Your number’s up

Here’s the thing. Back in early March, we went on a skiing holiday. Well, Eadred and the girls skied, whilst I wept at the top of the slopes. Anyway, we were à la montagne, and I provided enough of a sideshow to ensure that Eadred was frequently distracted and, during one such lapse, dropped his wallet somewhere in the vast expanse of neige. Neige being neige, by the time we realised what had happened, the wallet was forever lost. It’s not the first time that I have proved to be an expensive hobby for Eadred.

Mislaying your wallet is a tedious occurrence wherever in the world it happens. In the UK, however, a combination of native pragmatism and (relatively) straightforward administrative practices mean that the contents of the wallet can be fairly readily cancelled and replaced. No, I wouldn’t lose my wallet on purpose in the UK, but neither would its loss make it into my top ten worst moments of the year.

Eadred, on the other hand, lives in la belle France. Here in the land of cheese-munchers, losing your wallet is about as cataclysmic as it gets. Whereas in the UK you might consider leaving the house with just a cash card, a few stamps and a tenner in your purse, here your portefeuille is expected to contain ze kitchen sink at all times so that, when an armed policeman asks for your car insurance papers at a randomised roadblock, or when a florist demands to see your carte d’identité before you can collect a parcel containing name labels for your children, you are able to oblige.

In other words, we live in a system under which not only do you kiss goodbye to ze kitchen sink when you lose your wallet, you also face being fined by gendarmes at will, or confronting the wrath of your child’s maîtresse when the contents of your child’s three compulsory school pencil cases remain unnamed. Zut alors.

By far the worst aspect of Eadred’s buried portefeuille was the missing permis de conduire. When a person first moves to France, they attack the administrative process with energy. “It can’t possibly be that bad,” they say to themselves during the honeymoon period when their stiff upper lip is still intact. After six months of waiting for their carte vitale to come through, however; after having signed a 30-page bail on a rented property; had three meetings just to open one bank account; and spent four hours queueing in the préfecture to register the ownership of one’s bagnol, even the most enthusiastic new arrival loses their will to live. And so it came to pass that Eadred gave up before he had exchanged his UK (EU) driving licence for a French (EU) one as he was supposed to have done. Oups.

Ordinarily, if you lose your permis de conduire, you apply to the relevant authority for a replacement. The trouble for Eadred was that the relevant authority in his case was still the DVLA in the UK. But without a valid UK residential address, the DVLA is unable to issue a replacement licence. Which left Eadred with only one option: applying to the préfecture for a French replacement. The problem was that, however stoically Eadred tackled the mountains of paper required to achieve anything official in France, he had no physical UK permis to exchange for a French one as the relevant protocol required. It was in his portefeuille, which was in the neige.

Cue an appointment at the préfecture to beg. Several months and one police stop fine later (fonctionnaires, apparently, do not use the téléphone and only answer e-mails when it takes their fancy to do so), he had a timed appointment and had compiled his dossier (with everything on the exhaustive list of things they ask for and many things they do not, as is traditional).

Eadred in rare selfie with the ticket announcement board in the préfecture

The great day arrived, Eadred turned up, and was issued with a ticket number. The time for his appointment came and went. After an hour, he went up and politely enquired whether that it was normal that a timed appointment should be running an hour late. His ticket and credentials were inspected. Oui, his name was on the list. Oui, madame had known that he was in the waiting room, at the allotted time. But non, the ticket number that they had issued him with was incorrect, so non, he would just have to go away and make anuzzer rendez-vous, presumably some months in the future.

Fortunately, if three and a half years in France teach you anything, it is that non is just an opening gambit. On no account should you succumb to your British instincts of taking no for an answer. Instead, Eadred took the sensible step of digging his heels in and, eventually, madame grudgingly conceded that she might be able to spare a second of her time for him.

The happy and most astonishing part of this tale is that the préfecture does in fact have a protocol for dealing with the replacement of lost European driving licences. If Eadred had thought that this would be straightforward, however, he was much mistaken. Madame at the préfecture told him that he needed to go to the commissariat de police to make a declaration of loss of the old licence before he could be furnished with a replacement. The commissariat, however, told him that, non, it was the gendarmerie he needed. The gendarmerie, however, told him that, non, it was the préfecture that issued such declarations. We think that it is indeed the préfecture that does it but that, in order to do it, he first needs to produce a preliminary piece of papier from the commissariat. This is all deduction, mind. None of the aforementioned officials have yet furnished him with any such explanation.

And of course then it is not at all clear whether, even if his deductions are correct, and even if he manages to elicit the required papier from the commissariat, the same single person at the préfecture will be able to issue both the declaration and the licence, or whether two separate people will have to do it at two separate appointments, each of which will require months of forward planning, hours of waiting and the correct ticket.

 

I shall keep you posted on whether Eadred successfully obtains a new licence before Brexit kicks in…

 

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