For every amazing thing about France, every fun and exciting moment, there are two annoying and incomprehensible experiences waiting in the wings. Every time I think things are looking up, Evander Holyfield comes out of retirement just to hit me in the face. Hard. If I wasn’t able to roll with the punches before coming to France, I’ll certainly be able to do so after leaving.
I suppose some of the difficulties I’m having can be attributed to culture shock. You may have heard stories of the nightmare that is French Bureaucracy; I myself spent many hours reading about it before leaving for France. Despite my best efforts, I remain unprepared for dealing with it on a daily basis. I am learning that the old saying “patience is a virtue” is all too true. Those of you who know me well know that patience is not my forte.
When my students or new acquaintances ask me what the worst/hardest/most different part about France is, I immediately think about the process of opening a bank account. In order to do practically anything in France, you must have a French bank account. Want a phone plan? Get a bank account and a permanent address. Want a bank account? Find a place to live. Want to call landlords offering places to live? Get a phone plan!
I pride myself on always being prepared. I do my research. I know my options and I know the pros and cons of said options. True to form, I spent ample time researching my banking options before coming to France. Unfortunately sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Upon speaking to various Assistants it became quite clear that the willingness of a bank to allow a foreigner to open an account for less than a year is at the discretion of the conseiller at any given branch. Some Assistants have been turned away from a bank that several other Assistants have just opened up accounts at mere days before.
Thankfully both banks I found myself most interested in were welcoming and willing to work with me. Unfortunately, two weeks after making an appointment, going to the appointment with both originals and photocopies of every important document I have ever been in possession of, and successfully (or so I thought?) opening an account I am still waiting for a letter to arrive telling me that I can go back to my specific branch to pick up my bank card. Without this bank card my bank account is virtually useless. All I can do is think back to 2008, the last time I opened up a bank account, and shake my head. The entire process took about 20 minutes and approximately 1 week later I was in possession of my debit card. The ease of conducting day to day business is definitely something I miss.
On to the next one: setting up my phone. My second day in France I went to Orange, a phone store located in the shopping center just around the corner from the Airbnb I was staying in. I purchased a sim card with one month of unlimited calls and texts in France and a small amount of data. Two days later, as I stood in the middle of the train station after having missed my train to our first day of orientation, with every person I asked telling me there was nothing to be done, my phone stopped working. After scouring my paperwork I received when I purchased the card, I discovered that I needed to call a number and enter a code to authorize the phone plan…despite the fact that my phone had been working for the last three days. Of course when I attempted to enter the code, multiple times, it didn’t work. Back to Orange I went, already feeling quite dumb for not entering the code in the first place. Of course it worked on the first try when the man working at Orange tried it. Off I went feeling even dumber than I did upon walking in.
Fast forward to this week when it became clear that the sim card I ordered last week most likely would not arrive by the time my service was to be transferred to a new network (Free):
You’ll find me on the bus to the only Free store in the area so I can purchase a sim card, even though my free sim card is purportedly floating around in the mail somewhere, so I am not stranded with no use of a phone as I continue my frantic hunt for a new apartment (more to come on this later).
Surprisingly, locating the store in the mall and purchasing the sim card (for just 5€) was quite easy. This should have been the first clue that things were yet again about to go wrong. I arrived home and began the process of logging into my Free account online and putting the new sim card in my phone, only to find that the internet/data was not working at all. Thanks to the internet gods I managed to figure out both why this was happening and how to fix it, escaping a return trip to Free. For now.
On the bright side, the next time I end up 30 minutes away from where the apartment I’m going to see is actually located, I’ll be able to pull up a map on my phone with my shiny new plan that offers more data than I could ever hope to use in a month. All for just 19,99€ !
Update: After emailing my conseiller, I have discovered that my card has been waiting for me to pick it up at the bank and that the letter including my 4-digit code needed to use the bank card was mailed out quite a while ago…meaning I am not receiving my mail. Perhaps this is because someone removed our names from the mailbox. From bad to worse I tell you.