samedi 29 mars 2008
So I sent in my dossier to get my new carte vitale on Tuesday. Today, Saturday, I got a letter from the Caisse D'Assurance. Can this be? Did it really take less than 5 months to get an official card from the French Government? I felt the envelope, and there was definitely nothing stiff and card-shaped inside. It was a letter, saying that I needed to send a copy of a non-expired ID. My carte de sejour expired Sept. 30th, and I still haven't gotten the new one. Instead, I have to go back every three months to get a temporary one. So since my current one runs out in three days, I will have to go on Friday, my once every two weeks day off, to the Prefecture and wait several hours to get another temporary one. At this point, I am wondering if I will get the new official carte before it expires, which I am guessing will again be Sept. 30th. Last year I got my carte in January, I hope there is nothing wrong with my file.
Anyway, I was impressed by three things upon receiving this letter:
1) Someone actually noticed that the card was expired. This is the first time anyone has noticed it when I have presented it.
2) They actually wrote me a letter saying that they needed an additional piece of information, instead of just putting in the incomplete folder, then my waiting 4+ months with no word, contacting them to find out what the heck is taking so long, and being told that it is incomplete and that they are just to busy to write a letter or leave a message on an answering machine.
3) That there was less than a week of turn-around time. I mean Wow.
samedi 22 mars 2008
Friday morning I called the Caisse D'assurance Maladie, the national healthcare network. I was actually able to get SOMEONE ON THE PHONE and GASP! Actual information! Wow!
Here is the trick- call early. I called at about 7:45 am, and they open at 7:30. I need to get a new Carte Vitale (the green card that has all your medical information on it). When I first arrived, I was on a student visa and we were not married, so I had to get a Student Healthcare Insurance. Then we got married, but as I was not yet working and not French, I got put under Alain's healthcare number. They couldn't actual, oh I don't know, give me my very own special number directly now could they? Instead, we have to fill out forms, wait several months, get a card that will surely become obsolete, then repeat the process.

This is the one thing that I absolutely do not understand about French Bureacracy- they just make more work for themself. American Bureacracy is at least efficient in that they want as little work for themselves as possible. Anyway, moving on.

The way that healthcare (social security) numbers are assigned is that it starts with a 1 for a man, 2 for a woman (typical) followed by the last two numbers of your birth year, two numbers for birth month, two numbers for the department that you were born in, three numbers for what community in the department, three numbers that show what number you were of all kids born that month, that year, in that city, and then finally a check number.

Once I started working, a number was generated for me, including my gender (woohoo!) birth year, month, then 99 for FOREIGNER AHH! then a code for the US and then some other stuff that makes sense only to the healthcare system. So I have had this number since March 07, but did not actually realize that these two numbers A) were supposed to be the same and B) were not. So now I have to fill out forms in triplicate, send in my old card, photocopy of my ID (Hey, do you think you could put some pressure on the Prefecture so that I can get my new one, instead of this one that expired October 1st, 2007? Thanks), as well as some other forms.
Let's start taking bets on how long it will take me to get my new card. I am putting it at two months- May 26,2008.
Anyone else want to throw a date out there?
lundi 17 mars 2008
The more I (sorta) learn another language, the more am I amazed at how many concepts, words, phrases, expressions etc. in one language don't (in my opinion) have a proper translation into the other language.

For example:
In English: lonely

I don't feel that there is really a good way in French to translate this concept.
Using the French-English dictionaries, I get
"I feel alone today"
"I am isolated"
"I am sad"

Well, I can be alone or isolated without feeling lonely. I can be lonely and sad, but sad isn't necessarily lonely, and lonely isn't necessarily sad.

Other translations given are: solitary, suffering from solitudness, desolate, and rarely frequented.

"I am feeling rarely frequented today". (wait, that doesn't sound right)

Other examples?
dimanche 16 mars 2008
Every once in awhile, I have one of those "Is this really my life?" moments/days.

Alain is leaving tomorrow to go on a business trip, so today, instead of working on the apartment as is our usual Sunday, we decided to take a day off.

The morning we had our weekly Sunday morning croissant and cappucino. Then we got on his motorcycle and went driving along the sea out to the Calanques. There I was, riding on the back of my French husband's motorcycle along the Mediterranean coast. Wow. Surely somewhere I never thought I would be 5 years ago. I guess 5 years ago I would have imagined that in 5 years I would be done with my PhD in microelectronics, teaching at some college somewhere, dating or married to another college professor or else working for the Government in Northern Virginia.

Then along came a Frenchman, and here I am. In a city I had heard of before, but would have been hard pressed to find on a blank map of France (though I would have probably picked "near the coast"). Wizzing along on the back of a motorcycle, which would have scared the beejesus out of me. Working in Intellectual Property. Married to a researcher (so that part isn't so far off.)

After driving around for awhile, we stopped and had milkshakes from Quick, then came home for lunch, then went again to see the movie "Be Kind Rewind" at one of the Original Version movie theaters.

Off to bed early tonight because I am taking Alain to the airport, ETD 6 am, followed by a full day of work.
samedi 15 mars 2008

Just because I like putting pictures to show how cute he is...
vendredi 14 mars 2008

In France there is a thing called "Tickets Resto". They are provided by some employers, to help their employees pay for meals. Companies are not required, as far as I can tell, to provide them. It is usually considered a benefit to working somewhere. My previous job, which had more employees, did not while my new job does. The employer pays a certain percentage (at least 50% I believe) of the cost of the coupon, and the employee pays the rest. Each ticket is currently worth 7.70€. This amount is adjusted on an annual basis, and what a surprise! the cost of meals in places that accept the tickets goes up accordingly. Many places, such as bakeries, will offer meals for 5.50€ or more that usually includes a sandwich, a drink, and a dessert. If you buy a meal that is less than 7.70€ some places will give you change back (up to one or two euros) while others will not, just depends. If the meal is more, you have to pay the difference.

The slightly bad thing is that sometimes you feel obligated to take more food than you really want/need. For example, there is a pasta place that offers a pasta dish, a small dessert, and a can of soda for 7€. For 50 cents more, you can get a larger soda or a medium-sized dessert. You can't get change back on your 7.70 ticket. Do you take the larger portion to "get your money's worth" or not?

You are only allowed one coupon for each day that you work, and they have to be used by January of the following year.

The good thing is that other places, such as grocery stores and butchers, accept them, but not all. It is indicated on the window usually, and you can also search online.

However, they vary as far as how many tickets they will accept at one time. When doing my grocery shopping last Friday (yay, my day off!) I asked at Casino if they will accept them. Yes, but only two at a time. So 15.50 was deducted from my total bill of 49 euros, and I paid the rest with my debit card. How silly of a rule is that? Well lady, I can either come through the line four times with approximately 15 euros worth of groceries at a time, which I don't think you nor the customers behind me will like, or you can accept more than one at a time. I guess I could go to the store every other day, but really, who has time for that? I asked at two other stores, ED and Franprix, and they don't even accept the tickets. They accept Ticket Service, which I am guessing (from my 30 second Google perusal, is kinda like foodstamps. Sigh. So I have a choice of going to those stores and paying all our own money, or being a nuisance at Casino. Hmm.
Sometimes real restaurants accept them, but they all make up their own rules- not on Sunday. Not at night. No more than two per meal. No more than one per person. Not if your hair is light brown. Not if you are wearing glasses. Not if you scratched your nose while ordering dessert.

All in all though, it is a good deal.
jeudi 13 mars 2008
Every morning, I leave a little before 7 am, wait in lines of cars to go up and over the Passerelle (rhymes with "Make my life hell") the overpass which is one lane in each direction. The purpose is to provide a direct connection to/from the interstate, as opposed to the people who live in that quartier.

Sometimes though, it is so incredibly slow to get up onto the MakeMyLifeHell.

I find the French to be much more of "Get the hell outta my way" drivers.

I have never had so many cars flash their lights (get out of the left lane because I am coming through and I am not slowing down) or the more subtle left-turn blinker in the left lane (also meaning, move the heck over please). It irritates me so much. I am usually pretty good about not lingering in the left lane. If I am there, it is because I am actively passing or planning to within the very near future. I don't just cruise along for miles.

I only had this happen once (lights flashing) in the US. I find American drivers to be much more of the clueless, "I'm gonna poke along and talk on my cellphone and not notice that you would like to merge" type. But perhaps that is just because I didn't do much rush hour highway driving in the US?

What are French/American reader's opinions on this?

Anyway, another thing that really irritates me is that whenever there is a long line of cars waiting to merge together into one lane (such as to go over the MakeMyLifeHell) there will always be the ones who don't want to wait in line for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES and go right up to the front and expect to be let in. Why do people let these people in? If these drivers would just learn that they are slowing the entire process down. But of course, they don't care. They don't want to actually have to wait.

Such as the reasoning on why there are no 4-way stops in France- two or more French drivers who arrived at the stop would always insist that they be the first one to go through, so they would just probably stop in the middle, get out, and start yelling at each other.

So I eventually get to one of the four commuter parking lots on the outside of town (because in-town parking is expensive and/or non-existant). It is 25€ per month or 2€ per day, and includes the bus to/from the centre ville. Luckily, my office is close to the bus stop. Get on the bus, get off several stops later, walk to office. Arrive around 7:35.

5 p.m: sprint out the door so that you can get the bus that passes around 5:07 to get on the highway by 5:20 so that you can get to the MakeMyLifeHell by around 5:40, sit in line for 8 minutes before actually going up and over it, wait on the most poorly designed street in Marseille (more about that in the next installment), finally begin searching for a parking spot around 6 pm. The funny thing is that if you get back too early, such as before 6 pm, there are no spots either because people haven't left from work yet to go home. So the ideal time is between about 6:15 and 6:45 to look for a spot.

Oh and why I can't park in the courtyard spots behind our apartment- because those are closed in by a gate, because otherwise, believe me, people would park there.
dimanche 9 mars 2008
Message from the rest of the world to the US:

Get on with it already.
Don't you think over a year of campaigning is enough?
Just pick your darn candidates already.

At least here in France the vote narrows down the field (and by field we mean every political party, not just Democrat and Republican) to the top two vote winners, and then two weeks later the final is held. Not state after state of primary elections, followed by months of final campaigning. Plus, I think the bad thing about the US system is that the later the state is, the less the voters in that state are likely to vote their true opinion- their candidate is perhaps behind, so they figure "Why bother voting for him/her when there is no chance now that she/he will win?" If the primary election is held for the entire country on the same date, it seems more fair.

I voted in the "Democrats Abroad" Election, the result of which had a delegate count of Big Whoop and wasn't even covered in the US news, as far as I could tell.

Of all the candidates, I respect John McCain the most. He was my college graduation speaker.
However, I don't think I agree the most with his views/stances.

I have had to explain several times that No, there isn't going to be a final run-off for President between a female candidate and an African-American candidate. Yeah, all those news reports? Still haven't even gotten to the real thing. There is a half a year left of annoying non-stop coverage for your enjoyment.
lundi 3 mars 2008

All my previous jobs have had, in retrospect, fairly easy commutes. Nothing more than 30-40 minutes on average, many times only 10-20 minutes.

Now I am doing a lot of highway driving. It is 35 kilometers each way. This was originally a long rambling rant, but I decided it would be more coherent if I broke it up into a series.

First, I am going to start with parking, or lack of.

This is tricky because in this quartier, for every 2 legal parking spots, there are 3 cars that need to park. Some areas are worse, such as in the very center of town, where it is about 1:2. To buy a spot would be about 15000 €, and to buy a garage would be about 30000 €. Renting a spot is about 100 per month. Which quickly becomes worth it after a few parking tickets at 35€ a pop. Trouble is, there are waiting lists to RENT a spot.

So anyway, I have done my fair share of parking on crosswalks and on sidewalks. I haven't double parked yet, but it is definetely done around here. Sometimes people leave their phone number on a piece of paper on their dashboard. I guess you are supposed to call them first instead of the towtruck to come move their car. This happened to me the other day. I was parked not exactly legally but less illegally than the camionette that was parked on the sidewalk, blocking me (on the sidewalk) and blocking a garage exit. Luckily, the number of the company was on the side, so I wrote it down, walked back home in a panic, called the number at 7 am. Hey, I don't care if you are sleeping buddy. I finally got through, I guess it was the boss. He asked where I was (I guess to figure out which of his workers would be in that area). He said he would call them and get them to come and move it. Meanwhile, I looked up Forriere Marseille. I finally see from our window walking about as slow as one can walk without a walker, he finally gets in his truck, and pulls out. I run down, get in the car, about 15 minutes later than I had hoped to leave. Just the time to hit all the traffic jams.

After about 7pm you might as well forget about finding a legal parking space and can only hope there are some illegal spots left.

The most annoying thing about parking is that behind our building, in the inner courtyard, are about 3 covered garages and 5 open spots that are- empty. Apparently they belong to the family that had this piece of land, and they don't want to sell or rent the spots. No idea why they don't at least rent, but no. The available parking spots sit there, empty, taunting me, day after day as I fruitlessly search for parking spots within a mile radius.

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