I’ve spent half my working life as a self-employed person.

In the UK, it was pretty straightforward. You’d call an accountant. They’d do something accountantish. A couple of hours later, you were good to go. You’d do some work. Send an invoice. And get paid. (The only trap to be aware of is remembering to put your tax money aside when the cheque comes in, so when the tax bill arrives 18 months later, you can pay it. It took me a long time to get that one.)

Over in France, as you might expect, it’s a bit more complicated.

It used to be fantastically complicated, and punishingly expensive. Then President Sarkosy’s government introduced a new system called “Auto Entrepreneur” (AE) to make things easier. Instead of paying all your charges up front (I kid you not – Her Outdoors was quoted a minimum of €3,400 per year if she wanted to make and sell arty cushion covers, for example), you could pay a percentage of what you earn, as you earn it.

Many people, it must be said, found the change to the new, simple system extremely distressing and they’ve been vigorously campaigning against it ever since. Every now and again, we hear that the AE system will be abolished and everyone will be enrolled in the old, complicated, expensive system. But just as many people find this prospect just as distressing and are campaigning equally vigorously against that.

Meanwhile the window to becoming an AE remains open, and I have climbed through it, strimmer in hand.

I made the leap in early April, the day before I had agreed to do some work for someone – for actual money. To make my life easier, I decided to sign up using the official website. My first difficulty was deciding what kind of work I am going to do. Many English speakers do gardening work, but after a little digging (ahem), I discovered that mowing is not covered by the AE scheme as it is considered agricultural and therefore handled by a different department that allows you to work a certain number of hours a year, after which you have to become a Chef d’Enterprise and start paying those €3,400-odd charges. But I did discover that, while I could not legally mow a lawn, I can strim around the edges – and lawns have lots of edges.

I ticked the right boxes, clicked “Submit” and waited for Some Documents to arrive. Very quickly, I got an email asking for my French ID, among other things, even though I had sent in a copy of my passport. I re-sent it. And waited for those Some Documents again. (I also started working, which partly explains the lack of blog posts recently.)

Last week, I decided to see how it was all going and discovered that my dossier had vanished. But I need those Some Documents, I emailed. The rapid reply suggested I go back to the website and start again.

Only a fool with a lot of time on their hands would be taken in by such a suggestion, so I arranged a meeting with a Real Person at the Chamber of Commerce next week. I am to pay €42 for this meeting. I’m not sure why, and am aware that I will have to sweat away strimming incredibly steep embankments, receiving nettle fragments to exposed areas of neck, slug parts to the face shield, occasionally finding the outlets of septic tanks with my feet and trying to avoid dog shit hitting what amounts to a very fast-moving hand-held fan for 3.5 long hours (before tax – and paying for my own fuel – and transport) to pay for this short meeting. So I’m going to make sure it’s value for money.

You, on the other hand, can come back in a few days and see what happened for nothing.

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