It's almost November. The weather has turned. The central heating is on. The clocks have gone back. You go to work in the dark, and return home likewise. The winter wardrobe is getting an airing. It almost feels like winter ... yet you still feel there's something missing ... right? No, it's not Asbo's letting off bangers in the street in premature anticipation of Guy Fawkes night - because you get your fix of that at New Year. Poppies! While the French might 'celebrate' Armistice day with a national holiday, they don't indulge in the post-war solidarity the way we Brits do thanks to the British Legion's distribution of artificial poppies. Indeed, any British citizen with any kind of a soul, at this time of year would not be seen dead without a poppy neatly attached to the lapel of their overcoat. Which means many Brits who live abroad will be feeling, well, practically naked without one right now. It is fine news then that the first 100 Strasbourgeois to make it to Thomas Green's this week will be [...]
A few weeks ago I was gloating shamelessly over the size of my tax bill. After all, paying out just 5.26% of your income to the state comes as a welcome surprise at the end of the Summer. What I failed to realise however, was that once your tax return is in the system - all the other bills tumble onto your doormat* in quick succession. Five weeks after paying the tax bill I'm faced with a new bill for pension contributions (slightly more than the tax bill), then a demand for health insurance contributions arrives (approximately the same amount as the tax bill), the following week our tax d'habitation arrives (equivalent to one month's rent), and today the social security bill arrived (again, approximately the same as the tax bill). It's as if it is all timed to remind you to be prudent in the run-up to Christmas. Not a bad piece of advice given the recent goings on. But having already shelled out for train tickets and car rental for the Christmas break, I'm already feeling the [...]
When we first moved to France, one of the hardest things to get used to was the seemingly random opening hours of shops and restaurants. For instance, our local 'convenience' store is usually open from 8am til 12pm then 3pm til 6pm, but that may change if they get a late delivery, or if the store holder feels like kicking back for an extra-extra long lunch. Then you have to account for annual leave (two weeks closing), Saturday afternoons and Sundays (closed) and late opening (one day during the week, which one escapes me - but the afternoon hours change to 4pm to 7pm). Convenient is hardly the adjective I would use. That said, you get used to it, and after some months, the idea of having to come up with something else to occupy you on a Sunday (other than spending money) becomes a welcome and creative challenge. Many French see Sundays as the 'family' day - a chance to spend some quality time together, to enjoy a traditional 'Sunday Lunch' (remember that?). For me, Sundays have become [...]
The fully updated and revised edition of 'Window to Strasbourg' has finally hit the shelves. This is a must-have if you are an anglophone in, or about to move to Alsace, being a practical guide to everyday living in the region. The book translates as much French bureaucracy into plain English as is humanly possible, telling you: which forms to fill out, when to do it and for what reason How the tax system works how the health and social security systems work, how to rent or buy an apartment the rules of the road and how to get around finding schools and education for your kids where to shop, eat and party about social groups, clubs and societies loads of other stuff about life in the area, that escapes me right now The most appealing thing about Window to Strasbourg however, is the cover, which I designed. You can buy a copy online at www.windowtostrasbourg.com or at the Bookworm (the English bookshop next to Les Halles).
Knowing how much politicians like a freebie, it's a miracle that it has taken this long for an MEP to come off side and start a campaign to rebuff the 'One-seat' campaign, because the benefits are clear: every session henceforth spent in Strasbourg will be like one long party. Such is the case for Brigitte Fouré, founder of the 'One City' campaign to retain Strasbourg as home of the European Parliament, who must surely now be looking forward to free meals, drinks and theatre tickets from the grateful citizens of Strasbourg, who know which side of their bread is buttered. Just as soon as they finish fixing the roof of course. Seriously though, and less cynically perhaps, I am glad that at least one politician is not afraid to demonstrate her belief that the founding fathers of Europe made the right choice, and that the current quarrel is the result of a number of things for which the people of Strasbourg should not be punished. The 'circus' would not be such an issue if: there were better/faster direct transport [...]
This article was written for Goal Weekly, and featured in one of their September 2008 issues. There was a football competition down the road a few weeks ago; it was called something like ‘Euro 2008’. A bunch of countries from around the continent sent squads down to the Alps to kick a few balls around in the name of winning a bit of silverware to take back home. Spain won I think, because they seemed jolly happy about it. Okay, I’m kidding, I was glued to the screen for a fortnight, which I have to confess was something I never expected to find myself doing. You see I’ve never really been a huge fan of ‘the beautiful game’, not in the way that I’m a fan of Rugby, the ugly game if you will. (Due in no small part to being from the English west-country, rugby heartland and home to ‘Bath Rugby’ who at one time ruled both the English and European leagues.) So, I usually manage to avoid it except during times of national interest such as the [...]