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Beating the Bureaucracy

I had no choice but to hop a morning train today since the December 5th transportation strike started earlier than was announced with the cancellation of today’s afternoon TGV from Nice to Paris. Without much warning, the portion of the route from Nice to Marseille was cancelled leaving me with little alternative but to cut my time in Nice short by about five hours. So, I write this from the comfort of the TGV with a working plug (they don’t always) and WiFi compliments of SNCF.

The Sunday downpour in Nice stopped as of Monday and made way for skies mottled with black clouds and patches of blue. The sea was churned up making for a muddy look of what is usually a beautiful azure blue. Almost no one was on the beach, except for a lone comber here and there, mesmerized by the high tide. Still, it would be sacrilegious to forego a trip to Nice without at least one stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, even in the stormiest of weather.

The annual holiday lights are up all over Nice, but the Christmas Market (Village de Noël) and the lighting installation on the Promenade de Paillon will launch on December 6th, so I’m missing it. This year, along rue Masséna, signs of “Joyeuse Fêtes” glowingly light my balcony. It’s a beautiful time of year to be in Nice, even if one thinks of it primarily as a summer resort. They’re wrong. It’s heaven all year long.

If you read Monday’s Nouvellettre®, then you know that my friend, Barb, declared Thanksgiving dinner a non-political event, so the stories that were told by our group of Americans for the hours we sat at the table were all about life in France — the ups and downs, the challenges of securing visas, bank accounts, driving licenses, etc., with lots of funny anecdotes designed not to frighten the newcomers, but to prepare them for the worst.

Reality: the French administration is as cumbersome as it can get. According to, the word “bureaucracy” is French. It combines the French word “bureau” — a desk or office — with the Greek word “kratos,” meaning rule or political power. The French economist Jacques Claude Marie Vincent de Gournay (1712-1759) coined the word in the mid-18th century. He never wrote the term down, but a letter from a contemporary later quoted him:

The late M. de Gournay… sometimes used to say: “We have an illness in France which bids fair to play havoc with us; this illness is called bureaumania.” Sometimes he used to invent a fourth or fifth form of government under the heading of “bureaucracy.”

— Baron von Grimm (1723-1807)

So, you see, the French come by it quite naturally. In fact, I don’t think the French would be happy without it — it gives them a sense of security and reduces their risk in just about any situation. (Face it, it’s a whole lot better than dealing with the anarchy in Italy!)

Now, you take an American who is used to getting things done without a helluva lot of bureaucracy. We’re spoiled big time, so coming face-to-face with the tangled web of administration can be a serious shock to our systems. Hence, all the anecdotes flying around the table. Everyone there had stories to tell. Everyone always does.

I recently got a letter from clients of ours seeking access to the French health care system under “PUMA”  — La protection universelle maladie. Since 2016, universal health coverage is for anyone who works or resides in France. Not bad, right? That means that even a retiree from the U.S. who resides in France is entitled to health care coverage…free of charge.

To get your “Carte Vitale,” one must apply with CPAM — the Caisse Primaire d’Assurances Maladie. I know, it’s very confusing. But this is just the beginning. CPAM is the local department level of the national health insurance administration. The official website for CPAM is at and it’s named “Amelie.” Confused again? I am sure you are.

So was Jimmy. After a bit of back and forth, he wrote: “Okay, we just returned from CPAM in the 19th, dramatically different feeling than the one in the 16th.”

To find the CPAM office that fits your residence, visit You’ll find Paris listings here. And for the application form to complete, click here.

Jimmy clearly discovered there was a difference, but how would you know without trying them out? Perhaps the personality of each district is reflected in the CPAM office? Nonetheless, Jimmy and his wife “kinda liked it.”

He and Paige put together two packets of the following documents:

* Passport photos
* Visas showing their entry to France, stamped
* OFII (French Office of Immigration and Integration) proof of medical exam for the Préfecture
* Birth certificates
* Marriage License
* Four months of “Quittance de Loyer” (rent receipts, showing rent payments made)
* Copy of rental apartment lease
* RIB (Relevé d’Identité Bancaire)

Having fun yet? Then, there’s the face-to-face meeting with the “fonctionnaire” who has your future in his or her hands. They can be the worst, or they can be the best. Here’s what Jimmy reported:

I don’t care what anyone says, the French are the most accommodating people I have met. A guy came up to us in the very long line and asked what we wanted. I said, ‘Desolé, je ne parle pas Français mais je parle Espagnol et Anglais.’ He said, ‘Why don’t we speak English?’ Do you blame him with my French? He took our packets and reviewed them and said it looks complete. ‘I will go staple them together and you can drop them in the mailbox for the building outside so you wont have to wait in the line.’ So, he led us outside and we dropped them in the mailbox and told him thank you very much and left. So, we will see what happens next.

This is not the kind of story I hear too often, but clearly it does happen. I think it all starts with the immigrant. Jimmy is a well-groomed, well-dressed American retiree who is always very polite, pleasant, smiling and friendly, as is his wife. My guess is that this is normal behavior for the people who come in contact with them and that’s a big reason they get treated so well. Call it “karma” or just plain “luck of the Irish,” but no doubt, making a good impression will go a long way in cutting through the heavy administration.

We are not specialists on immigration, but our clients come to us for advice, nonetheless. I’m working on finding the best resources for this so that we can assist them fully, but for serious matters, we generally recommend our partner attorneys at Fragomen.

More news for retirees in France, besides free health care (!!) is that the new Navigo Pass for Seniors, aged 62 and over, is now as little as €37.60 a month. That’s 50 percent less than the normal rate, allowing us seniors to go anywhere limitlessly in the Île-de-France (zones 1-5) on the Métro, RER (regional trains) and buses for peanuts. (That’s of course, when the RATP and SNCF are not on strike!)

To learn more and get your pass, visit

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor of Parler Nice

(by Erica Simone)

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P.S. “Le Matisse,” my bit of heaven in Nice is lonely for a guest between now and the next time I go to Nice mid January. My guests must be friends of Parler Paris, Paris Nice or French Property Insider. If you are interested in visiting Nice and want a great place to call home, email us!


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