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.
End of Notaire Monopoly
The European Competition authorities are looking into the monopoly French notaires have on all property purchases. At the moment, notaires need to be of French nationality and any property purchase involves giving them a percentage which is set by the government. The EU is pushing for a liberalisation of the market. But according to Dawn Alderson from Russell Cooke Associates it will not necessarily mean buying property will get cheaper. “What you have to remember is that at the moment notaires take a percentage of the purchase price,” she says. “This is bad news if you are buying a very expensive property but if you are buying for around £200,000 say then you will almost certainly get better value from a notaire than you would a lawyer.” In addition if you share the same notaire with the vendor, you split the cost. Although some would say this isn’t a good idea as the notaire will not necessarily be working in your best interests if he or she is working for two clients.
I have had several letters asking about breakdown cover in France. If you are resident in the UK and your vehicle is UK-registered and insured then you can get AA cover in France from £10.90 a day. For more information call 0800 0852840 or go to www.theaa.com and click on European Breakdown. If your vehicle is French-registered and insured you need to get something called Europ Assistance from a France-based company like Bacchus Insurance. For more information please call 0033 (0) 5 45 82 42 93 or email email@example.com.
Helena Frith Powell is the author of More France Please, We’re British published by Gibson Square Books and available from Books First at £9.99 plus p&p on 0870 165 8585
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019