I arrived in Paris in Januray 2006 to spend one year working in research and development for a French company. Almost nine years later I am still here. I married a French woman and have a little French daughter. I have a French driver’s license. And now I have been granted French citizenship. At the risk covering the same ground of so many other Americans who have spent time in France (see here) I will give my reflections on my evolution in France (with thanks to Edmund Burke for the title) in terms of several aspects of my life here, primarily from a libertarian perspective.
On taking French nationality
Following the sage advice of the likes of Doug Casey, Jeff Berwick, Simon Black, and Gerald Celente, my primary purpose in becoming a French citizen was to obtain a second passport as a hedge against the greatest danger to people in the modern western world; aggressive, predatory governments. But make no mistake, I like the life here. Even more, I like the French, though occasionally I do miss Anglo culture and language.
Like so many aspects of life in France (and everywhere else I suppose) obtaining citizenship is a bureaucratic hassle. Many documents are required, that must be obtained within a recent time limit, stamped to be made official, and translated by an official translator. The investigation into my marriage a la the film Green Card was cursory. At the meeting with the police I was only required to present my passport and those of my wife and child and asked if I had any legal problems in France, and how many bedrooms were in my apartment (I can only guess why this question was asked). But perhaps the most irritating aspect of the process was that I was required to make several visits to the sous prefecture of the Haut-Seine in Boulogne-Billancourt; a truly horrible building inside and out, aesthetically and functionally, but with a beautiful view of the Seine. Happily, horrible modern architecture is relatively rare in France.
On giving up US nationality
I have certainly thought about joining the growing trend (the stampede for the exits) to give up US citizenship. (see these recent LRC articles here and here). Doug Casey has said in an interview, “I guess most of the people listening now are Americans, and actually the US government is like a predator stalking us on the African plains.” Compared to US citizens residing in US territory, expats now understand this, the eye opening experience revealing the blood on the fangs is dealing with the new Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA) law. This law requires reporting of all assets of “US persons” with confirmation by foreign financial institutions. The totalitarian nature of law is clear (see here). It is only the US and Eritrea that makes tax slaves of expats, and while Eritrea is condemned by the world community, the US is the indispensible country. The reporting of these critical events is hardly touched on in the traditional media but is available on blogs (e.g., the thoughtful Victoria Ferauge at her Franco-American Flophouse blog, or the Canadian site called the Isaac Brock Society).
As a libertarian I have been aware of the nature of the US government for many years, but the dangers were brought home to me when I was audited by the IRS a few years ago. I had had an accountant prepare my returns with instructions to report fully and under the assumption that if I paid the full tax burden in France I would not need to pay anything to the US. In spite of this I received a huge bill for back taxes with penalties. I then had this Kafkaesque conversation with the IRS auditor.
Me: Do you believe I live in France?
Me: Do you believe I work for a French company?
IRS: Yes Handling Mr. Hyde Check Amazon for Pricing.
Me: Do you believe I pay the full French taxes?
Me: Isn’t there a treaty between the US and France specifically to make double taxation impossible?
Me: And yet now you say I must pay tax in the US on my salary in France?
At the time I had read that the Obama administration was directing the IRS to hire new auditors specifically to beset expats. The interpretation of the French taxes of people like me was changed to make the haul even greater. I was forced to find a much more expensive accountant who specializes in expat tax problems on top of the taxes I must pay. So I ponder the step, but to renounce US citizenship today is expensive and time consuming and perhaps (my conjecture for the future, see Schumer) dangerous if you plan to return to the US for visits. So I must continue to pay … twice.
Life in France
On a French keyboard it is necessary to shift to reach a period (i.e., the end of a thought), while commas and semicolons are available directly (a pause in an incomplete that will continue). I find that this insignificant fact is exemplary of life in France. That is, the French seem to always take a roundabout, longer duration approach to anything than Americans.
A cultural anecdote concerns bathing suits. The first time I went to a public pool in France I was asked to leave because I was wearing the typical baggy American bathing shorts, whereas tight fitting speedo-like things are required. On the other hand, my six-year old daughter was asked to leave a public pool in the US because she was not wearing a top to her bikini. I cannot decide which case was more ridiculous.
One aspect of now being a French citizen is voting. I did not vote in the US and do not intend to vote in France but the political scene consisting of sins, friends, and lovers in France with the likes of Cecilia, Carla, Segolene, Valerie, and Julie is much more interesting than, for example, Monica and Hillary were in the US.
The one aspect of French political life that I may follow and participate in by voting is the local elections. There are about 30,000 mayors in France. Now this makes for a large political class, but in the thousands of small villages the mayor can be one of the people Against the State: An ... Best Price: $5.02 Buy New $5.52 (as of 11:35 EST - Details) and very accessible. I live in a suburban town near Paris of about 45,000. I have met the mayor three times in the four years I have lived there. For example, he stopped in at a party at our apartment complex. I have the feeling I could go and complain to him about a particular problem. I had never met an American politician and always felt they were isolated from my opinions. I do not plan to vote in the next election. But if I ever do live my dream of life in the French countryside, I might vote in the election for the local mayor.
Richard Ebeling has recounted the bureaucratic mindset of the French based on the writings of the French social philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, famous in the US for his study of America, from his book, The French Revolution and the Old Regime (1856). A few passages to give a flavor of the situation that I find still exists today follow below.
“A very extensive machinery was requisite before the government could know everything and manage everything in Paris. The amounts of documents filed were enormous, and the slowness with which public business was transacted was such that I have been unable to discover any case in which a village obtained permission to raise its church steeple or repair its presbytery in less than a year. Generally speaking, two or three years lapsed before such petitions were granted . . .
“Ministers are overloaded with business details. Everything is done by them or through them, and if their information be not coextensive with their power, they are forced to let their clerks act as they please, and become the real masters of the country [i.e., authority was delegated to a permanent bureaucracy] . . .
“Nobody expected to succeed in any enterprise unless the state helped them. Farmers, who, as a class, are generally stubborn and indocile, were led to believe that the backwardness of agriculture was due to the lack of advice and aid from government . . .
“Sad reading, this: Farmers begging to be reimbursed the value of lost cattle or horses; men in easy circumstances begging for a loan to enable them to work their land to more advantage; manufacturers begging for monopolies to crush out competition; businessmen confiding their pecuniary embarrassments to the intendant [the local bureaucrat], and begging for assistance or a loan. It would appear that the public funds were liable to be used in this way . . . Getting Out: Your Guid... Best Price: $2.25 Buy New $6.94 (as of 08:00 EST - Details)
“France is nothing but Paris and a few distant provinces that Paris has not yet had time to swallow up.”
French political and cultural life is certainly still dominated by Paris. Most Americans know France only by visiting Paris. Paris is great in many ways but the rest of France is really the place to be, especially for daily living. In terms of physical beauty, both natural and architectural, France is the most varied and beautiful country I know. For example we once spent a few days in the towns of Avignon and Arles in the south of France, then proceeded through the Camargue to the Hérault region north of Montpellier to visit my wife’s cousin. The Camargue encompasses the delta of the Rhone River before it enters the Mediterranean. It very much reminds me of Florida; hot, flat, lots of water, and pink flamingos. Where we visited Hérault was in the Cévennes mountains that could be likened to the foothills of the Rockies in Colorado. Thus in the south France one can travel about 60 miles and experience landscapes that are similar to going from Florida to Colorado in the US, a journey of almost 2000 miles.
Mark Twain’s eponymous character the Connecticut Yankee begins his self-history by saying “I am an American.” As the book is a critique of the Old World, this self-identification is an understandable counter point to the Medieval knights he encounters. I have often pondered the concept of self-identification and what my self-identification should be. For example, I lived in Texas for several years. A typical conversation upon making an acquaintance at that time would be:
New Acquaintance: Where do you live?
Me: I live in Texas.
NA: Oh, you are a Texan.
Me: No, I live in Texas, but I am not a Texan. If you see me wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, a string tie, and a heavily starched shirt just shoot because I have lost my mind.
Joe Sobran has written that “American patriotism typically expresses itself in superlatives. America is the freest, the mightiest, the richest, in short the greatest country in the world, with the greatest form of government — the most democratic. Maybe the poor Finns or Peruvians love their countries too, but heaven knows why — they have so little to be proud of, so few “reasons.” America is also the most envied country in the world. Don’t all people secretly wish they were Americans?” My answer to Sobran’s rhetorical question for myself is no, but nor do I want to be French.
Who you are is also what you think as opposed to where you were born, or what parents, or where you live at the moment. In that sense I have called myself a Reactionary-libertarian; a view that seems from another planet to many of my French friends, and my wife.
Now I am often called le papa d’Anna, le mari d’Elisabeth or l’américain. On the RER-B regional train from the Charles De Gaulle Airport to Paris I have the warm sense of coming home, even if the train passes through perhaps the ugliest part of all France. I kind of support Les Bleus, the French national team. But I don’t anticipate ever saying “I am French,” even if I will always continue to live in France.