Things French People Like: Paperwork

24 Oct

For such an eco-friendly country, the French sure are killing a lot of trees.

Upon arrival in France, I was submerged into a gruelingly slow, unnecessarily complex, and complacently outdated bureaucratic process. For example, I recently submitted some paperwork to my school’s secretary in order to get my salary. Before doing so, I needed to open a bank account.  Easy enough, right?

Before going to the bank, I checked my documentation folder to be sure I had at least six copies of everything. My passport, my visa, my work contract, my proces verbal d’installation, my birth certificate, the receipt for my rent, a dozen photos of myself, my last plane ticket, my mother’s signature, my high school diploma, several photos of my uncle, an affidavit signed by the Bristol, New Hampshire town registrar, my elementary school report cards,  an autographed picture of Ewan McGregor, and an extra kidney. Okay — maybe not those last few things.

I had gone to the bank on a Tuesday after the 2-hour lunch break to make an appointment to open an account. (Of course you can’t just show up at the bank and open an account immediately. Don’t be so unreasonable!) The teller told me what documentation I needed (which I already had in my hands) and told me to come back Friday afternoon. It doesn’t matter when you want to open an account, the answer is always the same: Friday afternoon.

When I returned to Caisse d’Epargne on Friday, a new teller was working. I told her I wanted to open an account, so she told me to come back the next week. I then mentioned I had already spoken to another teller on Tuesday. Apparently the Tuesday teller was busy, so she wouldn’t be able to see me. The new teller also explained that I wouldn’t be able to get a debit card from their bank, because Caisse d’Epargne doesn’t give debit cards to people whose work contracts have a definite termination date.

I promptly left the bank and, in desperation to get my salary sorted out, walked into another bank – BNP Paribas. I retold my situation to the BNP teller, who told me to come back the following Friday. Worked some scared American puppy dog eyes and she made a phone call. I was seen five minutes later and set up my bank account immediately.


Well, not exactly immediately. First, I had to sign no less than 10 different forms, each covering a different aspect of my account. Some of the forms only had a few lines of print on them. Why the French can’t just consolidate everything onto a couple of forms with a signature line at the end, I have no idea. To add to the officialness of it all, French forms also require you to indicate the city where the form is being signed and to copy the phrase “lu et approuvé” (“read and approved”).

I was also told that the receipt for my rent was not sufficient proof of domicile, but that I shouldn’t worry. The bank would just send a form to my house to confirm that I actually lived there. A week later (I’m not sure if that’s the normal speed of the mail or if it’s because the mail carriers were on strike), I received three separate envelopes from the bank (once again, France: consolidation). Except the important form didn’t actually arrive, because I wasn’t at home when the mail carrier came. Instead, I got a form telling me to go to the post office and pick it up within 15 days. I read this message on a Saturday afternoon before a 2-week vacation.


As it turns out, I’ll make it back to Toulon just in time to pick up the form and get my debit card. As for when I’ll get all the paperwork sorted out to get social security and my carte de séjour — damned if I know.


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