Those of you who follow me and perhaps other expat bloggers (I'm looking at you David Lebovitz and Anne Ditmeyer) are likely familiar with the administrative hurdles inherent to moving to France and living as an expat. The steady stream of 'non, c'est impossible', shockingly bad customer service and run-ins with feckless government workers who ply contradicting information can be exasperating even for those with irreproachable language skills and years of experience behind them.
As I commence my next round of paperwork, I can't help but envy Jenny Beaumont, a web producer and expat, for having her very own personal warrior at home to tackle and take down the obstacles as they arise. Her French husband Olivier Cappaert launched Excuse My French this year to help both natives and expats work through tough administrative issues and given how many of you write for advice on visas, residency cards, cancelling your French phone bills, etc., I thought he'd made for an interesting and helpful Franco File Friday feature. Here's how he can help....
What is Excuse My French?
EMF is a full-service consulting agency addressing the needs of expats in France. We resolve administrative problems of all kinds (visa and immigration issues, vehicle registration, consumer rights, etc), and act as intermediaries for various situations requiring language skills and/or extra finesse (project management, états des lieux, sales transactions, etc). We also do certified translations.
Helping expats navigate the French system is an ambitious project. What was the appeal?
It happened naturally. Having been an expat (I lived in London for 5 years), and now being married to one (my wife is American), I know up close and personal what it’s like to be stumped by administrative obstacles that you don’t understand and feel powerless to overcome. It’s a bit of a game, really, figuring out how to steer a particular situation your way. As it happens, I have a gift for it! And it gives me a great sense of justice and triumph every time I succeed in getting someone something they need or getting them through a tough time. It’s very rewarding work.
Handling even what appears like the most straight forward of tasks can become maddeningly arcane. What is really the root of the problem?
That is a good question. If only there were a straightforward answer! Whereas I don’t think it’s specific to France, I do think that some of the struggle for expats comes from cultural differences, and a poor understanding of French culture. It’s important to know, however, that French people complain about the administration too! Administration is about a lot of paper pushing, run by civil servants who don’t necessarily have a personal incentive or prerogative to help you. The rules are complicated and subject to frequent change, and while the information is out there, not everyone properly understands it (this is true in the private sector as well). You can ask three people the same question and get three different answers. Yes, this can be maddening. Getting through it boils down to both knowing your rights and knowing how to talk to people.
What should people keep in mind when they throw around the idea of moving to France (especially those who think, pourquoi pas?!)?
People come here for so many different reasons, don’t they? And they’re all made of different stuff. What’s right for one person is not right for another. I would say the most important thing to keep in mind is that France is a real place where you still have to go out and buy your groceries, do your laundry and find a locksmith at 1am on a Sunday because you’ve locked yourself out of the apartment. It seems like many people dream of France as if it were a magical place where people spend all of their time drinking coffee and having intellectual conversations on sidewalk terraces. It is great to dream, but it is important to keep day-to-day life in mind. When we move, we don’t walk away from our problems; we just trade them in for new ones.
Best tactic for keeping administrative headaches to a minimum?
Well, hire us of course (hehe!). Beyond that, here are a few tips that can be applied to most situations:
· Be polite, be patient.
· Get it in writing, signed and dated. Insist.
· Make photocopies of everything, always.
· Be prepared for anything. (ie, don’t be surprised about anything)
· Don’t let a “no” get you down, they are rarely final and only meant to discourage. Persevere.
· Be knowledgeable, references to specific laws/legal articles can and will come in handy.
· Don’t show all your cards at once, and let the other person lead until you hit a wall.
· Always remember: everything is negotiable.
· Make it a game, and aim to win.
Despite all known obstacles, why do you think foreigners are nonetheless willing to pursue expat life in France?
Adventure, romance, opportunity, boredom, happenstance…What is it they say? “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.” France is a great and beautiful country, with an excellent quality of life. It’s a country that inspires both dreams and hope. These are certainly things worth pursuing.
Thanks, Olivier! For questions, advice or desperate help, get in touch with Olivier at Excuse My French - you and your sanity will be glad you did.
**Photos courtesy of Excuse My French