06 February 2010

« Panne informatique ! »

Instead of driving up to Blois yesterday to look for either vacuum cleaner bags or a new vacuum, we decided to drive over to Romorantin. It's a little closer (20 miles each way instead of 25), and the drive is a lot easier because you don't have to drive through the middle of half a dozen villages, on congested narrow streets, to get there.

One of the things we've been meaning to do for years and are just now getting around to is having our car registration changed so that it has both our names on it. Right now, the Peugeot is registered in my name only. Under French law, if I die, there is no way Walt can inherit the car. I can't leave it to him. It would go to my mother or sister in North Carolina, I think — they are my closest relatives.

All my mother or sister needs is a ten-year-old diesel Peugeot that is located in France and not eligible for import into the U.S., don't you think? And then Walt would be stranded. He'd have to go out and buy a new car in the middle of all the turmoil. Or buy the Peugeot back from my mother or sister. It would be a hassle.

The château in Saint-Aignan on a sunny summer day

I think about this partly because our friend J-L passed away suddenly last October. His car was registered in his name only, and his estranged son, who doesn't even have a driver's license, inherited it. J-L was only 52. I'll be 61 in March. Besides, my father died exactly the same way — suddenly, in his sleep — just over 20 years ago at the age of 64.

Anyway, I don't plan to "disappear," as we say in French, right away, but it is always good to have your affairs in order. When I bought new car insurance a couple of weeks ago, the people at the insurance office said the préfecture was the place to go if I wanted have my car registration certificate modified.

The préfecture is the central administrative office in a French département, which is the equivalent of a county. The prefect, or préfet, is appointed by the national government. He (or she — I don't know if there are any women prefects) is responsible for the police, immigration matters, and vehicle registration, among other things.

The church in Saint-Aignan

Our prefecture is in Blois, but there is an administrative outpost in the town of Romorantin. I believe every département in France has one préfecture and two sous-préfectures, sub-prefectures, like the one in Romorantin. We got all the papers together and decided to go there yesterday morning to try to have the registration changed.

The vehicle registration paper in France is called "the gray card" — la carte grise — and the vehicle insurance card is called "the green card" — la carte verte. You are required to have both in the vehicle at all times.

We found a place to park, and then walked around the neighborhood in central Romo (that's what it's called locally) until we found the entrance to the administrative offices. In the lobby we discovered a dozen or more sullen-looking people — pas contents, mais résignés — in the waiting area. A sign said to take a number from a little ticket dispenser mounted on the wall, so Walt did.

Somehow this scene reminds me of the waiting room
at the préfecture in Romo

Then I noticed a big sign on an easel in one corner of the room. There were at least ten paragraphs of text on the sign, but the first words that caught my eye were « panne informatique au niveau national affectant la délivrance de la carte grise » — "computer breakdown affects the delivery of vehicle registration cards, " or something like that.

I started reading the poster. "We may well be unable to issue you a new registration certificate today because of computer problems." And so on and soon. There was a lot of text. Cut to the chase: at the bottom of the poster, it said: « N'attendez pas inutilement ! » — "Don't wait unless you absolutely have to" or something to that effect.

Saint-Aignan rooftops

Well, that decided the matter for us. We just turned around a walked right back out. Walt said we were tenth in line, according to the number on our ticket. There was no way we were going to spend hours there to get the registration changed. It will have to wait.

Since yesterday, I've read on the Internet that this computer problem with cartes grises has been going on for months. Last fall there were horror stories recounted in newspaper articles describing people having to wait eight or ten hours in préfectures around the country waiting to get their new cars registered.

I think what happened is that the government decided to enter all transactions concerning used vehicles into a system that was designed just to process the registration of new vehicles sold in France. The software couldn't handle the load.

But it wasn't a wasted trip. We stopped in a Boutique France Télécom — Romorantin is the closest such office to Saint-Aignan — and had our telephone contract modified so that Walt's name will appear on the bill and his name will now appear in the phone book. That was easy.

And then we drove out to the north side of Romo to the big Centre Leclerc "hypermarket" and I found the vacuum cleaner bags I needed. They were cheaper by far than the ones I had been buying at the SuperU in Contres for a past couple of years. So it turned out to be a very productive day, despite the panne informatique at the sous-préfecture.


  1. Hi Ken, hope you and Walt get your carte grise sorted out soon. I just wondered about the route you use when you visit Blois? We tried the road north via Pontlevoy a few times, and it always seemed to take quite a while, as you have to slow down through each village on the way. We then followed the route via Chaumont sur Loire, driving up on the right bank of the river: although it looks longer on the map, it's a much smoother drive and the only really slow part is through Chaumont. You may already use this itinerary but, if not, we can recommend it.

  2. The gov't. has put so many of its services on-line recently. I imagine that their servers are overloaded.
    At least, the bureau had the sense to put up a sign!

  3. Next time you go to Romorantin come on up and visit me. I am just 20 minutes north. There is a very good Italian resturant in Romorantin, La Scala on the Place de la marché.

  4. The most direct route to Blois from Saint-Aignan passes through St-Romain, Couddes, Contres, Cellette, etc., up through Vineuil.

    We do often take the road to Bourré up to Chaumont and from there along the river to Blois. It's a much more pleasant drive. It's slightly longer in distance but no longer in time spent on the road.

  5. This issue of inheritance is very interesting to me. Is what you're saying that France prohibits people from leaving their goods, via a will, to someone who is not blood or marriage related? Or were you just saying that, without a will, things can only be passed to blood or marriage related relatives?

    Good thing you didn't sit and wait all that time... what a frustrating waste that would have been!


  6. Judy, my understanding, and I need to go talk to a notaire to find out more, is that only a small part of a person's estate can be passed on to somebody who is not a spouse or a blood relative. If there's no will, and I haven't made one, relatives inherit. Walt and I formed a société civile immobilière to buy our house, taking the property out of the family inheritance domain. We are a corporation, 50-50, and if one of us dies the other inherits those shares in the corporation. It still all seems very complicated to me.

  7. Can't you make a will, leaving the car to WCS?

  8. Your home "corporation" sounds a lot like California joint tenancy provision.

    If you want more control and fewer taxes, you have a family trust, which I'll bet is every bit as complicated as anything the French have thought up, and pretty expensive to implement, too. I guess legalities are complicated everywhere.

    The verification word is "nuthot," which this comment isn't.

  9. Hi Ken,
    You and Walt are now long-term residents. Can you enter a PACS? (For the non-French, a PACS is a civil union.) When a couple enter a PACS, they choose a contract, much like choosing a marriage contract, and that determines how property is divided and inherited. My son and daughter-in-law (hey it's a contract, she's "in-law") decided on a PACS rather than a wedding when they bought an apartment together. Anyway, that's a possible solution for you for settling all of your property. A notaire should be able to advise you, in any case.

  10. More generalities about inheritance... Spouses, in general, do not inherit; children do. In fact, the children have a reserved amount; they cannot be disowned. That leaves anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 of one's property that one is free to dispose of at will. (I have four kids, so only 1/4 is not reserved.) My husband and I have wills settling the non-reserved portion to go to the survivor. Our property is all acquired since we were married, and under the terms of our contract, we own half of everything outright and the 1/4 of the deceased's property gives us majority control so the kids can't sell out from under the survivor.
    If you leave your property to someone outside the family, then the taxes are horrific.
    Another thing for an American to consider is whether you want to be treated as an American, with an American will, American taxes, etc. or if you want to be treated as French, in which case you have to prove your heart is here.
    Ken, Walt, if you need it, I can give you the contact and web info of an estate lawyer who knows about the bi-national aspects of all this. This is when you realize that the organizations like AARO, AAWE, WICE, etc. are worthwhile!

  11. Ken, can you explain PACS? I can't remember if it is also for same sex partners. Do you still have to have a will with PACS?

  12. Martine doesn't know what a quesadilla is. I am not sure if my explanation will help but I have another question for you, not as complicated as PACS. Can you find good tortillas in France? Having lived in Ca for so long, you guys must be missing Mexican food?
    Has Walt ever tried to make his own tortillas?

  13. Hi Nadège, I don't know enough about the PACS to answer off the top of my head.

    But about Mexican tortillas and cooking, yes, we do miss it and we have done some Mexican cooking over the past few years. See this blog post. I still have three cans of chipotle sauce down in the cellar that I brought back from a Mexican grocery in my home town in North Carolina.

  14. Nadège, the PACS is a civil union that is definitely for both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. A few years ago somebody told us that as two "foreigners" we would not allowed to enter into a PACS, but now I think that is not true. We need to find out more about it. For now, the only major property we have to worry about here is the house, and that is taken care of by the SCI. The car we think we can deal with. As for the contents of the house, who knows who is the owner of what after 27 years of vie commune ?

  15. I had to laugh at the signage at the préfecture, even though the people waiting wouldn't think it as humorous, but it is so French.

  16. Doesn't being PACSed take care of all the inheritance legalities?

  17. Starman, it is all very complex and I don't really understand the inheritance laws yet. In our case, there are no children -- no direct descendants -- so that should make it simpler. We have found a way around the real estate questions, we think, by creating the incorporated entity that owns our house. Most of our assets beyond that are still in the U.S., so that's separate from French law I think. The car -- the only other property we own that has a title, a registration -- is the only issue. And since it is nearly 10 years old, it has no value. It's just a practical matter.

  18. Ellen, thanks for that information. I don't understand the part about deciding whether you want to be under French or U.S. law. If the property is in France, isn't it governed by French laws? I hope the SCI protects us on that point. Since our other assets are in the U.S., those should not be an issue in France ... I hope.

  19. Dedene, I thought it was good that there was a sign too. There really was no reason for us to wait a long time for what we needed done.

  20. So, Ken, then I guess that if all of your finances were tied to US banking institutions, that issue would be taken care of? Do they have P.O.D. (payable on death -- to whomever you name) accounts for bank accounts in France?

    For anyone who is interested in reading more about being PACSed, a while ago I ran across this site from an American woman living in France, who is now PACSed to her French boyfriend... this explains the process in that kind of case, in English. Her name is Jennie, she's from Michigan, and she has a personal blog, but also a wealth of cultural and linguistic information on her website.

    This is the direct link to the technical information in French, from the Ministère de la Justice (the link came from Jennie'sexcellent and informative web page.) From reading the basics of the French info, I see only that they don't specifically list that a couple can not be PACSed if they are both foreigners, but nor do they ever mention examples that include both partners as foreigners.

    Some of my students have been very interested in this concept of being PACSé(e)(s) in France, and, in fact, asked me if you and Walt were PACSés :)). One of those students has a sister who has recently "come out", who is also a former student of mine, so my current student is very active in gay rights issues.



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