Monday, January 30, 2012

Even the French hate Twilight.

Today is just a couple of quick shots of advertising the on the Paris Métro.

First, we have English language courses from the Wall Street Institute, a French company. That's all well and good, but for a reference to a decidedly American institution, why does this delightful woman have a British flag on her tongue?

French Advertising (1)

This, though, is the ad that I really love.

French Advertising (2)

This ad for asks if you're sure about your chosen profession. The "French" reads:
Je voudré être écrivin pck j'adore écrire, c une vré pasion.
Here's roughly how I would translate that to English:
I wud like to be a riter cuz I love writing, it a reel passion. 
That's bad enough, but if you look closely on the image in the lower left, you'll notice that the book is entitled "tuilaïte". Is that word even French? I've no idea, but if you pronounce if phonetically (in French) it sounds an awful lot like Twilight :)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Obama is not a socialist

We're going to have a little departure today kids. I noticed again on Google+ that someone in my circles referred to Obama as a socialist. My response:
Over here in Europe, whenever people hear Americans say that Obama is a socialist, they start cracking up. Nothing could be further from the truth. It seems to take people living in the bubble of America, with a right-wing party and a far-right-wing party to think that Obama's attempt to correct for a few market failures is somehow "socialism" (in the sense that between socialism and capitalism you have a spectrum on which NO country hits either extreme, but the Obama is far, far away from the socialist end of that spectrum).
I get so frustrated by this old canard that I'm going to break a personal rule and repost a journal entry of mine from a long time ago. Mind you, I'm not saying that I like Obama or approve of the job he's done (I'm not saying I dislike him either). I'm just saying he's not a socialist. So here's that old blog entry from 2008. Fair warning, the language is strong and this is a bit closer to my actual writing style — one I've deliberately toned down to avoid offending people on this blog.

Tell Me What the Hell Socialism is Again?

With all of this outcry that Obama is socialist, I confess to being a little confused. I hear so many journalists and "pundits" throw around that term, but none of them really explaining it. Perhaps more importantly, I want to hear them explain two things: how "socialist" applies to Obama's policies and how "socialist" doesn't apply to the US.

But first, we interrupt this rant with an excerpt from "Pulp Media Fiction".


  SARAH PALIN sits back in a chair, staring in horror at JULES 
  WINNFIELD.  He has a microphone held tightly in front of him.


                      Can you name me a single 
                  mother-fuckin' Republican who 
                  attacked Obama's "protect domestic
                  jobs" position?




                      I *said* 'Can you name me a 
                  single mother-fuckin' Republican 
                  who attacked Obama's "protect 
                  domestic jobs" position?'



  Jules presses the microphone hard against Sarah's mouth.

                      C'mon, pretend this is a 
                  Katie Couric interview again!  
                  I dare ya, I double dare ya
                  motherfucker, say "What" one 
                  more goddamn time!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled rant.

The problem I'm having with this whole sorry mess is that few in the media are willing to do anything more than engage in "am not/are too" type idiocies, particularly on this topic. Why is that? Why would our profit driven, corporate-owned media fail to have a serious discussion about what socialism is? I suspect it's a combination of many factors, but the two which immediately spring to mind are the twin issues of "sound bite news coverage" and the "socialism is satanism" mentality of many Americans.

Unfortunately, there are many definitions of socialism, but it all boils down to government control¹ and/or ownership of the means of production and/or distribution of goods and/or services. Confused? You should be. Socialism can be tough to pin down, but it's basically "government control over some section of the economy". Which brings us to US socialism:

There are, of course, plenty of other examples of socialism in US society; the US has never had a laissez-faire tradition² So, are we a socialist country? Is Obama's tax plan any more of a redistribution of wealth than the Republican goals of lowering taxes for wealthy people and corporations? If we are not a socialist country but some of Obama's policies will make us one, would someone please tell me what the hell the difference is? Where's the tipping point?

Every mature economy on this planet has elements of both capitalism and socialism. Every one. Every. Single. One. That includes the USA. Deal with it.

1. When it shifts to "control by the people" is when "socialism" becomes "communism" as Marx defined it. And for the record, I'm definitely not communist and generally wouldn't label myself a socialist, except, perhaps, in the context of what you read here.

2. No, we didn't in the 19th century, either. There was rampant land-redistribution and protectionism, but this myth is so widely embedded in US culture, that people just assume it's true.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

US Obeys France?

Old Frayed French Flag
Photo by fdecomite
In the article Talk of ‘French mini-FATCA’ as France goes after trusts, we have the following:
[The] new Loi de Finances Rectificative pour 2011¹ contains measures that oblige trusts and their trustees to report on the trust’s French assets, their French beneficiaries, and/or French settlors.

Reporting is also required even if all the parties to the trust reside outside of France, if the trust holds any form of French asset, such as loans, real estate, stocks and shares.
What does that mean? A trust is basically a company which takes care of money for someone else, so France is apparently telling foreign trusts that they must report French assets back to France.²

So let's say you're the manager of a trust in New York City. Maybe you offer private trusts and don't have a legal right to divulge this information. Maybe you manage trusts for corporations and digging through their assets may very well meet with a wall of well-paid lawyers. And do you really want to follow the arbitrary laws of any country which is demanding legal compliance from entities over which that country has no jurisdiction? If this became a common practice, imagine financial institutions the world over suddenly find themselves having to simultaneously follow the laws of 200+ countries? Let's ignore for a moment the implementation costs of this (updating your IT systems to collect and manage information like this is not trivial). Instead, consider that the laws may be poorly defined, conflicting, and possibly illegal for the financial institution to comply with! It's idiocy and you would be right to mock the French government for passing such an idiotic law.

Is the US government really going to stand for France demanding that US financial institutions send private information to the French government?

Yes, the US will happily do this, no matter the cost to US companies.

With the US's FATCA law, the IRS has claimed jurisdiction over every foreign financial institution (FFI) on the planet. It's illegal for many FFIs to comply with FATCA (including all 27 states in the EEA) and it's a huge financial burden for them to try and implement the law, but there have been rumors that the US was trying to offer quid pro quo deals to foreign governments to convince them to not complain about the IRS demanding their bank's compliance and it looks like France may have accepted the deal. I am not a lawyer and my French is awful, so I could have misunderstood some of this, but it doesn't look good.

There's no way this is going to end well.

1. 2011 Budget Amendment Law
2. Text of the French law.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Finding a job in France

The website has a nice introductory primer on Finding a job in France. They even have a few tips for non-EU nationals, but it's discouraging. The French, like many other countries, are closing their borders with the current economic issues. Plus, with the rise of the far right in France, it's not likely to get better sooner. But as I can personally attest, it's well worth the hassle if for nothing else than some of the best food you'll ever enjoy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Frenchman in Texas

Not a post so much as a quick note to tell you to read A Frenchman in Texas. Serge Dacic is French and has been living in Texas for almost 20 years. He has some very fascinating insights into the cultural differences.

Monday, January 23, 2012

US Watchdog Blasts IRS Over Expats

No time for a blog post today, so read this interesting news story about a federal watchdog slamming the IRS for alienating expats with FATCA and other laws. If you're unfamiliar with the IRS's undeclared war on expats, you can read some of my past posts regarding FATCA.

Or if you're familiar with OVDI, the Offshore Volunteer Disclosure Initiative, you might think it's a good time to catch up on past taxes you didn't know about. Except then the bill hits you. If you've lived abroad and didn't know you still had to pay taxes to the US, you could be facing $8,000 to $16,000 just to file your back taxes, and that's just the tax preparation cost, not the cost of potential taxes or fines that the IRS might levy against you.

Friday, January 20, 2012

American Beggars and Health Care

I again had someone tell me that health care is better provided by charity than by government regulation. Invariably the people who tell me this are Americans. I still remember meeting a British Libertarian who strongly defended the NHS (British National Health Care) because, as he explained it, "health care is a human right".

So what's the difference between government mandated health care and charity? When I got medical treatment in the UK (and when I get it here in France), I could rest assured that I paid for that treatment with my tax dollars. The individual in question wrote (the conversation is public, but I'm not going to link it because I don't want to embarrass the guy):
I had no coverage for many years, and still always got treatment from non-profit entities. Charity handles these issues better than govt.
Got that? I pay for my medical care. This guy's a beggar.

This guy had the gall to tell me that his way is better. I keep hearing people telling me that begging is better than paying for health care if the government is somehow involved. So how to they explain the fact that France has the best health care in the world? Every other major industrialized nation on the planet has some form of universal health care they provide better care at a lower cost than the US. It's only US ignorance which prevents Americans from helping themselves.

So maybe this guy is happy to be a beggar. That's his right, but don't tell me that I should rely on begging for medical care. And when a poor child is lying in a hospital ward dying of cancer, are you really telling me his mother should be out there begging for money to pay the medical bills or should that mother be there for her child? How do you get to the point where you have this kind of sick, twisted society which thinks that begging is better than government stepping in to correct a market failure?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


SOPA Strike. If you didn't oppose it before, pay attention. It's a worse problem than you thought.

For the lighter side, though, you can read Conservapedia's hilarious edit history on their SOPA article. And if you're not from the US: Conservapedia seems like a parody of US Conservatism, but it's not. These people are for real and they're part of the reason the US is struggling so badly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paris Apartment

Paris Skyline
Photo by Oh Paris
Things are slowly coming together, with emphasis on the word slowly. We moved into our new apartment last Friday and while the move went very smoothly — thanks to Leïla's supreme organization ability — there's still a huge amount of work to do.

In both London and Amsterdam we lived in furnished apartments. These are very common and not much more expensive. It's apparently much less common here in France and we'd have to pay an extortionate amount for one. So now we have to furnish the place ourselves, but this is not what most Americans would think we mean by this.

I still remember the first time I moved into an apartment in the US and it didn't have lights. I had to supply them myself. Here we don't have a kitchen. No sink. No dishwasher. No stove. No counters. No cupboards. Nothing. Just pipes sticking out of the wall.

This is not terribly unusual here (and I understand it's common in Germany, too), so not only did we have to buy furnishings for the entire house, we had to buy a kitchen, too. It arrived last night and should hopefully be installed today.

And when we move out? Apparently we can take the kitchen with us. This is ... strange.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The US Dull Pride Parade

Mitt Romney speaks French? Oh my gosh. He must be a communist or sumpin'!

I'm going to have to go through another round of "what the f*ck is wrong with you people?" and I am, again, going to be at a loss for words. It happened to me in London. It happened to me in Amsterdam. Now it will happen to me in my new home in Paris. And I expect the French will have a field day with this idiocy.

Every four years the USA stages a nationwide Dull Pride Parade where identically dressed white millionaires run around claiming to be independent-minded "men of the people". We're seeing some diversity there — Obama being the prime example — though having Michelle "Batshit Crazy" Bachmann in the presidential race doesn't exactly make the US look good (and she was doing OK at one point). Of course, having pundits agree that Huntsman doomed his campaign by stating the he accepts evolution and climate change also doesn't help the US shake its dumb and dumber image.

And then there's Rick "I'm not gay, really" Perry's ad where he attacks gays in the military and thrice-married Newt Gingrich, the man who led impeachment efforts against Clinton for alleged perjury during the Lewinsky scandal. And Gingrich still can't get his story straight about the reasons for his first divorce, And I'm not even going to cover all of the vile stuff that Santorum has said. Look it up for yourself.

So that leaves us pretty much with Mitt Romney being the only viable presidential candidate for the Republicans and the Republicans hate him. He's Mormon, he's moderate, and oh, so very plastic. If there's a "Presidential Mold" out there somewhere, Romney was poured into it. The fact that he could actually beat Obama isn't enough for the Republicans. As John McCain learned in losing the 2000 primaries against a drooling idiot — whose only major achievement was failing in every business endeavor his daddy's money bought him — the Republicans don't care for people puttin' on airs and actin' all smart 'n stuff. They also viciously despise anyone who strays from the party line.

American politics has become a battle for ideological supremacy between wimps and idiots. And the rest of the world laughs and I hang my head in embarrassment. How do I explain an anti-science, pro-ignorance culture among the religious extremists who dictate what the far-right in America is allowed to say?

And yes, I do mean "far-right". The Democrats would the be right-wing in most OECD countries and if you think Obama's a socialist you have no idea what the hell you're talking about. I don't look forward to explaining away the "socialist" comments, either, but the Dull Pride Parade is just getting underway this campaign season.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Ships taking part in UNITAS 52
Probably not a good stowaway option
Photo by Official US Navy Imagery
No significant post today due to a sick baby. Instead, I'll share an interesting news article about a stowaway. Among the things I learned: the captain of the ship is responsible for the well-being and transportation of the stowaway until a port is reached which can legally accept the stowaway. In this case, the nationality of the stowaway couldn't be determined and the captain was forced to continue caring for the stowaway after both French and US authorities refused to accept the man. I haven't been able to determine the man's fate. Anybody?

If you're interested in this topic, you'll probably find the Wikipedia article on stowaways as fascinating (and sad) as I did.

Monday, January 9, 2012

France, here we come

The pic on the right is from 1999. I believe I took that picture from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

That was my first trip to Europe and I met my brother Lewis for the first time (long story) on that trip. He's British and when we visited Eton near the Windsor Castle, I was struck by the beauty and told my brother "I could live here". Little did I know that I was only a few years away from being able to do that. When I moved from Nottingham to London in 2007, I briefly toyed with living in Eton, just because I could.

And now, by this time next week, I'll be living in Paris (well, Les Lilas, a suburb of Paris). This might (again) interrupt my posting schedule, so be patient.

I'm going to miss Amsterdam and I'm frankly a bit pissed off that we're in a position where the move in needed, but life goes on. My new job is great and, damn, France! We're just about finished packing. My wife is in Paris for three days now to take care of a few things with our new flat and then we move on Friday.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Renouncing your citizenship

For many people who wish to leave the US (I couldn't say for other countries), I often hear of them talking about "renouncing their citizenship". Invariably, this is a political thought rather than a "I want to see the world" thought and something I usually hear in association with fairy tale expat fantasies. For Americans living abroad, though, it's becoming a more common topic. With the CEO of the Luxembourg Banker's Association now referring to Americans as toxic liabilities due to FATCA, Americans being denied banking overseas, and how many expats are double-taxed (depending on your income sources, this is easy to have happen even if you don't make a lot of money), I'm seeing more Americans on expat boards, Facebook expat groups and other places openly discussing renunciation.

Or maybe you love your new country, want to stay there, but you have to apply for citizenship to do so. As many countries don't allow dual citizenship, you wouldn't be "renouncing" your citizenship as much as exchanging it (depending on your point of view, you could also say "upgrading" or "downgrading").

Sooner or later, many expats are going to ask themselves whether or not they should give up their original citizenship, but they're not aware of the process.

I take no stance on whether or not you should give up your citizenship. It's a very personal decision and I couldn't possibly be one to judge, but if you do wish to give up your citizenship, you'll be happy to know that there is now a comprehensive citizenship renunciation guide on the Web. I've read through it and double-checked a lot of the information and it looks solid.

Here are a few key points:

  • You do not have have citizenship in another country to renounce (but you'd be an idiot not to).
  • You have to apply at an appropriate foreign consulate.
  • You do not have to have your taxes paid (but the IRS will come after you later).
  • You can't get your citizenship back unless you go through the same painful process as all other immigrants
  • You will not be denied reentry to the US, but only to the extent that your new citizenship allows it

Be aware that this is a drastic step. For those who foolishly consider "renouncing" without having another citizenship, that just means you'd be stateless and have nowhere to go.  In fact, I'm only aware of two Americans in history who have ever voluntarily become stateless, Mike Gogulski and Garry Davis. It's generally not a pretty position to be in.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Marine Le Pen versus immigrants

Marine Le Pen
The Pretty Face of French Hate
Starting this year it will be harder to obtain the French nationality. You will need to pass a test on French culture and history and speak French as well as a 15-year-old native. This is actually pretty much in line with many other countries, but critics claim that this is pandering to the far right. But I don't want to talk about that. Instead, I want to focus in a very interesting paragraph (emphasis mine):
Marine Le Pen, the popular leader of the anti-immigration National Front, has been campaigning in favour of a ban on dual citizenship in France, which she blames for encouraging immigration and weakening French values. While several UMP members have endorsed her stance, Guéant has stopped short of calling for a ban on dual nationality, largely because of the legal difficulties such a move would entail.
Got that? Marine Le Pen, leader of a party whose name in other countries is cover for blatantly pro-Nazi political groups, wants to ban dual nationality.

No big surprise, right? However, Le Pen has repeatedly made another curious demand:
Ceux à qui nous avons eu la générosité d’accorder la nationalité française doivent pouvoir la perdre s’ils ne respectent aucune des règles de notre pays.
Loosely translated:
Those to whom we've had the generosity of granting French citizenship should lose that citizenship if they don't respect the laws of our country.
Again, nothing too surprising from the racist right.

But put those together: if you become French, they want to take away your other citizenship. If they then point their fingers and cry j'accuse!, they'll take away your French citizenship.

In other words, you'll be stateless. What then? The French can't deport you because no one will take you! Keep you in concentration camps for the rest of your life? Didn't think this one through too carefully, did you Marine? Or maybe you did and are hoping the French hear the big words and don't read the small print.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Accidental FATCA Jobs Program

Yesterday I wrote FATCA, the US Declares War and had almost three times my normal traffic, though I suppose the provocative headline helped.

Then I saw my search stats.

FATCA was my number one search term for yesterday (and it already is for today). And just glancing at my search logs revealed that FATCA searches represented about 10% of yesterday's search engine traffic with many of those being unique visitors. It's almost double the number of searches for information about the French Foreign Legion, long the most popular search on this site. On top of that, with well over half of my traffic being from the US, I found very little of my FATCA search traffic was from the US, suggesting that there are a lot of people outside the US who want or need this information.

This is obviously very important for people and I'm surprised by the amount of traffic this one item is bringing, even if most Americans have never heard of this term, so I'll be updating with FATCA information from time to time.

FATCA, as pointed out, is not only an unworkable mess, but it's a huge burden to hand down to both the IRS and FFIs (Foreign Financial Services). However, while the Japanese and Australians have told the US to piss off and the Europeans have expressed grave reservations (because, amongst other things, it would be illegal for them to comply with US demands), the Canadians are cheerfully bending over and saying "thank you sir, may I have another?".

Well, that's the Canadian government. The banks are furious, but they're at the mercy of the government. And as one attorney testifying before the Senate Finance Committee pointed out:
FATCA, however, is imposing compliance costs of over a hundred million dollars for each of many institution, even where there is little likelihood that the affected institution has or will encourage tax evasion. And in a cruel irony, little of this money is going to be spent in the United States to create U.S. jobs. Rather, it will be spent abroad, creating jobs there.
Isn't that lovely? Many Americans wanted a jobs program at home, but we created one overseas — to punish Americans. And yes, there are already FATCA job postings in Canada.

What other impacts might there be as a result? Well, in October of 2011, in Toronto, Canada, in what may be the first event of its kind, the US Consulate held a citizenship renunciation meeting where 22 Americans simultaneously renounced their citizenship. That's just in Toronto. We don't know how many across the world are planning this, but expat forums have many Americans openly discussing renunciation now. Many of these are Americans who became Canadian, but many are Canadians who were born in Canada, have never lived or worked in the US, but nonetheless have an American parent. They're outraged that the US is not exempting them from this policy. There is even discussion that the IRS may be sharing information with Homeland Security in hopes of catching people crossing the border. Many, probably most, of these people owe no taxes whatsoever, but have committed the "crime" of having failed to file a tax return with the US government. If you live in the US, standard penalties apply. If you live outside the US, failure to file a tax return is a potential $10,000 per year fine.

This is absolutely insane. It's a witch hunt against expats and there's really nothing we can do. We have no political influence and Americans at home don't really care. This has led to horrifying situations where my daughter, born here in Europe, faces a lifetime of US taxes but probably won't be allowed to vote.  Our Social Security benefits are slashed (but we still have to pay for it), our Medicare is taken away (but we still have to pay for it) and now foreign banks are turning us away for the crime of being American.

The United States is the only country in the world which taxes their citizens abroad. Well, except for the brutal Eritrean dictatorship. Good company we keep there.

Monday, January 2, 2012

FATCA: US Declares War

The US has a bright new gift for the world as it rings in the new year: declaring economic war on the world.

Welcome to HSBC.
Americans not welcome.

Photo by Kansir
Yes, that's hyperbole, but only because the rest of the world is collectively telling the US to f*** off and telling many American expats that they can no longer have bank accounts.

So here's what's going on: the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, known as FATCA, requires every foreign financial institution in the world to institute the following:
  1. undertake certain identification and due diligence procedures with respect to its accountholders;
  2. report annually to the IRS on its accountholders who are U.S. persons or foreign entities with substantial U.S. ownership; and
  3. withhold and pay over to the IRS 30-percent of any payments of U.S. source income, as well as gross proceeds from the sale of securities that generate U.S. source income, made to (a) non-participating FFIs, (b) individual accountholders failing to provide sufficient information to determine whether or not they are a U.S. person, or (c) foreign entity accountholders failing to provide sufficient information about the identity of its substantial U.S. owners.
Got that? Every bank in the world must now submit to US law and become an extension of the IRS. If they do not comply, they're to be subject to 30% withholding of all US-derived money and must file a return with the IRS to claim the money back.

The New York Times has one of the better articles on this situation. Here's a nightmare paragraph:
Noncompliance would be punished with a withholding charge of up to 30 percent on any income and capital payments the company gets from the United States. Under the law, for example, if Deutsche Bank, having agreed to register with the United States authorities in compliance with the law, were to transfer $25 million to a noncompliant Polish bank, Deutsche Bank would be required to withhold part of that sum, transferring it to the I.R.S. The Polish recipient would then have the option of challenging that withholding by filing an American tax return, claiming the money, despite not being an American citizen.

In practice, tax experts say costs like that might drive the Polish bank out of business.
Just to be clear: the Polish bank might have no US customers and do no business at all in the US, but still be driven out of business for failure to comply with US law (complying might well be in violation of domestic laws).

Let's put this another way: what if Iran demanded all US banks to turn over to Iran bank information on all Iranians with US accounts. The US would (quite rightly) tell Iran "no". Now imagine if all 200+ countries in the world demanded that all of the other 200+ countries in the world instruct their banks to report to every other country's tax authorities. The world banking system would collapse, but the US is still demanding special treatment. (I would really love to know the names of the politicians behind this idiocy, but despite all of the information out there, this is one piece of information I cannot find.)

Japanese and Australian banks have already announced that they won't cooperate, while under EU law, it's illegal for our 27 member states to turn this information over to a foreign government. Banks in many other countries will be in a similar predicament: obey their countries laws and face 30% withholding on any US-derived funds.

Or your can just read what the International Council of Securities Associations has to say about FATCA (pdf, emphasis mine):
[We] suggest that a more appropriate approach would be the development of a global framework that would allow the US and other governments to obtain information regarding income paid to citizens of their countries by foreign financial institutions which is in harmony with each jurisdiction’s existing laws and does not create an excessive compliance burden for financial institutions. This approach, which would be developed through negotiations between governments and not through negotiations and agreements between the IRS and private entities, would be consistent with the G20’s emphasis on building a coherent global framework for financial markets
Actually, read the entire ICSA letter. It very short and calmly points out how US law is so unworkable (and in much of the world, illegal) that it simply can't move forward. Among other items, it points out that the IRS is likely to collect far less in extra taxes than the massive amount it will have to spend in order to monitor every financial institution in the world for compliance.

Given this mess, it should come as no surprise that some tax advisers are suggesting that dual nationals consider giving up their US citizenship.

Side note for people in IT, like me: just imagine how hard it would be to upgrade all of your IT systems to handle verifying and tracking the nationality of all of your customers, along with transmitting this information to the relevant US authorities. This is one of many reasons why foreign banks are refusing to cooperate. Even without the 30% transaction penalties, it's a huge financial burden to implement systems based on the whim of another country's laws.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year from Amsterdam!

If you're the sort to make New Year's resolutions, resolve to follow your dreams and move to another country. You have one year. Go!

This will be my last New Year's celebration while living in Amsterdam. I feel a bit melancholic about that, but there you go. My life is changing (again!) and we're moving to Paris in couple of weeks.

New Year's Eve was spent having a wonderful dinner with our friends Jurian and Madelijn. We enjoyed escargot, lobster, champagne and vanilla ice cream. Philistine that I am, I still preferred the beer to the champagne. Don't tell anyone!

When midnight struck, Amsterdam detonated.

Honestly, I can't think of any other way of describing it. Amsterdam celebrates the New Year the way the US celebrates the 4th of July: with lots of fireworks. Except that, unlike much of the US, very, very powerful fireworks can be bought by just about anyone. You travel to Belgium, lay down a few hundred Euro and help turn Amsterdam into a war zone.

Of course, this is not without its drawbacks, but it was a fun evening nonetheless.

One thing which astonished me was our daughter. With all of the bright lights and loud explosions, I expected her to burst into tears. Nope. She was delighted (and tired) and was content to just watch everything.

Meanwhile, there's a little cleaning up left to do.

Sadly, these sorts of fireworks are illegal in France, so it may be the last time I see anything like this again. We'll have to bring our daughter back when she's old enough to understand this. Or maybe we'll just come back to see our friends. I'll miss this city.