Some of you will be familiar with the famous “J’Accuse” letter written by Zola… I will not be pretentious enough to compare myself to Zola, and yet I feel compelled to vent my anger and frustration at what sometimes,and more and more often, makes me ashamed of being French…
Some of you will know that I set up the Dordogne Franco British chamber of Commerce back in 2005, and left in 2009 to set up on my own. I now run a small business called “The Link” the aim of which being exactly as it says on the tin, provide a link between the English-speaking and French-speaking communities. I work with individuals and professionals alike, with “institutions”, official and consular bodies etc… I basically provide translation services, language tuition, “hand holding” services in setting up and running a business, manage a professional network and engage in all sorts of benevolent activities such as writing in newspapers, hosting free practical seminars (how to set-up a business etc), broadcasting bilingual radio programmes etc…
The Dordogne is a well-known “terroir” for having a very significant English-speaking community with some 800 English-speaking entrepreneurs having set-up businesses of all kinds locally, and some 35,000 permanent British residents (i.e.: almost 10% of the Dordogne overall population…). The economic impact of that presence is the subject of very serious studies by the local Chambre économique and is estimated at an average €200m (yes, two hundred mil…) per year. In other words, it is crucial to the survival of the local economy - generating income, jobs, and skills.
I currently act on behalf of a UK citizen who has retired here some years ago and is operating a very small chambre d’hote business which generates an average income of under €1,000 (one thousand) per annum. As required by the law,he declared the activity to his local Mairie who suggested he should introduce himself to the local tax office. Which he did. He was then told by the said tax office to fill in some papers not realising at that stage that he was in fact filling in registration forms which would be sent to INSEE and would trigger off the whole SIRET process, along with social contributions. Now, to cut the story short a bit (there is a point to my rant, I promise!), under French law, that specific activity did NOT need to be registered and did not require a SIRET number to be issued not contributions to be paid (a rare enough occurrence under the French system); it simply needed to be declared to the local mairie, and the income generated to be added on the personal income tax form. I therefore called the relevant tax office on behalf of my client, and after a long winded but pleasant enough conversation with the clerk there, I agreed to write a letter of appeal to the Head of that office to explain that there must have been a misunderstanding due to the language barrier, that the form should not have been filled in and would they please cancel the registration with a back dated effect; I quoted the relevant law for good measure. I called the office today, two weeks on, to touch base having not received any feedback (I’d sent the letter by recorded delivery with proof of receipt so knew full well it had been received). Here it comes…
The lady there, a different one to the one I’d previously spoken to, said nothing had happened, that they were speaking to the RSI. I simply said “I’m glad we can touchbase on this…” and there it came, she flipped… Told me she did not have to speak to me, why would my client not do it himself (ok, press rewind here and go over the whole language barrier which got him in this mess in the first place…) etc. Explained I did indeed have a “mandat” allowing me to act on his behalf - response: “can’t see it on the phone can I?”, so I suggested we communicated purely via official letters, recorded delivery with proof of receipt as I understood (!) they had to be sure who they were sharing information with. She then flipped further: “I know who you are (note from me: this also happens to be the tax office my business falls under), I know where you live (note from me: bunny boiler alert anyone?!). What is it with all these Brits that come here, still don’t speak French 10 years on and mess up everything - oh, good for some clever cloggs like yourself having clicked there was money to make there, but that’s just complete nonsense.”
A) Am I over-sensitive here or the attack was somewhat too personal (both on myself and on my client) to be acceptable coming from a civil servant of all people?
B) The tax office made a mistake here, not my client stricto sensu
C) It doesn’t matter really, it’s easy to fix, and they don’t have money to pay back to my client
D) My letter could not possibly have offended anyone as it was carefully worded with that in mind in fact…
E) How can someone as senior as that lady make such biased and short-sighted comments - you would think the tax-office of all places should know that “these Brits” bring them a lot of income
F) Yes, it does help to speak French in France, but having lived in the UK for 17 years, I can guarantee you a lot of French people there don’t speak English properly either… And the point is these people were being honest, doing their best and eventually paid someone like me to help them over that hurdle: what more can be expected of them?
G) oh, and a final point - bearing in mind the economic weight of the British community here, how come the vast majority of local “institutions” don’t have a single person able to at least say “hello, what can I do for you?”. And ideally, mean it too.
Rant over - I’ve been doing this job for many years now, and quite frankly, the more people like this I come across (this is no exception sadly), the more I wonder what will become of the Dordogne in years to come. Sad really: such a wonderful “terroir” with such enormous potential… Is this a French thing or purely a Dordogne one you think?
Completely agree - it’s a french thing, I’m fluent and my other half is french but we both get the same treatment from time to time, funny thing is she gets more than I do as most french are amazed after seeing my name that I speak to them no problem in french and are then nice (sometimes)… and all this against the RSI (who are pretty useless i agree) I had similar problems with the CPAM, and the MSA aren’t much better either - in the end you just accept it, like people in the UK accept the weather and traffic jams and… no I won’t go on !
Oh it is indeed a good thing. Most of the big FX companies were already fully compliant and authorised with the FSA (who police the EU regulations, which as you say, is very good practice. My point was actually that the Banque de France employees passed us around and around, and didn’t reply to us, nor to the French lawyers we had to engage! It was extremely frustrating at the time. I still cannot understand why it is still so difficult in many cases to get a response to an e-mail to a fonctionnaire.
Can I just put in my two penn’orth? We have been here for 10 years (God is it really that long?).
We have gone with the flow, and yes, I know it’s not that bad for us as we are both retired. It must be unbelievably frustrating if you are having to spend hours either on the phone or sitting in deathly silence waiting to see some omnipotent bureaucrat who holds the power to totally mess up your day or bestow a little ray of
sunshine on it. Having said that, I have often felt like bashing my head against the wall (even slitting my wrists) when dealing with UK bureaucracy, and banks in particular.
Having taken on board all the awful tales of impots de revenue and CPAM I’ve had worryingly easy ride…. maybe they think it’s easier to get rid of the old biddy than argue.
But… what is it with tradesmen ?
We decided to have our windows replaced. Our mayor, who is a really hard worker on council matters and a builder/everything else (and a lovely guy) gave us a good, sensible ‘devis’ for the work last summer. It dragged on until November, we suggested he did the work while we were in the UK for Xmas and New Year, … great idea he agreed, gave him a key to the house… came home……zilch!
He came round after we got back (we are opposite the mairie, so he can hardly miss us) and apologised profusely. The windows were being made to measure, the window supplier had promised delivery by the middle of December but failed to meet the delivery date, promised for the end of January, actually delivered last week after he made three visits to Touoluse 70 kms away. Now… I have been in a similar position in the UK (but in the retail trade) and if a supplier failed to fulfil a special order for my customer I would have played hell, and if they still failed I would have told them to forget it ,and gone elsewhere, but they just don’t do that here.
Having arrived this week to put in the windows ( a day’s job for 2 windows he said) we are now on day 4. And why? Because, bless him, like other artisans we have had, he keeps disappearing for all sorts of odd things, both mayoral and professional. Our house seems to have become an extension of the mairie, so everyone who has an issue or planning permission in the pipeline sees his van and homes in on it. It wouldn’t be so bad if he kept on working, but he downs tools, folds his arms and has a real old chin-wag!
He’s doing a brilliant job re the windows and apart from having to get up at a sparrow hour unknown to retirees, it’s fine by us, but I can see how the whole attitude in ‘France profond’ drives the émigreés who have to earn a living stark raving mad.
I wouldn’t want France to become as consumer/money driven as the UK but can’t someone gently initiate French workers in the service industry into the art of ‘service’ ?
I do love France, warts and all, but jeeze sometimes it’s hard… something similar to living with an obstreporous teenager.
Now that’s a good thing to put in things to love about SFN! I have to say that (altho we’ve only been here just over a year), we have met only ('cept a little run in with the bank, but again more down to an individual) helpfulness - not necessarily effusive, just helpful. We also had a prob with the taux d’habitation et fonciere going to our UK address but sent an apologetic email to our local (Bourganeuf) office explaining that we’re actually here all the time (think it may have had to do with the paperwork when we completed on the property, as our Mairie know we’re here) - no problem and all now going out by prelevement. Our neighbours have been great! M. Lalet across the road helped David get his head round registering online via URSAAF, and the tax office in Gueret have offered a rendezvous to help him get his head round his 1st french tax return. And all the neighbours tried to help get the car going when the battery died just before Christmas - AND Christine (next door to him) gave us a lift into Bourganeuf to get shopping!
Having worked in customer facing positions myself (Sales Business Manager in an electronic data capture co then Customer Complaints Manager in a company providing building type services to insurance company customers) I’m v hot on it and could quote zillions of instances of poor service in the UK. But so far only 1 instance of what I’d call bad service and that was the company we ordered our battery charger (for the car!) from not delivering within the promised time scale, and not coming up with an explanation why their site said 2 days and the actual time was 2 weeks! But they were very polite about it…! Now okay we’ve been here a relatively short time but in a year in the UK…
And I have to say, one thing I do love (as a northerner) is saying bonjour (or submit appropriate time of day) to everyone, & getting a bonjour (etc) back when out & about.
I agree - civil servant thing. I stood in line for the bank for 20 minutes in Cuba whilst the woman in there talked to her husband about what she was having for tea on the phone and didn’t serve a single customer. If you want ‘rude’, any council office in England will often have a row of jobsworths who make the individuals who are helpful seem a million times more useful.
I am sensitive about being an Anglaise in a world where I’m teaching English to French people who are a little cynical sometimes about the dominance of English language - I remind them there’s more French in London than there are English in the whole of France, and that 30% of the English language is from French. That usually gives them a little perspective!
The problem of any country depending on big organisations and people in civil service is that no new money comes in to the country - and they need to depend on what others can bring in order to make a profit. France makes it hard enough to start up - the RSI are terrible - and thank heavens for startbusinessinfrance.com!!
I think it’s a “civil” servant/bureaucracy thing, which can happen in the UK just as easily as here - maybe she is a problem individual who has anger management problems? On the french speaking issue - one can have enough french to have quite involved conversations but it’s not just the language skills it’s knowing the system- one can get bewildered enough dealing with UK tax etc, even when one has grown up with it and used it since reaching adulthood - never mind getting used to the intricacies of a very different system, especially if you’re late 40s onwards.
SIncerely hope that while in the UK you never had to have any dealings with the DSS/jobcentres but believe me, some of their staff can make this lady look less like the Wicked Witch of the West and more like the Good Witch Glinda!
In the meantime wish you luck - don’t suppose you know who her immediate superior is? Or is there a complaints procedure? Feel for you - hate people like that - leaves such a bad feeling behind and as yet I believe it is still illegal to maim people for rudeness, discourtesy and arrogance. Shame tho…
Bonjour Emile (:
From what I have read it sounds like you tried to deal with the RSI? Forget about them, they are understaffed and although they pretend that they are managing self-employed registration the URSSAF is actually doing the work and keeping the file. There are as many URSSAF as “departements” but the one I am dealing with usually answers the phone which is not so common for a French “administration”.
In such a case you should go for the new “auto-entrepreneur” status but you probably know that already. There again it is easier to deal with URSSAF directly.
Being French as I am, I wonder why you are at all surprised with the terrible manners of the French civil servants and with the “friendly anglophobia” of the average frenchman or frenchwoman in that case.
One of my Canadian friends once told me that France is a wonderful place to live as long as you are aware of the fact that on average, on any given day you will meet a complete a*****le who is going to do his best to ruin it…
Don’t worry, it’s a French thing, c’est la France as a whole, nothing to worry about Dordogne per se.
But the mentality are slowly evolving, don’t worry, it can only get better…
Unfortunately, as well as ‘entrepreneur’ being a French word, so is ‘bureaucracy’. The company I work with (and others in the same business) had to get embroiled in completely unnecessary dialogue with various fonctionnaires at the Banque de France who, after messing the company about for months, didn’t reply and then said they weren’t interested! Lots of work and money for a legal firm and a translator though…
Smile, accept the lady in the tax office was having a bad day (she works for the government, stuck in the same job for life!! because she is scared to leave) and recall the office and speak to someone who can respond in a positive manner. No point stressing about it life is to short.
The lady in my tax office is he same looks over her glasses tutting and sighing with her ornge head shaking with disaproval of me not having paid my habitation and tax fonciere but as i said had she sent a bill to my french address and not to an address i havent lived in since 1995 i may have sorted out before the bailiff came knocking…its my 1st year of living here full time our house has been empty of furniture and unhabitated until last june as it was being renovated but she still expects me to pay both for 2008 2009 and 2010…ive written and had no reply so i will send registered next time…chin up …
Utterly appalling behaviour on her part and I admire your self restraint. Has anyone told her that we are actually in Europe and that the 100 years war ended a while back?