Posted by: kathandroger | August 22, 2012

La Bureaucratie

France has always had a bit of a reputation for being overly bureaucratic and not top of the class when it comes to customer service. This has always made visits to the bank, post office etc rather frustrating for those of us with little patience. Things have got much better over recent times. In the post office the other day I was greeted by a cheery chap who found me the particular envelope I required and escorted me to the till, smiling and wishing me a bon apres-midi. The bank, too, is no longer daunting. Even the supermarket check-outs have speeded up and some have systems for queue management.

It is therefore comforting to know that there are still bastions of inefficiency and inaction to be found. I realised a couple of weeks back that I needed a new driving licence and discovered I have to renew it in France rather than the UK. So last week I rang the sous-prefecture in Chatellerault who deal with such things to find out what I needed to do. ‘Je ne sais pas’ came the reply and I was asked to call back ‘dans une quinzaine’, in a fortnight. It turned out that the lady who might possibly know something was on holiday, though was due back this Monday. I could only assume it would take her a fortnight to catch up on the gossip before she would be able to answer any queries from the general public. Being an impatient sort, I rang back yesterday and fell upon the same lady as before. She was unable to tell me over the phone what I needed to do, but I could go to the office to collect a form. OK, I thought, I shall take every possible document, plus photocopies, with me and get the job done there and then. Oh how hasty I can be sometimes… … I took the form and began filling it in. Madame behind the desk (who had no other customers and frankly seemed to have nothing to do) scowled and told me I needed to take it home and complete it because there were lots of documents required, at which point I pulled out my folder and explained that I thought I probably had everything. Now she began huffing and puffing with the prospect of maybe having to do something. She produced 2 lists of the required supporting documents which were slightly different. She had no way of knowing which was right and if I made an error in my submission it could hold things up for weeks. In any event, it would probably be a couple of months before I got anything back. No, the safest thing would be to come back next week when someone else was there. In any case, she would not have time this week to get anything off to Poitiers to be processed. I looked at a large pile of applications on her desk and could envisage my file spending several weeks there. Hmm, maybe she was right, better pop back again next week!

On my return I rang Poitiers.  Strangely it is all very straightforward. I had correctly understood the requirements and it would take about a week from start to finish.

Perhaps each town still retains an unhelpful Madame just to provide we foreign types with the authentic French experience?


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