If you wish for a paper-free, carefree life – do not go and live in France! In order to do simple things such as buying a house, or opening a bank account, obtain a telephone line, a mobile not to mention water, electricity and gas makes the most placid person lose their sense of humour and raise their blood pressure sky high.
I was tipped off by a friend that when buying a house is not a problem as long as you have a sheaf of papers that included your passport, driving license, birth certificate, marriage and divorce papers and I forget what else – just to buy a house in cash! It took me days to track down these elusive documents before leaving England.
I had to open a bank account which not only meant taking the same sheaf of papers, and also photocopies of them. I also had to provide details of the sale of my house in England. I suppose they were concerned that I was not laundering my money made from selling drugs!
Then the blow came, my cheque book would not arrive for a week. Luckily I had some cash otherwise the dogs, my brother and I would have starved let alone have transport because I needed petrol for the car.
One problem I quickly found was that nobody knew how to spell, nor speak my surname. After spelling it out for the umpteenth time I suddenly remembered that an old boyfriend had given me a necklace with my name engraved on a disk. I rooted around and found it so I would show this to anyone who was having problems with my name. It worked like magic.
Attempting to get my Carte Vitale which is a health care identity card was ridiculous. This is necessary for anyone living in France. On my friends advice I also got a Mutuale, a private insurance which means that I would have 100% of health cover.
However trying to get my Carte Vitale was beyond a joke. You have to queue up and are not allowed in after noon when the office closed for lunch and opened again at two o’clock. On my third attempt to get into the building I gave up and made an appointment with a woman who worked there and spoke English. I thought that with all my papers it would be a breeze and I would emerge victorious. I was wrong. I entered the building only to face a crowd of people clutching a ticket and waiting for their number to come up.
As I marched towards a man behind a desk the queue of French people all turned and shrieked telling me that I had to get a ticket. Except the only way to obtain one you had to show your Carte Vitale!
The man behind the reception desk was not at all helpful. I explained that I had an appointment and showed him the card with the woman’s name and appointment time. He waved me away to a room, where I explained to another man there that I was there for my appointment.
I was shown out of the interview room and made to sit with the irate crowd. I did think of fleeing, but dug deep into my true Bulldog Spirit and sat and waited. I waited and waited long past my appointment time.
Suddenly a scowling woman appeared. I showed her my papers and was told that I would need photocopies of all my documents. Unfortunately I had left the photocopies at home, not knowing they were essential. I went away and had to make yet another appointment and go through the whole procedure again.
This time she was charming and smiling as we sailed through the necessary forms for my health card. I was told that it would be put in the post. Voila it arrived.
Luckily one of the builders who were doing up my house spoke a little English – but we managed with my daughter’s French/English dictionary! He helped me go through the palaver to get my telephone, gas, water and electricity. All with a smile on his face – he explained that he had recently done the same for an English couple!
He kindly took me off to buy a television and I had to flash the papers again, but why did they need my date of birth? Even the builder was stumped and just said it was necessary in France!
I had no trouble with my car perhaps because it was a 1958 Morris Minor which most of the French had never seen before. No-one told me to change my English number plates and driving license. I did insure it by an English Insurance company who specialised in vintage cars. But I had to abide by French laws so the car was laden with a hi-vis jacket, red triangle, fire extinguisher and things to put on my lights to dim them. Maybe I have got it wrong but it was a long time ago.
However I obviously needed to insure my house which I duly did. I was amazed to find that it is a law that you have to have your chimney swept every year and given a receipt to show all was in order. I did think that was rather silly because if the building was on fire surely it would burn my receipt?
However the Insurance people were fantastic. When there was a deluge of rain that seeped through the tiles on the roof and ruined the plaster on the walls which had just been finished, together with a coffee table and the books on top of it. All I had to do was to take photographs of the damage and send them to the company and they paid up without any questions.
When it came to papers about Tax I struggled with all the forms before giving in and found a wonderful woman who sorted out the papers for me so that all I had to do was sign them.
I left France and returned home three years ago and guess what – I am still receiving tax returns to fill in plus forms from the water board and electricity bills! When I went to the local post office to send them back to France the chap who runs it told me of a man in the village who is still receiving them after four years!
Having moaned about the paperwork necessary l don’t regret moving to France at all and had a wonderful time living there. However I wonder how many trees had to be felled in order to obtain all the papers needed to live there?