Thursday, 30 January 2014

Why is the French Tax office after me ?

The last few days I felt a lot of empathy for expats in France. I had to deal with the French tax office and it made me realise how difficult it must be for foreigners in France who have to adapt to a different fiscal system.
Long story short, I own a small house in my home town, that I rent. The rent barely covers the mortgage and the various insurances, but I see it as an investment for my retirement. I don't make money on it at all (at least for the next 20 years), and I basically acts as if didn't exist.
The only time I really think about it is when I have to file my tax returns for the rental income. Because I am an owner in France I have to pay rental income tax. In Ireland, the income tax is taken at source, on the salary and the only people who would have to file a tax return would be self-employed or property owners if they have a rental income. But the majority of Irish people don't have to worry about deadlines, long forms to fill out, calculations to make, deductions to apply etc. 
Thankfully my mother has always been very helpful in that sense. Every year she buys the " Tax guide book" -Yes, they sell a book in France to explain how to file your tax returns- and she helps me. By the way, the French government must think all expats are loaded because you are automatically taxed at 20% on your rental income. I've always been careful and managed not to pay any rental income tax by deducting everything that was legally possible (repairs, mortgage interest, insurances and so on). The new thing with our dear president is that now, all expats must also pay social contributions on their rental income. That's great isn't ? I don't benefit from any sort of social welfare in France, but still, I have to contribute... The worst thing is those social contributions don't give me any social security rights either, they are just another tax in disguise. 
Because of that new law, I had to pay social contributions this year. And last week, I received an e-mail from the French tax office to inform me I would have to pay a "first instalment"... Panicked, I tried to ring them to say it surely was a mistake, I already paid the bill 2 months before. Why oh why were they asking me for money again??? Of course there was no answer on the phone. The non-residents tax office is almost impossible to reach. They open from 9 to 4, but most of the time, you get the answering machine.
Still panicked, I rang my mum. I can count on her, even if she gets on my nerves, she knows everything... And she knew. So basically I had to pay the first instalment in advance of my tax bill for next year. Seriously??  I always thought that French people paid their taxes once they got the bill, not all year long! 
All this made me realise how clueless I am about the practicalities of French life. I don't live there anymore. I've never worked in France. I never had to pay income tax. And I'm pretty sure if I was going back to France, I would be lost. I would feel like an expat in my home country. That's a scary thought. I am undecided as to go back to France one day, but the more I wait, the more it will be difficult to re-adapt. Sure it's great to go on holidays, but how would I manage the work life, the mentality, the lifestyle, the dreaded tax returns ? 
I think at this stage it's safe to say I feel fine in Ireland even if I miss my family and friends a lot, and even if sometimes I'm fed up...  Does this mean it's too late to go back?

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Maman is coming over...

Have you ever experienced that mixed feeling of excitement and anxiety at the same time? Well, that's exactly how I feel at the moment. My mother is coming for a week to look after the two boys while the childminder is on holidays. 
This is great right ? After all, I consider myself lucky to have a mother that is still able to travel to do me a big favour like that. She's coming for the mid-term break so my husband will be able to sleep in the morning, I won't have to rush after work to pick the kids up. She will take them to the beach, the playground or the church ( yes, that's one of her favourite spots in the village, she's not far from an Irish mammy, is she ?!). She will obviously help us out by buying bits and pieces for them and for us.
Actually, I suspect Tesco revenue is going to slightly increase while she's here. From some bizarre reason she loves hanging out in Tesco: " Look, they even have croissants, and baguettes! and the staff have French names, isn't it funny? There is Colette, Yvonne, Sophie... " These are just universal names if you ask me... but hey , I don't want to spoil her happiness... And then she moans about the stuff she can't find, like compote (fruit purée). That's because we're not in France, mom... She claims she doesn't speak English, but I suspect it's not true. Once she asked a staff member where was the compote, or if they had any and she understood there wasn't. Another time she went to the church and told the Parish priest her son was also a priest ( I'm not making this up, my brother really is a priest). And then she says she doesn't really speak English... Yeah, right ! 

Now, the other side of the coin. The first thought when I know she's coming over is always "She's going to clean everything again...and tell me what is not clean in my apartment...and ask me why I didn't clean it..." She's a bit obsessed with cleaning as you can see. Not that the place is dirty or anything, she will just always find something. I swear, if she opens the drawers in the living-room, she will have a heart attack :" Oh mon dieu, what a mess! On Sunday, you and I will spend the whole day sorting everything out in your drawers, and the cupboards and everything, OK?".  Mmmh... No ! I have other plans thank you. She may faint even before reaching the drawers, when she sees I no longer have a filter coffee machine: "Non, non... I'm not drinking the instant coffee. Let's go buy a coffee machine now".

I'm happy she's coming. The kids will be happy to see her. We can spend hours chatting and laughing and she always have good advice. The worst thing? She's almost always right... One week is enough though. I will be happy to drop her back to the airport as well.

So what do you think, do you feel the same when your parents are coming over ? Do they get on your nerves after a while or do you wish they would stay for longer?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Garda checkpoint

There was an article in the newspaper recently about the fact that there were more than 800 drink-driving arrests made by the Garda (The Irish Police force ) during the Christmas period. They set up multiple checkpoints around the country, and of course I ended up in one of them. At 3:30pm, coming back from work, rushing to pick-up the kids, I got myself stuck on the motorway. There were " roadworks" signs so you wouldn't have suspected it was a Garda checkpoint, and it was very strategically located so that, once you realised there was one, you couldn't take the next exit without driving by it. Smart isn't it ?! The not-so-smart thing was they didn't stop all the cars. There were too many of them and not enough Gardai. But well, the intention was there. Although I suspect they didn't catch too many drunk drivers in the middle of the afternoon.


10 years ago, the attitude to drink driving was very different. The law was also more lenient. In France, if you're stopped by the "Gendarmes" for any driving offence, no matter what time of the day, they can test you for drink driving. It happened to me when I went over the speed limit on a Saturday afternoon on a country road, trying to find my way to Cherbourg. Of course I didn't drink but they tested me anyway ( And gave me a 90 euros fine in the process... ouch!). 


A few weeks after that little misadventure in France, I got stopped by the Gardai on the way back from my work Christmas party (talk about luck!). Again, I hadn't drank that evening. I just brought my car back from France, and it was already hard enough to drive sober on the other side of the road. I had never been stopped in Ireland before so I didn’t really know what to expect. All my stuff was in order, I had a driving licence and an insurance so everything had to be OK.

I stopped and the Garda had to come around to my side. He asked me to open the window, and this is how the conversation went:


“Hi miss, How are you tonight?”

“I’m fine, thanks”

“Did you drink?”


“Alright, you can go, have a good night,safe home"


Seriously? I couldn't believe my ears. When I came home, I told the story my host family, thinking it was a mistake. Sure they wouldn't just ask if the driver drank and believe him right ? Well, it wasn't a mistake. At the time, the Garda wasn't allowed to randomly test for drink driving. Only if they thought you were driving under the influence of alcohol, they would take you to the Garda station for testing. 


I'm pretty sure a LOT of people got away with drink-driving. A few mint sweets and off you go... Thankfully things have changed a bit, and probably for the better ( even if those checkpoints are a pain in the ass sometimes!)

Monday, 20 January 2014

What do you eat for lunch ?

I've always wondered why Irish people don't really eat lunch. Sure they have Irish breakfast , which can stuff you right up to dinner time; but people just don't have the time to eat that every day. So why are they still not eating a proper lunch ? I eat in my workplace canteen every day, and I'm nearly the only one having a meal that doesn't involve crisps, sandwiches or baked beans. 

It's like the rules  regarding meals are completely inverted in Ireland. People have a very light lunch and a big dinner. In France, people have a solid lunch and a lighter dinner, which, in my opinion is healthier. You don't want to go to bed feeling bloated really...
 When I first arrived and was staying in an Irish family, they used to stuff me like a goose. One of the first dinner was lasagna and chips, and a  slice of chocolate cake with whipped cream for dessert, followed by a coffee and some biscuits. I know they meant well, but needless to say I put on some weight in the process... 

I'm not gonna lie, I do eat sandwiches sometimes (if there is no left-overs from the dinner to bring to work) but it's quite rare. I do love a good hot chicken fillet roll though, but just not every day.

The truth is, I don't want to bring up my children that way. I want them to eat a well-balanced lunch and dinner. Not a sandwich every day. The problem is that's what they do at school and it kind of worries me. When I see my child having a 30 mns break at most, to eat a ham and cheese sandwich at his desk, it saddens me. I hate the fact that he doesn't eat a hot lunch. In a way, I miss the French school system where you have an hour long break, with a fresh hot meal in a canteen. I think it's important to get away from the classroom to eat as well.

I know this is all my French mind coming out, but it's true, food is an institution in France. You don't eat just to survive, but for the social experience that comes with it. Meal times around the table are when you have discussions with your family, you laugh, you argue, you cry.And sometimes, for big occasions like a wedding, you can stay hours and hours at the table. In an Irish wedding, the meal is eaten in an hour at most ( and the menu is always the same)!
It seems to me like in Ireland, people don't enjoy the social aspect of a meal as much as the French do. They eat to survive, not by pleasure.

But that's alright, I got used to it. I just don't follow the Irish rules, for once !

Thursday, 16 January 2014

It's the little things...

The other day I was in the supermarket at the self-service checkout. I scanned all my items and paid. I then took a plastic bag on the counter, and realised I didn't pay for it. I said it to the shop assistant and his reply was: " Ah, sure  it's grand, not a bother". I offered to pay for it but he refused. I know it was only 22 cents, but I thought it was a nice gesture.

I had a flat tyre once, on the motorway. Being the woman that I am, I panicked of course, and the husband wasn't there to help. Well, after 5 minutes nearly crying  on the side of the road, a complete stranger stopped and changed my tyre.

We used to rent an apartment and  the landlord  usually looked after the place when we were going away. The first time we came back from holidays, we discovered a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine on the table, with a little card saying " Welcome back". 

This is what I like about Ireland. It's the little things that make day to day living in this country worth it. People moan all the time about the economy, the weather, the taxes, the government, but on a personal level, they are just nice, laid-back, helpful people (who occasionally insult each other for the "craic"!). 

I know there are ***holes everywhere, and even here, but thank God I haven't met a lot of them (and I'd like to keep it that way!)



Monday, 13 January 2014

An Irish lesson

Irish homework

My son brought back some Irish homework today. It was a sheet of paper with drawings as you can see above. No written instructions in English. The only words on the page were in Irish. There were also 3 small drawings at the top, which I suppose, were the instructions.
The 3 drawings were : a bubble ( possibly meaning the child had to say the word), crayons ( which obviously means he had to colour the drawings) and socks. Yes, socks. What is that suppose to mean?? I still haven't found out so if somebody can help me there, I'd be grateful.
Let's pass on the socks thing. I asked my son to tell me what the words were in Irish. But how was I supposed to know if he gave me the right answers ? He was saying stuff I didn't have a clue about. I had to use Google translate to check. But the thing is, I don't know how to pronounce the words so I couldn't really tell if it was right. 
The thing with Irish language is that it's not pronounced the same way it's written at all. Take the name "Niamh" for example, you have to pronounce it "Neeve". See, the sound has nothing to do with the spelling.
I have learned a few languages in my life: English, Spanish, Italian and even Breton. But Irish has to be the most difficult one of all. The grammar is complicated and the spelling is incomprehensible. But I wanted to give it a try. I told myself that I would learn with my child. Well, I don't know if that's going to happen now...

The learning of Irish is compulsory from primary school, but considering most of the people I know don't speak a word of it, I'm not sure it's a good idea. Maybe it's not taught the right way.
In Brittany, the learning of Breton is optional. If you want you can enrol your child in a bilingual school, where the emphasis will really be on immersion in the language. There are bilingual schools in Ireland as well, and that, for me, is a better idea than Irish being a compulsory subject in all schools.
If it was an option in regular schools, maybe students who really are interested would take it, instead of having half a class who doesn't care and will learn by heart how to write a postcard for their exam ( which is probably very discouraging for the teacher as well).

Back to my son's homework. I still don't know how to say book, computer  or teddy bear in Irish. And I still don't know what those bloody socks are supposed to mean !

Saturday, 11 January 2014

I'll get a lot of slagging on Monday...

I'm actually surprised I didn't get any comments yesterday, but I guess the story about the French president having a mistress didn't break early enough during the day.
I already know everybody in the company will have something to say about it and make smart comments. And I work in a very masculine environment so you can only imagine the type of jokes I'm going to get...

I actually love Irish humour. Irish people have this ability to laugh about anything and anyone, but it's nearly never intended in a bad way. They have this sort of self-deprecating sense of humour. I wish I could be as funny as that. 
Maybe I'll be one day, but for the moment I am more the recipient than the instigator of the slagging. Being French is not easy when you're surrounded by Irish people. I've probably been called all the nicknames possibles: French frog, froggy, Kermit, petit filou, petit fromage... I heard plenty of jokes about croissants, baguettes, snails, frog legs, and horse meat ( especially last year with the horse meat scandal!). My colleagues keep saying " Sacrebleu" ( with the worst French accent possible) even if French people haven't used that word for more than 50 years... I've heard about Thierry Henry's hand ball against Ireland ( The World cup qualifier in 2009 if you're not familiar with football) for at least two months after the event...
But all of this is done in a very endearing way and I don't take offence at all. I know they like me (at least I hope so!) and it's just harmless banter, so I usually play along.
I used to work with a guy who would ask me nearly everyday: " So did you drink wine last night?". Well, that's not funny, that's just stupid.  The worst thing is that he seemed so serious when saying it that I didn't know if it was a joke or not. And I suspect it wasn't. 

I can take the slagging, but it has to be done the right way. So go ahead, I'm ready, and maybe I'll slag you back!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

I'm not really French

I've been lying all along... Sort of. Technically, I am French. I hold a French passport and I speak French. But I am actually Breton. You know, from Brittany, that region in the North West of France, there :

Of course, when somebody asks me where I'm from, I say France first, but I quickly add that I'm actually from Brittany and I feel I am Breton before being French.

Brittany is very similar to Ireland. We are both Celtic countries. Interestingly, most Irish people don't realise that we have similar music, dance, traditions, and even language.

This is the main reason why I came to Ireland, and probably the reason why it suits me so well.

The "Celtic" feeling" is not as perceivable in Dublin than in the West of Ireland, but if I need my fix , I just go watch Riverdance in the Gaiety Theatre and if I really miss Brittany I just get my mum to send me a lot of Breton biscuits (which are very popular with my Irish friends, I should start selling them..). If I have no biscuits left, I just go eat a Breton crêpe.

I'm just kidding, those supposedly Breton crêpes are just disgusting. 

I have my own crêpe maker at home, thank god !

Monday, 6 January 2014

Are Irish people less judgemental than the French?

Yesterday I went to the supermarket with my 2 and a half years old son, Ethan. He's an active child, to put it nicely. As we were in the shop, he started to run around, occasionally bumping into other customers, and of course lying on the floor in the main aisle. He wasn't acting up as such, but let's just say I had to remind him a good few times to behave himself and to follow me.

We made our way to the check-out and of course, he didn't want to wait patiently for our turn, so he started to  go around all the check-out desks. He was always in my sight, but I had to tell him about ten times to come back. At one point, I tried to make him stay beside me but of course, he replied with the usual "terrible two" answer for everything: Noooooooooooo ! So I just let him keep on going with his little game. 

Of course, the woman in front of me took what it seemed forever to pay and of course there was a problem. One of the articles wasn't scanning and the cashier had to go check the price on the shelf. At that stage, I was starting to sweat and Ethan of course, didn't care. I couldn't leave all my shopping on the belt and go ( although I thought about it...). 
Eventually, I managed to pay and  Ethan came back to me of his own free will. He also had a Euro in his hand. I don't know where he found it, but I will bring him back to the shop next time, if he can find more for me!

If I had been in France, people would have made me known my child was misbehaving. Maybe not in front of me ( And I'm not even sure of that...) but I would have heard people whisper " Look at her, she can't even handle her child", " This is what you get when people don't educate their children" or " This child is probably hyper-active" and so on. There would have been sighs, lots of sighs...
My French mind made me prepared for that sort of reaction, so I was feeling very uncomfortable. But nobody else in the shop was.

During all this time in the supermarket, I didn't get a bad look from anybody, or a remark. I apologised to the people Ethan bumped into as we were going along, and they were all very nice. "Not a bother", " Don't worry", "Ooh, he's so cute" ( well, if you want to keep him for a few days...). Even at the check-out, I didn't hear any whispers. Not one.

I'm sure people in the supermarket were thinking the same as the French. So, are Irish people less judgemental or maybe just less confrontational? Maybe once I left the supermarket everybody was relieved but nobody said anything by fear of an argument? I am not a confrontational person either so it definitely suits me fine to live here !

Either way, I still think Irish people are less judgemental, especially towards children. And that's a breath of fresh air compared France.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The trip to Tramore and the old witch of Kilkenny

First of all, Happy New Year Everybody! May this year be better than the last and bring you everything you want ( for me it's a new car, I hope). 

One of the things I told myself when I came here was that I wouldn't leave Ireland  before visiting every corner of the country. That's probably one of the reasons I'm still here because in the last few years (especially since I had the kids...) we haven't travelled that much within Ireland. 
The first few years, Fabrice and I used to go on week-ends away to discover the beauty of the island. Actually, the first trip we took together was rather interesting, to say the least...

Around New year 2003, Fabrice and I decided to go away for a couple of days. I was off but he had to work on the 1st of January so we decided to leave on the evening that day. I asked some colleagues where we should go because I didn’t really know the country and one friend suggested we go to Tramore. He said it was a great place so I trusted him. Of course, I’m sure Tramore is a great spot, but in July, not on the 1st of January. 
We arrived there around 10:00pm and looked for a place to stay but the only hotel was fully booked. Of course, it was New year’s day. What did we expect? Anyway we made our way around town -that was done in 5 minutes- and we went looking for a B&B. By that time it was around 11:00 and it seemed that everybody was asleep, not a light in any of the houses, sometimes not even a car in the driveway. I suppose it was because Tramore is NOT a winter destination... 
We finally found a B&B but It looked like there was nobody there. We knocked at the door. No answer. Knocked again. Still nothing. We were about to leave when we heard somebody stumbling on the stairs and opened the door. It was a half-naked man, his hair in shambles and a torch lamp in his hand. He probably thought he was getting robbed. After explaining that we were not burglars , he let us in and gave us a room.

The day after, we made our way to Kilkenny and the first thing we did that time, was finding a B&B for the night. We wanted to be so quick that we got in the first one we saw. An old lady opened the door. She looked like a witch with her white hair, or what was left of it as she was nearly bald. She was bent like a right angle and she was freaking me out. 
 She nearly pushed us inside:
“Come on in, come on in, I have plenty of rooms” 

No, really? I’m sure when people see you they just run off...

Anyway, she brought us upstairs and showed us a room that was full of dust. There was a double bed and a single bed but I would have never dared sleeping in them. There was also an old TV sitting on a chair. It was probably broken. I was trying to find an excuse to get away, but couldn’t find any. Then I told her that we needed an en-suite room but she kept saying there were 4 bathrooms in the house.
The thing is, she already had her book in the hand, ready to write our name down, and for some reason, we really felt trapped in there. She ended up showing us the last room. There was a huge canopy bed, probably the largest bed I had ever seen. We ended up staying there. Did we have a choice really ?

We asked her for a key because we were going out that night, but she kept on telling us she would be awake when we’d get back. At 2 in the morning? That comforted me in the idea that she was strange, never asleep, waiting all night for her guests to come back. What was going to happen?
We went out and came back around 2am. She was there, waiting for us. Thank god nothing happened, she didn’t try to curse us or attack us and we went to bed. 

The morning after, when I saw the state of the kitchen table with the “breakfast”, my hunger suddenly disappeared. The butter looked rancid, the jam looked a bit mouldy and I didn’t want to touch the bread either. She was like:
“Ah go on, eat something, you have long journey ahead of you”
“No thanks, we’re in a hurry, we’ll only have coffee”

We paid our bill and left as fast as we could. 
I am laughing now when I think about it, but that day I was really freaking out. Probably for no reason, but still...
You can meet all sorts of people when you travel and stay in B&Bs around the country, and I'm sure I'm not the only one with funny/freaky stories to tell...