Thursday, June 14, 2012

French Bureaucracy and Me

I have recently had dealings with French bureaucracy... and before I'm deafened by the sharp intakes of breath from experienced expats, let me tell you it has been a pleasant eye-opener!

As everyone knows, French bureaucracy does not have a good reputation. This is especially true if you are self-employed whether you're French or not. However, I enjoy the more peaceful status of being an employée and am rarely in the throes of apoplexy or stressful angst before a mountain of papers. 

Actually the last time I was in that sort of state was when I was in the US and trying to leave the country to go home. I presented my passport at the check-in desk and they asked me where I was going. Home to France, said I wondering why they cared. Then they asked to see my French resident's card. I was bemused. Surely they'd got things the wrong way round - they should care about what I was up to in the US not whether I was an illegal alien in France!

What's more, it was 2009 and the carte de séjour had been abolished thanks to us all being one big happy Euro family, so I said that I didn't have one because I didn't need one. Stuck in pre-Euro happy family days, the woman on the other side of the counter wasn't convinced and insisted on seeing my resident's card. I said I couldn't show her something which didn't exist so eventually a superior was brought out who was also unaware of the change of rules. By this time I was wondering if I'd ever get back but remembered I had my old carte de séjour in my purse. I showed it to the manager and he examined it carefully and told me it was out of date. There's nothing like dealing with recalcitrant officials who are wrong, don't know how to recognise what's right if it slapped them in the face with a wet fish and are determined to be a jobsworth.

Eventually they accepted my version of events, grudgingly, but marked on my boarding card that I was highly suspicious which meant I got stopped and searched at each point between check-in and the aircraft. I suppose they caught up on the old but new (for them) situation eventually. What amazed me was that this was not the back of beyond, but Newark International Airport. How did they not know?

Anyway, my eldest son is 15 and a half, and thus a good age to get a British passport while he can still pay the child rate. He already has a French one but why not have a British one too? I went online to the Passport Office for expats website and started wading through the information. To my delight, I discovered that you can fill in a form online - the FCO passport form (on Adobe). It does quite a lot of the work for you, and steers you away from the sections you don't need. You can even save it and come back to it later. 

I will have to send it off with a copy of his birth certificate. You can request these online from the mairie of where you were born. I went to the Montpellier website and ordered one there. When it arrived I intended to have it officially translated by a local woman. I rang her up and left a message. She never got back to me; I didn't ring twice. I had noticed on the UK passport website that you can ask for 'pluri-lingual' birth certificates from the mairie. I used the contact form on the Montpellier website to ask them if they did that too. I got a message back within 24hrs saying that they did and I just had to email the necessary information.

I then got an email to tell me that the certificate was ready and was being sent by post to me within 48hrs. Which it did. How's that for efficiency and service? It was free too. So, while I hear that much of French bureaucracy is a nightmare, there are some sections which are not; on the contrary they are a joy to work with, despair ye not.