Sometimes French administration can be a nightmare. Perhaps British administration is as bad – it is nearly 20 years since we moved here – but somehow I suspect the French are the winners. When I mention any problem I am having, my French friends sigh, shrug their shoulders (pride or resignation?) and say : « Ah. L’administration française… … »
My level of spoken and written French is OK. Imagine how daunting it is if you speak almost no French. I don’t need to imagine; I know, as for the past week or so I have been helping an Englishwoman several years older than me and with a very basic level of French, who is struggling to replace a lost carte grise (log book) for her car,
My heart sinks when I see an official form, with so many boxes to tick and so many entries to get wrong, especially as administrative French can have a very particular vocabulary.
I should add: imagine how daunting it is to cope with bureaucracy if one is not at home with computers and the internet. Because in France (maybe in the UK too?), the pressure to communicate with government offices online has suddenly become relentless.
This is how I got involved. Initially I had been asked to help my friend come to grips with a new computer. So I think I was the obvious person for her to turn to when she found herself floundering with online forms.
What had I let myself in for? In order to declare the loss of her carte grise online (there is no other way), she had to print, complete and then scan back a long form, together with various backup documents such as passport, proof of residence etc.
It turned out the scanner function of the printer had never been used, so I had to download and instal the software – and then help her complete, print and scan everything.
Next big problem: in order to apply for a replacement carte grise she needed to go through the contrôle technique (MOT) – and for this she needed a carte grise! The only way out of this vicious circle is apparently to obtain a fiche d’identification du véhicule.
This is turning out to be another big challenge: how to cope with endless going round in circles and coming to dead ends on a government site called ANTS which deals with things like documents for cars or passports. The site firmly tells you to go to another site, called FrenchConnect to set up a secure connection to information on ANTS. But FrenchConnect in turn requires you to identify yourself via your space on either the government site for health or taxes.
My friend had never joined either site. I started with the health one, Ameli, and – surprise, surprise – it was temporarily unavailable. So then I moved on to the tax one, impôts.gouv. Guess what, I needed an online reference from her tax returns, but since she pays her taxes in the UK she does not have one.
So this evening I had to admit defeat and say there was no more I could do before going away for a fortnight. She needs somebody to go with her to the tax people and get them to get the necessary document verifying her identity, then to the sous-préfets office to force the receptionist (the only person one ever gets to see) to help her get the fiche d’identification du véhicule, and then take that and all the other papers to the contrôle technique – and then finally she should be in a position to complete her request for a carte grise and thus be driving legally again.
Well I have found a friend willing to take this on, Ive tried to brief him as much as possible, and I have obtained the name of the one person in the tax office whom I know is intelligent, helpful and – added bonus – speaks English.
It is all very well moving to websites for administration, but they must be better written, there must be places where people who do not have computers or the internet can go, and even more important, there should be somebody when things go wrong. In the Pays Viganais we are over 50 km from any significant sized town and public offices are closing their doors all the time. Already the CPAM (health administration) is down to one person available part time by appointment only, the tax offices are scheduled to be relocated to Nîmes (86 km away) and Alès (74km). And the Sous-Préfet seems to do nothing.
So what will people do in the future?