Faux Pas Friday: Banking Bloopers

For the first year I was in France, I kept all my money in a sock.

This was well before the global economic crisis, so it was not a protest against untrustworthy banks.

BFF Socks

No, the clothing/cash method wasn’t my choice. It’s because no bank would let me open an account.

Now y’all must remember, I came to Paris on a bit of a whim with not much of a plan. I moved straight into someone else’s tiny studio so my name wasn’t on any official document that could have helped me at first: the lease or gas/electricity bills (proof of stable address), payslips or work contract (proof of income).

Even after my name was plastered on everything from the phone bill to EDF (electricity bill – the best proof of residence) and I had just gotten married, this still wasn’t enough. We went to J’s bank where he had been a client for 15 years and they refused my request.

This became one of those tricky catch-22’s so infamous in France. To get my first carte de sejour I needed a bank account. To open a bank account, I needed my carte de sejour.

Euro

Thankfully, I had just gotten a job with Expedia, and through a personal introduction by a colleague to a bank counselor at the branch next door, they let me open an account (the personal introduction so often smooths over a situation, though funny that an introduction from a colleague worked, but by my husband, nope).

Anyway, I’ve been successfully banking for awhile now.

But my experience makes me wary. So when I received a check from England back in September, I made sure to ask the woman at the bank whether I needed to do anything particular with this (gasp!) foreign check.

The check was actually drawn in euros, not pounds, even though it was from the UK, so she said it would be fine. Just deposit it normally.

-Are you sure? I ask.

-Yes.

-Even though it’s foreign, I insist.

-Yes, no problem.

Ok, so I deposit the check.

One week. Two weeks. Three weeks. A month. No money in the account.

I go to ask about the status of the check.

-Oh, but it’s foreign, it just takes extra time, the woman says.

-How much time?

-You’ll see it in your account soon.

A few more weeks. I ain’t seeing nothing.

Same woman. I explain the same situation.

-Oh! But it’s foreign! You had to fill out a special form!

-I asked you if I had to fill out a special form the first time and you said no.

-Oh, but it’s foreign!

-Right, got that. So what do I do?

We have to track it down. She takes my copy of the deposit slip and tells me she’ll call the next day.

Next day, day after, week after. Nothing.

Go back. New man. Yay, explain the situation to someone new (and actually I am glad it’s someone new, as obviously original woman is not helping).

He makes some calls, photocopies my deposit slip again. Says he’ll call.

He doesn’t.

Go back again. Original woman. She says, oh! But we cannot do anything here. You have to go to your branch (I had deposited it in a different LCL bank than my main LCL branch).

Go across town (almost all of line 2) to my branch (it was close to the job I no longer have).

I recount the story again and say I was told they had to handle it here.

-Mais c’est faux, Madame! It’s false! Ce n’est pas nous! It’s not us.

(Of course not. Of course it’s never anybody’s responsibility.)

-Look, this check has been dangling in some vacuum for 2 months now. I was told to come here. You tell me to go back to the branch that 5, 6 times in a row has done nothing. Tell me exactly what needs to happen. What I need to say to them.

He shows me the form they will have to fill out, a “formulaire de recherche” I think it was called.

I go back to original bank. I say they need to fill out a formulaire de recherche.

-But of course, the woman says, pulling out the form before I can even finish.

OMG. I’m going to kill her.

So this sounds promising, right? They are “looking” for it. “Recherching” it.

Another month. Nothing.

I make an appointment with my bank counselor just to talk about this. I tell her to get on the phone with somebody who will sort this out right now. I’m not leaving the office until she does.

She calls someone. I hear her go “oh, c’est normal.” But then she kind of rolls her eyes, like, yeah, I don’t think this is normal, either.

Alright, is this post long and boring enough for you? Sorry, just a little longer to give you the full picture.

Because, oh wait, what?

Yeah, the story’s still not done.

I hear nothing after the phone call. I get an “avis de suspens d’une remise export a l’encaissement.” I’m not even going to try to translate because it’s still incomprehensible.

I call again. Give all of my information to some new person. She sounds capable. I feel like I’m in better hands.

Then she calls back 3 days later saying she needs all of the information again. They’ve lost it.

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

I leave her a phone message. I leave my bank counselor a message.

I am ready to give up.

And then, four months after the deposit and numerous trips to the bank, I suddenly see my account credited. Just like that.

This is the positive lesson out of all this: just when things seem dire and impossible, something magically happens and the problem is resolved.

The other lessons? If it’s foreign, it’s going to be a problem in France. (Also, get your name on an EDF bill right away).

And really. Sometimes I think I was better off with the sock. :)

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43 Responses to “Faux Pas Friday: Banking Bloopers”


  1. 1 Lindsey April 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Oh good god, what a nightmare!! However I will tell you this. LCL is the fat kid in gym class that the other kids make fun of – they’re notorious for incompetent workers and perpetual errors. I know it would be a headache and a month long ordeal to switch, but I HIGHLY recommend it!!

    • 2 paris (im)perfect April 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm

      Lindsey – maybe that’s why they were the only bank that would allow me to open an account in the first place? :)

      I tried ALL of the other banks when I first moved here and no one wanted me. Maybe now that I’m more established I should switch! (But ugh, first let me work up some more energy to deal with another ordeal :) )

  2. 3 Leslie April 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Long and boring? Au contraire, this was fascinant! And amusingly written. How unbelievably frustrating but a great story and one I hope you can laugh about some day. But what is EDF?

    • 4 paris (im)perfect April 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      Hi Leslie. Oh good. I’m glad it was not long and boring.

      EDF is the country’s electricity company and having your name on that bill is worth its weight in gold for administrative matters here. It is the best proof of your residence here. I’ll go back and add that info as other people might wonder, too.

      And thank you. Once the money actually landed in my account, I was able to laugh about it :)

  3. 5 Barbara April 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Oh Sion, all I can do is shake my head and sympathize. Banking in France is absurd. I’m so glad you finally got that check!

  4. 7 Cassady April 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Wow-what an ordeal! Glad you finally got those funds!

  5. 9 Elissa April 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Oh dear…I’m all of sudden extremely sick. I just emailed my US based HSBC to get the details about opening a French HSBC account. From what they have said in the past it wasn’t going to be a problem. Now I’m beginning to doubt that! I wonder if things are different if you are a student? AUP said it is as simple as walking in with your visa and voila!

    • 10 paris (im)perfect April 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      Hi Elissa. Oh dear. I always end up making you nervous! I’m sure things *will* be different for you as a student (at least as far as opening an account). I didn’t have any official status other than tourist when I first came, so totally different case. Incidentally, though, HSBC was the first bank I tried because I had a US account with them. They seem to be the most highly protected of the lot! Often their branches have locked doors and you have to buzz to be let in. They would literally NOT open the door for me – just by looking at me! (Um, yeah, that is a whole OTHER post. “La tete de cliente.”)

      But so anyway, the problem probably won’t be opening an account since you’ll have a student visa and all (though I’ve never done the student thing here; I really can never say anything for sure about that). You just have to come prepared knowing there will always be snafus. A little bit of patience and good humor are the best things you can bring with you to France!

      • 11 thetravelingpear April 16, 2011 at 5:46 am

        Sion
        Oh no worries on stressing me out. I’m high strung by nature and anything from a June bug to jury duty sends me into fits! Really though, I’m preparing myself for road blocks. I did hear back from HSBC and I’m good to go as soon as my student visa arrives. Do you happen to remember what HSBC branch that was with the not so friendly welcome? I’ll be sure to steer clear so my sugar plume visions of Paris don’t cloud over!

      • 12 paris (im)perfect April 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm

        Gotcha. I’m glad your bank has confirmed that with the student visa you’re good to go. I’d just say, it’s helpful to become acquainted with and expect a little culture shock. I don’t want to cloud anyone’s sugar plum visions of Paris, but I think your experiences will actually be richer when you go through the (inevitable) downsides and come out on the other side. I love Paris and I think it’s an authentic love *because* of traveling through the hardships. You’re going to have a great adventure!

  6. 13 Lee Isbell April 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Oh, dear. I need to send euros from the US to a French family for language school. My money exchange says it does electronic funds transfers and I have proposed this to the school. Do you think this is likely to be problematic for her?

  7. 16 Cynthia April 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    It seems as if we’re doing business with the same bunch of incompetents!

  8. 18 Suzi hoggard April 16, 2011 at 12:04 am

    Oh, I have heard the Paris banks can be hideous. It’s a story worth sharing – so much to learn . Suzi

  9. 20 SAS Fiction Girl April 16, 2011 at 1:59 am

    I hope the good news is, you didn’t need the funds immediately to pay any bills. :-)
    Do you think they would have cashed the check for you on the spot if you’d asked (rather than depositing it?) That way, it theoretically becomes the bank’s problem for a while and you walk away with the money. -Jen

    • 21 paris (im)perfect April 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      Jen – I know, right? Sheesh! It wasn’t just small change, either. I’m very lucky that it was not a dire situation for me, but it very well could have been! On one of my many visits, I heard a man in front of me who *was* in a dire situation due to their incompetence. The bank counselors just did the typical shoulder shrug. Ugh!

      Good thinking on cashing the check. Though – and I’m not certain about this – I really don’t think they would ever have cashed a foreign (!) check on the spot. No way!

      It’s kind of funny. I was not surprised at *all* by this ordeal. I half-way expected it even (thus my initial inquiries and insistences that there *must* be something special about this foreign check). I guess I’m now integrated into France!

  10. 22 Franck April 16, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    In France, even the bank robbers have to fill up a form and to queue if they really want an appointment with the person responsible of the safes and cash !

  11. 24 millie April 17, 2011 at 10:07 am

    We are new to Paris (after years of being expats in Asia – which gave us a false sense of security that being expats in Europe would be oh-so-easy – I am American, husband is British).

    Got caught in the catch-22 of with no French mobile/no French bank – finally got a bank account at BNP, electronically transferred money to said account, but due to ‘internal’ processing, can’t use the account for a ‘few weeks.’ I asked if the account was not actually open, why did you let us transfer money? C’est la vie – literally!

    We are in the process of opening a restaurant and think that the red tape might mean that we will be raging alcoholics before all is said and done. :)

    • 25 paris (im)perfect April 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Hi Millie. Oh yeah, that’s another good catch-22. I had trouble getting a phone at first, too – but it was because I didn’t have the bank account, I think. Aie. If it weren’t so inconvenient for you all, I’d just have to laugh at that response. A few weeks. C’est la vie. So typical!

      But wow. Opening a restaurant here will probably present you with a whole lot of interesting challenges I can’t even imagine right now! I’m sure it will be worth it in the end. Brave people. Let us know how it goes! (And feel free to send me any other news in the process that is particularly funny/appalling/etc :) ) Courage!

  12. 26 pretemoiparis April 18, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Sion…OMG. I have had my share of frustrating things at the bank, but this! This is a world class winner! Oh the insanity. I would have become horribly impatient. You sound like you were so calm… I don’t know how you stayed like that. :-) Glad it finally was sorted out.

    • 27 paris (im)perfect April 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      Ha. I’ve been told that I’ve got a winner with a lot of my administrative stories. The only time I don’t really want to win :)

      No, but really. I count myself lucky that I’ve been here long enough to know you hit the wall over and over again – but it usually gets sorted in the end. I was pretty calm. (Hmm, is this a good thing that I wasn’t even surprised this happened?)

      I am very glad it got sorted, too. Can’t be patient forever!

  13. 28 Janet Skeslien Charles April 19, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    I could so relate to this post. At the Post Office, I saw a young Polish worker try and fail to open a bank account. (Why La Poste is also a bank is another story…) It was very painful.

  14. 30 Tara Bradford April 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Quel horreur! (But so predictable). At the moment, I’m waiting for reimbursement for damages/breakage/loss caused by the French moving company. I have filled out endless forms; sent photos; many emails. I expect it will take a few more months to resolve. Sigh. And we all have dozens of similar French bureaucratic nightmares. Perseverance – and a sense of humour – is key, as you know.

    Vive la difference; vive la France!

    • 31 paris (im)perfect April 20, 2011 at 2:11 am

      Hi Tara. Aie. Yes, we all have such stories. This one was actually tame compared to some of my other ones! Bon courage for getting your situation sorted, too. Is this one of the reasons you left France? :)

  15. 32 thetravelingpear April 20, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Despite all these “bang your head against the wall” situations, I still can’t wait to live there. Bring on the nonsense!

  16. 34 Khoi Nguyen April 21, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Thanks to Janet I got to relieve my past Paris banking adventure on this gloomy Boston afternoon.

    I guess we were lucky in opening our French bank account. We chose HSBC Palais Royal for no other reason than because it was probably equidistant to any point in the city. I believe I got my French numbers all mixed up when I answered what I thought was the teller asking me how much money I was going to deposit into this new account. Because what happened next was a rather lively introduction to the branch manager who introduced us to her assistant who took us upstairs to open the account. She gave us some forms to fill out. She then proceed to type the info on the forms into the computer. We had a nice long chat and the handy Larousse dictionary took care of all the financial terms neither of us knew in the other’s native tongue. I think all that was required were our passports.

    From that day Madame G. was never more than an email away with any banking question. Soon she became Caroline to us. Then one day our emails stopped being answered and we thought Caroline had just gotten tired of us or gone on holiday until we found out that she was no longer at the branch. Just like that. I hope she’s helping some expats wherever she is now.

    Funny that someone brought up the security door thing. I think it was only on my very last trip to the bank that I was buzzed in immediately without having to utter a word or holding up my Carte de Sejour to the tiny camera. I now feel strange when I could just walk right into a bank and sit down on the couch and drink some coffee and still no one bats an eye lash.

    Finally, I also want to note that changing your address is no guarantee that your banking mail won’t go to any of the previous addresses you’ve ever told the bank.

    • 35 paris (im)perfect April 21, 2011 at 12:22 am

      Wow, thanks for sharing your story. Sounds like you had a pretty good banking experience here! I hope reader Elissa is reading this, as she was asking about HSBC. Now I’m even more offended that they didn’t let me in, though! They took one look at me and would not open the security door. I guess once you *do* get in the door, it’s smooth sailing :)

  17. 36 Erica April 23, 2011 at 12:02 am

    I love this story Sion. This is France to a T. They make you nuts and crazy and then it just happens. It happens at their pace and in their way and you are never going to get them to change. Glad the money finally came! I bet they took out a big fat fee too. ARGH. Aie aie aie!

  18. 38 Opal April 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Classic story! You were better off with the sock! My first banking experience here was LCL too…I so understand your pain! I’ve now moved on to brighter pastures but these stories do persist!

  19. 40 Scout Finch February 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Haha! Wait till you decide to shift to India and try to cash a foreign cheque. Cheques made in another cities are considered outstation and foreign. Takes ages and ages and many calls to track the cheque and money! I’m glad you got your cheque cleared in 4 months..I’m still waiting for a domestic outstation cheque to be cleared and it’s somewhere lost in translation, paperwork…since 7 months! Why can’t we just have one bank in the world and the same currency!


  1. 1 Saturday Six #62 | Misadventures with Andi Trackback on April 17, 2011 at 1:15 am
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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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