You know you’re in France when…
Even before you get there Air France is ripping you off.
Their menu…in sardine class…offered champagne as an aperitif, then wine with the meal.

What did we get?

As the ominous foil packets were dished out giving a choice between beef -which those accustomed to French beef declined with alacrity – or glue with pasta, only an offer of one or the other beverage…champagne from a long opened bottle on the serving unit or vin de table in a tatty plastic mini bottle.

Following a delay of an hour and a half before take off sitting in a stifling cabin on the runway while the flight attendents hid from passengers praying for the services of Gunga Din it was not the best welcome to France…but probably the most accurate of what was awaiting the sardines once decanted at Paris Charles de Gaulle….incompetence and indifference.

I had missed the ‘good’ train to my destination….so was obliged to take the afternoon train which at twenty five percent more on the ‘good’ ticket price wafted me halfway across France by train, followed by an an unholy scramble for the cross country bus which would take me a third of the way across France back the way I had come to the one horse dorp in la France Profonde whence friends would whisk me to a shower, food and a decent bed.
If I had asked for the scenic route I might not have objected to paying for it….but as I hadn’t I did.
Neither did I appreciate having to retrieve my cases from the bowels of the bus unaided by the driver…unaided that was until I opened the loo evacuation compartment by mistake. That brought him running.
The additional two hours on the journey didn’t do much to rejoice my heart either.

First, off to the bank to settle my affairs.
i needed to be able to make transfers from my online account. This, it appeared, required me to make an appointment to see an advisor in order to set up a gimcrack system whereby I would be forced to buy a mobile ‘phone in order to receive and despatch some code or other to verify that I was indeed the person making the transfer.
I made the appointment for 11 0’clock two days hence in the branch of the town with the station.

The next day, my friends having to rejig their schedule, I rang the bank to change the time of the appointment.
The usual codswallop…your call is being recorded for the benefit of President Obama…music of suicidal brightness… press 1 for incomprehenson and 2 for total oblivion…until eventually arriving at a voice.
I explained.
The voice replied that my appointment was for the afternoon of the day on which I was calling in a branch far, far away. The branch where I had originally opened an account more than twenty years ago.
How, I enquired, had this come to pass?
The voice replied that I had omitted to give my full details to the clerk when making the appointment so the ‘centrale’ had put things right.
When, I enquired, had they planned to tell me that things had changed?
If you’ve never heard a voice shrug you have never lived in France.

Then I needed to contact people who had recently moved house.
The number they had given me did not seem to exist, according to the voice on the telephone service.
A text message on their U.K. mobile raised no response….until two days later when they called to explain that they would be without telephone and internet for a fortnight.
They had only received the text message when out shopping where they could receive a signal.
The ‘phone and internet should have been installed on the day they moved house…but they had had to put back the move for a couple of days.
When calling into the ‘phone company’s office to rearrange things they found that
A. The office only existed to sell mobile ‘phones
B. When they finally made contact with the company they were told that as they had changed the date without warning the contract had been cancelled. They would have to start the process all over again.
So instead of settling things over the ‘phone I had to inconvenience friends by asking them to drive over…not a short distance.

Inflexible, infuriating….in France.


51 thoughts on “You know you’re in France when…”

  1. Mm, sounds quite a lot like England, actually… except for the voice shrug. As you know, English people have perfected the phone version of the blank stare.

  2. I suspect that, were it not for such shenanigans, I could happily live somewhere in the south of la belle France.
    Certainly, I loved my brief time there. But le Department de Shenanigans…NON!

    By the way, it’s not only Air France who dish out crap.

    1. Well aware of the general level of crap purveyed by airlines to those who pay for their own seats….but there is a difference between AND and OR.

      As to le Dept. of Shenanigans, I’ve become spoilt, living in a country where I can go to a branch of my bank and set up systems without hassle.

      France is a beautiful country…but as the old Saatchi campaign poster said’s not working.

    1. I nearly didn’t make the cross country bus that is scheduled to meet the train….no signs at the station as to where the bus might be leaving from…subways with lifts firmly out of action…and no one to stow the luggage apart from two SNCF employees carefully turning their backs on the passengers.

      I’m spoilt…where I’m now living chaps put your luggage away for you and dig it out on arrival. They even help you off the bus.

  3. Well, it sounds as if your trip to France has gone as you expected , so far. The chaotic banking saga is the one that rings bells for me. I have decided to keep things as simple as possible, as anything more than keeping money in the account, and taking it from holes in the walls always causes such consternation. The idea that I might want to transfer between accounts, set up a new transfer payment, regular or, heaven forbid, a one off payment to someone not in France…still in Euro land, but not in France, well……chaos.
    I hope things have improved and some smoothness has developed with your plans. J.

    1. I hadn’t been looking forward to it, I must admit…..and so far it has been living down to my recollections.
      I’m still trying to get an appointment at a convenient venue….and being met with total incomprehension.

  4. Indeed. The practice of unilaterally changing a process or schedule and then not telling the client is particularly enfuriating. It’s like it’s a game or something. Mind you, when we first moved to the UK I found that personal banking was run with a rubber band and a piece of string. We couldn’t believe everything was based around ‘your branch’ and that if you wanted to do anything it had to be with them, but of course, that is more than 15 years ago now. The bizarre thing with French banking is that they can also be really innovative. The first time I ever encountered an ATM was on New Caledonia 35 years ago. They hadn’t reached Australia at that time (or at least, not rural Australia, I don’t know about the cities).

    We always plan to o/n in Paris on returning to CdG because it is so stressful worrying about your connection between plane and train.

    1. Had the plane been on time I would have had four hours to cross Paris….as it was the scenic rail and bus tour cost considerably less than a hotel.
      Travel problems due to weather, accidents, whatever, I accept.
      Overcharging for an inferior service I don’t.

  5. You were right, sadly, when you entitled your previous post, “I May Be Some Time.”

    What a pain…So sorry, but I’m not sure it would be any easier here, either.

  6. Oh Helen, I’m not surprised to hear of your frustrations. To me, that’s the infuriating thing about France… it could be paradise what with the food (well except for the beef), wine, climate, countryside, if only they didn’t let the French run the place.
    I always found it charming but rather lazy. I suppose that’s the difference between visiting and living there. For a few weeks you find the workers attitude charming. After a few months it becomes downright frustrating. I don’t see Hollande changing things much, quite the opposite in fact.
    I tried to leave a comment on your previous post by the way but it kept being rejected… no idea why!

    1. I’m sorry about the problem with the comment…I don’t know what was happening there.

      Yes, you have it right. A lovely place to visit…but hell on wheels getting something basic done properly and on time…my blood pressure used to be regularly hitting the bell on the try your strength machine while living in France and a return visit is starting to repeat the phenomenon.

  7. What a palaver! But unfortunately not unusual. I hope you had your baggage out by the time the contents of the loo were swilling their way around the hold… 🙂

    Good luck with the rest of your trip. As you want to get things done in a certain time frame, you’re going to need it!

  8. You do seem to have such bad luck in France !!
    Here in my part of the UK we seem to have little better luck, plus bad manners, bad attitude, bad language, bad driving, awful traffic, awful litter and terrible weather !!
    Getting around the UK is now so arduous that you have to allow huge margins of time in case of mishaps. Bus and train services are expensive and so badly co-ordinated that you could have had just as much trouble here. Outside the large towns public transport is often non-existent or so limited as to be not much use.
    The English are becoming just as inflexible as the French, being terrified of breaching health and safety rules or being sued. Dealing with large organisations using call centres is just as infuriatingly slow and it’s difficult to find real people who seem to care about getting things right. The apparent courtesy is superficial – you only get what people have been trained and paid to do and they will cheat you out of all sorts of things if they can get away with it. England has become an “I’m alright, sod you, get away with it if you can” society.
    The English now have their own version of the French shrug. You can see it in their faces and the avoidance of eye contact, even if they don’t actually move their shoulders !!

    1. Where my mother lives in Southampton things don’t seem to be like that…nice people, helpful staff – a lot of kindness and patience shown when my mother goes shopping…nice too where a friend lives in north London.
      My contact with U.K. bank call centres has been positive – so far…
      I only travel between airports, London and Southampton, but memories of goodness only knows how many options to Milton Keynes to have docs apostilled at the Foreign Office outpost there bear out what you say about expense and difficulty of travel.

      I don’t know if I have bad luck in France or not…there are very pleasant staff who can do nothing as ‘the system’ they have to operate by is hopeless and helpless and so many decent people who, alas, do not run the place. Very frustrating for them too!
      My French friends kick up as much or more than I do – so I feel quite free to tell it as I experience it.
      Corporate France…whether public or private…is no more nor less than emmerdant.

      Which reminds me…do you know the Brassens song…Elle m’emmerde? Very funny indeed.

  9. We seem to have hit lucky with officaldom here just as you seem to have done in Southampton — with the odd exception. There was one ERDF chap how had me literally dancing in fury: a classic finger pointing determined to be right sub-human.
    We’ve also had officials in The Netherlands who made our blood boil and as for trying to get a bank account set up in the UK to pay a mortgage well; the story is too long to tell here — but the level of indifference and insane Catch 22 don’t even come close to describing the experience!
    Sadly you get useless officialdom where ever you go; just as you also get sweeties who go the extra mile.

    1. I always got on well with the taxmen…never hit it off with France Telecom – the difference being that the taxmen were trying to get it right and FT were just interested in power games.

      This afternoon the clouds fell away…use of the grapevine sorted out the bank problem – seeing an open window and finding someone I knew inside it.
      Problem solved in five minutes…gossip carrying on for nearer thirty.

  10. do I sense un peu de disillusionment avec la belle France?

    I was gutted when I started travelling back through to the Uk. crap food. rude and surly people, couldn’t understand my Spanglish french 😀

    I stood in one railway station in france, the sleeper to Madrid pulled in (the staff were Spanish), someone jumped out, took my luggage, helped me in, and I thought, thank goodness for Spain. I’m going home.

    Even the orange juice was better in Charmartin. (Madrid). I used to love France. Pero, ya, nada más.


  11. Oh my. It makes me very thankful I have never had to conduct any kind of business in France. I hope things start to go a bit more smoothly for you. As far as your experience with Air France goes, that was something I could identify with. I have always said you are never truly Canadian until you have been ripped off by Air Canada at least once.

  12. And Americans think Costa Rica is bad!
    As for airlines, how I miss the great food and lovely staff of Mexicana….though their habit of offering tequila cocktails en route may have contributed to their bankruptcy.

    1. Cattle class gives a totally erroneous idea of space….I just thank my lucky stars the designers of flying sardine can seating arrangements have no knowledge of history…or they’d be studying the layout of the slave ships…

  13. Makes things in Spain sound positively smooth-running – almost. You may remember we moved house in March…well, yesterday, we paid and signed for it. Most of it. But getting our money out of the bank was scarily easy – although handing over a wad of it in notes to the solicitor outside definitely felt dodgy. So much so, I don’t think I shall be blogging it! Good luck with all your French business. Sounds like you need it.

    1. Only one hurdle left….but without the grapevine I’d still be trying to extract my money from the bank.
      Shopping with friends we parked behind another branch of the bank. A window was open, I heard a familiar voice – a lady who had done her initial training at my first branch far far away. I looked through the window, explained my problem and – in the click of a mouse – it was solved.
      Then we got onto the interesting bit about friends and families..

  14. Bienvenue! It isn’t right to laugh, but I can’t help it. It’s the way you say it. 🙂 As long as you win in the end, it will have been worth it, n’est-ce pas?

    As for the mobile phone thing, that really takes the biscuit. I wanted to buy something on the Internet recently through Paypal. Gave all my details, shoe size, temperature of my bath water, bank account number, password, etc. but then a verification code was required. Which could only be sent to my mobile phone. What if I choose not to have one? As it happens there’s one lying around in a drawer, so I was able to use it otherwise the transaction (purchase of a railway ticket) could not have happened. There was no alternative.. When talking to somebody recently, they said that the reason it is virtually impossible to escape having one of the damned things is because they are used to track our movements. By Mr Snowden’s erstwhile employers.

    Anyway, do enjoy the rest of your stay, keep cool at all costs. 🙂

    1. Off tomorrow, having had to give the bank ten days notice of wanting to get my claws on the folding stuff which will only arrive tomorrow morning about half an hour before I have to leave for Spain.
      I too am convinced it is to enable them to track what you are doing and flog the results to all comers…makes you think a bit: buy the Koran on your bank card and you risk being taken off and waterboarded by your local branch of Credit Agricole……..

  15. It’s all been said. By bloggers living in various countries.
    Officialdom and bureaucracy stink.
    The digital age was supposed to make life easy, wasn’t it?
    Best thing to stay at home, keep your money in a shoebox, travel to the shops by bicycle and remain calm.

    Could that long chat with the erstwhile bank acquaintance have inconvenienced others waiting for her services?

    1. I remember being told that the age of computers was the end of the age of paper…they have had to be joking!

      As to the chat…I sincerely hope so!
      I am past all elements of decency after ten days in France…survival of the fittest, nature red in tooth and claw…that’s me.

  16. OMG, a voice shrug! Perfectly described. Welcome back to France, Helen! A friend of mine is planning on moving here in a few months and asked me how she should go about opening a bank account. I don’t even want to begin to explain to her what a pain in the ass this is going to be. It should be so simple…but we know, it never, ever is!

  17. Before I moved a year and a half ago, I was living on the third (top) floor of an apartment building, and the incoming airplanes were low enough that I could actually see which airlines were coming to Montreal. Many were Air France, and, of course, Air Canada, but I also saw British Airways and several others, too.

    1. Every timei fly i thinki it’s better just to watch the ‘planes take off and land…unless you’re in first class which /i never will be as I pay for my own seat.

  18. Now be honest..would you have expected things to be any different? I do sympathise and really hope it’s a bit more plain sailing from now on xxx

  19. All our worst battles with French bureaucracy (back when we first bought and renovated the house) were mercifully being obscured by age-related memory loss, until reawakened by this marvellous post. I have never experienced anything remotely as inefficient and obstructive in the UK, despite its faults, yet on the plus side we meet with some very kind and helpful (and sometimes surprisingly efficient) French people too. Here’s hoping Spain is kind to you.

    1. Yes, the plus side is what makes it worthwhile…really nice people who have grown up with this stifling system and who have no point of comparison.
      I wonder what will happen in future now young enterprising French people are getting out into the world…will they come back and sort it out, or will they stay away?

      As to Spain…with its reputation for bureaucracy ad extremis…we shall see.

    1. I’ve never liked hassle…but I think I don’t get any more patient with age.
      Sitting on the end of a telephone hearing time’s winged chariot breaking the sound barrier while idiot music is played to you does something to the soul…

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