Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Banquet of French Paperwork

11/8/12-french paperwork1
As soon as electricity contract is secured, I want this light fixture

Signing up for utilities in France seems to require more forms for proof of identity than signing up for the passport it took to get here.  Even buying a simple coffeemaker was no piece of éclair.

The French are fond of complicating everything.  Why fill out one form when five will do?  My language skills were no match for the onslaught of questions and information thrown at me by anyone I encountered in my attempt to get set up in this new French household.

First stop was all things technological.  Even before I signed the papers everyone said, “You must go today to get internet.  Hurry, hurry.  Do not wait.  You must make the call today.”  And so I waited until the next day.  Because there were a million options.  Not only were there half a dozen choices for internet companies, but there were also as many options for delivering television and landline telephone.  And a puzzle of choices inside choices.  To bundle or not to bundle?  Which “bouquet” (extra channels) to buy?  Who is best if I have a problem?  Which system even works in my neighborhood – let alone my building?

Finally, after endless research online, I threw up my hands and went with Orange, the company that had the most storefronts in town.  I figured if I had a problem, at least I could “talk” to someone face-to-face.  And I added the English-language package because it offered the TCM channel of movies (an addiction back home).

The first thing every service I wanted in Dijon asked for was my mobile number.  Apparently, that’s their favorite way to communicate with you.  But no place would accept my American number.  The clerk at the internet store would only write down the mobile number of the dear friend who had accompanied me.  (Apparently, Didier’s phone number will forever be connected to my account.  Hope I don’t do anything to ruin his credit rating.)  Then she wanted proof that I would be living in that apartment, because, you know, they have a huge problem with people taking the trouble to sign up for internet and television in places where they won’t be living (do the French do sarcasm?).

I don’t know about where you are, but at home if we want services we call the company and say, “Hey, I want services at this address” and they say “OK, when can we come set it up?”  But on that Saturday morning they wanted proof of my residence.  They wanted bank information (which, of course, I carry with me at all times -- not).  They needed my passport.  Thank heavens I had a copy of it stuffed in my wallet.  Then they wanted information about the person from whom I was buying the apartment.  You know, the regular stuff like her name, her phone number, the company with which she had service before.  Stuff we always carry around with us when trying to get cable TV service.

Thank heavens I had been carrying around that little slip of paper the previous owner had given me at the walk-through.  I had no idea what a vital link that would be to living like a non-tourist in France.

My French skills deserted me about two minutes into this transaction.  I just gave up and let dear Didier answer everything and work out compromises when I didn’t have the documents they demanded.  At least I had a local bankcard, which made our efficient-if-slightly-annoyed clerk happy.

Then she handed me THE BOXES.  Yes, while for the most mundane services like buying chocolate or a scarf I’m carried along on a customer support bed of meringue, for the more complicated business, the less service I get.  It would be completely up to me to install my internet/television/telephone services.  Reading the directions in French.  After they sent Didier a series of text messages with special codes over the course of the next ten days to two weeks!  Which he would then have to forward to me because he would be out of town.  Now I knew why everyone was urging me not to even eat or sleep before I signed up for internet if I wanted it before I left town.

And that was just the beginning.

Aggravations can be worth it when this is in your neighborhood
11/8/12-french paperwork2

It took three different clerks for me to buy a coffeemaker and DVD player at the Darty’s store (think Best Buy but with better uniforms and less efficient service).  When I finally tracked down a clerk to help me because only displays are on the shelves, he whipped out an old-school spiral assignment notepad from his back pocket and started taking notes about everything I wanted.  He faithfully recorded the shelf ticket information, tried to answer the questions about different options, and exhibited massive enthusiasm.  Then he escorted me to the first of three desks I would visit just to buy a coffeemaker and DVD player.

And so began the questions again.  Mobile phone number.  Yikes, no French number!  Quel désastre!  He sought the advice of his supervisor.  Darty’s always uses text messaging to send out reports about guarantees, respond to customer questions, etc.  What to do?  Finally, the supervisor made an executive decision that I could use my e-mail account instead of a phone number.  I won’t bore you with the rest of the filling out a large online form before I could hand anyone a bankcard.  But that was not the end of it.  This clerk was not even the one to take my money.  For that he escorted me to a counter where all they did was run my card and give me a form to take to another counter where I would have the pleasure of waiting to pick up the boxes my original clerk had sent a stock boy to fetch.

As for signing up for electricity and gas for my apartment?  Maybe more on that later.  It exhausts me even to think about it.  I’m still recovering from the process – and I didn’t even have to do the hard work.  Didier came to the rescue again and gave up his morning to sit on hold while I paced and rifled through my folder of paperwork finding him any document they were demanding.  My son just moved into a new apartment back home.  You know, all he did was make a phone call and say, “I moved into this apartment” and they said, “OK, name and address for the bill.”

But I guess all of this is the price one pays to have a place to live in France.

What kinds of adjustment pangs have you had to suffer over the years?  Tell us your most memorable one in the comments box.

While I'm not about filling bookshelves with wooden words instead of books,
I'm trying to take to heart this message left behind by the previous owner as I learn
the French way about business


Melinda Farrar said...

What a great friend. Hopefully you can laugh in the future. How did you spend your birthday??

Patricia said...

You are right, Julie.It's exhausting, frustrating, and head-bangingly impossible to understand at times but SO worth it. What memories you brought back to me, including some of spending a full-day attempting to find a replacement bag for a vacuum cleaner. Vive La France!

Julie Farrar said...

Ah, Patricia. I'm about to buy an aspirateur -- and I plan on purchasing a sackful of bags to go with it (don't like the bagless kind).

Nadine Feldman said...

A medal for Didier! Well, all this hassle makes for great stories, anyway!

My biggest adjustment is occurring now as I settle in to a small town after decades of anonymous city life. I have some "neighbor from hell" stories that I haven't told because he's even gotten a lawyer and threatened to sue us (for what, I'm not sure). Of course, since we're in a small town, word is getting out that two sets of out-of-towners are getting into a big feud.

This, too, shall pass, and I'm sure that once this p*ss#ng contest is over, we'll be fine -- part of initiation into small-town life! I hope you get everything up and running soon.

nina said...

Just think: now you can write a guide on what to do when moving to France!!!!


Julie Farrar said...

Well, there are guides, but they rarely cover the super mundane things. I never read about all the documentation to get internet. But now I've heard the horror stories about trying to get a mobile phone, so I don't think I'll ever try for that.

Lee I said...

My sister had an unlocked phone already and walked into an Orange store and bought a chip. Is this not possible?

I've gotten the 3-station handling for purchases in one of the old venerable Paris kitchenware stores and many other French stores whose names suddenly desert me as I'm rushing off for the morning.

Did you find a DVD player that is dual format, or isn't that important?

Julie Farrar said...

I think the DVD is only for Europe. I'll double-check. But I hadn't planned on bringing US DVDs with me. And my phone company back home doesn't do the unlocked phone thing for my Android. In the future I might look into a pay-as-you-go phone, but no time on this trip, but I'm paying extra to use my own phone here. Since I won't need it for much more than texts now that I have a landline that gives me free calls to US landlines, I may not bother changing the situation.

Muriel said...

Well, I can sympathise. I am French and I had to do all the paperwork in London for utilities, social security etc. The worst was to understand that the NHS is paid by the taxes, whereas in France it is specifically deducted from your salary. It created endless discussions with my tax adviser...Joy! Wait until you have to deal with the taxman!

Bella said...

Thank goodness for Didier! Julie, I think every country in Europe has this much red tape to allow new home owners to settle in. I can't begin to tell you how difficult it's been for me to get a referral to a specialist through my regular doctor. And did I mention that Europeans don't believe in antibiotics? It's all about the body healing itself. Currently, I'm suffering from a meniscal tear with a ruptured Baker cyst and I was told to take acetaminophen if the pain gets to be too much. Are you kidding me? I've been in hell for the past three weeks and this morning I called and threatened to change clinics if I wasn't seen and reevaluated. The language barrier is also a pain. I spend the better part of my day gesticulating and drawing on a note pad! :)

Julie Farrar said...

Concern about dealing with major medical problems is probably one reason we won't be living here full time. I have a friend here who I believe from her description of a medical issue has a similar problem to the one I corrected by out-patient surgery. She just keeps doing physical therapy.

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