Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What's in a Name? Initialisms Galore!

July 14th is "Bastille Day."

News flash! The French don't even call it that, not to mention "Jour de la Bastille."

They call it: La Fête Nationale.

It's the perfect metaphor for working as a travailleur indépendant. The administrative documents we independents churn out on a monthly basis often fall under more than one name, which can wreak havoc on our precious filing systems.
Just being a travailleur indépendant means you are also:
A freelancer
An independent
Profession liberale (Fr)
Entreprise Individualle (Fr)

As a linguist, I am no stranger to multiple names for the same thing. Just look at the latest research on English used as an international language. In a recent talk I gave in Cardiff, I showed 18 terms for roughly the same phenomenon (English as a Lingua Franca). Juggling the jargon France is no different.

Initialisms Galore!
Don't get me started. In the English teaching field, we've got: ELT, ESL, EFL, ESP,

TEFL, TESOL, EAP, TEA, IATEFL, BESIG, CEFR....Even David Crystal's blog is an initialism! (DC Blog).

Being a freelancer means you should initially know about:
  • URSSAF: Unions de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d'Allocations Familiales
  • SIRET and SIREN (roughly translated as "company registration number")
  • INSEE: Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques
  • Code NAF / Code APE: (trade sectors. Language training falls under 804C, generally)
  • CIPAV: Caisse Interprofessionnelle de Prévoyance et d'Assurance Vieillesse
  • DIF: Droit Individuel à la Formation
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Get ready for more alphabet soup.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Excuse Me for My Lateness

Here's a well-known travailleur indépendant's joke:

Two men are driving in the middle of the desert and the car breaks down.
: Oh dear. We've run out of gas. We don't have any cell phones, food or water. We're going to die.
Passenger: Did you send in your URSSAF payments?
Driver: No, why?

Passenger: Don't worry. They'll find us.

I don't know one independent in France who hasn't received one "rappel de cotisations" (translation: reminder of payment due). If you:
1) move,
2) go on vacation in August,
3) don't send your cotisations registered,
4) don't call the offices every hour of the day to make sure your check / TIP arrived safely,

then you will receive, at some point, a "rappel de cotisations."

I'll never forget the day I arrived home to find a letter from CIPAV (retirement):

Date: 28 septembre 2007
Vous êtes redevable d'une somme de 16,651.00 euros, au titre du régime d'assurance vieillesse de base, et de l'invalidité-décès que nous vous invitons a régler avant le 30 novembre 2007.
Veuillez agréer, Madame, l'expression de notre..."

I'm not a fainter. But on September 28th 2007 I sure was! Pay up 16,651.00 euros in two months!! Were they out of their minds?
Turns out, they were.
URSSAF didn't inform CIPAV of my existing company. So, for two years, I hadn't been sending off the required payments for retirement. Whoops?
Discovering this, I sent CIPAV a friendly note saying: "Hey, fellas, I'm ready to start paying you." To thank me, they send a bill the size of a downpayment on a McMansion.

There's a happy ending. My accountant, let's call him Mr Miyagi, informed me that government agencies, such as CIPAV, churn out false "rappel" on a daily basis to spook unsuspecting business owners into thinking it was the business owner's fault. Again, it's URSSAF's job to touch base with CIPAV. In my case they didn't. In my case, and in many other cases, I'm slapped into thinking it was my fault.

In the end, there's no need to ask your doctor to up your prescription of valium. Take each rappel in stride. And remember what each of our students whimpers upon arriving 15 minutes after the lesson started: "Please, pardon me for my lateness."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?

Becoming an independent is a bit like Neo and Morpheus's meeting in the first Matrix film. "If you take the blue pill, the story ends, you awake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe." You take the red pill, and you wake up in a plastic egg filled with gooey, enzymatic Jello.

The red pill symbolizes the truth. Alice's rabbit-hole. An independent's ticket to Wonderland.
But as Morpheus warns: "After this, there is no turning back."

To get the full effect, watch the video clips from the film:
Short version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGQF8LAmiaE
Long version (including the gooey scene): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_8Zq_iWuFg

It's positively eerie how this scene ties in perfectly to taking those first steps as an independent. Read on:

Morpheus: I imagine that right now you’re feeling a little like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit-hole…You’re here because you know something. What you know, you can’t explain. But you feel it....That there’s something wrong with the world (1). You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere...You can feel it when you go to work, or when you go to church, or when you pay your taxes (2). It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage (3), ...Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. (He produces a box containing two colored pills, one blue and one red.)
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back (4). You take the blue pill, the story ends, you awake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. (Pause. Neo reaches for the red pill.) Remember: all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more (5). (Neo swallows the red pill with a glass of water...four months later he receives his first two bills from UR$$AF and RAM to the tune of 428 euro.)

Source: Larry and Andy Wachowski (1996)

(1) All teachers who have experience with CDD, CDI, CDII, or vacataire contracts know this!
(2) Morpheus' first mention of URSSAF, CIPAV and RSI.
(3) Second mention of CDD, CDII, and vacataire contracts.
(4) Sadly, this is true for independents. It's very difficult to go back.

(5) Morpheus must have read my mind.

Start-up letter to send to UR$$AF

Here is a draft of the letter you can send to URSSAF to inform them of your intentions of starting a independent company. Think of this letter as the red pill Neo takes at the beginning of the film, "The Matrix."

Centres de Formalités des Entreprises
3 rue de Tolbiac
75701 Paris Cedex 13
Paris, le 15 juin 2_ _ _
Objet : Création d’entreprise individuelle
Madame, Monsieur
Je soussigné (your name), née le *(birthdate) 19** à (place of birth), immatriculée à l’INSEE sous le numéro (SS#), demeurant (address), souhaite m’installer à compter du (date you want to start) comme formatrice /eur en anglais pour adultes en qualité de travailleur indépendant.
En vous remerciant de votre obligeance, je vous prie d’agréer l'expression de ma considération distinguée.
(your name)

About this blog

July 4th: America celebrates her Independence Day. Here in France, for this southern belle, every day is Independence Day - or rather an Independent's Day. Every July 4th, I'll pop open a bottle of champagne to mark the anniversary of my "travailleur indépendant" status. It has been a journey filled with surprises, triumphs and heart attacks. Being a travailleur indépendant is not for everyone. This blog is thus dedicated to those who are thinking about taking the leap, have already jumped, and who have landed in the thorny thicket known as Freelancing in France.