15 September 2009

Integration into French society

We got our 10-year resident's cards yesterday. Before the people at the village hall could hand them over, we had to go to the Trésorerie -- the tax office -- in Saint-Aignan and buy two tax stamps for 70 euros apiece. That's the fee for issuance of the cards. It was easy, and the cost is pretty low when you think we are now set for 10 years. The one-year cards were always free.

The carte de résident, as opposed to the annually renewable carte de séjour temporaire we have had since 2003, is also a work permit. It gives us the right to seek gainful employment. Neither of us plans to do so, but it's important to have the right to work, I suppose. You never know. Now we have no excuse to give when people ask: "Are you thinking about looking for a job?"

The church in Saint-Chamant on a foggy morning

What has surprised us is that the French administration granted us the 10-year cards and work permits without asking us for any documentation beyond what we had already supplied for the 1-year cards. And without asking us to come in for an interview to see whether we actually speak French and understand the ins and outs of French government and society.

The mayor's recommendation obviously means a lot — everything, in our case. She is our neighbor, and we have known her ever since we arrived in the village in 2003. (She is not the mayor of Saint-Aignan, but of the neighboring village that we live in, population 1000.) She has told us that she filled out a lengthy questionnaire about us in support of our application.

A view of the village from the house we stayed in

The next step in our immigration process would be applying for French nationality. We don't currently have any plans to do so. As Americans, we can get French nationality without giving up our American citizenship, but it's a complicated and long, drawn-out process.

The alternative is to wait 10 years and then get the next resident's card, which in theory will be permanent, with no expiration date. Renewal of the resident's card is automatic, as far as I know, unless the holder has come to constitute a menace to the public order or has committed a crime.

Walt on the inside looking out

The only right we don't have at this point is the right to vote. We are permitted to own property, pay taxes, and work for a living. We both have a French driver's license. I need to look into the question of voting. It might be that the resident's card allows its holders to vote in local elections, but I haven't asked that question or done the research.

France is in a strange situation as concerns the residency and integration into French society of English-speaking immigrants. Americans and other non-Europeans (Canadians, Australians, etc.) have to meet a different standard compared to British immigrants.

Big clouds on the horizon, over the volcanoes

The British are Europeans and, as such, they — and all citizens of European Union countries — are free to come live in France without any administrative formalities or requirements. They don't have to speak French. I don't begrudge them that right... but it is interesting that there's a double standard when it comes to English-speaking immigrants, in light of the French government's goal of integrating new arrivals into French life.

Many of the British immigrants living here speak little or no French. They can't fully participate in local life. They say there are entire villages in the Dordogne that have been bought up by British settlers, forming separate communities. Some bring plumbers, electricians, and other tradesmen from the U.K. to renovate the properties they own in France, rather than dealing with local tradesmen and artisans. The reasons for that are mostly linguistic, of course.

A closer view of the church

With the economic downturn and the greatly reduced value of the British pound against the euro, talk is that some British immigrants in France are starting to sell out and return to the United Kingdom. Their retirement pensions, paid in pounds, are no longer adequate to support them in France. It's hard to find employment if you can't speak French. I don't know if the phenomenon is real or if it's just talk. I do understand the issue, however, since the American dollar has also fallen so low against the European currency.

A few years ago, I read that about half a million British immigrants were living in France. I'm not sure anyone on either side of the Channel keeps accurate statistics. But there probably isn't much to keep many of the British immigrants here in France now that their economic advantage has evaporated. The weather is better in France, and that's one of the factors that spurred the British "invasion" in the first place. But economics were just as important, I believe.


The photos in this post are mostly of the church in Saint-Chamant, a little village in the Cantal we spent a few days in earlier this month. Still to come: Salers, Tournemire, lots of cows, at least three châteaux, and a visit to a farm where Cantal cheese is produced. Plus two or three recipes from the Auvergne region.


  1. That fellow on the inside certainly looks like a menace to the public order.

  2. Ken, I love the way you put the picture of Walt "behind bars" below the comment about being able to stay in France as long as you don't become a menace or criminal. Very amusing.
    Your other comments about the way British live in France have left me feeling rather uncomfortable, being one myself. I agree with you entirely. I can't understand why anyone would want to live in France and not learn the language properly or integrate with the community. Although I can see why it should happen - it must be a lot easier if all those around you speak English. I cringe every time I meet a Brit who has owned a home in France but boasts that they have never needed to bother learning the language.
    Personally I would never consider living somewhere that had become a little England. In fact we were somewhat taken aback when we discovered how many English-owned homes there were in Le Grand-Pressigny, after we had bought it, that is. Fortunately their impact is not that great and the village is essentially still very French. We have been made very welcome by the locals and we just naturally use local people and local commerces where possible. Why wouldn't we?
    Those English who are packing up and going home are in for a shock. All the reasons for leaving England will still be there when they get back and are probably worse than when they left.

  3. (I just realized that your photo of "Who am I" changes often).
    Articles have been written in the LA Times about Brits living in France and Spain. Kind of sad not to speak the language of your host country. I know Americans who brought their own architects and contractors to Provence. Anything is possible when one has money.
    Your mayor is very nice to have helped you.
    I hope you get rain soon.

  4. Congratulations on your residency status!

    I love seeing photos of St Chamant- I think of it as ST Charmant in my mind;-) I'm looking forward to your upcoming posts which will prolong this wonderful time in the Auvergne for me.

  5. Congratulations on your Cartes de Residents! I think that it's really important to integrate as much as possible anywhere one might live.
    I'm not sure about the voting laws. I know that France was considering allowing long-term residents to vote in municipal elections (but not national). However, I don't know if this bill was validated.
    It's not too bad getting French citizenship, especially if your Maire will fill out the paperwork for you!

  6. I think another reason British people use British artisans is so that they can get the work done on the black -- foolish and short-sighted in my opinion.

    I agree with you, Jean -- I cringe too when I meet British people who've been here for years and can barely stumble through ordering a meal in a restaurant. How they don't see this as a problem is beyond me. I couldn't bear to live somewhere where I could not communicate effectively with people: like being returned to babyhood!

  7. Congratulations, Ken and Walt!

    I've been enjoying the pictures, and am looking forward to the recipes.

  8. Hi Ken, I can't image two people who are more integrated in France than you and Walt. You are both fluent in French and take an interest in the life in your little hamlet and the people living there. Moreover, you have gained their respect, confidence and friendship. You love French food ... and ... dare I say it ... you have become even more French than the French. Good for you! You deserve French citizenship, even without applying for it. And I mean it! Martine

  9. I've seen a lot of online ads for property in the Dordogne, so it's probably more true than not.
    After having read some of the nightmares encountered by people trying to get things done by French workmen, I think the Brits bring in their own tradesmen from the U.K. not because of the language barrier as much as wanting to get things done a bit quicker.

  10. Well Starman, we haven't had that problem at all. Our plumber, electrician(s), window installers, etc., have all worked very quickly and efficiently, for reasonable prices. It's the language barrier that give people the impression you have about French tradesmen.

  11. I think too many Brits watched or read "A year in Provence" and took the stories to the letter (though, the workers in the South of France are maybe not as efficent because it can be hot and siestas are a way of life...) I don't know if "Starman" is from England but I can tell you that in the US, I have been hearing too many times from contractors who were supposed to show up on a certain day, but forgot to precise that was 3 weeks down the road... or not show up at all. They always have an excuse. Unless you sign a contract with them specifying that they will have to pay you $200 for each day they don't show up, get use to it, anywhere in the world.

  12. Now then Ken, as an American I can understand that your knowledge of European and in particular English political history is limited. However the reason so many "Brits" live in "France" and the fact that they are allowed to has nothing at all to do with language.

    We English are in town because its our ancestoral home. The plain fact is that much of the territory you know as France (including the bit you live in) is in fact part of England. Our capital was in Chinon for a while (Henry and Richard 3rd lived there, to whom I'm related, and check out Fontrevraud Abbey, etc.) till some beaurocratic idiot moved it to London for trade and taxes, and of course, rain.

    Also bear in mind that French is a modern language invented and fairly vigourously pushed out to the masses only a couple of hundred years or so ago to give the English county of France a bit of a local identity. Much the same thing is currently happening in Essex and Tyneside.

    We never should have given you guys independence.

    Is it time for my pills matron?

    Loved the post, Ken


    PS: Love the post and the photos Ken.

  13. LOL, NickL. If I remember right, you didn't "give" us colonists anything! Not only did we steal your colonies, but we also stole your language and started improving it by pronouncing more letters and and correcting the spelling.

    I guess France, or at least Normandy, can claim England as an ancestral home too. Too bad the English Kings Guillaume, Henri, Richard, Jean etc. didn't impose their language on the English peasantry. Then France wouldn't have the current problem.

    Seriously, it is the French government that is in a bind and practices a double standard. I guess France figures that the British and other European immigrants will either adapt or decamp. With us Americans, well, we are chosen. And assisted once chosen, with government-paid French and civics lessons as necessary. They want to keep us! Just as you Brits would like, deep down, to have us back — especially our country...

    The people I feel for are some of the Brits I know who have come here thinking they would soon be speaking French at an adequate level, but who get discouraged and give up the effort to learn. Learning a language late in life is a lot of hard work, and who has the time or energy? These immigrants then live on here, cut off from the mainstream and unable to enjoy the experience as they might. People have a way of getting paranoid when they don't understand what others are saying all around them.

    And I agree with you, Nadège, it is never easy to find people to do small jobs around your house. If you want to spend $100K or 100 €, no problem. The contractors will probably show up. In France, there is a shortage of artisans, I'm told, and that makes it hard to schedule work. We haven't had a real problem in that area, though.

  14. Tongue in cheek! LOL-MDR

  15. Ken. I'm pretty sure that you can vote in local elections but not national ones.

  16. Anything wrong with your internet connection?

  17. A great post! Congratulations on almost becoming French citizens! I'm sure the mayor's recommendation jemêd a lot. Like Jean, I liked Walt's photo almost behind bars


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