Thursday 26 January 2012

A tale of admin adventures

Moving to any new country brings with it an amount of administrative 'bumph' to get through. Sometimes this proceeds smoothly, sometimes not. Sometimes it can become positively farcical. In any event if you live in France you are well advised to always carry an up to date EDF bill with you -- and I aways do. You never know when it might come in useful to prove you live where you say you live.

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.

I had already started my new job in the UK at the start of August, while Niall was still holding the fort in Maastricht. Needing an account to receive my first salary and having the mortgage already sorted at the Halifax, it seemed natural to turn to them for a current account.

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
An early rash of encounters with French officialdom when we first moved here taught us the value of the EDF bill.  Mostly our encounters were smooth but there were some that were a little less so.

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
Earlier this month I collated all the paperwork I needed to swap my Dutch driving licence for a French one. Keen to avoid the trauma of going to Tours I went to the Sous-Préfecture in Loches to find out if they could do it. They were happy to submit my application for me but I would still need to go to Tours to pick up my new licence. Sigh...

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!


ladybird said...

Let me be the first to congratulate you on your new driving license and ... your patience and perseverance! :) Martine

The Broad said...

Many congratulations! We have a loose leaf binder in France with all our documents in it -- so that whenever we need to do something official it goes with us! It does seem though that the more prepared you are the more likely you won't need it!

Anonymous said...

Dont! We're still traunatised by our three hour visit to the France Telecom shop.


Niall & Antoinette said...

@Martine - thanks :-) It was very straightforward; getting new photos was probably the worst of it--I hate having to have them taken!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Broad - I kid not; I have EDF bill tucked in with driving licence; plus 2 RIBs and an ID. They just 'live' in my purse.
Like you we have a folder. Any time we have to deal with 'serious' officialdom we also taken along our marriage certificate and birth certificates.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@SP - Oh, so not nice!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Niall and Antoinette:
Oh how well can we identify with all of this. Indeed, the only thing that we can think has gone more smoothly for us in Hungary is the application for car registration since, as we do not have a car, we have never needed one!

We cannot possibly calculate the amount of time we have spent in one queue or another for once piece of documentation or another, mostly in a Post Office since that is where almost everything happens. Thankfully, the main Post offices stay open until 9pm!!

Susan said...

Our licence exchange took two (or possibly 3) trips to Tours and virtually a whole day of waiting. The main problem we encountered was that the machine which is supposed to do the translating of the foreign licence into French kept grinding to a halt. At the suggestion of the fonctionaire we went to lunch in the middle of the whole process - an excellent use of our time.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jane & Lance - a lowering thought isn't it - the time we all spend in queues?

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - why the translation need --I'm assuming your licence was in English? They had no issue with my Dutch licence which was subtexted in English.
That's a lot of round trips!

GaynorB said...

The sun must have been shining on you!

A good day to have bought a lottery ticket, perhaps?

Perpetua said...

Congratulations on your perseverance and on the new licence. It's bad enough moving house within the UK, which we did three times in 10 years, but the thought of doing it in another country makes me blench.

the fly in the web said...

I'd love to know which U.K. bank was co operative!

When we wanted to register with the Costa Rican NHS we were asked for a telephone bill as part of the identity procedures.
We thought this was a great obstacle as, in true CR fashion, our telephone was in the name of the previous owner. Thanks to the shortage of lines or capacity or whatever, if you change the name you risk losing the line.
No, said the clerk, it wasn't a problem.
You go to the telephone company offices, you explain why you want the bill and they certify that you are you.
How do they know?
Believe me....they know.

And so they did.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Gaynor - I don't know about that...I have never ever in my life won anything apart from once: a pair of de-frizzing tongs! Very useful .... not :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - I grew up moving: on average every 4 yrs or so; but it's true that the logistics of timing our move from NL to UK were 'interesting'

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - it has far eastern connections :-)

Ken Broadhurst said...

Over here in the Loir et Cher département, we can hand off all our paperwork at the local mairie and then pick up the permis de conduire or the carte de résident or whatever there as well. Since we live only 3 km from the mairie and the préfecture is 40 km away in Blois, having the mairie as our intermediary makes life a lot easier. I guess départements with large cities in them are more red-tape bound.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Ken - wish we could do that but our village is far too small.
We can do a fair bit of paperwork in Loches but our dept seems to be centralising more to Tours these days.
Loches sent my dossier up to Tours and I could have sent my original licence in with it and had a photocopy with a Marianne while waiting for the new one to come in the mail.
But the licence is government property so the Dutch authorities don't like you to do that and I had a tight time schedule. So off to Tours it was.