It is the beginning of 2019 and the annual preparation for renewing my carte sejour. It would be the sixth year and, perhaps, a lucky year that will or can bring the 10-year card. 


But Brexit is coming on March 29 and that has made all the difference. 


I am not one to delve into politics since the 2016 US election made this a distasteful topic.  But I catch wisps of the changes in the EU and, on occasion, curiosity alights.  Brexit dominates the narrative across the Atlantic and it has consumed my attention.  Not because I am interested in the bickering between Theresa May and Parliament but because my British neighbors in the south of France are in panic mode.  It is catching!


Deal or no-deal, news or fake news, the carte sejour is now a must have for the British residents of France.  The rush to acquire one before the March 29 deadline has caused queues in prefectures and sous prefectures, overwhelmed online reservation systems, and pushed functionnaires to the edge of anger and apathy, thus leaving carte sejour applicants in frustration and despair.   I am one of them.


Though I’m American, and not subject to the wheeling and dealing between the UK and the EU, I and other non-EU citizens need to comply with the French bureaucracy.  And this requires us to renew our carte sejour no less than two months of our expiration date.  Difficult to do when the online reservation system for Beziers is either shut down or full.  C’est catastrophe!


So I dive into scenario planning. I tell a neighbor the difficulty of getting a rendez-vous, nicknamed RDV, in Beziers and she offers, “Je pose la question a Narbonne, pas Bezier.”  Then she emails me saying that Narbonne told her I must apply at Beziers.  Next, I ask our mairie whether they can facilitate an RDV.  They checked the website, they call Beziers, and, alas, I have to make the RDV online. “Mais c'est toujours complet!”  Keep trying, they say.


I follow the Facebook forums, and some are getting their RDV.  The advice is to wait until Sunday midnight when the schedule opens.  The comments also say they get full very, very quickly once this opens.  So I set my alarm and I spend several Sundays refreshing the site to catch an open date and time.  So far, no good.


One day, there is a notice on the sous prefecture site.  Beware, it said, of people taking advantage of carte sejour applicants.  Apparently, there are trolls (no other word suffices) filling up the schedules and reselling to desperate applicants.  The website also announces that they will randomly open the schedule throughout the week to avoid the malfeasance.  Oh la la! 


So this quest for an RDV goes on.  Week after week.  Husband says, “Keep calm.” Then adds, “Keep trying. We need to retire there.”  As if I need reminding!  First and second daughters are encouraging as well.  “Not to worry, mom.  They’ll let you renew even when it expires,” they announced in an encouraging voice.  “You’re American, pas du probleme!”  Hmmm…. No sure of that resounding endorsement.


My guess is that we will just have to wait and see.  I stumbled upon this adventure more times than I could ever imagine, and I just went with the flow.  And it has led us to this beautiful and charming corner of France.  Vibrant and welcoming. 


I am not ready to give it up.  Brexit be damned!


I didn’t like the kitchen.  It wasn’t really a kitchen, more like a counter with sink, stovetop and cabinets (muebles in French).  The stovetop was old, the cabinets lopsided, loose knobs, and the backsplash in constant need of scrubbing.  Someday, I thought, when funds are available, I will tackle this.


That “someday” came last month.  I noticed the wet walls in the adjoining toilet and wondered…this is not good!  So I called our local maconnerie and he came to check the problem.  “I think it is the chimney,” he said.  “But I have none,” I responded.  “Not in the house,” he told me, “but you still have the opening in the roof.  Water can come in when there is rain,” he concluded.  “Or, it may be your neighbor’s problem.  If it is, it will be good for you.  They have to do and pay to fix.”


So off he went to check the neighbors and discovered it was not their problem.  It was mine. He comes up with a devis, an estimate, for me to approve so he can begin work.  Two days later, he discovers pools of water on the floor.  (At this point, we were not living in the house but had already moved to another one a few steps away).  “You have to call your assurance (insurance) because this is going to be expensive.”  He was excited over the mystery of the leak and the problem but concerned about my ability to pay.  “Does this mean we have to redo the kitchen space?”  I asked.  “Tout a fait” he said.  Not bad, I thought, not bad at all.


So I call our insurance agent and the insurance carrier to explain the problem. I have a “dégât d'eau.” It is urgent, I told them, because it is a location vacance (holiday rental) and I have guests coming.  They asked if I wanted them to send someone to do an estimate or if wanted to get one from a local artisan.  I volunteered to provide it and hurriedly called our maconnerie to prepare one.  He came with the devis, apologetic for the amount.  “We have to take down wall, find the leak, and change all your muebles.  And we have to move things around in your small room.”  I told him that it was alright and that I appreciated his quick response.


Once the devis was emailed to the assurance, they sent an expert to survey the damage and to determine the compensation based on the estimate I provided.  I asked our maconnerie to show up on the day of the survey to make sure he can explain the damage.  That was a wise move.  The survey expert had a lot of questions about the devis and there was lively exchange between him and my contractor.  Lively as I could not follow the conversation… or was it an argument?  Whatever it was, the expert was finally convinced and he drew up an estimate for the insurance reimbursement that I thought was generous.  He also proposed that I call an appliance evaluator to test the working conditions of the appliances if reimbursement was also needed.


The appliance people wanted a flat fee of 40 euros plus a 40 euro for each of the appliance tested.  I had five: washing machine, dishwasher, stovetop, fridge and microwave.   That’s a lot of 40 euros just to check if they were working.  I told our maconnerie and he was outraged.  “C’est trop,” he said disgustedly.  “Bring a long electric cord,” he ordered, “and we do the checking.”  We moved things around in the very small space, alternately plugging the appliances stacked against an opposite wall. Viola!  All worked fine.


So I informed both the survey damage expert and the appliance expert that the appliances were working and that I don't intend to seek reimbursement for them.  I was hopeful that the email will prod the survey expert to complete his report and send it to the insurance carrier.  I hope.  Things move slowly around August; papers misplaced, people change jobs, reimbursements forgotten or delayed.  One has to acclimate quickly to the bureaucratic process.


Fortunately, our maconnerie already started work; on a hunt for the mysterious leak.  He found it behind the toilet wall.  He reported that it had been probably been around for a year based on the calcium build-up on the pipe.  I re-designed the kitchen space on paper; he critiqued and made corrections.  He took me to the Brico-Depot (hardware superstore) and we both wandered around to select cabinets, counters, etc.   Back in the U.S. I do these things online and email my design and preferences to our contractor.  Here, it’s like a partnership.

Latest comments

14.07 | 08:01

Beautiful! Vive la France!

17.02 | 01:57

France is awaiting your return, Betty!

16.02 | 10:07

Such a wonderful experience for all! Truly a beautiful region filled with lovely people, excellent food, and soothing wine! Am looking forward to returning.

07.09 | 14:44

What a joy for this to be shared. I am reading several times, soaking it in and making my own movie in my mind of this adventure. So excited for you three!