25th September 2011

Ask an Englishman what's the most taboo topic for discussion and he'll say Sex. Ask a Frenchman, and he'll say Money! So what's a poor expat to do?  In times of crisis we don't have State benefit protection any more so we all need access to transferable cash. But if no-one wants to talk money, where can you get advice? An IFA's no good if you don't want to be pushed into Grotley's Offshore investment bond.  If you read the financial press, both the euro and the EU are about to go zplat any moment, but in England there's UK tax and exchange rates to worry about.
Time for lateral thinking. Always been good at that.  The best French investment is known as assurance vie - but it's nothing to do with life assurance. No inheritance tax or French income tax, funds grow tax free, and if you're not talking to your children any more, you can leave the money to whomever you wish. Yes, it overrides the draconian French succession laws.  Of course, a worrier like me was bound to ask: if the bank or EU goes bankrupt, is my money guaranteed by the State (and if so am I covered as a non-French national)?  Interestingly, the bank said yes, you're covered for 100000 euros, but the same question put to LaPoste, and the answer was no.
Nothing comes easy. Him indoors says when he asked the bank manager 'how do I stand for a loan', the reply was 'you don't stand, you grovel'.


18th September 2011

Selling a house in France? Sounds easy, doesn't it? Go to your nearest estate agency, sign up, then sit back and wait for the cheque.  Well, no.  It's a veritable minefield.
Last February we signed with one agency. We waited and waited and waited. Nothing. I asked for some feedback and was told 'we have too many houses to do that'.  French agencies in our price range take a minimum of 9000 euros (compared to only 1.5% in the UK); one wanted 15000 euros. (Him indoors says he now knows why they call themselves immobilier: they're all immobile!). By May we signed with 3 more French agencies and waited. After lowering the price, I took matters into my own hands and placed an ad in LeBoncoin.fr. A bit like ebay. Immediately I received enquiries. Difficult though. If you have a fosse septique, a new law requires sellers to provide a certificate of conformity to the law (67 euros), and if you have a gas citerne and the new buyer doesn't want it, the seller has to pay the gas co. 300 euros to take it away, and everyone must provide an energy report costing 400 euros. And notaires deduct automatically any capital gains tax for the treasury. Still want to sell your house? Him indoors says: if you make a capital loss, do they pay you??

11th September 2011

9/11 ten years on. For one French woman today has especial meaning. Dening Lohez had been married just 3 months when she heard the fatal news that her new husband Jerome had perished, one of the 4 Frenchmen working in the twin towers of Manhattan. Since then she's visited several Arab countries in an effort to try to understand why they committed such an atrocity, and has since started the Jerome Lohez foundation in her husband's memory, helping young people.
I was amazed to see how this French woman, who must have been devastated, still managed to stay focused enough to travel to the Middle East to see and talk to ordinary Arab citizens.  It's clear that understanding is the key to resolving the enormous differences between West and East. Of course, in the pre-IT era, people only worried about problems near to home. Now, with the vast global network, we're daily confronted by scenes of people living completely different lives. How terrible for people suffering from perhaps malnutrition, drought, and the daily drudgery of making enough money to eat, to see people in the West living lives of apparent luxury. 
If I'd been Mayor of NY, I don't think I'd have used those millions of dollars to build that Freedom Tower. A more fitting memorial would have been to use that finance to redress some of the balance between East and West - maybe then we could hope that such a terrible thing borne of conceived injustice could never happen again.

4th September 2011

Today my daughter is 42. I'm sure she'll forgive my telling you, as age doesn't seem to matter so much today and my blog name is a pseudonym. As a mother, my mind inevitably flicks back to September 1969. Mindsets and attitudes were so different back then.   In that Birmingham maternity ward, I listened to the nurses and never dared complain.  Although a normal birth at 9.5 lb, my first, and I was desperate to breastfeed and establish that vital mother-child bond, the nurses took the baby away to the nursery for 12 hours. By the time they brought her back, the bond was broken. Did they realise what they had stupidly done?
Are things better today?  A British man, David Bromley, lay dead in the tiny Normandy village of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte for more than 7 months. His family hadn't enquired, and the other village residents didn't realise as the man was 70, didn't speak French nor had he tried to integrate since his arrival.  How sad is that?
All of this reinforces the need to keep contacts with your family, friends and neighbours. Don't be isolated. Show your family you care; don't let them break contact with you, however far away they may be. 
And to my beautiful daughter:  Happy birthday!