Curses! The F-Word, The B-Word

For those of you who need help tempering your jealousy when you imagine the sweet life in Paris, I have two words for you: French Bureaucracy.

For those of you who already live here: you know what I mean.

I’ll admit that since getting my first carte de sejour (after jumping through several flaming and very high hoops), things quieted down for awhile. I’m married to a French man now, perhaps everything will be alright, I comforted myself late at night. The ordeal is over; calm your battered soul.

Proof that thoughts can be dangerous – how could I have been lulled into such a false sense of security? French bureaucracy will never be “over.” Accept it as a fact of life.

So the issue this time? Property taxes. Nope, don’t mind paying them for where I actually live. Yep, have a problem paying them for a place I don’t.

We were hit by a double whammy recently and the full web of problems keeps unfurling.

We received our taxe d’habitacion for the 11th where we live. Ok, fair enough. Except hmm, that’s funny, didn’t we always have a monthly transfer set up so we wouldn’t be hit all of a sudden with the full sum to pay? And is this normal that we’re paying 10 times what we paid at our old place? And hmm, that’s almost our correct address, but not quite. Isn’t the address we’re being taxed at actually a business…which might explain why we’re paying 10 TIMES MORE?

No matter, we can sort this out.

Except hmm, why have we also received a notice saying that we’re paying in the 19th…which we left in 2008? And why did the automatic transfer work there…where it needn’t have worked? Because um, WE DON’T LIVE THERE ANYMORE.

So we’ve already paid for the residence where we don’t live and the payment for the place we do live didn’t work?

That’s about it.

Go to the 11eme, who has by now added a 10% late penalty fee.

“Not our fault, it’s the 19ths,” they say. “And oh yeah, fill out these forms.”

OK, fill out some forms, go to the 19th.

Tax office in the 19th: “We don’t deal with these problems, you must go to the other office in the 19th.”

OK. Other tax office in the 19th: “You must prove that you no longer live in the 19th.”

OK. How about this contract and lease on our new apartment in the 11th?
-No, that doesn’t work.

OK, how about our insurance on the new apartment plus the fact that we canceled the insurance on the old apartment?

OK, how about the fact that EVERY SINGLE official document from the Social Security to the address on our payslips is the 11th?

OK, how about the fact that you HAVE our new address because you sent us this tax notice at the correct address?

So what exactly counts as proof to you?
-“The etat de lieux” (a piece of paper that says in what condition you left the old apartment).

Um, the non-official paper that our landlord didn’t give to us?

Ok, but isn’t this ton of proof that we live in the 11th count for something?
-No, you could still be living in the 19th.

Even though everything says we live in the 11th?
-Yes, you could live in both the 11th and the 19th.

Do you think most people – especially at our income level which you can see very well because you’re the friggin’ tax people– move to a new place to also live in an old place?
-No answer.

These are just a few of the conversations we’ve been having recently.

The first answer’s always no? Prove a negative? Present a paper that is not in your possession? Yes, this is the French Bureaucracy that I know!

Special thanks to hubby for doing all of the running around. I hunt down old papers, write letters, plan strategy, offer moral support. But I’ve had enough dealings with FB to know that my accent and my looks only make things worse.

We’re going to Seville tomorrow – our heads hurt, we need a break. Wish us luck with the FB upon our return. See you next week!


21 Responses to “Curses! The F-Word, The B-Word”

  1. 1 Lindsey February 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    oh la la la la ma poulette!!! (that definitely required more la’s), what a NIGHTMARE!!! the answer to all of your questions was actually “yes” but they decided they didn’t feel like cooperating so they said no. This is indeed a reason that I often wonder if this is a permanent home!


  2. 2 parisimperfect February 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    yes, i’m well aware that “no” actually means “yes, but we can’t be bothered.” we have lived through similar nightmares so i know we’ll get through it. it’s just very, very frustrating! definitely one of those things that makes you go, wow, i live here now?? of my own volition?? 🙂


  3. 3 jodie February 9, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Oh yes! I’ve been here over 12 years and it has never stoped surprising me! You know what the funny thing is? Today on BBC after all this talk the last few weeks about what does it mean to be French, and so on and so forth? Well today they show a bit stating that “France” is the best County in the world to live! They even had a pie chart to show the reasons! While I sat taking in, this pie chart to show all the reasons France is the number one place to live, I chuckled to myself saying, who ever did this must not live in France!


  4. 4 Lydia February 9, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    What can I say?! But, we’ve been there too. The French civil service can be the most hideously soul destroying experience to be dragged through. It has to be BAD or it wouldn’t be so famous would it? We learnt early on to keep ALL paperwork extreamely carefully. Write down on/in the paperwork exactly who you spoke to,when, where and what they said. If you get them to jot it down themselves and put their names to it that is a bonus. Also it helps to get on the right side of them – try and connect with their human side if you can find it. And don’t give up – it will get better as you gain your own experience of it and know how it (all) works – to avoid the pitfalls for next time. Have a great time in Seville – and forget all about it for now.
    Bon courage ma petite, bon courage!


  5. 5 parisimperfect February 9, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    Thanks everyone for the encouragement. We had an even worse story getting married here, so I know we’ll get through it. Funny, after 3 years and the system can still shock me!

    As for me, I’ll be going to Spain and trying to forget all about it as you suggest. Thanks!


  6. 6 pigletinfrance February 10, 2010 at 9:42 am

    OMG! You poor poor thing! This is so typical, always on a wild goose chase for the bureaucrats! I hope that you’re enjoying Seville, I wonder if they are as bad in Spain?


  7. 7 pariskarin February 11, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I’m late to the comments, but I had to get away from it all in Antibes for a few days, lol. SEVILLE! I am going to focus on the good things in this comment (since everyone already pointed out so many truths and corroborated the facts in your post and supported you — you poor thing). I hope that Spain is maahhhhh-velous, dahhhhhling. 😉

    One more thing: I think there is a reason that fine wine is so cheap in France — the FB drives everyone to drink. Heh.


  8. 9 Marianne Renoir February 13, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Oh god, I feel for you. That just sounds so horrible. Is it almost all sorted out now though? I think there was a mistake with our tax d’habitation this year also but they sorted it out pretty quickly and were quite nice about it. However, a friend of mine said that a few years ago the French tax office made some kind of huge administrative blunder where people’s files got switched (apparently it happened to a lot of people) and suddenly they had a tax bill for 20 thousand dollars or something (having had their file switched with a huge company). It took them years to sort it out and even though now they’ve been reimbursed they kind of live in fear the government will change it’s mind again.

    Relax in Seville, it sounds like you both need it!

    By the way I just realised what the guy in your blog header is doing! Hilarious.


  9. 10 parisimperfect February 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Wow, how lovely to come back and see so many comments. I guess French bureaucracy always touches a nerve!

    We’ll see what happens this week. Thanks for your advice and commiseration.

    And by the way, Seville was actually freezing cold and raining the whole time – not exactly an escape from the Paris winter I had been hoping! But, it *was* great to get away. New energy to face the FB!


  10. 13 Stephanie February 16, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    So it’s not just us me that has hair-tearing-out experiences with French bureaucracy! But it’s worth it to be here. Bon courage!


  11. 15 Lydia, Clueless Crafter February 16, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    I can never decide whether to cry or kill. Some of the New England States, especially Massachusetts, have resemblance to the mind-boggling circus of paper pushing.

    It all defies logic and the human spirit. It’s a system meant to illogically type the essence of the individual into tiny parts so that they loose their autonomous self to the state, don’t you think?

    Of course it would be the unofficial non-required document given by a landlord to a tenant remarking on the condition of the apartment upon departure! Yes, because now you’re rendered powerless and tired. So take your nap, your vacation, they say, and send us the checks upon your leisurely return.

    I shared this with my sister living in Besancon. She feels ya.


  12. 16 Prêt à Voyager February 16, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    oh mon dieu. i feel your pain!!



  13. 17 parisimperfect February 16, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Thanks, everyone, for the continuing comments. The hassle is *almost* worth it knowing I have all of this support 🙂 I know everyone can relate!


  14. 18 Lydia, Clueless Crafter February 19, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Ok, this cracked me up for being SO weird. What I’m curious to know is what the hell drug this dude was taking. If so, we should write the FDA (or the French version of this) and get this stuff off the market;-)


    • 19 parisimperfect February 19, 2010 at 12:36 am

      Hehe. Yeah, there was definitely something wrong. I’m a big girl and don’t pay too much mind to this stuff, but the guy was intensely leering at me. And you just don’t say stuff like that to strangers in public. ‘I sleep alone in my bed.’ Dude, you’ve got to be kidding!


  1. 1 Pre-Prefecture Panic (PPP Syndrome) « paris (im)perfect Trackback on February 21, 2010 at 7:58 pm
  2. 2 The Physics of Positivity (yes, even in Paris) « paris (im)perfect Trackback on April 15, 2010 at 2:10 pm

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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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