Before I start to write this post, you must remember surely that I am probably one of the most fervent of Francophiles! I love France, I love the culture, the language, the history, the people, the countryside not to mention the food and the wine!
Please bear this in mind when you read this post, I’m not really having a go, well there would be no point, this is example of daily life in France, love it or hate it, this is the way things are done. We are spoiled rotten in the UK, we want something we get it almost immediately. Shops are open not only on Sundays but some are open 24 hours a day, we need a loan, it can be done online with an answer within minutes. This is the kind of life we have become accustomed to and boy are we in for a shock!
Yesterday, we needed to go to the local bank to withdraw a sum of money, it was not a huge amount i.e.: we couldn’t have bought a car with it, possibly a very nice pair of shoes and a handbag! As it was an amount over and above the total we could withdraw using our bank-card in the hole in the wall, I entered the branch, leaving the Hubster on the pavement with the dog. “ I won’t be long” I called cheerily as I entered the modern, cool office. First difference I noticed with the bank was that I had to press a button outside the door and be ‘let in’ by the staff within. (Just like jewellery stores in England)
There was a young lady sat behind a reception desk serving a customer. A gentleman was sat at his desk behind a glass wall, and in another annexed office, again with glass walls were two gentlemen in deep discussion.
I waited my turn, and when the young lady was free, I explained that I wanted to withdraw some cash by using a cheque, would that be possible? She would need to check with the boss. She rang him and I watched him not more than 5 foot away behind his glass wall taking the call. I watched him ask questions that the young girl then relayed to me … is my account with this branch? No, Do I have any form of identification? Yes Passport, How much did I want withdraw? etc. etc., it was very odd as I saw his lips move and yet the questions were coming from the assistant behind the counter only for her to repeat my answers down the mouthpiece to the chap I was looking at!
The man got up and came out from behind his glass wall … “You’ll have to ring the holding branch for authorisation and get them to email confirmation back to me” he informed the young lady, “Bonjour Madame” he added and proffered his hand, well I wasn’t going to kiss his ring so I firmly shook his hand and gave him my biggest and brightest smile. I find a smile can never do any harm in cases like this. I had a feeling this was going to be a protracted transaction, little did I know how right my premonition was!
The young lady, lifted the handset on her phone and rang through to my branch, (near Paris) she was then quite obviously answering as discreetly as possible questions about the strange, white-haired lady stood in front of her (me!!) I was surprised she wasn’t asked what I was wearing!
Great, she said goodbye and explained it had been authorised and we just had to wait for the confirmation email. We both glanced over to the man behind the glass wall, had the email come in yet? He was looking at his computer screen. ooh he was printing something off on the printer, great I’d be on my way in no time. Another customer was buzzed into the branch. I allowed her to go forward to the reception desk while I waited for the chap to bring the confirmation. The customer had an appointment to come and sign a paper at the bank at 11:30. Another phone call was made to the chap behind the glass, he came out carrying a pile of papers, which he then went through one by one, licking his index finger to curl up the corner of each and every sheet, there must have been over 40 pages! “Aha, here it is” he says, I let out a sigh of relief. He handed the paper to the waiting customer and asked her to sign it, he then toddled off into another office and came back with three photocopies of the same sheet of paper which she also had to sign.
I was beginning to loose the will to live! The lady left. The young lady looked at me and apologised, the confirmation email hadn’t yet arrived, she would get a photocopy done of my passport while we were waiting (“it will save time” she says.) On returning from the other office with photocopy in hand, which I had to sign, she said she would ring my branch again. At this point, I said very calmly that I would go out and have a coffee at the neighbouring cafe and would pop back in about 10 minutes.
As I returned onto the street, the heat knocked me back, boy it had been cool in there. I explained to the Hubster what had happened, what we were waiting for and suggested a coffee to calm the nerves and restore a little bit of my patience.
20 minutes later, I took a big bag of the aforementioned patience and headed back to the bank. Eureka, the email had arrived! Next came the procedure on the PC, what a palaver, so many things to fill in, so many boxes to tick,, t’s to cross and i’s to dot, even down to checking off which denomination of notes I requested, “the easiest for you!” was my answer to that one. (Maybe I should have answered – “the quickest”!) I had three copies of A4 to sign and date, each one being printed off one at a time on the printer in the other office, each time having to be collected, why oh why they didn’t wait until they were all printed and get them all at the same time is beyond comprehension. At last, the notes were ready which of course had to be counted out in front of me by the man behind the glass partition, out he came, he’s obviously a very important man, he started counting, “dix, vingt, trente” one by one, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone count out money more slowly, the worst thing was I succumbed to a fit of the giggles, and just couldn’t stop! I felt such a fool, I stood there and my whole body was racked with laughter, my shoulders were shaking and I had to hold my backpack in front of my face to hide (not very well I may add) that I was about to go into comical meltdown.
I took my money and left, with a very big smile and still a smattering of the giggles. What on earth just happened, it took over 40 minutes,, (not taking into account the coffee break) to withdraw some cash at the bank. You certainly wouldn’t want to do that during a lunch break, you would have to take a picnic with you!
So here we are in France, not light years away from the UK and yet things are done so differently. Red tape, paperwork and bureaucracy are renowned for being tedious in France, even the French complain about it. Everyone complains about it, in fact one of the first to make a complaint was an aptly name Baron von Grimm back in a letter in 1765!! (yes that long ago!!)
He wrote: “The real spirit of the laws in France is that bureaucracy of which the late Monsieur de Gournay used to complain so greatly; here the offices, clerks, secretaries, inspectors and intendants are not appointed to benefit the public interest, indeed the public interest appears to have been established so that offices might exist.”
If this was the case back in 1765 and we’ve had a revolution here and two world wars, I have a sneaking suspicion that nothing is going to change in the foreseeable future so we might as well just breath deeply and get used to it.
Obviously I didn’t take any photos in the bank, so here are some taken on the campsite on our return from town!