Tuesday, December 12, 2017

British Embassy Brexit meeting in Civray

French Village Diaries British Embassy Brexit meeting Civray Martin O'Neill
Matthew Lodge, British Embassy Brexit meeting in Civray, December 2017 photo: Martin O'Neill

Yesterday evening I attended a local Brexit information meeting set up by the British Embassy, facilitated by Kathryn Dobson who produces the Living Magazine and felt strongly that events like this don’t just take place in big cities like Paris, Lyon and Nice. Matthew Lodge, the Embassy number two, along with a small team from consular services came to Civray, a rural town in the Vienne region, close to the Deux-Sèvres and Charente borders, an area in France where there are a lot of British residents. It was informative and I’m glad I was there, even if all our questions don’t have answers just yet.

Firstly I was impressed by the turn out, the theatre was almost full, and our presence reinforced our interest in knowledge about the changes ahead and helped put across our worries and fears for our future.  Matthew Lodge was engaging, pleasant and tried to be reassuring without fobbing us off, but he was also clear that following the referendum there is now an all-party determination to respect the result and to make the best of it. Brexit is happening and it will bring about change to everyone, especially those of us living in the EU.

There were some angry and upset people, but the questions that were put to Matthew were generally well thought out and answered clearly and to the best of his knowledge. One of the questions was from a local French Maire, who spoke excellent English, and had taken the time to come along in order to be better informed to help her British residents. She was seeking ways to reassure them that they still had a future to look forward to in France, a similar reassurance that I was looking for too.

This is not a detailed synopsis from the meeting, but the points I found worth noting.

The term ‘settled status’ was used quite a lot during the meeting and my understanding of this is that it applies to those of us who by the date of the UK’s exit from the EU are considered settled and resident in France ie our primary residence is here, we are in the ‘system’, we hold a Carte Vitale health card and French driving licence, we are either working here or at least submitting tax returns here (note - the current double taxation treaty between the UK and France should not be subject to change).

There is currently no requirement for UK citizens to apply for a Carte de Séjour (French residency permit), but we can do so if we wish. Matthew felt it could do those of us who are eligible no harm to apply as it will give us proof of 'settled status' and demonstrate how long we’ve been here should we need it in the future. He also advised the Embassy would be willing to intervene if our local Prefectures were reluctant to process our applications. He saw no need for us to apply for French citizenship, but understood that many might feel this was the way forward for them, especially our children who have grown up in France, as this will ensure their freedom of movement throughout the EU in the future. We are lucky that neither the French nor British governments have an issue with citizens holding dual nationality.

The rights that those with ‘settled status’ are entitled to, in terms of healthcare, pensions, and right to reside are likely to remain the same following the UK’s exit from the EU. This includes the right to continue to hold an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) medical assistance card for travel within the EU. However, for those of us with family members regularly visiting from the UK, there is no current provision for them to retain their EHIC status. I am also unclear as to what our right to receive emergency medical assistance in the UK will be.

UK residents moving to France after 29/3/19 will not have these same rights that we will have. If you are reading this and fancy giving the EU life a go, do it now to ensure you are settled before March 2019.

Matthew didn’t quite go so far as to tell us to learn French, but did point out that those applying for citizenship in the UK are expected to speak English. We are likely to find ourselves doing a lot more form filing in the future, so having more than a basic level of French is certainly going to help.

I still have questions concerning our rights to remain elected officials on local councils here in France, something the French were keen for us to do at the last elections in 2012, and I feel strongly that to lose our voice locally would be a shame. The next phase of talks will deal with trade issues, so answers to my many questions about running a business that crosses EU borders also can’t be given just yet. 

The Embassy are keen for those of us in France to follow them on social media (Twitter: UKinFrance and BritishinFrance and Facebook) to ensure we are kept as up to date as possible and are happy to receive questions concerning Brexit by email. Please email putting ‘Brexit query’ in the subject line. You can also contact them via their website here and sign up for Voisins Voices here, a newsletter for the British community living in France.

The joint technical note on the comparison of EU-UK positions on citizens’ rights, something Matthew referred to last night, can be read in full here.

Information on requesting French carte de séjour can be found here and for applying for naturalisation see hereIt was suggested the Embassy put together a guide to help us in applying for French naturalisation and carte de séjour, which they seemed keen to do.

If you were not at the meeting, I hope you find this helpful. You can also watch a short local news clip about the meeting in Civray, including interviews with local residents and Matthew Lodge, here.

You might also like to follow British in Europe to keep up to date on their work to ensure our continued rights following Brexit. You can find their website here and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Busy days, noisy nights and winter weather woes

French Village Diaries winter weather woes storm Ana
Storm Ana
I was a little bleary-eyed this morning thanks to my new friend Ana. Actually, she’s not my friend at all, just the latest named storm to attack us from the west, blowing around all night, causing things to go bump, crash and the roof tiles to clatter around, which kept me awake. I was convinced daylight would reveal debris and disorder in the garden, but thankfully all was well if rather damp this morning.

It was also quite a busy weekend and the last thing I needed was a storm-damaged nights sleep, but at least I was able to take the executive decision not to drive Ed to school in the dark, when the gusts were being recorded at over 100km/h. We might not have enjoyed a lie-in, but we did have a sneaky lazy morning together.

The weather this last week has certainly been varied, from thick fog last Monday, when I spent the morning doing the Limoges airport run, to freezing fog on Wednesday, pouring rain on Friday, then blue skies and sunshine, but heavy frost on Saturday to gale force wind with more rain on Sunday and into Monday. I’m not enjoying this wild array of wintery weather one bit. Thankfully there has been a lot going on to take my mind off of the weather.

French Village Diaries Sauze Vaussais mediatheque inauguration
Cutting the tricolore
On Saturday morning, as a local councillor, I was invited to attend the opening of a local mediathéque (multi-media library). For a small, rural town a brand new library and multi-media centre, with meeting space for the town associations, is quite an achievement and while I overheard some saying the architect had used too much metalwork on the design, most of us agreed the mix of glass, local stone, wood (the town is home to a large wood yard) and metal (as the building was originally a ironmongers shop) was just right. One of the perks of being a councillor is the invites to local special ‘do’s’ like this, where I have observed the French ribbon-cutting tradition, and I love it. A line of dignitaries proudly stand behind a tricolore ribbon, which one of them cuts to officially open whatever it is we have gathered to celebrate, they then each take a small section of ribbon away with them, often tucking it in their top jacket pocket. Although I wasn’t a dignitary, our village Maire did cut me off my own piece of ribbon when I explained this was a very French thing to do.

French Village Diaries Sauze Vaussais mediatheque inauguration
The dignitaries and their speeches
The other tradition is for all the assembled dignitaries to say a few (or a lot) of words. Thankfully as we had an event in our village to attend, we only had time to listen to the eight-page speech from the town Maire and sadly had to leave before the other seven started their speeches!

French Village Diaries village elders Christmas meal
The table setting for the village Christmas meal

Our afternoon was then spent entertaining our village elders, the over 70’s who are invited to a five-course Christmas meal each year. It was great fun, good company and we all enjoyed the foire gras with fig and onion chutney, the salmon served in a scallop shell, the duck, the cheese and the black forest themed dessert. As a councillor I’m honoured to be included, and rather glad that the serving and clearing of the tables is down to us as at least it ensures lots of exercise between courses.

French Village Diaries village elders Christmas meal
The Christmas menu

I’m not sure if today’s laziness was down to a food hangover from the weekend or the lack of sleep last night, but with a busy week ahead of me, it was probably just what I needed.

This evening I attended a local Brexit information meeting set up by the British Embassy, which was informative even if all our questions don’t have answers just yet, but it's getting late now, so I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tourteaux Baubeau Club Ambassadeurs 79

French Village Diaries Tourteaux Baubeau Lezay Club Ambassadeurs 79
Tourteaux Baubeau, Lezay 79 fresh from the oven
Last week, on a cold and foggy morning (and we’ve had more than our fair share of those so far this winter) I set off on an adventure. I like adventures and this one ticked many boxes. It involved food, it was local and it was free. 

Here in the Deux-Sèvres department we have a kind of loyalty card scheme run by the tourist office called Club Ambassadeur 79. The scheme is free to join for residents of the Deux-Sèvres and as well as offering reduced price entry to local attractions they also organise group tours to local producers. I wrote briefly about this scheme when I signed up in 2014, (see here) but last week was the fist time I’d actually got around to using it. As my legs and I know from my cycle ride around the Deux-Sèvres, it is a long department and things that happen in the north are not really on my doorstep.

One of our local specialities is the Tourteau Fromager, a baked cheesecake I wrote about in 2013, (see here) which is traditionally served for celebrations like weddings, christenings and retirements. I was rather excited to see the Ambassadeurs were being offered a tour around the patisserie where they are made, Tourteaux Baubeau, near Lezay and I couldn’t put my name down quick enough.

French Village Diaries Tourteaux Baubeau Lezay Club Ambassadeurs 79
Mini galette fresh from the oven
Our group, that was mostly made up of retired French couples (yes, I was the only non-French person there) arrived in the morning just as a batch of little galettes came out of the oven and just in time to watch the start of the day’s production of Tourteaux. It was cold and dull outside, but inside it was warm and with a welcoming smell of baking and the seven members of staff didn’t seem at all bothered with us getting in their way. Tasters were of course offered and enjoyed.

French Village Diaries Tourteaux Baubeau Lezay Club Ambassadeurs 79
The Tourteaux making process
The Tourteau has a pastry base and is filled with a light and airy batter that contains fromage frais, which can be made with goat milk or cow. The first part of the process is separating the eggs, all 350 of them that are required to make just over 200 tourteaux. The actual number will vary as the volume of the beaten egg white varies depending on the external temperature. They have a pretty cool machine that separates the eggs, where the whites fall through the holes leaving the yolks to plop into the basin. Any rogue yolk has to be removed from the whites, which are beaten to soft peaks before being folded into the yolk, flour and sugar batter.

French Village Diaries Tourteaux Baubeau Lezay Club Ambassadeurs 79
Hand mixing the egg whites into the batter
We were told at the beginning of the tour that the flour, eggs, fromage frais and butter all come from the local area and much of the process is still carried out by hand. They weren’t lying, but I’m not sure any of us were expecting to see the hand (or should I say arm) mixing in of the beaten eggs to the batter.

French Village Diaries Tourteaux Baubeau Lezay Club Ambassadeurs 79
A delicious slice of tourteau fromager
Once the batter is spooned into the shells they are cooked at 300° for about 20 mins. The volume of egg white in the mix means they rise, but also that they brown very quickly hence the black top. The cooking process is watched very carefully, by shining a torch through the glass door of the oven, but as they looked black very quickly how they knew when they were cooked was a mystery to me. Once done, the oven was switched off and the door was opened allowing a cloud of smoke and smell of burning to escape, but the tourteaux stayed put for four minutes. It wasn’t quite the nice smell of baking we had arrived to, however, don’t be put off by their burned appearance as it hides a delicious, moist, light and airy cake within.

If you live in the Deux-Sèvres and would like more information on the Ambassadors scheme, click here.

This post has been linked to #AllAboutFrance over at the Lou Messugo blog. Click here to read more.

Lou Messugo