I was wondering how long it would be before my first encounter with French bureaucracy, immortalised in Asterix for its ability to send people mad. Having lived in Germany for 9 months some time ago, I thought it shouldn’t pose too many problems. At that time, when attempting to sign up, register, or do anything official, I breezily presented my A4 wallet containing every piece of documentation I possessed, enabling me to rise above the petty frustrations of the uninitiated.
Here, however, my situation is a little different. Without a fixed job, or my name on a tenancy agreement, or even a carte de séjour (which I don’t need as an EU citizen), I don’t have an awful lot of documentation to produce. My trip to the médiathèque in Saint Cloud with the lowly aim of using the wifi was thwarted by my inability to prove my identity. The conversation went like this:
Me: “I’d like to use the wifi, please”
Lady 1: “please speak to my colleague at the next desk”
Lady 2: “please can you show me your library card?”
Me: “oh, I’m not actually a member yet, I was just hoping to use the wifi”
Lady 2: “do you live in Saint Cloud?”
Me: “yes, but I’ve just moved and don’t have an attestation yet”
Lady 2: “do you have some ID?”
Me: “oh yes”
I rummage in my bag, wondering at what point I need to explain that it is only a British driving licence. I then realise that I only have my French wallet in the bag, and the driving licence is in my English wallet. Lady 2 smiles weakly and states that it is not possible to use the wifi without any ID. I thank her, adjusting the straps on my laptop-loaden rucksack, and trudge back down the hill.
Today, having spent the morning translating, I thought I would use the afternoon for an altogether more ambitious task: opening a bank account. Before D left for a work trip to Singapore this week, I made sure to secure documentary evidence from him in the form of an attestation d’hébergement letter. I had already had an virtual chat with a chirpy adviser for the online bank Boursorama to ask what documents I would need to open an account. Her chirpiness started to wane when I explained that I did not have an employment contract, nor a utility bill in my name. When she realised that I did not have an account with a non-online French bank, she drew a blank and admitted that I would have to speak to a real person.
Opening an account at La Banque Postale, D had assured me, was bound to be simpler. The website only mentioned proof of residence and some ID, so, armed with passport, driving licence, letter and a photocopy of D’s carte d’identité, as well as an HSBC statement for good measure, I made the short trip to the nearby post office. I was not surprised to be told I needed a rendez-vous. Oh well, I thought, perhaps I can get an appointment for tomorrow morning. The lady returned with a form entitled ‘Attestation d’hébergement’. Error no. 1. The letter in my bag clearly wasn’t going to do the trick. Then she handed me the next form, showing what I needed to bring. ID and proof of revenue, i.e. payslip, social security statement, bursary or pension. None of which I could provide. Which was something of an irony, since the only reason I needed to open an account was to receive payment for my freelance translation work.
Postscript: for anyone wanting an English version of Asterix, you can watch the hilarious Permit A38 scene here starting from 42:06. If proof were needed that it’s not just foreigners getting worked up…