dimanche 19 mai 2013

French conditioning

Last Friday I discovered that I had been "French conditioned". Yes, it's time to put a label on my behaviour.
I kind of suspected that I had been French conditioned and Friday confirmed my suspicions.

So what happened?

I am terrible with numbers. I studied languages at universities, the furthest away from numbers I could run. I have a hard time remembering the pin codes for everything. So it came as no surprise when the bank machine ate my card. I thought that as long as I took my card out of the machine after 2 failed attempts that I could keep trying. No, it's 3 tries a day, tops.

The bank had just closed so I went home deflated. Then I remembered that my husband told me that there was another branch open until 5pm (it was 4.15).

I ran home and immediately went into action mode. I grabbed the folders on the desk containing our important papers. I leafed through them, mentally running down the list of documents that could be missing. There was a folder with all of our documents related to Denmark, including our registration certificates (EU citizens need a registration certificate to live in Denmark). I made sure our tenancy agreement was in there, as well as letters from the hospital, my husband's work contract and other letters from the university. Then there was the folder with all of our bank statements and every letter we have ever received from our bank here in Denmark. The third folder contained our personal documents such as our Livret de Famille (family registrer), other mariage documents, my birth certificates (long and short versions), both colour and black and white photocopies of our identity cards and our passports, my husband's documents from France. Etc., etc., etc.

And then it hit me.

"Oh, my God, there are no passport-size pictures in here!"

It was automatic. Usually I keep a stash of pictures in my purse, but because I had just cleaned out my purse, I remembered that I hadn't put them back in there. One must never, never leave without pictures!

I scrambled around the room tripping over cables. Dirty laundry flew around the room. I flipped through other files filled with endless papers. I was sweating profusely.

Finally I found them. I'm ready to go. At least I hope I am. I make sure I have both my passport and identity card with me before leaving.

I fly down the main avenue on my bike. I must make it there asap. As I race by, I think, "At least it's Thursday afternoon, so that's in my favour." As...

France's Office Hours

The Golden Rule is to never, never (and I mean never) go at any other time but between 10AM-12PM and 2PM-4PM.

Caveats to the Golden Rule
1. The closer to 12pm it is, the more risk there is of disappointment. Try not to go after 11.30AM. Same goes for the "afternoon shift". Everyone's just thinking of lunch or going home.
2. Avoid Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. You risk not finding the person you are looking for. Even if you are not looking for somebody in particular, it's the perfect time for the official to come up with the following: "___________ has the afternoon off." It's quite possible that it's a lie, but you have to accept the excuse because of the 35-hour workweek. Be aware of Wednesday morning as well, as some children don't go to school on Wednesday at all so parents are more likely to be away from their desk (and nobody is filling in for them).
3. Even if you are guaranteed to see someone outside the Golden Hours, be aware that the service will often be worse than what you would get during the Golden Hours. This is particularly valid for the afternoon, as people will often just want to get rid of you to leave quicker.

Don't go outside the Golden Hours as it'll probably be a waste of time. Just stay home, I'm telling you.

The best times to get something done in France? Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 10AM and 11.30AM.

I enter the bank and look around. The woman who welcomes me at the door is actually dressed like a banker!

The teller at my local branch in France is about 50 years old but dresses like a 20-year-old. I just don't understand how they could allow that. So the first time I saw her (through the window) I thought, "She looks approachable." Unfortunately that was not to be. She seemed laid-back from afar but up close her face was mean. Then there was the bite, "What do mean you don't know your account number? How could you not know it?" Um, I didn't know I had to memorize it. As I enter the Danish bank I pray that I won't be belittled.

Of course just because my teller in France dresses much younger than she is doesn't mean that all bank tellers in France are like this. Most of them are professional. But I have noticed that some French women like to dress much younger than their actual age.

Anyway, I am directed to the right person right away. And this person is actually the right person. I tell him how I lost my card and he said, "No problem, I'll take care of everything for you." What, how can it be this easy? I was sure he would tell me to go see the branch where I lost my card, leaving me without money over the long weekend. Nope!

"Oh, you need some money, no problem!" he says, "I just need to see some ID."

"Yes, I've got a photocopy of ..." I start to unzip my bag containing all of my folders.

"Don't worry your driving licence is fine." He glances at my driving licence in my open wallet which is sitting on the counter.

"You don't need to see anything else?" I ask. In France a driving licence is not a valid form of ID.

"Nope, that's everything, just take this paper to my colleague and tell her how much money you want and she will give it to you. I've ordered you a new card and it will arrive next week along with the pin number. I'll show you an easy way of remembering your new pin."

My jaw drops to the ground. It can't possibly be this easy! Oh, but it is.

As I ride home I think about how I didn't even get to unzip my bag.

18 commentaires:

  1. This is so funny... and so true!

    Canadian administration can be quite complicated at times. For instance, I do find getting a French passport is easier than getting a Canadian passport (provided you are a national, of course). But yes, most of the time, French drive me nuts with their request for passport-size pics, endless copies of whatever obscure doc, etc.

    I recently renewed my French ID card and it took... yep, four months to get a new one. Mail application to the Consulate in Toronto, the Consulate mail it to the Embassy in Ottawa who called me to have my fingerprints taken (and they only open mornings, so it took me a while to find the time to get there), then Ottawa mailed it back to Toronto, who mailed it to Paris, who made the actual ID, sent it to Toronto... and then Ottawa.

    Like, seriously.

    I'm not even attempting to renew my passport.

    1. Why do you find getting a French passport easier? I don't know how it is to get a French passport, but I agree, getting a Canadian passport is difficult. At least it was all those years ago when you needed a guarantor and the list was quite limited. Were you already Canadian when you still needed a guarantor.

      Since they did away with the guarantor, it seems like things are so much easier. This is not the case if you live abroad though as you still need a guarantor, which is why I'm going to wait until my next trip to Canada to get my passport.

      Yes, the French always want those passport-size pictures. I remember when I studied at the university in Bordeaux, almost every teacher asked for one!

      I noticed that there are no consular services at the French embassy in Ottawa. Why is everything done in Toronto? That's kind of silly, if you ask me, what good is having Ottawa as the capital if you have to go to another city to get your identity card?

  2. Sounds like living in Franc eis a bit like living in Italy!!! -especially the 50 year old tellers who dress like 20 year olds - and the bank opening hours OMG -they drive me MAD!!!

    1. Hi, thanks for visiting my blog!

      It looks like you have been in Italy a very long time.

      There are many things Italy and France share, but things in France are less intense than in Italy. In Italy often you can't even walk into the bank - you have to be buzzed in.

      I can't stand how women dress on Italian television. You've got the man who is dressed in a classy suit and tie (or at least looking very well-put-together) and then the woman standing next to him, who looks like she's ready to go out to a nightclub. Thank goodness things are not like that in France. It makes me so mad to see this!

  3. The way you wrote this is very funny! But I've had it happen to me a few times in France too recently. I do think lots if things, like banking, are getting easier ( but I haven't had much to do with the public administration, so maybe that's why I'm feeling optimistic!).

    1. Slowly but surely France is catching on to doing things online now. I was even able to order a European Health Card online!

      I have also been spared the worst of French bureaucracy because I don't need a visa to live in Europe. It could be much, much worse...

  4. Bless you! I wonder when I will ever become Canadian conditioned?!?! Sounds like it is amazingly easy to get money in Denmark?! It isn't like that anywhere I have been thus far. Getting a Canadian bank account is at the top of my to do list this week!

    1. Ce commentaire a été supprimé par l'auteur.

    2. Oh, I am sure it will come. Like when you start to say sorry for everything.

      Things are much easier here than in France, that's for sure.

      I wonder how hard it is for a foreigner to get a bank account in Canada? I remember it took me months to get a bank account in the UK. In the meantime I had my salary (yes, the British banks wouldn't even give me, an employed person, an account!)deposited into my ex's account! Good thing he didn't take off with my money.

  5. LOL! This post was right on the money (pun intended). I always go to any sort of French admin rendez-vous armed with an entire dossier of paperwork (and multiple photocopies of each). In Canada, I can do most things by phone or just by showing a piece of ID!

    1. Everything is so easy in Canada! Most people believe you when you say something and don't bother asking for 3 documents that prove what you are saying.

      I love your use of the word armed. It really is like that - you need a weapon to protect yourself when dealing with French administration!

  6. You are pretty right about that. It's always better to go with more documents than you need in France, because you never know. I think I'm gonna move to Denmark tomorrow, if that's ok with you. It sounds way better than France.

    1. Of course Denmark isn't perfect either. I should do a post about what bothers me about Denmark because I want this blog to be honest.

      Nevertheless, it is a lot easier to live here regarding paperwork and administration.

  7. This really made me laugh out loud! I've been French-conditioned as well after 6 years here, and my husband is British. Whenever we have to deal with the Brits or the Americans for anything "paperasse", especially around our wedding or the transfer of my American driver's license for a French one, it's just amazing how easy and accommodating they are compared to the French. I end up thanking everyone profusely and practically saying I love you before hanging up the phone/leaving the consulate/etc.

    1. Hi, and thanks for reading my blog!

      It sounds like you arrived in France right around the same time I did, back in 2007. Did you meet your British husband in France or did you move to France from Britain?

      I am just not used to everything being so efficient. I have read some blogs about expats in Denmark having problems with paperwork and my husband and I have had some problems, but it is nothing compared to some of the stuff I've seen in France!

    2. Sorry I didn't see this before. Yes, my husband and I met in France. I was teaching yoga at a school in Montpellier, and he came to a workshop we were hosting with an Ashtanga teacher. He's been here for almost 20 years! Practically a native. ;)

  8. I'm just finally getting the chance to catch up on blogs and this post made me laugh out loud. I realized I've been French-conditioned in the same way while I was in the US. Every time I had an important errand I needed to run to the bank, post office, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, court house, anything, I would always triple check that I had every document I could think of, just in case and I would spend hours researching ahead of time for lists of any potential papers I could need to bring with me. And then, before going, I would always check with friends, family and the internet just to be 100% certain that I knew the hours they were open. My mom would always look at me like I was crazy when I kept asking what time different places closed for lunch, but it just became such a habit for me to expect administrative offices, banks, etc to close in the middle of the day for a long lunch break. Luckily though, my time in the US doesn't seem to have broken these habits because I definitely need that reflex now that I'm back in France!

    1. Yes, I never realised that I had been French-conditioned until I came to Denmark. It just sort of snuck up on me...

      My Canadian friends are completely surprised and shocked when I tell them about my paperwork nightmares in Europe.

      Even here in Denmark I follow the golden rules for opening hours. It's so normal now that I can't imagine showing up outside of these hours. It never even crosses my mind to go outside of these hours.