Archive for January, 2010

France debates Muslim dress ban

January 27th, 2010 1 comment

I originally wrote a piece last year about the cultural differences between the U.S. and France concerning religion and society, mentioning the ban on Muslim headscarves in public schools as an important flash point between the two cultures. You can read it in my file here, starting on page 9. You can also access it here.

Now some French Members of Parliament are proposing a potential ban on the Muslim black veil that covers everything but the eyes, called the niqab. French media are mistakenly calling it the “burqa” (also spelled “burka”), which is in fact a body-length cloth that covers the eyes (with a screen to see), something you may see in Afghanistan. I mention this difference in my article, as does The Economist.

As BBC reports, the proposal is sparking heated debate across the country:

The BBC’s Hugh Schofield, in Paris, says the reasoning behind the report is to make it as impractical as possible for women in face veils to go about their daily business.
There is also a fear that an outright ban would not only be difficult to implement but would be distasteful and could make France a target for terrorism, our correspondent says. France has an estimated five million Muslims – the largest such population in Western Europe.

What this comes down to is a clash between the French values of secularism and liberty. It is a debate that goes to the core of what it means to be French, and viewed within the context of the other debate on “national identity“, France may be perceived as going through a bit of an identity crisis – what is it to be French?

There is certainly an increasingly ethnically diverse population, but with that comes tension with the old order and in some cases, integration problems and racism. Many countries are confronted with immigration and racism problems, however, and the challenge is to see how France adjusts to the ongoing changes to its social structure.

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Top iPod apps for Expats

January 25th, 2010 3 comments

This is an article taken from, a very helpful site website that I recommend. Although the iPod and applications have made life certainly easier in some respects, I do think that there is a risk that if we depend too much on applications to determine a packing list, say or calculate a tip, then we’re doing our brains a disservice. That’s just my two cents though. These applications do sound helpful. Fellow expats do you have any other iPod/iPhone apps that you recommend for travelers/expats?

Top 10 iPod apps for expats

Sarah Novak, life coach and iPod lover, lists her top 10 iPod applications for travellers and expats.

We all know that having the right tools is critical for success. When you travel or live overseas, though, having the right tools becomes essential to completing your daily tasks. While you may be familiar with traditional resources like guide books and maps, I’d like to share how to use new technology to improve your overseas adventures.

Apple’s iPod applications (apps) for the iPhone and iPod touch have functions that can simplify life. But with thousands of available applications, the task of finding the right ones to download can be daunting. I’ve researched them and consolidated my recommendations into a list of essential apps for any traveler or expat.

Background on iTunes apps
Applications can be uploaded to any iPod touch or iPhone (traditional iPods including the classic, nano and shuffle do not use applications). All applications can be downloaded from the iTunes store, where transactions are processed via credit card through iTunes and delivered instantly.

Top 10 essential apps for expats
1. iMetro – USD 1.99 (CHF 2.02, EUR 1.38) to upload. This app provides metro maps for 28 cities around the world, including Lausanne, Paris and Berlin, keeping you from wasting money on taxi fares. The metro maps are scalable, so you can zoom in or out to find your way. There are quite a few metro apps out there, but I like this one best because of the large number of available maps for the low cost.

2. Sit or Squat – Free. This user-maintained database identifies free public toilets around the world. Over 65,000 toilets have been identified by users. To use, enter the nearest address, city, zip code or intersection and it will generate a list of the nearest toilets. You can also check out the reviews and comments for each toilet at

3. Gate Maps – USD 0.99 to upload. This app provides airport terminal layouts for over 30 international airports. It runs offline, avoiding charges for uploading data overseas. Savvy travelers can check the map of their arrival airport in-flight so that they can speed off to their destination upon landing.

4. Flight Track Pro – USD 9.99 to upload. This application integrates with the online travel organiser TripIt, saving your flight itineraries and keeping you up-to-date on delays, gate changes, cancellations and more. The offline mode allows you to check your most recent flight details without the use of wi-fi.

5. Packing Pro – USD 3.99 to upload. This handy packing checklist will keep you from arriving in the Caribbean without a swimsuit! Create your own list or work from one of several custom templates.

6. Spend – USD 0.99 to upload. I love, love, love this app! It solves the problem of how to keep track of all the daily cash transactions that occur on vacation or in everyday life overseas. This is a top-notch tool for accounting as well as budgeting.

7. WifiTrak – USD 0.99 to upload. This handy app locates free wi-fi signals nearby; perfect for the traveler on the move.

8. HiConverter – USD 0.99 to upload. This fantastic conversion tool incorporates all the usual measurements such as temperature, currency exchange rates, distance, as well as some surprises including clothing and shoe size conversions. It also includes features from the popular app Tipulator, allowing you to calculate the tip on a bill.

9. Lingolook Flashcards – USD 4.99 to upload. These flashcards list 500 translations of the most common words in an easy-to-use flashcard format (100 actual cards). Bonus: 300 of the translations come with an audio clip from a native speaker to help you perfect the pronunciation. The cards are available in seven languages including Spanish, French and German. The best part of this app is that it lives in the phone, requiring no data transmissions (or ensuing bills) overseas.

10.Lonely Planet City Guides – USD 14.99 to upload. If you don’t feel like lugging around a big guide book, download a Lonely Planet City Guide instead. For USD 14.99 you can access one of 20 major cities, including Amsterdam, London and Barcelona. Designed as a stand-alone application, this program does not require a data download, saving you roaming charges. It is however GPS-enabled, so you can find your location on the application’s city maps.

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France welcomes Obama’s bank regulation proposals

January 22nd, 2010 No comments

It looks like the U.S. and French administrations are increasingly seeing eye-to-eye on financial issues…but the debate of regulation will continue especially in the U.S. French banks are more regulated (not much of a surprise there).

PARIS (Reuters)
Fri Jan 22, 2010 3:48am ES

French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde welcomed on Friday U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposals to limit financial risk taking, saying the United States was finally looking to regulate its financial sector.

“I think this is a very, very good step forward,” Lagarde told Europe 1 radio station on Friday.

Asked if France should imitate the move, Lagarde said: “Actually it is more the opposite that is happening … I am delighted that president of the United States is following our lead.”

She added: “They see that regulation, which was a taboo word that was difficult to use in financial circles in the United States, is vital to contain and limit banking excesses.”

Obama on Thursday unveiled rules to restrict some banks’ most lucrative operations, which he blamed for helping to cause the financial crisis.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Andy Bruce)

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Wellbeing in France – Expatica

January 21st, 2010 No comments

Expatica introduces “wellbeing in France

The expat site Expatica has resources for expats living in France to de-stress and relax, from yoga studio listings to forums and several groups and clubs for sharing information. Here is an excerpt:

Wellbeing is defined as “the state of being happy, healthy or prosperous.” Being all three is no mean feat. For expats seeking that balance, especially just after relocating, achieving wellbeing can be especially challenging.

Relocation challenges
The stress involved with moving to a new country throws many expats off balance. Traumas, bad relationships and life’s disappointments seem to become a thing of the past as you pack your bags and face a new future full of possibilities. But once the honeymoon wears off, the subsequent expatriate adjustment process can be difficult as one settles into a new culture and lifestyle.

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Online and Drive-up grocery shopping in France

January 18th, 2010 1 comment

I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about the growing trend of shopping for groceries online in France and then picking them up at your convenience. The article specifically profiles Chronodrive, which is currently expanding throughout France but has yet to come to the Rhone-Alpes area where I live. Here are some excerpts:

…a hybrid online shopping model devised by Chronodrive that ditches the expensive delivery option used by early Web grocers and retains what the company’s founders felt shoppers wanted: an easy online system to order groceries that the consumer can pick up, prepacked, at his convenience….In France, Mr. Thoumine expects the format to reach a 4%-5% market share of grocery shopping by 2013, compared with 0.6% now. “People want to save time on grocery shopping,” he says. “The drive-through offers a very original solution.”

Personally I shop at Simply Market for the good quality at low prices, owned by the same giant group Auchan that has invested in Chronodrive, and there’s one about 7 minutes on foot from my apartment. But I could imagine the attraction of the concept of ordering online and picking up in your car. Fellow expats in France, how do you prefer to grocery shop? I’m sure it depends largely on where you live.

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France to Introduce Body Scanners At Airports

January 10th, 2010 No comments

In the aftermath of the recent Christmas Day bombing attempt by a Nigerian radical on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, people are increasingly worried about security at airports. But there is controversy about the body scanners used by some airports, criticized by some as invading privacy.

However, the technology has improved and is less invasive, thus in my opinion for the price of a just a bit of privacy, more security is well worth it. Of course some will disagree with me, but that’s the beauty of debate and democracy. Ultimately the debate is privacy v. security and the balance we must strike.

France is adding to the debate with the recent move to introduce body scanners at airports, as reported by Reuters:

France will use body scanners at some of its airports, initially to search passengers heading to the United States, Transport Secretary Dominique Bussereau told Europe 1 radio on Friday.

France said it would tighten security measures at its airports after a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. plane heading for Detroit on Christmas day.

Bussereau said the first scanners would be used “certainly for flights to the United States and the most sensitive flights to start with” and said there may be six or seven scanners at the beginning.

A scanner will be installed at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris within the next two weeks and another at the city’s Orly airport at a later date, Eric Plaisant, director of security at France’s civil aviation authority, said.

He said he was unable to give exact dates as the authority was still discussing the scanners’ location in the airports, staff training and how to respect passengers’ privacy.

Washington has asked other countries to improve their aviation security technology after the failed attack highlighted U.S. intelligence and security faults.

Canada, the Netherlands and Britain have said they plan to use body scanners. Italy is considering them and Nigeria, the country of origin of the man who tried to blow up the Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam, will install them.

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France proposes taxes on Google, others for online ads

January 10th, 2010 No comments

BBC News
France considers tax for Google, Yahoo and Facebook

Google and other net firms could be taxed under plans being considered by the French government.
A report, commissioned by the government, suggests firms such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook should pay a new tax on their online ad revenues.

The money could be used to fund legal alternatives for buying books, films and music on the internet.
But critics say the tax would be difficult to implement and Google says it could slow down innovation.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a tough line on the increasing dominance of digital content.
France has just introduced tough new legislation aimed at removing those who persistently download illegal content from the net.

It has also gone head-to-head with Google over its plans to digitise the world’s books, with a project to set up its own digital library financed by the government to the tune of £700m.

And it is considering a law which would give net users the option to have old data about themselves deleted.
The proposals for a tax on content is still very much in the early stages and there are few details of how it would exactly work.

Patrick Zelnik, who contributed to the report and is also the founder of the French president’s wife’s record label, hopes the idea will be taken on board across the EU. But Google is among those to have voiced opposition to the plan.

“We don’t think introducing an additional tax on internet advertising is the right way forward as it could slow down innovation,” said Olivier Esper, senior policy manager for Google France.

The better way to support content creation is to find new business models that help consumers find great content and rewards artists and publishers for their work.”

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France ranked the world’s best place to live

For the fifth year in a row, International Living Magazine has ranked France the “best place to live in the world” (out of 194 countries) in its annual “Quality of Life Index.”

Factors taken into account were graded on a 0-100 scale (with 100 of course being the best). The results are as follows for France (full country list available on the link):
-Cost of Living: 55
-Leisure & Culture: 81
-Economy: 69
-Environment: 72
-Freedom: 100
-Health: 100
-Infrastructure: 92
-Risk & Safety: 100
-Climate: 87

Well France’s health care system was ranked by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the best in the world in 2001, it is certainly not as efficient as it could be, and scores of 100 are a bit over the top despite the fact that France is generally a very safe country with freedom and health; no one country is perfect. But I know from my own experience here that life is certainly pretty comfortable.

Other countries figuring near the top of the list:
#2 Australia, Germany and Switzerland (81 points each)
#3 New Zealand (79)
#4 Luxembourg, United States, Belgium (78)

PR News also wrote about this. What do you think of your experience in France?

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France fighting against tax evasion

France hails success in rooting out tax cheats

PARIS, Jan 3 (Reuters) – Most of the 3,000 French taxpayers whose names appeared on data stolen from a Swiss branch of bank HSBC have contacted authorities to legalise their financial holdings, French Budget Minister Eric Woerth said on Sunday.

Switzerland protested strongly about the use of the information and France has promised to return the data, but Woerth said the majority of those on the lists had already contacted tax officials to resolve any fiscal problems.

“Closer to 3,000 (people have stepped forward) rather than 1,500,” Woerth told Europe 1 radio.

“This is a great success,” he said, adding France would prolong its drive to persuade taxpayers to step forward voluntarily and declare hidden, offshore accounts.

At the start of December, officials said some 1,400 taxpayers with accounts stashed away in neighbouring Switzerland had settled their affairs with French authorities, raising 500 million euros ($717 million) in tax arrears.

However, news that France had obtained complete data from HSBC’s offshore banking headquarters in Geneva only emerged early last month and officials had indicated there was a subsequent upsurge in contacts with the tax authorities.

HSBC has confirmed that an ex-employee, Herve Falciani, stole client data in 2006 and 2007 and have launched legal proceedings against him.

Falciani fled to France and the data fell into the hands of local officials last year after French police raided the man’s house at the request of Swiss magistrates and confiscated his digital files.

Switzerland was furious over France’s decision to use the stolen information to track down fraudsters and has threatened to suspend ratification of a treaty aimed at helping France catch tax cheats unless the data was returned.

France says it will hand back the files, but will nonetheless continue to use the lists.

Woerth said on Sunday that a special unit set up last April to deal with tax cheats had closed down, as expected, on Dec. 31. But he added the campaign against fiscal fraud would carry on unabated in 2010. ($1=.6973 Euro) (Reporting by Crispian Balmer)

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UPDATE:France’s Lagarde Sees 4Q Growth Perhaps Better Than 3Q

UPDATE:France’s Lagarde Sees 4Q Growth Perhaps Better Than 3Q

PARIS (Dow Jones)–France’s economy has momentum going into 2010 and growth in the fourth quarter could be a little better than in the third, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said Thursday on French radio station RTL…

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