Step by step

Many of the friends I have made since moving to France have the good fortune not to work. Despite this, when I see them, they are usually a bit speed, and sometimes quite stressée. Don’t get me wrong: I number amongst those who find doing the laundry and providing delightfully home-cooked meals to suit the tastes of every member of the family more wearing than working full time, but nonetheless, initially I experienced a certain degree of bafflement about this phenomenon.

The reasons why my friends are stressée are diverse, but invariably involve démarches somewhere along the way. Literally translated, a démarche is a step in a process: if you are faire-ing your démarches you are carrying out the necessary steps to achieve whatever it is that you want to achieve.

In the UK, there are some situations which involve a series of stressful démarches: take buying a house for example, or filling out the 80-page application form for permanent residency. Mostly, however, life’s little administrative processes are tedious rather than taxing. The prospect of buying a new Oyster card, registering for a TV licence, or paying my council tax hardly fills me with enthusiasm, but a simple click of a button, a phone call, or one irritating queue later, and it’s done. None of this would provide any justification for pleading burn-out to one’s friends at the school gate.

Before moving to France, I had heard that administration was more burdensome here. In my ignorance, however, I had assumed that the difficulties were exaggerated and that a bit of grit and determination would see us over any hurdles placed in our way. Even having undergone the tortuous processes necessary to register a car in our name, obtain our social security numbers, and sign a rental agreement, I continued to labour under the impression that the complexity of these démarches were merely a symptom of our recent arrival in France and that, once we had got ourselves established, we could wave goodbye to the hassle.

It was a routine appointment with the doctor that finally shattered my illusions. The Curly One had been showing symptoms of a mild urinary infection so, after having tried all the usual remedies, eventually I took her to visit the GP, where it was announced that a urine sample was required.

In the UK, under such circumstances the patient would be given a little plastic tube and told to remove themselves to the toilet to produce a sample. The doctor would then either dipstick it on the spot, or send it off for laboratory testing. In the latter case, the lab would contact both you and the doctor with the results once they were ready, and you could make a further appointment if necessary. Not so much a series of démarches, then, as a slightly undignified but mercifully brief and totally free interaction.

Back in France, I was given a prescription for a urine test. Noting my confusion, the GP explained that I was to take this to the nearest laboratoire, where the test would be carried out. Consultation ended, I was asked for my Carte Vitale and paid the 23€ fee that would later be reimbursed by the State and our health insurer, but for the moment came out of our bank account.

The next step was finding our nearest laboratoire, which was a bit tricky as not all such establishments have an internet presence. Fortunately any French person worth their sel has their neck tested for chills regularly enough that they have this sort of information at their fingertips, and a friend was able to come to my rescue. Not wanting to get anything wrong, I telephoned ahead, and was glad I had done so, for not only did the laboratoire have distinctly French opening (or should I say closing) hours, but my enquiry about whether or not they provided a pot to piss in was met with barely suppressed horror. Non, Madame, I was told: if I did not ‘ave one at ‘ome, the pharmacie could provide me with a flacon.

Thus I set out for the pharmacie, which did indeed provide me with the necessary receptacle. Back home I then persuaded my seven-year-old to wee into a jar. In all fairness, this part of the process would have been no easier in the UK than it was in France, so I shall spare you the details.

Urine duly extracted, I followed the strict instructions to rush the sample into the laboratoire tout de suite. I was asked for the prescription and my Carte Vitale, which I produced, but also for an attestation from my mutuelle, which I did not. Having failed this particular test of which random pieces of paper to take with you to any particular place, I had to pay 9€, and was issued with a facture, which I could later use to request a refund from my insurer (in writing of course, and probably in triplicate). I was then given a little card and told to come back 48 hours’ later for the results. After that I would have to make a further appointment with the GP, taking the results with me for her to analyse.

As it happens, when I turned up to collect the results, I was told, rather sternly, that the Curly One had not followed ze instructions for weeing in ze pot correctly, and that there was a risk of sample contamination. I would therefore need to go back to my doctor so that the whole process could begin again. Because I am a cruel and profoundly lazy parent, I decided that I did not want to know about the bacteria in my daughter’s urine enough to face a second instalment of the five-trip, three-fee process, and would opt for swilling water down her throat instead.


Apologies for a more prolonged absence than usual from my blog. I was busy with my démarches …

25 thoughts on “Step by step

  1. So true…having given the CAF all the bits of documentation they asked for, plus all the other bits they didn’t ask for then decided they needed, they’ve now asked for something else, along with my birth certificate showing FRYER as my birth name. FRYER is not my birth name, it’s PAYNE, which is what I wrote on the form. This is going to lead to all kinds of hell…. Sob…

    1. I think we went through this, too… you need a copy of your marriage certificate dated within six months, plus your a copy of birth certificate (ditto), plus a note of explanation. Then you might still have to accept receiving things addressed to PAYNE but at least you will get the dosh

  2. Also, I have a friend I’ve been trying to meet up with for weeks – an impossibility given the number of trips he has to make to the prefecture to register his car. The last mis-hap is that they’ve spent his name wrong.

  3. It’s always very entertaining to read your posts, and you’re always spot on! I wholeheartedly agree with the complications of the French administration and it’s not something I miss 🙂
    But as a French woman leaving in the UK, I’m not sure I would have taken the health system as an example? Because let’s be frank, it’s not always easy to get results on this side of the Channel either… First, you have to get an appointment with your GP. In our area, it can easily take up to 2 weeks. If like me, you make the mistake to go straight to the BUPA GP (our private insurance) in the hope of speeding things up, then you end up paying for the care, because you didn’t ask your registered GP to authorise your consultation with the private one, so the private insurance you’re paying for every month won’t reimburse you… That’s just an example, but I think that, unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to get help fast here, when it comes to health…
    Still, thanks again for this blog, I love your sharp eye on my home country 🙂

    1. Thank you Anne. You are absolutely right and I have heard many sad things about the NHS since I left, and even before I left I had to be on the phone at 7am to get an emergency appointment with my GP for the same day. If there is a two-week wait for an emergency appointment in your area, it’s very worrying indeed. However, although the NHS may be slow, I do like the efficiency of only having to go to one place to deal with a single (routine) problem, or two if you count the chemist afterwards. France’s healthcare is excellent, but could deliver better value for money for everyone if it consolidated its services… I really appreciate having French readers to keep me on my toes!

  4. Oh dear. This is at once hilarious and familiar. Though our local lab (in decidedly backward Carcassonne) sends us the results by email, which is very nice.
    The photo is just PERFECT.
    When our kid got meningitis (happily, we found out, not the deadly kind, but we had a few hours of worry), our doctor called the hospital to say we were coming and that we were not under any circumstances to be put through any emergency room delays. By the time we drove to the hospital, they were ready and all the tests were administered very quickly. I was frankly in awe.

    1. Hello and thanks for reading. Yes, I think that when it is something serious the system is great, but for anything more routine it’s a bit of a faff frankly. And how French people can be quite so addicted to visiting the doctor and obtaining medicine under such circumstances is beyond me. Am impressed by your lab! And thank you for appreciating the photo. As you might be able to tell, I was somewhat stumped for an illustration on this one…

      1. Going to agree with you there. In my experience, it seems routine things as well as major emergencies are dealt with promptly and efficiently. So if you get hit by a bus or need a physical/have the flu, no problem. But if you have something in the middle, like a persistent issue that’s kind of a mystery, as long as you’re not dying, docs are sometimes too busy to really dig in and help. That’s probably not France specific, but in the USA, docs are afraid of legal action if they miss something so I feel like they run more tests in the US for non-emergency things just to be sure.

        1. You’re quite right to distinguish between the routine and the non-emergency niggle. Anything medium term and you really have to want it to get there in the end. It amazes me how so many French people survive being such hypochondriacs given the effort involved…

  5. It’s so nuts how many hoops we have to jump through sometimes. I guess the French find this normal and just go with it, but why the heck couldn’t the urine have been tested at the doctor’s office? Guess I’m used to all this by now, but still, sometimes I have to just laugh. Hope your daughter is feeling better!

  6. As an auto entrepreneur providing “formation” I had to apply to DIRECCTE to get a number…I think I was asked three times for certain info that I hadn’t given (or actually hadn’t quite believed that they really wanted THAT) – the last being the lesson plans (not just a quick outline) of a 30 hour course for an A2 student. In French. Which I don’t speak very well, being English. It took me about 6 hours to complete. Still – I’ve got my registration number now!! Bless them.

    1. Oh my goodness! They required lesson plans! What a stress. No wonder lesson plans are unvarying in France… Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Chuckling away here as I can fully appreciate this. I am also a profoundly lazy parent and rarely take my kids to the doctor, but of course there have been many times when I’ve had to use the laboratoire over the last 20 years (think yourself lucky that you haven’t gone through pregnancy here with monthly blood tests for toxoplasmosis and more!) However, in my village the lab is next to the doctor’s surgery which is next to the pharmacy and imagine this…you can get your results online! It’s not quite such a démarche as it could be if everything was spread out. Over all though I’d rather go through all this and have French health care than British any day…(sadly). Thansk for linking up to #AllAboutFrance

    1. You have got it made!!!!! I have no complaints on quality but my goodness, think how EXCELLENT the health care could be if the system made a few simple efficiency improvements…

  8. I just love the way you mix in those French words, it’s hilarious! But that article was quite tragic… I suppose this won’t make you feel better but after living for 2 years on and off in Brazil I wonder if their bureaucracy isn’t worse than France 😉

    1. No! Brazil cannot have more bureaucracy than France! ARGHARGH. I’m glad you like my franglais. It is my most comfortable medium! Thanks for stopping by.

    1. It did, thank you, which is just as well because the thought of getting her to consume cranberry juice was making me slightly panicky. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Thank you Alan! I have not been quite as consistent as I would have liked to have been lately. But I am remedying that today. Much love to you.

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