Sunday, May 29, 2011

Giants invaded Nantes

During the weekend the Royal de luxe, a French mechanical marionette street performing art company was having a performance in Nantes. Two giants plus a dog were wandering around downtown Nantes and attracted thousands of audiences.

This wall picture shows the giant little Indian girl and her dog in Mexico.

It was so crowded that I couldn't get a close snap of them. They traveled from Mexico to Nantes in a huge container and arrived by boat. We didn't know where the show would start and everyone was guessing where should be the good spot to watch them. I snapped some photos and my battery run out before the Mexican giant showed up.

This afternoon I brought Aelig to the playground and it was empty! While walking back I saw a group of kids so I asked them why there was nobody in the playground. They told me: "They all went to see the giants!"

French income tax return

I'm not the one dealing with income tax return so whenever I receive something about taxes, I just hand it to hubby.

This year, I had a glance and something just caught my attention:
My taxable income is higher than my gross income.

As far as I know:
Taxable income = Gross income - social contributions

So what went wrong? The more we investigate the more headache we have, there are FIVE different amounts we were given to declare ONE source of income.

The tax form (Déclaration préremplie revenue 2010) indicated two sources of income: one from my employer and one from CPAM. CPAM is a government agency who handles expenses on health-care, it was the one paying my maternity leaves in 2009 - 2010. It makes sense that I got income from it but not as much as it declared (they should have sent us a statement that they declared that amount to the tax office but we never received it). Let's call this amount A.

Confused, I checked the CPAM website and looked at my account, which lists all the reimbursements paid to me (In France we pay the doctor first then get reimbursed later). It is a very well done tool and I managed to find that maternity leaves statement which is meant for income tax purpose. From the website, I requested payment details for my 4 months maternity leaves. 2 days later I received a statement with amount B, which is around 6k less than amount A!.

I still couldn't figure out how they came out with the number so I sent another email to CPAM, asking them to explain why my taxable income is higher than my gross income. Two days later I got a mail, saying that they have forwarded my request to the department in charge, apparently this time my case was too complicated for them to reply within two days. A week later, without any notice, I received a letter from CPAM, with a corrective tax statement giving me another amount, which is around 500 less than amount B. Let's call it amount C.

This is not the end of the story. 2 days later I received an email reply from CPAM telling me that they made a mistake on my tax statement, the correct amount should be D, around 200€ more than amount C. They sent me later a tax statement in mail.

Now, I have amount A, B, C, D to choose from to file for my income tax. The problem, all these amounts do not match what was stated in my payslips during the months I was on maternity leaves. A payslip expert explained to hubby which line in the payslips I should sum up and we ended up with amount E. The expert explained it is not unusual for CPAM to mess up when the maternity leaves touch two income tax years.

I think the best solution is to go in person to the nearby CPAM office. I'm not keen on doing this and I'm afraid they are going to give me another amount. The case is closed for me and I'm happily passing the whole mess to my belove hubby. :-)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An incident in a grocery shop

I was shopping for my grocery and I saw this woman selling roasted pork and potatoes. She repeats her line every minute or so to promote her products but no one actually stopping. Since I haven't had lunch, I decided to just buy something from her.

She showed me a piece of pork, I asked her to cut it into smaller piece and she was kind of unhappy about it. She cut it anyway and proceeded to weight it. But then, she mumbled something to herself, quickly added the piece that was cut of, re-weight, packed and handed it to me.

I was surprised and not happy with her attitude. She didn't ask my permission and just decided to add the portion that I didn't want. It costed nothing much but still, shouldn't she just sell me what I was asking for?

I didn't say anything (I was speechless), and just decided that I won't buy from her anymore. Now I'm stuck with pork that would need 4 meals to finish. :-( Hubby said he would just refuse it, I think I need to get tougher with these kind of merchants.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Embarrased by Dujardin

At work.

A project was at its final stage so I sent a closure email to the team members involved.

I got a reply from someone:
"Donc ils ont décidé de garder Dujardin?" (So they have decided to keep Dujardin?)

What the hell, I was scratching my head so hard trying to figure out what he meant, there was no Dujardin in our team.

Since my superior was just next to me, I told him we got a question but I don't know what it meant.

He looked at the mail, telling me that he had no idea, then he pointed to the email title: OS117 (the project name).

"Oh it is a joke!" He giggled. "He is talking about OSS117". Noticing my blank look, he explained: "Dujardin was playing in the film OSS117".

Such a coincidence, the film OSS117 has almost the same name as our project OS117. As a foreigner, I couldn't get the joke because I have not seen that film and didn't know who is Dujardin.

"You do know him, he played in "Un gar et une fille", hubby told me later.

Oh that guy, I like his act in "Un gar et une fille", and he just won the Best Actor award in the Cannes Festival.

Ok, Dujardin, I know you now, you happy? :-)

Saturday morning bread hunt 3

A: Ladies and gentlemen, do you see the red painting on the wall over there? This is the bakery we go every Saturday morning for the bread hunt episodes.

A: Daddy, we are home with the bread. I propose a trip to the zoo this afternoon to reward my hardwork.
F: Ok dear. Now hand me my share of the chocolate bread.
A: Here you go.

F: But why is my part so tiny?
A: Because I'm a big girl now and I need to eat more in order to grow strong.
F: But that's unfair! Your mother brought you to the bakery to buy bread for ME!

A: Stop complaining and eat your bread. One two three, times up, there are mine now.

A: Tiny one for papa, big one for myself.

The winner of the day: Aelig who ate 99% of the bread and earned a trip to the zoo.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Google Translate reliable?

On 28 of April, the Chinese premier Wen JiaBao visited Malaysia. During the welcoming ceremony in Putrajaya, there was a banner written in Malay and Chinese, which horrified almost everyone who knows the Chinese language.

On the banner, it was written:
In Malay: "Istiadat Sambutan Rasmi Sempena Lawatan Rasmi TYT Wen Jiabao Ke Malaysia"
Translation in English would be: "Official welcoming ceremony in conjunction with official visit of His Excellency Wen Jiabao to Malaysia."

In Chinese: "正式欢迎仪式,与他一起温家宝阁下的正式访问马来西亚."
Translation in English: "Official welcoming ceremony, together with him His Excellency Wen Jabao's offical visit Malaysia."

The translation in Chinese contains huge grammatical and syntax errors. If I was only given the Chinese sentence without the Malay original text, I won't have known what it actually means.


After the incident, the Prime Minister of Malaysia apologized to the Premier of such an embarrassing mistake. The Premier smiled a said: "It is just a small matter, don't worry about it, it won't jeopardize the relationship within the two countries."

While facing the press about this mistake, the Prime Minister said he would find out the source of mistake and another minister who was accompanying the Premier suggested a ban on using Google Translate on important official ceremonies within the government agencies. Despite all these aftermath talks, for me, the damages were done. The mistake was captured into photos which has circulated within the blogspere. Malaysia always tries to portrait itself as a country that consists of multi-ethnics with people speaking in different languages including Chinese. Now, those Chinese delegates who came with the premier, had their very first impression of Malaysia's Chinese level, that they would later share with their counterparts in China. Surely the photos of the premier's visit were published in the Chinese's medias with this banner as background.

For me, Google Translate is a good tool if you want to find a translation for certain words, but not with a long sentence. If you want to translate sentence, it is better that you have some knowledges on both languages involved. The mistake in the banner would be easily detected by anyone who has basic Chinese knowledge. However, I don't think everyone is capable of coming up with the right translation. For a machine, what do you expect?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Found a replacement babysitter

Aelig's babysitter will go for training for a total of 10 days, sometimes between May and Sept. She told us about it when we signed the contract and she reminded us two months ago.

We finally received a letter from the Town Hall stating the dates and several options we have while she is gone on training. We called the person in charge to help us find a replacement but she was either too busy or was away on vacation. We left several messages but she never called back. We were desperate as we have no other solution. I was already planning on taking 4 days off in May to take care of Aelig as hubby has no more leave left until end of May.

Miraculously, the person in charge contacted us the Friday before the sitter would be on training (the Monday after). She found us a replacement, someone living just two blocks away from our apartment. While picking up Aelig on that Friday evening, we learnt that we got call from the person in charge because our sitter was nagging her continuously. Our sitter just couldn't stand leaving us in a desperate situation so she took action instead. What a nice person!

We visited the replacement sitter and Aelig was playing happily in her apartment with another kid. The first two days with her went very well, Aelig had no problem adapting to a new environment, thanks Buddha!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Saturday morning bread hunt 2

It is saturday bread hunt time.

Aelig has mastered the skill to climb up and down the stairs now.

Arrived home with a pain au chocolat.
Aelig: Papa, the angel has arrived with a pain au chocolat. Do you want it?
Papa: Of course my dear.

Aelig: You know I climbed many stairs and walked many steps to get the bread, I think it is reasonable to charge you 10% of interest and a trip to the playground. Deal?
Papa: Deal my dear.

Papa: Here your share.

Aelig: Man, I think I undersold this. Papa didn't even lift a figure, why does he deserve a big part of it?

Aelig: I changed my mind. I need to charge 30% now.
Papa: Ok ok.

Aelig: Hmmmm, the bread is so good!

Aelig: Papa, I finished mine, give me more.
Papa: But I have finished mine as well.

Aelig: Hmmmm, there are some breadcumb left in the bag, yummy...

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Why can't we have replacement holiday in France?

This year there are three public holidays in France fall on Sunday:
1 May = Labor Day
8 May = World War II Victory Day
25 Dec = Christmas

May is usually the month of holiday as people will take the "pont" or the bridge resulting in long weekends of 3-4 days. This year, since both important holidays fall on Sunday and Ascension and Pentecôte fall in Jun, May 2011 has become "No holidays May".

Some companies do compensate their employees by adding days to the annual leaves or adjusting their RTT (a result from working 35 hours a week), but not everyone get compensated, it is rather a "tant pis pour toi" or "too bad for you" situation.

I wonder why can't France have replacement holiday just like in Malaysia. In Malaysia, when a holiday falls on Sunday, the next Monday is automatically a holiday. This applies for public sector and majority of private sector.

"Well, you already have too many holidays in France, you should not complaint just because you lose 2 - 3 days", some might say. For me, it is a yes and no statement. True that we have 5 weeks vacations + 2 weeks RTT + about 10 days public holidays, but you are forced to take leaves for certain situations:
1. The laws require that a baby sitter could work maximum 48 hours a week. That's less than 10 hours a day and unfortunately, we do need more than 10 hours a day for work + transport. To respect this, we have to take half day off every week, that's about 26 days a year, shared between hubby and me = 13 days per year. That means our RTT is pretty much gone just for this purpose.

2. A babysitter enjoys 5 weeks vacation just like everyone else. So when babysitter is on holiday, unless we find a solution (grandparents, another babysitter), we will have to be on leave to take care of our child.

3. A babysitter could be required to attend some trainings. In our case, the sitter will be gone for a total of ten days, spread during several weeks. We have not yet found an alternative so one week for hubby and one week for me are gone as well.

4. When a child is sick, the babysitter might not want to take him/her. In this case, one parent has to stay home. Some companies do have sick leaves but there are limited to certain days.

5. Some government agencies only open from Monday to Friday when you and me are working, so if you need to deal with these agencies, and you no dot live close by, you will need to take some time off.

Due to all these situations, we do not have the privilege to have personal vacation just to chill off, so 3 days of replacement holiday could be really cool. I know I'm dreaming. :-)

Easter gift hunt

Last Sunday was Easter holiday so we went to my in laws for family gathering. My MIL had organized a special Easter gift hunt event.

Aelig went on gift hunting.

She found some chocolates, the easiest to spot among the gifts.

It was the first time I participated in Easter gift hunt. It used to be eggs and chocolates when hubby was young, but now we hunt for practical stuffs: personal care products. I couldn't find anything at the beginning, hubby and BIL had spotted my gifts many times and they had to give me hints before I found them.

They came across a box but it was for Aelig.

Aelig's new toy: a box of wood puzzle.

Sharing her new toy with daddy.

Enjoying her fruit of hunting: chocolates.

Overall it was a well organized family event. I didn't know much about Easter traditions nor its origins, it seems that people are celebrating it more as a family event then religion ceremony. However, I do hope that when Aelig is at the age to read and learn, we would sit down and read stories about Easter, I'm actually curious about the origin of Easter eggs and bunnies.