How we finally found the perfect stuffed sperm whale

If you're assuming that setting up a business in France is going to be tough because French administrative has a bad reputation, don't worry, it can be easy.

Setting up a home business in France is not as difficult as people say.

Let me tell you about the lush Azores, an archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Islands covered in volcanoes and flowers.

These islands are a mecca for whale and dolphin watching. There are no shipping lanes, and fishing and pollution are minimal.

One species of whale that lives in the waters around the islands all year round is the sperm whale or un cachalot (in French). It’s the largest toothed mammal that has ever existed.

We wanted to bring back a stuffed toy sperm whale as a gift.

We searched high and low in every tourist shop in the town of Ponta Delgada. They were all either mysteriously malformed or ugly bright colours.

I was struggling to carry 23 jars of pineapple jam and seven bottles of spicy sauce we were also taking home as gifts. I was tired, and the heat of the sun was making the search unbearable. I had enough and was ready to give up. I was prepared to buy a wonky-eyed, fluorescent green sperm whale.

Just before leaving we tried one final shop. And there, in a corner was the ideal toy whale. A cute little, pale blue-chequered whale.

At the checkout, the lady asked us if it was a gift, so she knew whether to wrap it or not.

“Yes, it is,” my wife, Benedicte said immediately.

“Is the gift for a boy or a girl?” the lady asked.

Benedicte and I looked at each other for a moment, then burst into embarrassed laughter.

“It’s for a dog…” I replied finally, having recovered myself, “…but, she’s a girl,” I continued.

The lady smiled a wooden smile, rolled her eyes and started wrapping the whale in some paper patterned with blue hydrangeas, a flower that we saw everywhere in the Azores: lining the roadsides, separating fields and around the crater of volcanoes.

The lady assumed that the gift was for a child. And rightfully so. We were in a toy shop – for children, not dogs. But our dog, Lulu, doesn’t destroy her toys, she just mouths, smells and sleeps with them. So we can safely buy her toys meant for children.

Lulu and her stuffed sperm whale

This was an innocent assumption with no serious consequences. But sometimes assumptions can horribly derail your plans.

I almost didn’t set up my home business in France because everyone told me that the French administration is a nightmare. They told me that I’d struggle, especially as I don’t speak French.

They’re not wrong. Very often, the bureaucracy in France is complicated. The scene in the cartoon, The 12 Tasks of Asterisk parodies this well. Asterisk is tasked with obtaining the Permit 838 in a building called, The Place That Sends You Mad. He thinks that it’ll be a simple administrative formality. How wrong he is.

I was determined, however, to set up my home business in France, despite the Herculean task and the risk I might go mad.

But I was pleasantly surprised that it was straightforward.

In 2009, the French government made it easier to set us as a micro-enterprise. You simply register as an auto-entrepreneur (now called micro-entrepreneur). I’m not renting space, buying products or employing people as I would if I was starting a restaurant or renting holiday homes. I am only providing services, so it’s the easiest type of business to set up.

I registered my business with the help of my wife, Google translate and a few online discussions of people doing the same as me.

When Emmanuel Macron became president of France, the earning ceiling for a micro-entrepreneur doubled for a business like mine. I can now earn up to €70,000 before I would need to change my status. There’s plenty of room to grow and live comfortably.

The only other important thing to arrange is some professional indemnity insurance that will help you if you ever make a mistake that negatively impacts your clients and they sue you. But this is easy to arrange and cheap.

So, even though I didn’t speak French, I got my business up and running in just a couple of weeks. But since then, I’ve had some help.

A few years ago I discovered Valerie. She helps English speakers register a business and manage all the administrative duties. I had already set up my business in France but since I found Valerie she’s helped me change the postal address of my business, answered my questions on social charges and income tax. As soon as you register your business, you’ll get a lot of companies sending you official looking documents. It’s good to know which you need to deal with. Valerie helped me with this too. And I’m sure very soon I’ll be asking for her advice on all things Brexit related.

So if you’re assuming that setting up a business as a micro-entrepreneur in France is going to be tough because French administrative has a bad reputation, don’t worry, it’s not so difficult. And there’s plenty of support available.

You’re not on your own.

Tchin-tchin to questioning assumptions.