Having said that, France isn't the only country obsessed with energy bills. When we moved back to the UK in 2005 we endured a complete and utter farce when trying to open a bank account.
We'd sold our house in Maastricht and agreed to move out at the end of September to dove-tail with our house purchase in the UK. We had had an offer accepted on a house in Suffolk. To speed things up we'd made sure we had a mortgage approved before we even started looking at houses.
Off I toddled during my lunch break to fill in the paperwork, armed with letter from employers as to salary and a sheaf of other paperwork I thought I might need. It should have been simple. It wasn't.
Do you have a gas or electriticy bill madam to prove where you are living? No I replied and explained that I was in London during the week but tried to get back to Maastricht at the weekends and so was mostly staying in one of those cheap and cheerful hotels as advertised by Lenny Henry.
Sorry madam, no can do came the reply. I was informed that I had to furnish the Halifax with a copy of a utilites bill to prove where I lived. In vain did I re-explain to yet another person who had joined the conversation that we were in the process of moving back and that this was the very reason I couldn't give them what they wanted. I even flurished the paperwork which indicated that they, the Halifax, were giving us our mortgage! And pointed out to them it was in their own interest, as without a bank account on our part how were they going to receive their first repayment from us? Nothing helped. The Halifax remained adamant: no bank account; even though they agreed it was a ludicrous situation.
A variety of banks later, who all took exactly the same attitude, I was getting very fed up and not a little desperate. It was a Catch 22 situation and the number of lunch breaks I was wasting was high. Another day, and I tried yet another bank; the list of options was shrinking fast. This time I nearly fell off my chair when the new accounts person said they were happy to have me as a customer and no, thank you, they did not need a copy of a utility bill. Eureka... finally!
|the old one|
Up to this week our most recent brush with French official administration had been obtaining the 'Carte Grise' [French registration] for our car a little over a year ago. That process went well until we came to the point of needing to go to our Préfecture in Tours for the actual document.
Open only in the mornings, the day we went up it was a complete madhouse with zillions of people queuing. We checked later and there was no apparent reason for the hordes; it just 'was'. It took nearly 4 hrs of waiting before we were called to the guichet [counter]. All credit to the staff, they remained friendly and helpful throughout. Eventually, in the middle of the afternoon, we emerged like troglogytes blinking at the light, clutching the temporary registration in dazed triumph. It then took all of 10 mins to have the number plates made up.
However, ever since even the thought of having to brave the Préfecture as caused us both to have an urgent need to lie down in a darkened room.
|and the new one|
On Monday I phoned up the Préfecture in Tours to make sure my application was indeed all correct and to confirm that a simple appearance at the guichet with my Dutch licence was now the only remaining thing that was required to exchange it for a French one.
Yesterday, we left at the crack of dawn armed with newspaper, books, water bottles and fruit. In fact everything, short of a comfy chair, you can think of to make a very long wait tolerable.
We got there at 9am. Not even the sniff of a horde! We didn't even need to take a number and were greeted by a very friendly lady at the guichet. 20 mins later I was the proud owner of a French driving licence. Hurrah!