31 October 2011

Always Keep Your Papers

Dear audience of Francophiles, I know I tend to impart wisdom about where to go eat in Paris or about common myths associated with being American or French.  You know...practical stuff.  But today, if I can give you any sort of advice on how to survive in Paris, let it be this:

Always keep your papers.

I'm not sure how it all started.  I think it happened when I was going through my papers in a frenzy one Sunday afternoon.  Since moving to Paris, my important papers have resided in folders in a backpack.  Now that I have been here for 2.5 years, the backpack is starting to bulge.  Immigration papers, payslips, assurance maladie papers, phone contracts.  I am made up of one impressive French paper trail.

I looked at the hubs, and asked him, "Hey, do you think I can just scan these suckers, keep them in paper form for about 2 years, and then shred the hell out of them?"

A look of bemused horror came across his face.  He knew I didn't know better, which made me cute, helpless American me...but was horrified at the same time that I would even talk about defiling my documents.

"No, Erin, you have to keep them always."


"But...that's a lot of paper.  Plus, I'd really like to shred my immigration documents.  It's like therapy." 

"Erin, you have to keep your payslips because when you retire, you might need to prove to Social Security that you worked longer than they will say you did."

He wasn't kidding.  I literally have to keep all my payslips from 2010 until the day I retire (which is 2048 or so) because the French Social Security admin could one day say that I only worked 38.5 years instead of 40.  I started to flip out.

"No, Fab, that can't be.  Don't they realize how much of a fire hazard that is?"  I have a legitimate fear of my house catching on fire.  Suddenly dying in a fire of bureaucratic nonsense is quickly outranking my fear of death by Smart Car as the worst way to die...

He shrugged and did the little raspberry thing that French people do when they don't have an explanation to offer you.  "It's just how it is done."

"And why is that my responsibility?  What do I pay them for through my insane taxes here in France?  To have 11 weeks of vacation only to tell me right when I am about to peace out to my retirement beach house [that I have yet to buy] that I can't go because according to their records I haven't worked enough?  Seriously?!"

It happened again the other day when I tried to unblock my crappy phone that I bought in 2005 from Orange.  Apparently, I needed either the original SIM card or the original receipt of purchase from 6 years ago.  When I inquired if they could search by name, the dry response was "Our search records don't go back that far."

Wait a tick...I have to keep *my* records for 6+ years but you guys can't search for records from 6 years ago?  Needless to say I got some shrill French woman screaming at me on the other end when I asked this innocent question.

Apparently in 2.5 years, I still have yet to *get it.* That's exactly what we pay the government/private sector for.  To send us masses of paper that we have to keep track of, thus giving them plausible deniability for not keeping records.  Crafty...

With what little money we have left over, we go to Ikea and Monoprix to buy storage space and folders to organize our papers.  Anyone know where I can get a solid, fire-proof safe in this république?


  1. Oops, I'd better become more of a hoarder of paperwork then. I do tend to chuck stuff I don't think I could possibly need again. We're already into a second filing cabinet for storing documents. We, a family of five, have filled the first in four years of living here. We brought the cabinets over with us from Ireland. Looks like that was a very good move!

  2. I agree with keeping important papers. However, I feel like in this digital age, it is a bit much to say you have to keep your papers indefinitely. Need I mention again how big of a fire hazard that is? ;)