have so much to share with you but am also happy to write about your thoughts/questions/concerns.

***Featured photo comes from Daxis on Flickr.  Labeled for reuse.***

The pain of loss

I’m midway through my second year in Paris and I’ve begun to experience something I rarely did during my time in the States: losing people to moves.  When I was younger this was because I was always the one on the move, either due to my family’s movements or my own moves for work or school.  As I got older, I lived among more stable populations and hence rarely attended “going away” parties because no one was going anywhere.

Before I moved to Paris I spent 7 years in Kansas City, which straddles the large Midwestern American states of Kansas and Missouri.  It is a wonderful place to live and raise a family, and consequently, most everyone stays.  In my time there I don’t think I knew one person who moved away.  And yet I’ve already lost a friend to Nice just this month, and between now and September I expect to lose 4 more.  Some have work assignments ending or visas that expire and they have not begun the work to try to stay.  Others are just choosing to move on.  No matter the reason, it hurts to lose friends to moves.

There are dozens of reasons, always particular to the individual.  I don’t expect everyone – in fact I don’t expect many – to move to Paris with the deep-in-the-bones conviction that they will live there forever.  Since so many come for work it is rare to find that happy coincidence of dream city and fulfilling work (which is why I advocate moving to your dream city and creating your own work) and hence if a more alluring city or job presents itself, Paris can be left behind.

I’m willing to admit that while everyone’s decision to leave Paris can be attributed to individual circumstances, there are recurring themes which I can share with you.  I’ll also try to suggest remedies when it makes sense.

Distance from the city

My friend Anaïs, who left for the south of France last week, has sworn off ever again living in the suburbs.  “I could never do anything at night in Paris,” she opined at lunch.  Since she lived 20 minutes outside Paris she was limited by whenever the final train for her stop left in the evenings, typically some time before midnight.  People can get twice the space for the same price, but it’s not Paris.  I don’t see how one can fall in love with this city when you don’t live inside it, and when you don’t love something, it’s easy to leave it.

Cost of living

I always gamely smile when I hear this, in part because it’s really only the rents that are expensive in Paris, and even then it lags far behind Tokyo, Hong Kong, NYC, and San Francisco.  Super high-speed internet?  15€/month.  Fresh baguette? 1€.  Freshly-pulled espresso at the bar? 1,50€.  1 L of organic milk? 2,50€.  Three course meal at an authentic French restaurant?  24€.  Unlimited travel on the metro, buses, and trains, and 45 minutes per day on the city bikes?  70€/month.  Those are just a few of the things in Paris that are cheaper than what I paid in the States, and specifically in regards to the transport issue, entire costs I used to have are simply gone now, like car insurance, oil changes, gasoline, and the occasional car wash.  Yes, Paris has its expensive sides, but if you are willing to try new/challenging/different living situations you can not only survive, but thrive here.

The Rush

I’ve addressed this in a previous piece.  If you work in one of these nonstop jobs and you aren’t planning and saving for a great escape or a new life, either leave Paris or quit your job, but don’t keep doing what you’re doing.  You’re making yourself miserable and while only the Japanese currently have a word for “death by overwork” (karoshi) it doesn’t mean you are immune to the condition.

Time for a change

This has to be the most valid reason to leave, if you’re really feeling it.  I’ve heard it said that if you’re always dreaming of your next vacation, perhaps you need to change where you live, since you keep wishing to leave it.  I firmly believe that once you are in a place you truly want to be, you’ll find yourself exploring it endlessly, and won’t have to look exteriorly for fulfillment and joy.  This doesn’t mean you’ll cut travel out entirely, but I’ve observed within myself a huge slowdown in travel, and I think this is because I’m settled and happy here.

Everyone is leaving!

Well, I suppose this presumes a greater existential question of “What is a Parisian?”  I know at least 6 people who have lived in Paris their entire lives and half of them don’t really know or love this city at all.  There are “permanents” in Paris (I aspire to be one) but a lot of us came here because we were inspired by what we thought Paris might be like as a residence, not just enamored of what we had experienced in Paris as breathless tourists.

The remedy for this objection is something I am prescribing for myself as well: not so much to close yourself off to new friendships, but covet, guard and develop those more closely that are with those who you suspect are here for the long term.  You can’t escape the pain of losing special people as they move, but you’ll have the consolation of adding friends from all around the world who you might visit on your travels, and you’ll know that when you see them again you’ll be able to pick up on something you’ll always have in common: Paris.

The guy who stole my iPad

He hangs out at night on my street with three or four of his friends. They smoke, drink, and talk about nothing, as 25-35 year-olds are wont to do. Whenever I pass him, and we manage to make eye contact, I smile, wave, and cry out, “Mon petit voleur!” I call him a thief because last November he stole an iPad out of my bag.

* * *

It was my last trip of the night. After one year I had “graduated” from my 8 square meter closet in the sky, towering above the rooftops of the 17th arrondissement, to the 39 square meter reality of a 2nd arrondissement apartment with a kitchen I couldn’t reach from my bed/couch. The day had been filled with those joys of Paris moves: large bags and luggage going down one set of stairs and then up another (in my case down 8 flights of stairs and up 5; no elevators), with the steps and passages of the Metro in between (some can afford moving trucks – I couldn’t at the time). It was 00h30 and I had the last few things with me: two bags slung over my shoulder – one of which was an open sack that contained my laptop and iPad. As I exited the metro I pushed the office chair that I had also brought down the platform. A young man and three of his friends came down the stairs. The one I would focus on (from here on “MPV” for “mon petit voleur”) started to mock-dance with my chair. Tired but amused, I didn’t even take the headphones – still blaring Chris Martin and Coldplay – out of my ear. I simply hauled the chair up and over my head to carry it up the stairway and as I turned away from the group one of them must have reached into my bag and taken my iPad. I didn’t think to check my bag until I had reached the top of the stairs. In a panic, I stashed my office chair and bag someplace by a building and dashed back to confront my thief. The adrenaline had dumped into my bloodstream (I could feel the rush) and I didn’t think clearly enough to go back to the same “inbound” platform I had just departed but instead went to the “outbound” one. I stood on the platform crazed and breathless, and then, just as the train on the opposite platform started to creak forward, I made eye contact with MPV. If I hadn’t been incredulous, I might have shouted expletives. As it was, all I could summon was a measured but incensed, “Hey!” He laughed, smiled, and blew me a kiss. The train slid out of the station.

* * *

I didn’t stay to watch it disappear into the darkness. That would have been pointless. I was going to activate the app which Apple had made famous: Find My iPhone. I almost ran up the staircase with my remaining luggage, kept going to my apartment, ran up those stairs as well, with my office chair no less, and hurriedly opened the door to my new apartment. I dropped everything on the floor and activated “lost mode” on the iPad. It showed up almost immediately. The pinging blue dot was at Republique, four metro stops away on Line 3, and was moving slowly towards Canal St. Martin.

As I look back on it now and reflect on the actions which followed, I think of it as calculated irrationality. At the time my French was still more elementary, I was alone, and I didn’t actually know how many friends he had in his posse. But I had been stolen from, and the salve to cool the white-hot burning humiliation and anger (which, interestingly, is not unlike the embarrassment a 9 year-old child might feel upon being slapped in public by his mother) was the feeling I hoped I would experience upon tracking this guy down.

* * *

I came out of the main entrance of Republique, without even noticing the statue, the one I so despise, that sits in the middle of the square. I focused on the radiating blue dot on my iPhone, the blue dot which had not moved since I started tracking it. I had sent a message in French to display on the iPad that essentially said I would take the iPad back for 50€ without involving the police, with my phone number appended. Unsurprisingly, given (as I learned later) what he could get for taking it to one of these chop shops in town that wipes them and sends them to Morocco to get sold, he didn’t respond.

Within minutes I was standing directly in front of the café the blue dot indicated my iPad was in. I spotted him. I was breathless and angry, so I started shouting at him in English. I pushed him. I called him names. People came to intervene. I pulled out my phone to take a picture of him and he threw a punch at me as I took it, obscuring the picture. The remaining adrenaline had been dumped into my system. I wasn’t thinking about his friends or the possibilities of knives. In reality, any of them could have had their way with me because I was fixated on his visage: he was the only one I had identified from the moment of the theft. My stupidity and carelessness aside, I manage to pat him down (an iPad is a hard thing to conceal) and found nothing.

At this point some of you might be shouting for me to activate the “alert” sound which would have made it easy to find the iPad. Instead I fixated on this guy, who when I realized didn’t have the iPad, started to walk off. I stayed with the geolocation that the iPhone was giving me. The blue dot wasn’t moving despite the fact that he was now a block away. This could only mean that one of his friends (who had scattered and none of whom I would recognize anyway) had it. I stayed there for a few more minutes, speaking in broken, angry French to anyone who would hear me. Then the dot started to move rapidly in the opposite direction from which MPV had walked off. It was in a vehicle of some kind. I started running after it.

* * *

It was 01h32. I remember a gentle rain falling. It was the kind you could possibly enjoy – not the spitting type that so often annoys. My phone’s battery, taxed with the exertions of tracking and GPS duties for 60 continuous minutes, was down significantly. The adrenaline had been spent and outside of the fight or flight context I had been in just a while ago, my body assumed the facts of the day: fatigue from a full day’s move, frustration at the poor moves and decisions made in the last hour, and the dawning of the next stage in the seven that comprise grief: acceptance.

“Say it,” I said to myself. “Say it so we can go home.” I looked up, looked around, and with chagrin that no one saw, said at a volume that no one could hear, “I’ve been robbed.” I slowly exhaled and walked to the Metro. After some more anguished reflection, I fell asleep for the first time in my new apartment.

* * *

If I had originally encountered this man in my neighborhood, then surely, I reasoned, he might be a regular (Parisians get into patterns with their nightspots and hangouts). “Perhaps I’ll see him again,” I thought to myself. It’s a small enough Paris to have chance encounters with friends. Surely I could manage a chance encounter with an enemy?

I didn’t have to wait long. I went to the US in the month of December for personal and business reasons and when I returned in January I saw him. I was so shocked to see him that I didn’t make eye contact and hurried past.

He lived on or near my street, I realized.

The occasions repeated, but now I would smile and call him “my little thief” as I walked by. He smiled and waved. It was this acknowledged reality: “Yeah, I stole from you, but come on, look at me.” I didn’t have any recourse that wouldn’t take an extraordinary amount of time and would ultimately be fruitless. I let it be.

Instead, I’m finally sharing this account with you, writing in the café I was in when I first saw him emerge from an adjoining building with a cute little child. A daughter? Niece? I didn’t know. Part of me wanted to go up to her and tell her in my now-much-improved French, “Hey, do you know this man is a thief?”

But almost immediately, I laughed at my first-world problem (and apparent grief). The guy with a Macbook Air and an iPhone was going to be aggrieved about a stolen iPad (which he had bought a replacement for in December) when there were people who didn’t have clean water to drink or food to eat? Non. And for once, I thought I might try “forgive and forget,” even in the absence of an apology or demonstrated remorse. If I buy this guy a drink one day, I might not only forgive, but begin to forget. And if I can do that for a stranger who had wronged me in such an unwarranted manner, might I not see a way back to forgetting all the wrongs that had been done to me over the years, by friends close and distant? But then this would be the thief who gave something to me instead of just taking something, n’est ce-pas?