Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's Tax Time!

April 15th is approaching and every American knows what this day represents: Taxes are Due! Not giving too much thought to paying American taxes since I haven't lived there in almost 2 years...I was close to forgetting all together about my patriotic duties as an American citizen.

I realized somewhat recently that even though I'm living and working in France, I do indeed still need to pay US income tax! Ahhh...and the confusion begins. I'm looking at the Assistants in France forum to read about how other assistants did this. Apparently there is a special tax form that exists for Americans living abroad. As an assistant I worked only 7 months last year in 2008, which means that I made about 5,600€ = $7,400. Apparently if I made less than $8,000 than I won't have to pay taxes. Now, this is not including the money that I made at the internship this past summer. I was paid 300€/month x4 months. The question is whether I should include this money on my taxes forms? It wasn't registered on any official form and it was paid in cash. Maybe I shouldn't even be writing about such a subject on a blog. LOL

And even more confusing than paying US taxes abroad, is paying French taxes. I have to track down a specific form from the rectorat (I think) and fill it out similarly to a US tax form. However, it's not over yet. I also have to pay a Taxe d'habitation from last year. I was supposed to have recieved this form in the mail but I never did. I moved out of that apartment last April and apparently I didn't give any follow up address. So with me risking a lot of problems in France if I'm still here in the future, I should probably contact the nice tax people and tell them to send me the tax form. I'm crossing my fingers that I don't owe too much.

Tonight is also Daylight savings in France or L'heure d'été (the hour of summer) which means summer will be here soon! I can't stand these long winters. I think i'm destined to live in a tropical island because I honestly wouldn't mind living in 85° weather year-round.

If anyone has any advice about filling out either US or French tax forms, please feel free to leavd a comment. Bon weekend!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Are Americans wasteful?

I can't help but admit to thinking ever since I starting living in France, how wasteful we Americans are. Such normal actions for the French such as bringing reusable shopping to do your grocery shopping instead of accumulating wasteful plastic and paper bags at the super market are such easy gestures to help decrease wastes but for some reason, its something that we cannot incorporate into our daily lives.
Buying large quantities of food that will just end up in the trash a few weeks later is also another wasteful American habit. In France, people have smaller fridges so they buy less food. They are forced to buy only an near exact amount of food that will be almost completely eaten by the end of the week.
One fellow teacher at one of my schools told me a story about his stay in the states with an American host family. During dinner one night apparently the wife slightly overcooked a whole chicken in the oven and just threw it in the trash like it was chard black. I was pretty embarrassed by that story but I think that throwing away a slightly burned chicken is a little extreme and not many people would do the same thing.
Even unused electricity in apartment buildings is conserved in France and most of Europe. When there is no one in the hallway, the lights turn off automatically. When you need light, you push a button and voila. Why do we need to have 24 hour lights in hallways when they are not being used? But both in the USA and France there is the great invention of the motion sensor for both indoor and outside lighting. I think that we're catching on to that trend!

The list goes on and on. European's having smaller cars and thus burn less gas. They also have only about 1 television per household compared to about 3 or 4 for a house in the US. Even the toilet paper in the US is more wasteful then in Europe. Americans like to buy several layered, perfumed smelling toilet paper while in France, there is only one layer and no perfums which equals less trees cut down and less waste in the sewers. I read in a newspaper that Americans use 4x more toilet paper than Europeans! And I'm pretty sure that Americans don't go to the bathroom more often than the French lol.

Thankfully, since times are changing and since wallets are becoming lighter and lighter, people's lifestyles are changing. Now I'm not saying that this economic crisis is a good thing with all of the job layoffs and people loosing their homes, but I think that we can see something positive in this whole situation. We need to change our lifestyles. We could not keep spending and consuming like we have for so many years. This is the time to realize that most of the things that we buy we don't need. Why do you need 10 different body-sprays when you can buy just one that's actually a good quality? And the same goes for many other every day wasteful buys: shoes, clothes, makeup, home decor, etc.

Don't we all know the saying "Money doesn't buy happiness"?. Are we trying to prove to others that we are better the more wasteful we are just because we can be?

I admit to being one of those wasteful Americans once. I would leave the lights in my room on for hours even if I wasn't there. I would throw away tons of food because I didn't feel like saving it to eat later. And to think of all of the Starbucks paper cups that have gone in the trash when I could have brought a reuseable mug? But it's not just living in France that made me change my lifestyle, but by starting to pay bills and educating myself.

So the point of this post is basically, rethink what you buy and what you use. Always ask yourself, "do I really need this?" or "can I buy a less wasteful product?" Etc etc.

I'm curious, what do you all think?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Manifestation and some Peanut Butter Cookies!

Today I have the day off because the teachers at the school are on strike. This morning around 11am I headed into town and took a few photos of the protesters who had all gathered. In total, I heard there was about 10,000 people who came to the manifestation! That's 1/10th of the Besançon population! Whoa. I took the opportunity to take some pictures.

Then when I got back home, I had a craving to eat some peanut butter. I know, really random. I found a cookie recipe online and hop, made some homemade American peanut butter cookies. French people are not fans of peanut butter, and Christophe especially, but thankfully he likes the cookies. So I guess they were somewhat of a success. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spring is Coming!

Spring is FINALLY coming to Besançon. We've had about 5 beautiful days in a row and I've been soo happy! During the past two winters that I've spent here, the first time that I was able to break out my spring jacket was in May! And if I remember correctly, last March we had a couple snow storms and it was the first time that it had snowed all winter! But as spring arrives, decisions have to be made. Where will I be living next year and what will I do? Well, that's another subject for another time.

On another note, I didn't get to celebrate St. Patrick's Day like I wanted to this year, since of course, the French don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day mostly because there is not a big Irish population. I did however, do an easy English lesson with my students on Tuesday. I don't think they actually learned the words, Leprechaun or Shamrock, or Rainbow or Pot of Gold, but they got to color and make cool book marks. Oh well, I tried.

This week I only have two days of teaching because Monday, I didn't feel like going so I called out (I know very irresponsible), Wednesday there is never school, and Thursday there is another Grève for the same reasons as the last one except people are even more pissed off. Furthermore, Sarkozy did a recent trip to Mexico to deal with a small problem with a French citizen and stayed at the one of the most expensive hotels in the country. Sooo the French are not very happy about that news when people left and right are loosing their jobs and having trouble putting food on the table.

Even more of a slap in the face is the news about the AIG bonuses. I've been reading every day in the newspapers just how outraged everyone back home is. And I really hope that our government does something to reverse their "contractual obligations" which is a load of bull.

Voila just a few updates. I know that I need to be better about updating this blog. I'll try harder from now on. Bonne semaine!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Back to Work...and my Normandy Vacation!

Allo everyone! So, ça y est, vacation is over! Back to teaching the darling children which I'm not too excited about but in a way it's a good thing. I'll be occupied again with a normal routine and I'll avoid spending money out of boredom. Last week was the Besançon - Normandy road trip and I had a great time. We ended up cutting Versailles out of the plan because we didn't have enough time and I was out of money. We divided up our week by spending two days in Normandy, and two days in Rennes, Brittany at Christophe's friend's apartment. The remaining two days were used as travel time. Since we had a very limited time to visit the region, we picked a only a handful to sites to visit.

First on the list was Deauville, home of the annual American film festival and the location of the film "Un Homme, Une Femme". It was a very classy city and a little too up-ity for me. We got to walk along the beach and the famous boardwalk.
Next city we visited was Caen. We didn't get to spend too much time in the city itself but we took a brief tour of the center. What we really got to see was the Caen Memorial Museum, a World War II museum dedicated to the memory of the French liberation by the American and British troops.
There was a vast collection of American war equipment and vehicles like the tank in the photo above. I was a little surprised that there was almost absolutely no mention of the Holocaust but since there was a large number of elementary school groups, the museum probably decided to tone down the atrocities of the war for all age groups.

On the way to the Normandy beaches we stopped in Bayeux to see the famous Tapestry. Ok, taking photos wasn't allowed but we did it anyway.This tapestry is over 1000 years old and in several scenes tells the story of how William the Conqueror took power in England in the year 1066. Not only it this thing really old but it's really really long too! It's 70 meters long (229 feet!). Très impressionnant!

Next we visited two of the American landing beaches during D-Day, June 6, 1944. We visited Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc. Here are a few photos:
The Pointe du Hoc was really impressive. There were tons of German bunkers that had been abandoned, one was even in pieces. There were also hundreds of craters in the ground from the dropping of the bombs during Operation Overload.
Well voilà, that was all of the highlights of my vacation in Normandy! Hope you enjoyed!