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Secret Life of an Expat: Two Year Expat Anniversary

Break out the confetti and noisemakers — I have officially lived in France for two years! May 2nd was my anniversary.

Before I even left the states, I told myself that the next two years of my life would probably suck, and therefore I wouldn’t be allowed to make any rash decisions based on my feelings (like, “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going home”) until the breaking in period had passed. I knew I had a lot to deal with, I knew it would be hard to move to any place where I didn’t have a support network. I knew cultural difference alone would be a huge hurdle to claw my way over.

And I was right. It was rough. There were many moments when I did consider going home. When I hated it here. Hated French people. Hated the country. Hated my life. I started to look forward to May 2, 2011 as the day when all my troubles would be over. The day when I knew I had made the right choice.

Well here I am and things have definitely improved. I’m starting to even like it here. Having a job has been a huge boon to my habituation process on pretty much every level. And in my working life, I’ve also reached an important milestone.

Tomorrow, on the two year anniversary of coming here, I will go to the unemployment office and sign up for the working status intermittent de spectacle (spectacle meaning, like “show” or “performance”). This is an employment status for people working in the living arts (film, animation, theater, singing, etc.) whose jobs are often short term and sporadic. Basically, having the status of intermittent de spectacle works like this: first, you have to work 507 hours to qualify for the status, about three and a half months. Once you do and you’re all signed up, you check in with the employment center (pole emploi) at the end of every month and tell them how many days/hours you worked. If you haven’t worked the full month, unemployment insurance will pay you for the days you missed (by bank transfer, they’re really into bank transfers here). It’s a fraction of your pay (will probably be a third of mine) but it’s something.

This is different from regular unemployment because in the regular way, there is a two week delay before you can start receiving money from the state and it cuts off after six months. Intermittent expects the delay and fills in the gaps, and lasts for eight months, at which point you have to have another 507 hours to requalify. They also help you put money together for a two week (full) paid vacation. I’m very, very excited about this, because as a chronic freelancer, I’ve never qualified for unemployment benefits in my life. Now, when this job is over, I’ll still be able to eat, and have a little time to do my own thing if nothing else comes along. This is one of the great bonuses of living in France as a creative type. The drawbacks are that there is no overtime, and we earn less than Americans would for the same work.

I will also be doing my first French taxes, which won’t be much because I didn’t work much last year. I’ll let you know how that goes, but the one profound thing that I’ve noticed this week is that, of the roughly 25% of my paycheck that disappears each month (people are paid monthly here), none goes to taxes. It goes to social services, retirement, and twenty other abbreviated things that I don’t know the names of. I’m supposed to be putting another 20% aside so I can pay my taxes when the time comes.

I’ve been trying to compare the U.S. to France based on this factoid, and, based on no scientific basis or method, I would say that the civil services seem better in the U.S. For example, we have more police-people, our mail carriers wear uniforms and have matching cars, the government seems, bigger. But in France, we have health care and automatic unemployment insurance for animators and singers. There’s something there but I can’t quite grasp it, something about how life is regarded in the two countries, something about priorities. I’ll keep working on that, but for now I’ll just enjoy this milestone, sign up for the dole, and really enjoy the two week visit I’m about to make to the States. I’ve been gone a year, I wonder if I’ve changed.

featured image credit: Kaptain Kobold