Pas de surprise

I have just returned from the local prefecture to request my French residency card. It went pretty much as I expected, having had experience with French prefectures before. Having waited for 3 hours I arrived at the counter to find the list of required documents the fonctionnaire was using was different from the one displayed on the prefecture’s website, and different from the one the French national government issued with Brexit approaching. The one in use at my local prefecture is dated December 2016.

So now I need to get my birth certificate translated, which is no big deal but it takes time, costs money, and isn’t actually required by law. But if the person behind the counter says it is, that’s all there is to it. I also have to produce proof that I have been in France for 5 years. The requirement is you can show a document which covers each 6 month period of your stay. I presented bills and other documents covering the period, but most bills in France are annual, not bi-annual. So I had plenty of documents showing I’d been in France from January 2014 to January 2015 and January 2015 to January 2016, but my application was rejected because I had no bills from July 2014 and July 2015. I explained I didn’t receive any bills in that month and she said, “Oh, maybe you have a medical certificate or something?” Presumably Frenchmen use suppositories on such a regular basis they have a doctor’s bill for each month of the year, but I’m now going to have to scrabble around for something which says I was in France in successive Julys of my stay. I was then asked for my tax bills, which don’t even appear on the fonctionnaire’s list; I have no idea where that demand came from.

This is how it works in the prefectures. You turn up with everything you think you need and wait an age, then you discover what you actually need. Then you come back and hope you got it right the second time. Under French law it is actually not allowed to refuse the application of an EU citizen on the grounds a supporting document is missing; they are compelled to accept it, and the applicant brings the missing document later. But prefectures don’t follow French law, and they have no incentive to: if you feel your rights have been breached you may claim compensation through the courts, but the maximum you can receive is less than what it costs to hire a lawyer. Handy, eh?

We’re going to hear a lot of sob-stories from Brits battling with prefectures over the coming months, the blame for which will be placed squarely at the feet of Brexit. But for me, as I described here, Brits are denied their rights under EU law anyway by fonctionnaires who don’t know EU law nor even care. As I said to the EU representative during my last encounter with a prefecture when the Brexit referendum was looming, if our rights under the EU are not recognised when it matters, we’re better off out. And here we are.

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29 thoughts on “Pas de surprise

  1. That’s nothing; try moving pension funds across international borders. The Anti-money laundering legislation scares the receiving institutions so much that they are ridiculously over-zealous in their application.

    Specifically, I’m having to extensively prove my identity to a bank I’ve been with for several decades already before they will accept more funds. How this will help them if it turns out I got the money from illegal activity is anyone’s guess.

    We’re British though, Tim; we know how to fill in forms and queue.

  2. Quelle surprise indeed. It sounds as though French government departments are all staffed by emigré South African syphil servants. To register a company here for VAT takes five visits to the Receiver on average, although wait times are seldom longer than fifteen minutes.

    After two fruitless visits to the Dept of Home Affairs I got my pensioner card through a Q4U service.

  3. The French had stroppy & petty civil servants perfected long before the Cape Colony was formed never mind the modern Republic of South Africa.

  4. One of the fun things about France is that the French like everything to be codified but can’t abide obeying rules and will devote endless energy in trying to cut corners. The one positive thought for frustrated foreigners is that the system is every bit as sclerotic and inflexible for the French themselves.

  5. As you say, the only rules you have to follow are those the person behind your particular counter on that particular day says are the rules. It took me several times to figure that one out. Then everything made more “sense.”

  6. ‘The requirement is you can show a document which covers each 6 month period of your stay.’

    Do you not have electricity or water? My EDF bills are bi-monthly and water bills bi-annual.

  7. Do you not have electricity or water? My EDF bills are bi-monthly and water bills bi-annual.

    My employer picked up all the bills except telephone and electricity. I can supply bank accounts to satisfy the clerk (I hope!), I’m more annoyed that regular, annual bills weren’t accepted and I now have to return and sit for another three hours.

  8. Is it that different from the UK? If you pop over to the Gruaniad site you’ll find endless stories of people struggling to get their free money, free healthcare, free housing, and other free state services due to the labrynthine and abitraty bureaucracy of the DWP, Home Office and local authorities. Apparently it’s particularly egregious for immigrants who rather bizarrely chose to migrate and settle in such a hostile and institutionally racist country.

  9. Is it that different from the UK?

    I don’t know, but from what I’ve heard of the UK Foreign Office it makes the French prefectures look as slick and efficient as a Japanese electronic factory.

  10. Oh, reading that made me smile as I remember how much I LOVE Switzerland, what with their high level of competence and their high level of seriousness.

    Although saying that, the lady at the counter at the municipality this morning had never seen the request form I gave her, but that (hopefully, touch wood) won’t stop it being stamped and sent off to where it needs to go without any serious hiccups 🙂

  11. I’ve heard lots of similar stories with respect to Spain. When working there, my company employed a number of delightful young ladies whose eyelash-fluttering skills would have got Osama Bin Laden residency in Washington. Being interviewed in their company by the Spanish immigration services was remarkably trouble-free.
    Find a photogenic young lady and introduce her as your interpreter.

  12. This is how it works in the prefectures.

    I’d be inclined to slap a gilet jaune on the counter and tell them “here’s my documentation”.

  13. William of Ockham

    “Specifically, I’m having to extensively prove my identity to a bank I’ve been with for several decades already before they will accept more funds. How this will help them if it turns out I got the money from illegal activity is anyone’s guess.”

    My bank in Singapore locked my accounts on the grounds that they did not know my favorite colour. It took about 30 phone calls to various bemused and weird departments in that bank to get to the bottom of it, some of them of the more hysterical kind.

    They had a small dept looking after ‘know your customer’ regulations for and they had decided that knowing your favorite colour was just the ticket for meeting the regulation.

  14. @David Moore

    Having seen the inside of some of these institutions and the knots they tie themselves in to be “compliant” to various regulatory requirements, I can well believe it.

    Theres a lot of mind reading by risk officers along the lines of “the regulator won’t allow that” without actually checking with said regulator.

  15. I would have had more time for the humor if it had not taken at least 26 phone calls to find out that was the reason why my accounts were locked. I nearly derailed all my progress when I told them I did not have a favorite colour….

    This was Standard Chartered .

  16. “We’re British though, Tim; we know how to fill in forms and queue.”

    Absolutely, the Poms are definitely the best at forming orderly queues in the world, it’s all to do with being descendants of shopkeepers.

  17. I used to carry a briefcase in France with a copy of absolutely every document when I went to functionnaires.

    What i never had was incompetent ones. Nor long queues, come to that.

  18. @Bill – “I’ve never really understood whether “a nation of shopkeepers” was meant to be an insult or not and, if so, how?”

    It’s definitely not, although it seems to have drawn your ire, or was that my use of the term Pom, which also isn’t an insult and not something that you should whinge about either.

    I mentioned it in terms of orderly queuing etiquette and the Poms knowing their place in a shop environment in support of your earlier comment about Poms knowing how to queue.

    “While — say — the butcher serves a lady who is shopping for five days for her family of fourteen, you must not take advantage of a momentary pause (as you would in France) to butt in and ask if he has any calf’s liver — not because you want to be served out of turn, of course, just to find out whether it is worth waiting. You will get no reply. This is not discourtesy: it is simply due to the fact that you do not exist. You may not be aware of this; you may live in the mistaken belief that you do exist, but you do not. Before your turn comes you are less than a dog. A dog would be noticed and urged to leave the shop. But you definitely do not exist before your turn comes, you are a non-person, you are thin air, a nonentity, a body non-incarnate, waiting to be materialised when the butcher turns his smiling attention to you.” ― George Mikes, How To Be A Brit

  19. Is it that different from the UK? If you pop over to the Gruaniad site you’ll find endless stories of people struggling to get their free money, free healthcare, free housing, and other free state services due to the labrynthine and abitraty bureaucracy of the DWP, Home Office and local authorities.

    Yes. It is different. We may have labrynthine rules, but at least they’re known and stated. You need a government service, they’ll be a list on a website of what you bring, and if you ask 5 people 5 different times, you’ll get told the same list. And if someone deviates from it, you go higher and it will get dealt with quickly and for free.

  20. Same system here. You turn up at immigration with your passport to make an appointment and they give you a date weeks ahead and a list of documents you will need (it is actually a photocopied tick-list now – they wrote them all out by hand when we first arrived).

    Then you turn up for your appointment and they want something else – how we laughed.

    Anyway, having been through the loop multiple times since 2002 (alien book, pink slip, yellow slip, another yellow slip, ID card, MEU1) we are wise to the system.

    We got an appointment for our MEU3 interview recently and a list of documents. On the day we turned up with a packing box full of just about every piece of documentation you can imagine (all photocopied obvs.) We sat down and plonked the box on the floor.

    The woman looked at it and said, “that’ll be €20 each”.

  21. Got to say that Japan’s rural prefectures and town halls are a large number of steps above French ones. Mind you they can be a bit idiosyncratic but typically you don’t wait 3 hours for the bureaucrat to tell you that you forgot critical piece of paper X that wasn’t on the list on the website – in fact they’ll actually take piece of paper Y which is almost the same as X but doesn’t have critical detail D (your cat’s favourite colour). And if Y isn’t acceptable a) it was only a 10 minute wait to see the paperpusher and 2) she tells you to do this simple trick to cut to the front of the queue when you bring X.

    In fact I ended up being issued a couple of extra things I didn’t need and had to cancel because the local townhall has a fixed process for foreigners – register residence – register for health insurance – register pension – apply for drivers license etc. and you just do them in that order. But one of the things I got by mistake during this process turned out to be required when I actually got my drivers license and I didn’t know I needed it so it balanced out in the end.

  22. “Specifically, I’m having to extensively prove my identity to a bank I’ve been with for several decades already before they will accept more funds. How this will help them if it turns out I got the money from illegal activity is anyone’s guess.”

    The Royal Bank of Stimpy did something similar to me a couple of years back. It turned out some how they had my date of birth wrong and were upset that I gave them my correct one.

  23. @Bloke on M4. Not so fast.
    My partner is a UK citizen, but her kids are not, so I have been helping with their application with the UK Home Office.

    – First, the Guidance Notes envision a wide range of circumstances, but not a scenario whereby someone is apply ‘cos the parent is a Citizen. The form itself contradicts the Guidance Notes.

    – I call the Home Office to clarify, but they hang up when I point to the specific sentences that contradict each other. No matter; we can file under ‘other’ circumstances and take our chances.

    – We then go online, fill in the form and collect every piece of documentation required. Easy right?

    – Wait…hold on…there is a paper version of form. That’s interesting ‘cos for a fee, someone will check you completed it correctly, That sounds a good idea, so we fill in the paper version…

    – Which asks different questions…and asks for different documents from the online version.

    So got it done OK, because I am a native speaker who works in a corporate environment so is used to this sort of bullshit, and I’m not saying we as bad as France, but no it is not a case of going online and filling in the instructions.

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