Le médecin traitant

I needed a prescription refilled, so I finally got my ass into gear and found a doctor. In the process I learned that a cabinet médical is a doctor’s office, not a small wardrobe where they store physicians in France.

During the appointment my new doctor took my history which only lead to minor confusion. She asked if I ever had grossesse. I wondered why she’d ask me if I was ever fat and was searching for the words to say something like “depends on what you mean by that”, when I realised it’s the word for pregnancy.

She filled out the form provided by my health insurance. Now I have to send it to the health insurance. Then she will be my treating physician; the person I call when I get sick and who can transfer me to a specialist if necessary. She also provided a form by herself, that I also need to fill in and send my insurance. It’s to claim back the 23 € I paid her for the consultation. That’s the standard rate, by the way. The form has room for name, address, social security number and signature. As far as I saw, there’s no space for my bank account details. I bet this means I will get a cheque by mail. I scoffed at the thought of needing the big pile of paper my bank sent me. It’s forms you need to fill out whenever you want to cash a cheque. Now I’m not so sure anymore.

But apparently it will all be automatic, once I have my carte vitale. That is, I still have to pay the doctor, but the reimbursement will be automatic.

The prescription (ordonnance, en français) works similarly. The pharmacist gave me a form to fill out, which I need to send to the health insurance to be reimbursed for the price of the medicine. Now all I need to do is find my health insurance number in the pile of papers everyone keeps sending me. I thanked the pharmacist for her explanation, put everything in my bag, turned around and promptly bumped into a shelf, while the pharmacist said “Attention!”. I apologised to the shelf and left the pharmacy only slightly embarassed.

I’d say “achievement unlocked”, but what with the mailing of physical letters still ahead of me, there’s still so much than can go wrong, or rather so much that is in danger of getting lost underneath a pile of French homework. I look forward to the day when the health insurance has deemed my birth certificate worthy of being accepted and will send me a carte vitale.

It hasn’t happened to Gergö yet, either, so there’s still hope they are just really slow.

bureaucratie en masse

I spent the last week playing bureaucracy twister and almost broke my motivation.

My health insurance sent me a form to fill out – just like in the UK, you need to register with a GP / médecin traitant. In France you pay for the doctors visit and then get a fixed amount reimbursed from the insurance. I figured I’d need a French bank account for that, so I went to the post office. I chose the post office bank based on a friend’s recommendation for an easy, cheap account with no frills.

I googled it first, eagerly clicking on a link saying “make an appointment online”. That turned out to be a contact form, where you enter your details to have them call you back with a suggested appointment. Instead I showed up at the local post office with all my paperwork prepared. I still retain a high level of naïveté, concerning all things bureaucracy, even though I have been warned. So I was surprised, when the bank clerk told me I must have a business account and can’t just make any old checking account.

The bank clerk was very friendly, even apologetic, but there was nothing she could do for me: in order to open an account with the post office bank I need to either bring a rental agreement that’s less than three months old or provide bills for something like a landline, gas or electricity. I explained that this is all included in our contract, and she could see that from the rental agreement I provided, but there was nothing she could do. She even called headquarters to check. Nope.

I asked if they’d accept a cell phone bill, to which she replied: oh, you need a French account to make a cell phone contract.

Gergö suggested I should use his bank instead, so I waltzed in there last week, saying I wanted to open an account. The clerk there immediately asked if I needed assistance in English (okay!) and later was very apologetic that the person who is responsible for opening business accounts is not an English nor a German speaker. They accepted the rental agreement, even though it’s more than 6 months old now, they just need a letter from Gergö that I actually live at this address.

I’ll also need to bring a declaration of starting my business. So I went through my tax papers and discovered that I had conveniently forgotten to take care of declaring my turnover. I had put it off for when I find an accountant.

I had gotten in touch with one who even spoke English, but after an initial conversation I never heard back from her, despite several emails from me. When I called back she promised to return the call, which also didn’t happen. So I had no accountant, no bank account, no médecin traitant, no prospect of getting either and clearly everything was doomed.

I wallowed a bit in self pity and panic and even considered moving back to Austria on paper, simply because it would make this aspect easier. The bureaucracy would probably be the same, but at least I’d understand more of it. I wouldn’t be able to do that, obviously, because I have no idea how to close my business here if I can’t even declare turnover.

So took a deep breath and googled accountants again. I  found a website that claims to put you in touch with an accountant, entered my details and received a call from them. The lady on the phone was friendly and patient and explained to me that my tax regime is so easy, I don’t need an accountant. Only people who employ staff need one by law, and really, it’s very easy, just fill in the form online. Maybe she’s right, maybe I need a tax babysitter, not an accountant.

Simply making this call, all in French, gave me so much confidence, I also called the tax office to ask about the declaration de debut d’activité (I must have gotten it, it’s the one that is called something else but contains all the relevant information) and a doctor (voicemail with background music that sounded like a phone call to the moon).

Today I have my appointment with the bank. Let’s see if they accept my declaration that isn’t called one or if I have to call the tax office again. Tomorrow I hope to talk to someone who speaks French and German and who you can hire to do administrative stuff (like the tax babysitter I mentioned above!). I know, after all, what I have to do, I just don’t know how it works if you missed the deadline because you were busy with panic and and being overwhelmed with paperwork. In the meantime I even got through to the doctors office, but after my explanation what I needed, all I understood in response was a long sentence starting with “non” and ending with “desolé”.


Plus contes de l’assurance maladie

Last time I wrote about my health insurance, was a quick line saying it would all happen automatically. I didn’t believe it at the time, but before Christmas I received a letter from RSI, the social security society that covers freelancers. The letter welcomed me to the insurance and contained my social security number!

All that was missing was a carte vitale, the French e-card. So last night, I sat down to get in touch with RSI and ask them about my carte vitale. Easy, there’s a contact form on their website, I thought. In fact there are at least 17 contact forms, but all of them require you enter your social security number. And not a single one of them accepted mine as a valid number. Mine is two digits too long. Leaving off the last two digits didn’t work. After some digging in their FAQ, I found out that leaving off the first two digits doesn’t work either. The number has some meaning encoded into it. The first digit is your Gender, the second your birth year, etc.

Reading the FAQ I also found out, that your birth département and commune is encoded into the social security number, and that people born outside of France have 99 instead of the Code of a département. My code has 00 instead. I don’t know if my number is wrong or against the rules or if they changed the rules but didn’t update the website code to reflect that. I’d write to them and let them know about this, but their contact form…you get the picture.

I gave up frustrated, only to find a letter by RSI in my mailbox this morning. Basically, everytime I give up and decide to wait it out, they make the next move. I’m not sure if that justifies my procrastination or does the opposite. The letter says I need to send in my birth certificate (translation and original) and passport.

I was going to get a multilingual birth certificate when I was in Vienna but then there were cookies and stuff and I completely forgot. So today, I asked my mum to get one for me, and she went out immediately to the registrar’s office. Like me, she didn’t understand the difference between Magistratische Bezirksamt and Standesamt. They are in the same building but have different opening hours and manage to hide that very well on the website. Needless to say, she wasn’t there in time.

I just reread the letter, and again got annoyed by the sentence “Married women need to provide their marriage certificate”. Sexist crap, men get married, too, and some even change their name. This time I read on. And underneath that sentence was a box that says that birth certificates in english, german, portuguese, italian, don’t have to be translated. I owe my mum a breakfast at her favourite café, I think.

There’s also a sentence that excerpts of the civil registry need to have an apostille and I’m not sure if that applies to my birth certificate. I’d also like to ask if I really am supposed to send them my original. My fear of French phone calls is so severe, I thought I’d just visit them in person. Turns out the letter is from Auray, which is on the Southwestern coast of the Bretagne. That is a little farther than I’m prepared to go to avoid a phone call.

While I was out there slaying dragons, I decided to give finding an accountant another try. I also wrote about this on the technology diary (in German) I mentioned here before. Short summary: Captcha doesn’t work, online form: doesn’t work, email: auto-reply dated to last November. I am now trying to get to terms with having to do my own taxes.

On a brighter note: the fête de la galette was nice. There was a lot of food from all over the world and I ate a lot of countries. My Russian colleague from the course had a surprise puppet show prepared, for the kids. They were quite impressed, too. We chatted a bit with my colleagues from Colombia and Portugal. We took a photo with my colleagues from Romania, Italy and Vietnam. We didn’t go out for a drink afterwards, though, because nobody had gone out in Palaiseau before or knew any place to go for a drink.

The Vietnamese salad with shrimps, carots and some part of the lotus flower was such a big success with my teacher, that today, during the course, she asked for the recipe. My colleague offered to bring some along, which I am always in favour of. This lead to suggestions for everyone to bring something in and present the food and recipe in French. I wonder if Mozartkugeln count.

Encore un essai

Our visit to the social security offices was totally different this time. The form from the Austrian health insurance was never mentioned again, instead Gergö got a French form (S1104) to fill out and a list of documents to supply. He had found the form online before and rejected it, because one of the first bits you have to fill in is the social security number he wants to request. Turns out, this is the right form after all. The other thing we learned is that he needs to translate his birth certificate again.

He did that, already during the lenghty process of being employed here. That was just a regular translator, however. Now he needs a translation by a oficially licensed translator. There’s a confusing list online. He spent an entire train ride to Paris grumpily complaining about it.

I can’t request my social security number with CPAM, because I’m not salariée, but indépendante. I have to talk with RSI, which is not in Massy, but in Paris, close to the Bastille. It looks like I won’t need to have my birth certificate translated, though, because mine is in German. Birth certificates in the five most commonly used languages (whatever that might mean) German, English, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese don’t need to be translated. I’m going there tomorrow, just to keep you entertained!


Personne ne répond à mes messages

As I feared and expected, getting permit 38a from our Austrian health insurance didn’t work, because we are no longer insured there. I didn’t do a lot of research before moving here, but I did read a bit about health insurance and nothing ever mentioned that form.

So my new approach is to found a micro-entreprise. A very small business, basically just myself. I will need this for tax purposes anyway, since I’m freelancing. So I filled out a form and submitted it online and uploaded a copy of my ID. Not only can you declare a micro-entreprise from home, France even has a word for submitting something online: télédéclarer! To download means télécharger, by the way.

I haven’t heard back from them, yet. But then I haven’t heard back from most of the French emails I sent either: neither the accountant in Palaiseau I contacted via email, nor the German/French accountant in Paris I sent a message to asking for an appointment. Another email I sent to an accountant was immediately rejected as undeliverable, even though the address listed on the homepage of their web site.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m exeptionally rude or if French companies just don’t believe in this whole courrier électronique. I’m also waiting for a reply from a company that makes software I might need for my job. I filled out a form and they contacted me in French and I replied in French that I would need help in English as I work for an American company who will also foot the bill. No news since.

Maybe I will need to start signing all my emails with “Nous vous prions de croire, Madame, Monsieur, à l’expression de nos salutations distinguées.” It translates to “Please accept, Madam, Sir, the assurances of our highest regards.” and it was an actual salutation used by someone writing to me.

Obtenir le laissez-passer A-38

For about two weeks I have had this unopened letter with my name on. I don’t open it, because I know what’s inside (my diploma) and because I expect that I will need to prove my address to the assurance maladie.

France doesn’t have an official system of registration like in Austria, so you often prove your address with utility bills, for example. For the affiliation with a health insurance, I’ll need to prove that I’ve lived here for at least three months. The only problem with this is: my name is not on the lease for the apartment, the utility bills are in the name of our landlady and my cell phone is pay-as-you-go, so no monthly bills either.

So I’m keeping my diploma in the unopened envelope, mostly because the address is printed on the letter itself and not on the envelope, so if I opened it, it would no longer work as proof of address.

So Friday afternoon we met up in Massy to go to the social security customer service center.

assurance maladie

“Is that it? No, that has to be a martial arts school.”
“What? Surely, that’s a yoga pose!”

Turns out it was the social security office.

I brought my unopened letter, my passport and our lease, but they didn’t want to see any of it. Instead, they told us to request the form S1 from our Austrian health insurance and bring that. Gergö immediately mentioned permit 38a / Passagierschein 38a, from the twelve tasks of Asterix. I can totally see myself going back there and getting different bits of information every time. And just to keep things interesting, I started to work freelance, part-time, remotely for an American company last week, so I should figure out tax stuff as well.


La première fois que j’ai manqué des présentations PowerPoint

Earlier this week, I obsessed about the job application course to which the French unemployment office signed me up. I skimmed the letter and thought it would last one day, but later realised it said four days. It also only mentioned the beginning, but not how long it would last every day. Four days of this would mess with my French course and another appointment.

The course location was just like the ones from AMS courses: somewhere painful to get to, in an industrial estate with empty office blocks and mysterious import/export companies. My friend Stephen calls it “where capitalism goes to die”.

I had hoped for a computer class where you can disappear behind the screen and where there will be slides to read, if I can’t follow the French. Instead it was a small room with desks and chairs in a circle and and no single computer in sight. Four other people showed up. We were made to wait for half an hour, then our instructor broke the news: if only 5 people show up, the course will be cancelled. But she insisted on waiting for another 30 minutes, in case one more person showed up. In the time spent waiting some more, she gave us an overview of the course, which was exactly like the one I had to do in June. The only difference is that in France the flipchart in the corner with “♥-lich willkommen!” is missing.

At 10 sharp I was out of there, talking with one of the other participants who turned out to be a German teacher. We are planning to do a language tandem – she can practise her fluent German with me and I can uh.. try to speak French.

On Wednesday there was a 2 hour info session about an 8 month training I cosidered taking. Another industrial estate 20 minutes from anywhere by bus. Another sad office building. And again, I ended up in a beige class room with desks arranged in u-shape. I had expected some slides with happy student stock photos and info material printed on shiny paper. Maybe some testimonials from successful graduates. Instead it was a grumpy guy talking too quickly for me to follow, without any audiovisual aids. After 30 minutes of Q&A, we were given half an hour to fill out the application forms, including a short essay about our motivation for the course. I thought of simply leaving. But I figured what the hell and filled out the essay in English.

I’m starting to believe nobody here believes in presentations. Maybe I should rent an office space in some faceless industrial estate and give lectures on MS Powerpoint.

Tomorrow I will round off my week of fun with French office buildings by trying to get a social security number. Wish me luck.