I have lived in China and Turkey, both of which are countries that thrive on pointless bureaucracy and inordinate amounts of forms to fill out in order to complete the most basic of tasks. Getting my visa renewed in China was one of the most laborious and soul searching experiences I have ever undertaken. Similarly, getting my resident card in Turkey felt as though it would kill me. It actually worked well in motivating me to cease being a Turkish resident and to move somewhere else. I never imagined things would be the same in France. I was, at least to a certain extent, wrong.
The first hint I had that France would offer similar, albeit much diluted, problems to China and Turkey came when I tried to rent an apartment. There is a delightful oxymoron involved here. To be able to finalize the contract of my apartment, I needed to supply bank account details. So, I headed to BNP Paribas to get an account set up. They explained to me that in order to do so I needed, not only a fixed address, but also a utility bill with that address clearly printed on it. Neither my realtor nor the bank saw the irony in the situation. I needed bank for a house and a house for a bank; it was a perfect Catch 22.
I eventually sorted my banking problems by getting a friend to say I lived with him and then changed the address on my bank account when I moved in. However, I quickly began to realize that my real estate nightmare was rather indicative of France as a whole. They are rather fond of bureaucratic loopholes and are none too keen on allowing things to get done easily. Further examples came with my Social Security registration, which has started, but will take over a full year to process. Similarly, an English colleague who had only been in France six months found herself struggling when she had a toothache. Our company offers medical insurance, but this only works with Social Security cards. Prior to the arrival of the card, the company pays for the medical care. However, it took her four days to find a dentist who would accept cash as they all use the French card system.
Probably the greatest example of things being difficult in France, though, comes at La Poste. The French postal service is extremely modern, but offer magnificently antiquated service standards of service. I have two examples of this. The first was when I went to collect a package for my girlfriend. For a third party to collect a package, he or she must bring a copy of the recipients ID and a note stating that he or she is allowed to collect the item. It took me three visits to collect some shoes for my girlfriend. On the first occasion, there simply was no-one there to help. The collection counter had a sign saying the guy was out for minutes. Yet, minutes later he had not returned. On the second occasion, the guy was again missing, but one of his colleagues deputised. She simply informed me that it was impossible. On the third attempt, the guy was there and he gave me the package without checking the note or my ID. The second example came when I tried to send a Registered Letter. I had to fill in the form four times. Each time the lady was not happy with my efforts. The first time I filled in the wrong box. The second time she told me I needed to use a black pen (I had used blue on both forms, but she did not mention this the first time). She then suggested that I should try a fourth one in capitals as she did not think my handwriting was suitable.
France may not measure up to China or Turkey in the suffocating bureaucracy stakes, but it continues to surprise me how difficult some things can be.