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…



To read blog posts on France less cynical than these ones, or to book a slice of French Riviera heaven, you can do no better than the monthly linky on the Lou Messsugo blog called #AllAboutFrance

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17 thoughts on “Your number’s up

  1. A friend from a different EU country was robbed in Spain (the nails-on-the-highway, flat-tire, confederate-grabs-bag-from-car-while-“samaritan”-helps-change-your-tire scam), and had huge headaches getting a replacement from her native land, where she had not resided for 35 years.
    On hearing this tale of woe, I immediately changed my Belgian no-expiration license for a French one.

  2. Your wallet gets stolen and money gets taken out of your account in the UK: Your bank replaces the money the same or following day, no questions asked

    Your wallet gets stolen and money gets taken out of your account in France: you need to go to the police to file a report. This takes four attempts. You then go in person to a branch of your bank and complete another mountain of paperwork. The bank calls to ask if you’d taken out insurance. Fortunately you had. You chase them for two months. They finally replace the money minus €150 euros excess.

    Your NHIC card and UK driving license also stolen – quick on-line form and le voilà! Both replaced and chez vous within 5 days.

    God bless British efficiency.

  3. I feel for you all, as, of course, we have been through much the same licence confusion, waiting, form filling, uncertainty, anxiety … I lost a Swarovski crystal bracelet in the snow and didn’t realise until days later. My biggest fear was that it had been a gift from my mother-in-law and I had worn it with EVERYTHING since the moment of the gift as a humble sign of my total appreciation. Years down the track, I still haven’t fessed up. Bon courage for your continuing lost wallet saga!

  4. Having lived in a few countries I really wonder what is the reason for these differences. I still remember with horror and incredulity the kind of burocratic procedures I found at German universities. I was instead surprised that I could change my registered address in Ireland with a quick call. As an independent professional in France I had my share of issues with French public offices. Being Italian I am used to mistrust public offices.

    The fact is that there are good ideas and good examples here and there and I wonder why countries do not take inspiration from each other. For example, in Italy you can communicate with public offices using a system of certified emails which can be used instead of registered physical mail. Why France is just not doing the same? Why all countries do not invest in better information systems? Is it just because they need to have a lot of people employed in the public sector?

    This really puzzles me because I think the effort for removing all the issues would be very small and the benefit huge.

    1. I quite agree. Perhaps we should set up an agency for doing precisely this? In France, the problem is particularly perplexing because most French people moan about it and want to see it changed. The problem is that successive governments attempt to do so and are met with strikes and resistance. Most eventually give up. Whilst the person working in the prefecture might like to see her personal administrative hurdles reduced, streamlining the processes she is involved in might mean doing away with her job… therein lies the difficulty. It is frustrating. But until someone solves the tendency to strike at the least little thing change will remain elusive. Thanks for reading, and for having something interesting to say in response.

  5. Oh and just as I was wondering if we should return to France again… you convince me that I really shouldn’t lol. I have been eyeing a democratic school near Toulouse alas, I sigh deeply with a smile on my face, Spain shall be our new home for the next five months 🙂 Emma currently in Thailand

    1. Fantastic! You don’t half get about! What is Emma doing in Thailand? And where in Spain? Aw, France is great if you are prepared to weather the admin…

  6. The detailed account of your situation had me right there along side you. We live in Australia but regularly to go France to spend school holidays there in our holiday house in Brittany. We find a bit of difficulty with our utility bills that we are unable to organise direct debiting for. By the time these bills arrive in Australia we have such a short period of time to get the Tip back to the provider that we occasionally end up with a lengthy admin letter chain that we struggle to understand. Anyhow, we struggle along and seem to manage… often only just!! #AllAboutFrance

    1. Ha! Yes, I love lengthy admin chains that tell you that you should have paid a bill ten months’ previously, when the letter has only just made it through your door. How you manage it from the other side of the world, I have no idea. #AllAboutFrance

  7. You crack me up; this is one of your best lines ever “It’s not the first time that I have proved to be an expensive hobby for Eadred.” Oh the joys of French bureaucracy, where would we be without it? We wouldn’t know what to do with all that extra time, nor have hysterical subject matter for blogging! Thanks for sharing with #AllAboutFrance

    1. I’m glad I make you laugh sometimes Phoebe. I quite agree: what would I have to do without the bureaucracy…? Thanks for stopping by. #AllAboutFrance

    1. I’m really interested in why the red tape built up in the first place, and how it can be that every French person HATES it but nothing changes… Thanks for stopping by. #AllAboutFrance

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