Reports reach me that Brits living in France have been involved in large-scale defrauding of the benefits system. In a £500,000 benefits fraud case in the Dordogne, more than a third of the alleged culprits were said to be Brits. We need to locate these rascals immediately. They should be brought back home and given the task of solving world peace, putting a stop to global warming and finding a sensible leader for the Liberal Democrats. If they are not only able to work out the French bureaucratic system but actually defraud it, they must be incredibly bright.
Getting my family registered on the social security system here was one of the toughest things I have ever done. It was worse than childbirth. I must have visited the local social security office about thirty times. Each time I was rebuffed and told I needed some piece of paper I didn’t have.
According to former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali “the best way to deal with bureaucrats is with stealth and sudden violence”. So I picked a day when the children were particularly hellish and took them to the social security office along with my file of papers. This had the desired effect.
Getting a residents’ permit or carte de sejour (which I’m delighted to say you don’t need any more) was almost as bad. They asked me for things like a birth certificate with both my parent’s names on. This was bad enough, but it then had to be translated by an officially approved translator.
I have failed in the task of getting a family railcard which would entitle me to half-price first-class tickets. For this you need a family record book called a Livret de Famille. I asked a bureaucrat at the relevant authority where I could get such a thing.
“You have to have been married in France,” he told me.
“Is there nothing I can do?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “You can marry a Frenchman.” Seems a little excessive for the sake of a railcard.
There is no end to the French thirst for useless bits of paper. I sometimes worry the whole country will collapse into the sea under the weight of them all. Just last week I called my bank to ask for their SWIFT code. This is a code which enables people to send you money from bank accounts abroad. For once someone was keen to send me some cash but they needed the right code. This proved more difficult to get hold than earning the money in the first place. I spoke to about five people, none of whom had any idea what I was talking about. Finally a woman came on the phone and said could I send them a fax with my request? Er, actually, no. “Try this for an idea,” I said. “Go and find out the number and tell me it now, while I’m on the phone. I can wait.”
French bureaucrats are nothing if not intransigent; imagine my surprise when the woman actually did as I asked.
But you can never take your eyes off these French paper pushers. Just as you’ve got one thing under control, they spring a new surprise on you. The latest is that you have to be registered with a doctor if you want to be fully reimbursed for visits. To register have to fill in a form stating who your preferred doctor for treatment will be. Previously, you could take your pick of any of the quacks in the region. If one told you to cut down on your drinking, you could visit a different one for a second opinion. Of course you can still do this, but the money you get back will be less than if you go to your chosen doctor. If, like me, you have ignored this latest bureaucratic development all you need to do is to go to the website www.ameli.fr and download the snappily entitled the Déclarartion de Choix du Médecin Traitant form. Needless to say, I haven’t done it yet.