La Cotisation: How much money I earn blogging $$ + a retirement pension for Americans in France?

boucherie butcher shop french typography shopfront
“La Boucherie” in Pélissanne—Notice the lettering on this shopfront (can you translate the French?). I love typography and have always loved language even if I am still capable of butchering French. In today’s story, you’ll understand why... 

The Butcher of Paris by Stephanie Phillips fiction about FranceFor our True Crime readers: The Butcher of Paris  I've not read the book (read at your own risk) but the title goes along with today's story :-)

Today's Word: la cotisation

    : subscriptions, dues; contributions (social security)

French Audio: Click the link below to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in today's post. Then scroll down to the vocabulary section to practice your French comprehension.

Click here to listen to the French vocabulary

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

After completing my tax return early this year it was time to celebrate at the beach with my husband and our dog in nearby Bandol. But the festive feeling dampened when, shortly after submitting ma déclaration d’impôt, I received a registered letter from the French IRS informing me my 2021 earnings were insuffisant.

Insufficient earnings? "What does the French government care if my earnings are lower than usual?" I asked my husband. Jean-Marc was perplexed, too, until he remembered our tête-à-tête last year when we sat down to figure out how I might be eligible for retirement benefits in France. (Turns out, I could use the points accrued in the States, adding them to the points I am finally accruing in France. But that was not all...).

"When you registered for French social security, one stipulation was that you earn no less than the SMIC (minimum wage) in order for your quarterly cotisations to be worthy of your future pension. According to les règles, if you do not earn the equivalent of the minimum wage you are either suspended from the pension points program or assigned another job.”

Assigned another job? But that’s crazy! For one, how am I to fit into a French workplace when I practically butcher the language? And two, I like working from home in my pajamas (teaching French...).

As for insufficient earnings, last summer’s sabbatical was to blame. Back then I justified the break: “most teachers have summer off...” Only I’m not a teacher, but a professional blogger "in the educational sector." Writing, like teaching, is a low-paying job, but for years I have managed to make a wage from blogging and, added to my husband’s, it was enough for us...but apparently it was not enough for the Powers That Be.

Speaking of The Powers That Be, isn’t it eerily Orwellian how the government in France gets to decide what job a future social security recipient will do from here on out? Then again, after so many government directives these past two years, it isn’t surprising.

A breakdown of my income shows that in 2021 I earned 15,140 euros (roughly 1400 less than French minimum wage) from my job as un écrivain. This amount includes my earnings from blogging, income from freelance writing, and author royalties (sounds impressive but for 2021 book sales I received a check from Simon and Schuster for a grand total of $138). As you can imagine, any plans to retire and live off royalties are as absurd as the government reassignment scheme I will attempt to explain next:

As per the 1999 "rematch program" the government reassigns workers to more gainful employment, as such, postal workers are becoming hairdressers (making for a choppy outcome if you’re the customer..), gas station attendants are now boulangères (bringing in more bread for a living...), and now a blogger is being reassigned as...drum roll...

“Une Bouchère.”

Blinking my eyes I reread the registered letter, which underscored my transformation from blogger to butcher as “the opportunity to carve out a better retirement.”

“Just who makes these bizarre ‘rematches’?” I asked my husband

“I don’t know,” Jean-Marc snickered. “Artificial Intelligence?” 

That’s it! Artificial Intelligence- or A1 (like the famous steak sauce...) Oh là, my mind is already prepare meat. But how can AI justify my not-so-meaty qualifications? I mean, apart from butchering la langue (tongue—an edible delicacy in France) aren’t I under qualified to work as a butcher? Come to think of it, as one who turns 55 this year...I join the ranks of older workers who are neither over- or under-qualified, but disqualified for most jobs.

But back to butchering, is this the French government’s idea of une blague? I mean, the only thing I could possibly butcher is an April Fool’s joke.

Voilà, dear reader. On this 1st day of April, did you fall hook, line, and sinker for the story? Or, as my husband said, was this one too far-fetched to believe, trop gros à croire? Let me know in the comments. And many thanks for reading and sharing this post.

Jules in La Ciotat boucherie butcher shop
As a final twist to today's tall tale, here's a local butcher shop that was transformed into an art supply store here in La Ciotat. (That's my mom, on her way out of the store with more paintbrushes.)

In books: RETIRE IN FRANCE: is the most comprehensive guide to retiring and moving to France. This book will guide you through the entire process, and help you through the problems with detailed checklists and exhaustive information: from preparing your home, selling it, getting your long-stay visa and residency permit, shipping, getting a car in France, finding an agent, buying a new home, going to closing, furnishing, and settling in France in comfort and ease. Order the book here.

la boucherie = butcher’s
la cotisation
= contributions to social security 
la déclaration d’impôts = tax return 
insuffisant(e) = insufficient, inadequate =
tête-à-tête = one-to-one discussion
le SMIC “salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance” = minimum wage
les règles = rules
un écrivain = writer
la boulangère = baker
la bouchère = butcher
la langue = (double meaning: tongue and language 
une blague = a joke
trop gros à croire = too far fetched to believe

Boucherie in provence
I leave you with one last boucherie photo, taken while strolling with Mom in Brignoles, years ago. Corrections to this post are always welcome and appreciated. Merci d'avance.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Illegal Alien, Moi? Sans papiers? Carte de sejour & Lettre de motivation + Ratatouilasse recipe (ratatouille + hamburger)

Hamburger-ratatouille golden retriever smokey
This deliciousness you are seeing, above, is French artist and friend Yvon Kergal's recipe for caramelized "Ratatouillasse" (apparently a valid scrabble word, though no other definition found...) It's the most delicious hamburger-ratatouille combo ever, find the recipe here!  

TODAY'S WORD: une carte de séjour

    : residence permit

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc:
Download MP3 or Download Wav file

Pour obtenir ma carte de séjour, je dois faire une lettre de motivation.
To obtain my resident's permit, I must write a letter of motivation. 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

There comes a time in every parent's life when they want to run away. But this morning's escape wish comes at an inopportune time. Far from leaving my home, I am scheduled, tomorrow, to ask the French government for a new carte de séjour: my 10 year resident's permit has expired for the second time and I am once again in a precarious sans-papiers situation, no more than an étranger en situation irrégulière.

Add to that this morning's meltdown after my flesh-n-blood French counterparts returned from the States only to glander for days...while Mom does the cooking, cleaning and laundry rattrapage. And while caring for my kids actually releases endorphins in my body--the comfort I get in being able care for my children while I still can--it is for the very same reason (their burgeoning adulthood) that I am at odds with their relaxed attitudes: in order for them to succeed in life, they must learn to organize! 

But I should talk! Lack of organization is what has put me in this clandestin situation with the French authorities. "You do realize that your residence permit expired 3 weeks ago?" The woman behind the security window is not smiling. 

"Yes," I admit. "Veuillez m'excuser. I have been caring for a family member... who has since passed away." (I felt guilty using this information to my advantage, but surely Breizh would want to help in keeping me united with my children and my husband,  the family she looked after for nine golden years. Come to think of it, this may explain the sudden onslaught of emotions on entering the Préfecture in Toulon. As Jean-Marc and I sat down with an audience of immigrants (all waiting impatiently for their number to be called by a French authority), I burst out in tears.

"What is wrong?" Jean-Marc asked.

"I don't know! Je suis très émotive....."

Maybe it was the sight of so many people waiting to plead for residency... a 6-year-old boy, oblivious to his situation... a young mother wearing a headscarf... an older couple looking as fragile as the numbered ticket, somewhat wet and crumbled, in my hand.

I used to be awed by the expats in literature and yearned to be one of them. Decades later and I am a part of the expatriate community in France. But a funny thing happened the moment I became an official expat: the term suddenly didn't fit me at all. It sounded unpatriotic. Though I had left the States, I felt no less an American.

I once heard the term "immigrant" used by Americans in online expat forum. My first reaction was, how can you consider yourself an immigrant? Have you fled a war-torn country? Isn't an immigrant someone who comes to a country for a better quality of life?

Back at the Immigrations waiting room in Toulon's Préfecture, I look up at the surveillance camera and imagine what the authorities are seeing among the group of immigrés: a woman with tears streaming down her face,  sandwiched between a 6-year-old and an older couple. The tears are misleading given the catharsis taking place. I am so grateful to be here in France, having come here 23 years ago pour une meilleure qualité de vie. And it is the very reason I wish to stay here: to help my children understand the gift they've been given and to share this culture with others, by talking about the French way of life.

As I type this letter to you, I hear dishes clattering and silverware falling into the kitchen drawer. My daughter is done vegetating from her jetlag. When she's finished with the dishes, she has promised to help me with my lettre de motivation (A document the French government has asked for).  I began practicing with Jackie yesterday, by reading her the first line of my letter....

A l'attention dé Préfécture du Var. Chers Monsieurs. Chers Madame. Je suis très motivée de rester en France car....


 "Maman!" Jackie says, "It is called a une lettre de motivation... but that doesn't mean you begin it with "I am motivated." And never use "car"! We quit using car ( "because") after 5th grade!"

"OK. How about parce que... "

"No! Don't use parce que! You must not use "because" at all! In France, you must use argument to convince people!

*    *    *

Looks like I have a lot of work to do to get this letter ready for tomorrow. And I realize, now, I have one more point to add to the list of arguments as to why I should remain in France....

Dear Monsieur le Préfet, would you be so kind to grant me ten more precious years in France, car... parce que... ETANT DONNE QUE ... given that I have so many things to learn and to share.

A parent tries her best to raise considerate and responsible kids. I was so touched to receive, just after writing this story, a lovely note from Gail and Fred, the couple in Portland who allowed Max to stay at their home all on his own. Gail writes:

I just got my computer back and wanted to send Max a thank you for the way he kept the apartment. It was clean and neat...couldn't have had a better intern in the space. Also, he left a bottle of wine and tea set that I will write and thank him for.

sans papiers = illegal, clandestine
= to veg out
le rattrapage = to catch up
clandestin = clandestine
le préfet = prefect, reeve
étant donné que = given that 

Mother and daughter franco-american Kristin Espinasse Jackie

Picture of me and my daughter, taken 12 years ago in La Ciotat. Everything else that I would like to teach my children is summed up in this famous poem: Read Desiderata in French and in English here

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety