Don't get me wrong: I love living in France. And I'd probably have a long list of things to do, tasks to check off my list, and complicated situations to deal with at my age if I still lived in the U.S. Maybe it would be even worse. For the past two or three years, however, I have constantly been busy working out a long series of administrative and tax issues with the French bureaucracy.
Yesterday I had an appointment in Blois to see about the small French retirement pension that I only recently learned I was eligible for. I don't work in France or anywhere else now. In fact I haven't worked at all since 2002. The main part of my career was spent in U.S. jobs.
But back in the 1970s and early 1980s, I spent about eight years in Paris and other French cities working as a teacher or teaching assistant. My first job in France was teaching English in a lycée (a high school) in Rouen, in Normandy, 1972-73. Afterwards, I taught American language, culture, and history courses at the Sorbonne and at the civil service college in Paris from 1974 to 1976.
Later, I had a job as a lecteur (lecturer) in the English department at the Université de Metz in the Lorraine region of eastern France. I also did a second stint at the civil service college in Paris in the early 1980s. In all, I worked at these jobs for 6½ years, or 26 trimestres, according to the records of the French Sécurité Sociale system.
A lot of it was part-time work, and none of it paid me very much money. In some years I also had part-time jobs working in Paris with American students who had come to improve their French language skills — work that paid me a U.S. salary. It was actually a pretty great life, living mostly in Paris and working with a lot of interesting people... mais passons.
To my surprise, after we came to live in Saint-Aignan in 2003 and signed up for medical insurance with the French Sécurité Sociale, I got a letter telling me that I was entitled to collect a small retirement pension starting on my 60th birthday. They had put 2 and 2 together, realizing that I already had a number in their system from all those years ago and that now they had my mailing address. Very efficient, I thought. And if I waited until age 65, I would get a much higher monthly payment from them. I decided to wait.
Yesterday, three weeks before my 65th birthday, I went up to Blois to meet with a counselor at the French retirement benefits office for our département. I had made the appointment by phone 10 days earlier, and the counselor sent me a sheaf of papers to read and forms to fill out. The main thing they wanted to know what what I was doing in all the years back in the 1970s when they had no record of my having earned any money. And then they wanted to know what I was doing from 1982 until 2012!
I'm not sure why they wanted to know all that, but to me it seemed like applying for the French pension was going to turn into a very complicated exercise. Maybe it wasn't worth it. I didn't really understand the intent of the forms and informational documents, and I couldn't believe they actually wanted me to write out a list of all the employers and jobs I've had since 1964! (I finally figured out that 1964 was the year when, at age 15, I got my American Social Security card and number, a requirement for my first summer job, working as a car hop at an A&W drive-in restaurant.)
So I filled in a few blanks on the application form — name, address, marital status, etc. — that were no-brainers. The rest I left blank, thinking the counselor I met with would explain to me what I needed to do and I'd go on from there.
I arrived 15 minutes early for my appointment and sat in a waiting area for a few minutes. Then a young woman came out and asked me to come into her office. We talked for a few minutes. When she saw that I already have a retirement pension paid by the U.S. Social Security Administration, she said she wasn't sure how to deal with my case.
She made a call to the international relations office of the French Sécurité Sociale. It's up the road (and river) in Orléans, evidently. She asked if she could hand off my file to somebody there, and the answer was yes. I sat there thinking I hoped I wouldn't have to make a series of trips to Orléans for meetings there. It's at least a 90-minute drive from Saint-Aignan, each way.
I handed over some papers from the U.S. showing my history of annual contributions to the American Social Security retirement plan. I waited for the request to have all those documents translated, but translation was never mentioned. The counselor photocopied some of my documents, sorted out all the pages, and handed back to me the ones that were mine to keep.
I asked her what the next step would be. Would I need to go meet with or at least telephone somebody in Orléans? What other documentation did I need to provide? Nothing, she said. We will contact the American Social Security Administration and get more detailed records of your employment and contributions history.
And then she announced the good news. You will receive your first check from us in May, she told me, after we've received the information we need from the American system. Don't worry, the retirement pension money from us will just appear in your French bank account every month thereafter.
Wow, I thought to myself. I would never have predicted that it would go so fast and be so easy.