An Official Resident in France

It’s official. Another stamp in my passport to prove it. I am now recognized by the French government as a permanent resident in France. Yesterday, after a long day in Marseille, I received my carte de sejour.

If you’re not familiar with this tiny piece of paper (for which I prepared many, many not so tiny pieces of paper in order to receive), it’s absolutely necessary to apply immediately upon entering the country, because you have to have it within 3 months of your entry date, or they make you return to your home country and apply for another VISA. We don’t want to do that again!

And if you find yourself in this situation, make sure you get your passport stamped upon entering France or the European Union. You’ll need to photocopy this entry date in your passport and send it to the OFII (the office that issues carte de sejour) in order to even get an appointment.

Speaking of appointment–mine was yesterday; at least part of it was yesterday. It’s a little overwhelming when you receive your summons documents in the mail and read all that they require of you on this day. For those of you who may be facing this day with a mixture of dread and hope, I’ll walk you through my experience, and perhaps relieve some of the anxiety.

To start at the beginning, when I received my VISA, they also stamped my paper to apply to the OFII for a carte de sejour. Make sure you have this paper when you go to apply for your long-stay VISA. You need this paper stamped at the French Consulate in your country of origin. You can not do it by mail. You must be there in person.

I almost made a mistake in that I didn’t apply for my carte de sejour immediately upon arriving in France, and the information on the website clearly says apply immediately. I didn’t remember this part. I only remembered that I had to have my carte de sejour within 3 months of entering the country. I mistakenly thought it would be a matter of making an appointment and showing my paper.

Wrong. I miscalculated French bureaucracy, which like good wine and cheese in France, is not a myth.

Upon reading the instructions more carefully, I learned that I must send a few documents, along with a copy of my passport stamp with date of entry, just to get the appointment. The French officials were polite enough to send a confirmation letter saying they had received my documents. That took about 2 or 3 weeks. The next envelope arrived another 2 weeks or so later with several pages of information about the day of my appointment and what I needed to bring.

Let me say here that I prepared a portfolio that was almost an inch thick. I basically brought everything I had needed to date for my marriage and my VISA. I didn’t need most of it; but I do think it had something to do with my situation: first, I think Americans are not scrutinized as well, second I am married to a French national, and third I’m educated and employed. As my husband say, the government wants make sure you aren’t going to live under the bridge. What he means is that France has a social government where everyone is entitled to health care and social benefits. The government doesn’t want people immigrating to France in order to take advantage of its generous social system.

Be prompt for your appointment. There are many people with the same appointment time, and some I suspect, with no appointment, and you all go through the process together (but privately, one by one). It take half a day, at least. You watch a video, have a general medical examination, and spend some time with an interviewer.

First, you watch a video about France and the “four formations” you must complete in order to receive your carte de sejour. These formations are the heart of your application, so I’ll describe them:

You must speak French. If you do not speak basic French, they send you to French school. Don’t be too frightened by this. My French is basic, and the kind lady determined this by asking my questions, in French of course, that were part of my application: What is your phone number? What is your address? Do you have a secondary degree, such as from a university? What is your profession and do you have a job? She was very patient with me.

You must understand French culture and sign a contract saying that you agree to integrate (this includes accepting issues of equality, etc., important because many persons of Arabic descent immigrate to France, and equality of men and women is stressed). Not a problem for this American.

You must understand the Republic of France. This is basic civics, and it’s the only formation from which I was not exempt. No one is exempt from this formation. Everyone is required to take a one-day lesson in French civics. So, I must return to Marseille in one month for this class. They will provide an English interpreter, and I think it will be interesting, so no complaints.

You must be employable. For me this was not a problem. I have several degrees and a job with a U.S. company. I also do a good bit of consulting and freelance projects. I was exempted from yet another day of training, which I think is similar to the American job preparedness system.

And so, I received three certificates and one appointment for a class in civics.

But I had that little carte de sejour stamp in my VISA before I left. The looming civics class did not prevent my immediate access to permanent residency.

All things considered, the experience wasn’t as bad as I expected. But I wouldn’t recommend taking it lightly. For example, I had to produce proof of residency in the form of a bill for telephone or electric. I have nothing like that in my name, but they accepted my marriage certificate and my husband’s telephone bill. But I was distinctly aware that had I not been able to produce this one document, I would not have received that desired carte de sejour. Also, the letter I received asked for many other documents concerning my health, education, proof of employment, etc. I had all of these documents ready to present, but was not asked for them. Again, I suspect my American nationality smoothed the way.

Here’s the catch: in 9 months, I have to do this all again. Yep, that’s right. The carte de sejour is good for one year. And you need to apply 3 months before it expires. I understand from another American, and I think someone said this in French yesterday, that after a few years I can get a 10-year carte de sejour.

By the way, I’ve decided to keep my American passport.

Here’s a great site with helpful information about moving to France: French Moving Planner

Domaine de Bel Air


This gallery contains 7 photos.

In April, I had the opportunity to be at a soirée for the start of the wine season at Domain de Bel Air, the home, vineyard, and winery of Didier and Isabelle Michel. The winery opened for the season with an all-day affair, attracting locals and tourists to taste the first wines of the harvest. Continue reading

Artist in Nimes

Jean Claude Portal is a modern day artist with a passion for ancient art. Bach and Michel Ange (Michelangelo) are his muses. And like all true blue-blooded Frenchman, the corrida (bullfighting) is “art” in the arena.

In his studio in Nimes, France, Jean Claude earns a living as an artist, creating old world themes for new homes and renovations. From table tops to counter tops; lavs to entryways; ornamental decor, sculptures, carvings, etchings in marble and stone; Jean Claude’s art is tastefully, modernly, old.

Last weekend, at my request, he gave me and some friends a tour of his studio and presented his work. It was like stepping back in time and a rare opportunity to visit the work space of a baroque sculptor.

I knew Jean Claude as a musician with a passion for Bach and an infatuation with Gypsy rhythms. He and my Frenchman play gypsy guitar together a few times every week, entertaining in restaurants, and local soirees. But during a casual conversation I learned that he earns his living as an artist, like his mother before him. I asked to see his studio. He said yes; and so Saturday, before we all gathered in a local pub to hear he and my frenchman strum and thump out some more gypsy music, we stopped by JC Portal Marbrier.

His work, all with an old world feel, varies from astrological and unusual etchings in marble to elaborate and traditional carvings in granite. A deeply religious man, his passion for the Christ is evident in many of his personal works, which include scenes from the Crucifixion and Virgin Mother and Christ Child.

Among the tools, marble, granite and works in progress, his two other passions are subtly represented: in his office, a guitar, and hanging from the wall in a back room, the head of a fighting bull.

Kate, I told him about you, my art professor friend; I asked if I could present him and his work to you when you visit. He said, bien sur, of course.

New Culture, New Food, New Everything

jol poissons

Jol Poissons

I’ve been in France for one week and two days. Not long enough for a holiday; certainly not long enough to fully experience the country through the eyes of the native French.

But, I’ve come with the mindset of a resident, not a visitor, and the experience is already completely different from previous visits to this lovely country. Yes, I’ve tasted (literally and figuratively) many new things that would be equally accessible to the holiday voyager. I spent a Sunday afternoon on the beach at the Mediterranean wading barefoot in the sea and collecting coquillages (seashells). I ate Jol poissons–little fish that come from the sea–fried with eyes and tails intact. I had to close my eyes to pop them in my mouth, but they were surprisingly delicious. I watched flamingos on the marshes, fed bread to the Camarguese horses, and finally saw two foals of these chevaux unique to the Camargue region.

My first week in the country brought some unexpected challenges, which may seem obvious to others, but having visited many times, took me quite by surprise.

First there was the language challenge. My French is primitive, at best. And while my clumsy attempts to speak in the past brought me great satisfaction when someone could actually understand the idea I was trying to impart, they now made me self-conscious of my illiteracy. And the mental strain of translation began to wear on me after less than a week.

I was also surprised by my fatigue in general. At first I chalked it up to the six-hour adjustment in time; but that had never incapacitated me on previous visits. This time I nearly slept away an entire week. I came to the conclusion that the language challenge and trying to adjust to new foods, routine, environment, was wearing me out.

It’s different when you are visiting a place for a week or two. The new adventures are exciting. And while I still find this new life exciting, it’s more like moving to a new city and starting a new job in the States, with new friends, a new home, new co-workers, a new schedule; they all lose their romance for a while. Adapting becomes the body’s primary goal, rather than enjoyment.

For example, a trip to the supermarket (3 trips in the past week, so I can, with some expertise, comment on shopping in a foreign-speaking land) took me three times longer than it should have. Where do you find the garlic powder in a French grocery? The oregano wasn’t too difficult because it’s green, flaky and written origan feuilles in French. Curry is curry. Basil, basilic. But garlic translates ali, and my little Frenchman didn’t know garlic. And how much fat content is in this yogurt? Fortunately, I read French better than I speak it, and a few brands are the same, like the Greek yogurt I usually buy at WalMart. They actually had it here. But they didn’t have cream of mushroom soup for my potato soup recipe. I’ll have to improvise on that one. Many of these packaged foods and vegetables are unfamiliar to me. (We won’t even talk about the meats.) Even the images on the boxes are foreign to my U.S. born-and-bred eyes.

And so I’ve been surprised by the fatigue, the challenges, and at times the frustration, of trying to adapt to a new life in a new country. But then it’s only been a little over a week…

…and the sun streaming in through these open, enormous arch-shaped, old-world windows in my little French villa; hundreds of birds in this bird habitat singing their little French songs in the trees just on the other side of the balcony; the absolute tranquility of this morning as I drink a cup of French coffee and reminisce about the last week and listen to my Frenchman puttering around outside… this moment reminds me why I am here.

I’ll adapt.