Monthly Archives: October 2010

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The vital card

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:36+00:00 October 30th, 2010|Life in France, Strasbourg|

Rarely am I struck by such euphoria when opening letters from the RSI, the Régime Sociale des Indépendants - otherwise known as my health assurance providers, however today was such a day - for today I recieved my new Carte Vitale! Whoohoo! If you've no idea what a Carte Vitale is - let's just say that when you get one it's like getting free flights to New Zealand for the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final - a rare, and often once in a lifetime experience.* The reason for this euphoria is partly because I have had to endure seven months of bureaucracy and incompetence by the local agency Mutuelle de l'Est, since Stephen Godfrey's details spontaneously appeared on my old card in place of mine, and partly because my wife has yet to receive her new Carte Vitale having lost it almost two years ago. (She blames our then 18 month old son for the episode, but only a fool would hand over their Carte Vitale to anyone but a doctor or health assurance professional - so she only [...]

A good reason to stike?

By | 2010-10-21T08:48:29+00:00 October 21st, 2010|Life in England, Life in France|

There was a piece on TF1 news the other night that suggested a disproportional amount of foreign news coverage of French strike action abroad. In many cases this coverage paints the average French worker as stubborn, economically unrealistic if not downright lazy. I think the fact that most foreigners don't understand what the strikes are about is the problem.  So let me spell it out: The issue is the minimum age for early retirement which currently stands at somewhere between 57 and 60 for most of Europe, except for Germany where it is 65. In the UK it is also 65, but if you have a private pension you can retire whenever you like. To get a full pension the French have to work for 41.5 years which is 11.5 years longer than the requirement for the British state pension. In France, retirement is about one of the few ways you can let go of your employees legitimately without going to tribunal.  This explains why only 12% of those capable of work in the 60-64 age bracket remain employed [...]

Working in the dark

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:36+00:00 October 19th, 2010|Life in France, Strasbourg|

You would be forgiven for thinking that this little phrase in France - travail au noir - refers to what the French are forced to do whenever the power generation workers go on strike, but it is in fact the vernacular for - Travail dissimulé - or 'dissimulated work'. Which basically means working illegally, usually for cash and paying no taxes. Of course no one in France would admit to doing as much, but my personal experience is that just about everyone who can do it - does. Cleaners, handymen, teachers, painters, drivers, hairdressers - you name it, if you hand over cash they'll give you an extra big smile - because the likelihood that they're going to give any of it to the state, as they should, is a million to one. There have been efforts made to eradicate the cash practices which are estimated to cost the country some 14 € bn in lost revenue.  For example, being able to offset 50% of all childcare related expenditure against tax is intended as a way to get families [...]

A few laughs

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:36+00:00 October 14th, 2010|Life in France, Strasbourg|

I don't get out much, what with being penniless AND a parent of two energy-sapping sprogs, so it's somewhat of a miracle that I've managed to see TWO live comedy gigs in Strasbourg within the space of a just a few weeks. The first was for the opening night of the 2010/11 season at Strasbourg's 'Kafteur' comedy club - featuring the irrepressible Jean-Luc Falbriard in the guise of intergalactic-space-traveller-come-Alsatian-sex-symbol : Captain Sprütz. "Sprützy" has been treading the boards to popular local acclaim since the early 1990s with a one man show that deftly combines music and stand-up with left-field character comedy.  The Captain, who compares himself to George and Brad (Clooney & Pitt we assume), takes the audience on a journey of self-discovery with the aid of objects he's unearthed on his intergalactic travels. For example - the 'Happiness Detector' - which looks remarkably like a kitchen spatula. Falbriard's performance is a delight, seamlessly mixing consumable Alsatian and French humour with live music throughout an engaging 90 minute show.  Although I must admit I didn't get all of the [...]

Interview: Fabrice Linck and the art of football

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:36+00:00 October 11th, 2010|Uncategorized|

While the name might perhaps conjure up visions of a yet-known talented French mid-fielder, aged sixteen – possibly – and guaranteed a bright future in the Premier League, Fabrice Linck is no such individual. Alas, although football plays a huge part in his life, the nearest Fabrice (40) gets to a match ball is the occasional attendance at Stade de la Meinau, and even then it’s simply to support the home side RC Strasbourg, or ‘le Racing’ as they’re known. However Monsieur Linck cannot be categorised along with other regular supporters, who exercise their love of the game by buying merchandise, season tickets and satellite dishes. Fabrice prefers to turn what he sees of the beautiful game into an art-form: bande dessinée; putting pen to paper to create what is known as ‘BD’ to the man-in-the-street  (pronounced ‘beedy’) or ‘comic-strips’ to you and I. In France there’s no shame in being an author of comic art, in fact it carries a certain amount of kudos, partly because comic ‘albums’ sell in quantities comparable to those experienced by the literature [...]

What’s the difference between the European and International schools in Stasbourg?

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:36+00:00 October 4th, 2010|raising bilingual children, Strasbourg|

Whenever I'm asked this question by a newcomer to Strasbourg I usually smirk and respond with something obnoxious. This is primarily because I have two children in the International Section at Robert Schuman and am very happy with it, and also because I like to be obnoxious. Objectivity doesn't come into it. And there you have it - a case in point - the difference between the two schools is subject of much emotive and baseless discussion around Strasbourg; and rumours seem to play a part in each school's reputation - each emanating from proud parents defending their choice of school.  It's all very subjective, so if you're a new parent in town - the story will vary wildly according to who you speak to. The choice is made particularly difficult due to the fact that both schools are state funded and therefore free. However, before you even consider one or the other - you should know that one of the best fee-paying schools in the country is also located in Strasbourg.  Indeed, if you can afford it the [...]

Anglo-Saxon apathay

By | 2010-10-03T10:51:27+00:00 October 3rd, 2010|Life in England, Life in France|

There's been a lot of tutting and rolling of eyes back across the channel in response to the wave of protests taking place on the continent, both for the austerity cuts and the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62 in France. This is because the British believe that protest makes no difference to the end result, as it often ignores the 'hard economic realities' of the situation. Christian Fraser of the BBC recently contributed to Radio 4's "from our own correspondent" with a typically British view of the situation in France. Yet flipping through the news on the very same website I stumbled across an article by Peter Cunliffe-Jones which argues that protest and pressure do lead to real change.  The fact that the immediate net result is rarely tangible however is neither here nor there.  Nigeria and Indonesia both won independence from their colonial masters at around the same time - yet today Indonesia is economically miles ahead of their African counterparts. The reason PCG supposes is down to the Indonesian people constantly putting pressure [...]

Useless Parcel Service

By | 2017-01-06T11:16:36+00:00 October 1st, 2010|pointless whinging|

It's times like these that make you realise why the dismantling of national postal services is a bad idea.  I have dealt with two private parcel firms in recent days who share the same attitude to their respective services.  Today is the second time I have had to deal with UPS' useless attitude after a missed delivery. The last time it happened my parcel sat in a Strasbourg warehouse for almost two weeks while it was progressively de-prioritised because I never seemed to be in when they came by.  But with UPS' delivery system it is impossible to specify a delivery time - only a date, which means those of us who have to do the school run are prone to never receiving our packages from Useless Parcel Service. It didn't matter how many times I'd call saying "don't deliver it between 11.30 and 12.30" - their idiotic system ensured that that was the precise time that the driver would come by to find me not in .. and program in an automatic dumb delivery time 48 hours later. [...]