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.