Things about France that surprised me: it’s bureaucratic, but it works

Those of us who have chosen to live in France often find it more bureaucratic than our home countries. It’s not really, it just works differently to what we’re used to, but it does work.

My experience is that if you are proactive, have all your documents in order, come prepared and be patient, I think it all works out pretty well. A visit in person is often much more fruitful than either endless letters or telephone calls, although more and more administrative stuff has gone online which certainly speeds up the process. An inability to understand French is often not an issue as much of that online is also in English.

I’m going to explain, using a very personal and recent example. You may recall that during this year’s two month delayed Tour de France, I worked as a volunteer. On the final day of my stint, my purse was stolen from my backpack while on the train home. I had used my credit card to pay for the ticket at Nice main station at 13:14 and had arrived home at 14:00 sans purse. Actually, it was worse than that because I was also without all my cards, checkbook, passport and driving licence.

I quickly cancelled everything, reported the loss to SNCF (French railways) and rang the local police who suggested I call in to report the loss early the following Monday morning. Knowing that the police would have to type up a report detailing everything I’d lost, I pre-prepared a list of what was in the purse and printed out photocopies of my passport and driving licence.

Nice has a bit of a reputation for gangs of pick-pockets, typically from Eastern Europe. The policeman I spoke with seemed to think I’d been targeted because with all my Tour gear I’d have looked like a tourist. I was less certain, believing it was more opportunistic. In any event he dutifully typed everything up, printed it out five times which we both signed and I got to keep one copy for my records. Important since I no longer had any official identity documents.

Two weeks later I received an email from a station in Lyon saying they had found my purse! The only things missing were the money (Euros 70) and my luncheon vouchers from volunteering (Euros 40) which kind of proved my point. Although I had already cancelled everything (credit cards, driving licence, passport, carte vitale [medical card]), I was delighted to get my things back, particularly all my store loyalty cards, including the supermarket one which had Euros 160 on it. I use the “savings” generated throughtout the year to purchase food for the Xmas charity collections.

Of course, with Covid, I have no idea when I’ll actually get my replacement UK driving licence and passport but the former is due to be swapped for the French version and I’m unlikely (sadly) to need the latter much before 2022.

How best to handle French bureaucracy

For those who are yet to experience French bureaucracy for themselves, the key to getting through it is to stay calm and be patient. If you don’t speak French, or don’t speak French well, find out as much as you can via online forums and seek out companies that can assist you.

My advice (unsurprisingly) is preparation, such as having translations of important documents ahead of the game. Obtain certified translations of your birth and marriage certificates done by a court approved translator. If all else fails, find an English-speaking accountancy firm geared to British citizens living and working in France.

Someone else best summed it all up:

That’s life here. Just keep chipping away at it and finish the day with a delicious (and affordable) high quality glass of French wine to remind you that there are positives to balance out the negatives.

Wise words!

Two-day trip to Paris

Yes, it’s finally time for my beloved to get back to work full-time. He has mastered the crutches and can even walk without them for about 20 metres, so it was time to venture forth and meet one of our long-term clients, based in Paris. We opted to travel by train, less stressful, and I agreed to accompany him. He’s not yet ready to fly solo.

The train journey passes along the coast before heading inland. It’s delightful scenery even though it rained for most of the trip. The countryside at this time of year is verdant and lush. New bright green leaves contrast with bursts of bright yellow, pale pink, dark pink and purple blossoms against a backdrop of dark green evergreens, and lush soil every shade of ombre and ochre. April’s mix of sunshine and showers has made everything grow in abundance, from foliage to crops to vines.

There still isn’t a fast route from the Niçois coast to Paris, Marseilles has already bagged it. We’ll get one eventually, most probably via Grenoble. The train slowly winds its way along the coast until it turns inland after Marseilles and heads to Avignon – a place I keep meaning to visit – where it really picks up velocity. In no time at all we’re in Paris, a place that is irredeemably romantic. Just saying the name conjours up the Seine winding its way past Haussmanian buildings under stone bridges with majestic wrought iron lighting catching glimpses of famous sights and monuments.

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There’s something very restful about train journeys in Europe. The trains are invariably on time, you know exactly where to wait on the platform for your carriage. Trains are not overbooked, all tickets get a reserved seat. That’s right, there’s NO standing. The cost is very reasonable, particularly if you book in advance. We generally travel first-class and enjoy a late lunch in le Train Bleu restaurant at the Gare de Lyon. I just love all than fin de siecle splendour and the food’s pretty good too.

This time we were arriving late afternoon, far too late for even a late lunch. We had decided to stay in a hotel close to the station, within walking distance of Le Marais, and a short taxi ride to my beloved’s client. It was a charming bijou hotel, ideal for an overnight stop after feasting on oysters, lobster and champagne, always our favourite Parisian treat. And fitting, given it was the evening before my beloved’s birthday.

The following morning, after breakfast in a nearby brasserie, my beloved set off for his appointment, which was bound to include lunch, leaving me with a few precious hours to wander around Paris on my own – sheer bliss.

It was cold and damp to start with and I needed to walk briskly just to keep warm. I was wearing a layer too few. At one point I thought it was going to start raining but the moment passed and, thankfully, the sun came out. I just love wandering around Paris, so many independent specialist shops, many dating back hundreds of years. Of course, I particularly love all the food shops.

As I wander the streets, there’s always something to look at be it a wrought iron balcony, a beautiful street lamp, colourful  window boxes crammed with flowering plants, secret alleyways leading who knows where and wrought iron gates protecting someone’s heritage.

I also spotted some recent graffiti!

I didn’t indulge in as much window shopping as I usually do, probably because I had a destination in mind. I wanted to check out the summer collection of a German brand that I generally have to buy over the internet because it has limited availability in France and no outlets closer to me than Lyon. While its website is excellent it’s sometimes difficult to exactly discern the colour. Is is grey, beige or greige? Of course, I love all three but there were a couple of trouser styles, jackets and tops I wanted to check out.

On my early stroll I had spotted that rare beast in France, a vegan restaurant, which I wanted to try for lunch. It was excellent and I’ve made a note of its location, along with a couple of other restaurants, for us to try on our September anniversary trip. Of course, we’ll also be revisiting the site of our oyster fest.

After my enjoyable few hours, I met up with my be loved in Le Train Bleu bar where we took full advantage of the free WiFi, facilities and excellent tea. In no time at all, it was all abord for the return trip and a gentle snooze as the train purred all the way to Antibes. I have that fortunate knack of being able to power-nap anywhere at anytime.

The sun shone brighter as the train reached the south, stopping in Marseille after three or so hours before resuming its snail’s pace progression along the Med. Christophe, our uberfriendly and uberreliable local taxi driver, picked us up and whisked us back home. It had been a lovely trip, now I had to get everything ready for our maiden trip to Sardinia and 100th