Saturday, July 17, 2010

Working in France…. Chapter 1: The Background…..

Authors Note: The following 11 blogs were written over the past 5 months, but the story has finally ended and I decided to post them all in a row… my husband tells me to post the first chapter first – sorry if you need to scroll backwards to find the beginning!

I have been a stay-at-home parent for the past 8 years.  During that time, I have been extremely busy raising my children.   I have a lot of frustration with the prevailing attitude (held in the US and in France) that this means that I ‘don’t work’.  I work, I just don’t get paid!

When arriving in France, last fall, I had no plans to find work.  Besides the fact that I didn’t speak more than a few words of French (which puts a damper on employment here), I had 3 kids to re-adjust to life in a new and foreign culture.   Also, Griffin was only 3 years old and only attended school about 10 hours a week.  Then there was all the blogging and planning for fabulous (but affordable) vacations.  This didn’t leave much time for working outside the home!

Of course, we came to France not just to live, but to live well!  We were concerned that André’s salary would cover only our basic needs (rent, food, electricity, clothes etc….) but that there wouldn’t be enough left over for travel.  To address this concern, the job agreed to pay to fly us to the US once each year.  They also assured us that we would be receiving a large bonus every year and we would also qualify for CAF money.  CAF is money the French government allots to all parents for each child.   These provisions would help us to realize our dreams of travel.

Once we got here, we realized that André had a carte de sejour (green card) with the status salarie and mine was visiteur (visitor).  Turns out that the status you need to get the money is vie privee et familiale (private family life).  We thought we could change it or apply anyway etc… etc…  but, after many many months of the run-around, we were ultimately rejected for CAF money and other French welfare programs (for instance, the average French citizen who has a child with gluten allergies receives 100 Euros a month to help cover the cost of the special food).  So, there goes almost 400 Euros each month.  As for the bonus, the first year we were here it was cancelled since the company was not profitable enough.  What about raises?  1% last year and nothing this year.  (In France that is normal, people don’t get raises here like we do at home – but who knew?)  We did get the free flight to the US – which is great – and the company has been forwarding us some bonus money each month for the past year, which is the only reason we could go to Berlin (If you want to know how to take a family of 5 on a fabulous 12 day vacation including food, gas, tolls, and hotels for less than 20 Euros per person, per day, I can fill you in). 

In general, all this means that our adventure money has petered out.  We overspent a bit in the beginning since we assumed we’d get the CAF money at some point (by now it would be about 5000 Euros).  We also have had some extra expenses here in France we never anticipated – the largest being our car, Mr. Liberty, who recently had to go into the shop, needed new snow tires and new rear brakes.  Of course, what is the point of being here if I can’t see more of Europe?   OK, I accept I am not going on that Greek cruise (WAHHH!!!!) but what about a four-day weekend here and there, or some camps for the kids in the summer? 

We realized all this financial crunch would hit near the end of last summer and, never one to shirk from a challenge, I pursued how we could change this situation. It seemed that I would need a new carte de sejour with a different status. One that allowed me to receive CAF and/or work.  I was told by ‘people in the know’ that France jealously guards who gets CAF money.  They do not want random immigrants moving to France and then sucking their social welfare system dry.  So, the word on the street was that I would need to find work. I was game since the kids are now all in school all week and, starting last fall, began preparing my resume in French, learning French etc… all in anticipation of this change.

In September, I told my teachers at ASEP (where I take classes) about the plan and they were supposed to help me to prepare for interviews.  I asked them for prefecture advice but they couldn’t offer me any.  André also asked for assistance at work and someone there knew someone who knew someone at the prefecture and promised to call and put in a good word for me.  (It’s all about who you know, no matter where you are in this world). 

The plan was that I would walk into the renewal appointment, tell the employee I planned on working and request a change in status.  I was bringing André for back up, but it wasn’t really necessary, right?  She would, naturally, smile and acquiesce. 

Are you shocked to hear this is not what happened?

First off, André’s cell rang just as we were pulling into the parking lot for my appointment.  It was the contact at the prefecture who explained to us that I should walk into the meeting with a promise for new employment in my hand. (Keep in mind that, as a visiteur, it is absolutely illegal for me to work).  Five minutes before the meeting is a bit of short notice, don’t you think?  We scrambled a bit on the phone and got the management of Andre’s company to agree to write me a letter of intent for me to work for them translating.  We were to play dumb and promise the prefect employee the letter tomorrow. 

OK – this was a plan.  I give them the story – bring in the letter the next day and voila!, I am home free.

That’s not what happened either…

We got in there and spoke to the employee.  She was very surprised I wanted to change my status at all since I came in as a visitor.  I told her that was over a year ago and my situation had changed.  She told me that a letter of intent wasn’t enough, I needed to bring her an actual work contract before she could change my status.  I was confused by this.    

Her: What makes you think you will be able to get a job in France? 

Me: I have some contacts at Wall Street English that assured me I could find work with them.  I did not pursue this since, at the time, I was not allowed to work.  That is why I’d like to change my status.

Her:  Well,  I need to see a work contract before I’d change your carte.

Me: So, I need to bring you a contract?

Her: Yes, that’s right.

Me: But, if I’m not allowed to work, how am I supposed to get a contract?

Her:  It’s true that you are not allowed to work.  In fact, you are absolutely not allowed at all to work.  But, you can still look for work.

Me: But, if I look for work, and get a contract, they will expect me to start working very soon afterward.  Will I have to make an appointment to see you again to change this? (because it takes about 2 months for an appointment)

Her: No, I understand what you are saying.  You just get your contract, bring it back here to the prefecture and we’ll change your status right away.

Me: Thank you.  I’ll do that!

OK – so that sounds do-able.  Find a job.  Then change carte.

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