I did my French taxes the night before last and I’ve been working on my American taxes for what seems to be ever since. What a chore!
Taxes seem to be an American cultural phenomena. I don’t mean that other countries don’t have taxation, because they do, but it’s definitely an American common cultural denominator. By this I mean that the way in which we experience the tax system is something we have in common.
For example, when I was in the United States I saw a friend of mine from junior high and high school. She was my best friend back then and we hadn’t seen each other for twelve years so I went to her house for lunch. She had her (adorable) little boy with her and I asked how old he was.
“He’ll be turning two tomorrow!”
“Oh, his birthday’s tax day.”
“Yeah, I really didn’t want to have him that day, I didn’t want him to have that birthday.”
“Well, at least nobody will forget it.”
Now what day did I have lunch at my friend’s house? If you’re American, I’m betting that you were able to find the answer almost instantly: April 14th. That’s because we all know that taxes are due on April 15th, at midnight. In the weeks and the months leading up to the deadline, radio, television and the Internet are plastered with ads for tax preparers, information about filing quickly to get your refund as quickly as possible, etc etc. We are inundated with tax stuff.
When are taxes due in France? I’m not quite sure. You have to file by the end of May, or up until the middle of June, but it depends on the region and if you are filing electronically or not. I’m sure that if I went online, I could find out quite easily, but it’s not the sort of thing that people just know. It’s not a shared experience here; people just do their taxes and are done with it, there’s not the sort of angst we have in America about the whole thing.
Another difference between France and the US is that the French tax returns arrive already filled out with all the information. You just need to verify that it’s correct, sign, add any extras like donations and file. It took me about twenty minutes to do my French taxes and as I mentioned above I’ve been working on my American taxes since then!*
The fact that I do file American taxes might come as a surprise to you. All Americans have to file, even those living overseas. I don’t pay taxes on foreign earned income until I earn at least $85,700.00 and it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that we earned far less than that, even with the advantageous exchange rate! Filing in the US doesn’t really entitle me to much at the moment, but it will allow me to claim social security benefits from both sides of the Atlantic when I retire. I’ve even heard rumors that I will receive the economic stimulus check, but I’ll believe that when I see it. And why am I filing so late? Well, living overseas automatically entitles me to a three month extension, so my new tax day is July 15th.
*There’s been talk of implementing the same system in the US, but so far just talk. I have heard that there are some states that send you the state returns already filled out, but I’m not sure which ones.