Moving to a new country can be challenging on so many levels, especially if you are going to stay a while.
Forget the culture shock, getting lost around town, or difficulty communicating. All of these things you will be able to deal with over time. It is the factors outside your control that are the most infuriating.
One of these factors is bureaucracy, the red tape that can sometimes feel like it’s strangling your attempts to forge a new life. While bureaucracy is frustrating wherever you are, French officials appear to have honed it to a fine art.
In most countries, people keep a bank account into which their salary is paid and bills like rent are taken out of. Unfortunately for new residents of France, you can’t get a bank account without a permanent address.
This might not be a problem for some, but living in a room you are subletting from an elderly woman makes things very difficult indeed. No permanent address means no bank account, which means taking home your pay cheque in a brown paper envelope like a corrupt FIFA official.
Luckily I managed to convince my new boss to sponsor my bank account application, meaning that my post was delivered to her swanky riverfront address rather than my crumbling bolthole. However if you don’t have the luxury of knowing people, you could get stuck in limbo.
The best way to minimize the frustration caused by bureaucracy is to be as prepared as possible. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t even thought about how I would get paid when I applied for, or landed, my new job. Somehow we always assume that everything will be alright.
While this sort of positive thinking works well in a lot of situations, it certainly has its downfalls. If I’d taken the time to read up on French banking requirements I would have known that I needed to have a notarized rental agreement rather than a scribbled contract on the back of an envelope.
The moral of the story is that being prepared is the only way to reduce disruption and stress when it comes to moving to a new country. I’ve now learnt that researching flights for hours in order to save fifty quid is a false economy when I could have been using that time to save myself interminable amounts of time queuing in banks or convincing new acquaintances to do me favours.
As it turned out I got my bank account without having to sign a long-term lease, but I had to deal with a frustrated boss acting as my postman for the rest of the year. Always find out what you need to do to sign up for essential services before you move. This way you will be able to take copies of all the necessary documents with you, assuming you have them.
Once you’re in situ, check which of these documents you need to take to certain meetings, or send to certain people. Everyone likes to believe that they can charm their way out of any situation, but believe you me the French bank clerks were immune to my normally silver tongue. I’ll blame it on communicating in my second language, but it could also be argued that playing the bureaucrats at their own game is the only way to make any headway.
If you are told to bring two photocopies, bring two photocopies. One simply will not do, and you will lose your place in the queue if you have to dash out to the copy shop.
Some of you more organized souls out there will probably be wondering how anyone in their right mind expects to get anything done with so little preparation. Sometimes I ask myself the same question. However in France it feels like banks, insurance companies and state institutions are set up to actively frustrate you.
A lack of information online and that famous French attitude made for many a wasted afternoon running back and forth from various offices assaulting the Amazon thanks to my thirst for photocopies. Of course, all is well that ends well. But it’s best to save yourself the grey hairs you gain each time you butt up against bureaucracy.
This kind of thing will probably sound similar to anyone who has tried to get a visa to enter Russia, or dealt with police in Bolivia. But it must be said that there is nothing more infuriating than the indifference of the Gallic shrug.