Sunday, October 22, 2006

France: the strange, the annoying and the utterly illogical

So, I thought it about time that I told you some of the more ridiculous aspects of my life in Lyon. In particular, I'd like to give you all a taste of how absurd French bureaucracy is. So, in a quick summary…
1. To start with, it is no joke to say that arriving in Lyon for the year on september 19th was, in some ways, already too late. As for all those I've met who arrived after that, they didn't stand a chance. Everything that is music, sport or other activities begins 'inscriptions' on september 1st and most of them finish 'inscript'ing people on september 29th. To 'inscrire' you usually need money, and that needs to be a cheque. Cheque books take two weeks to arrive (do not ask why) and so you need to have set up your bank account more than two weeks before you try to do this. Which means, before the middle of september. Thankfully I wasn't too late for *everything* and in some cases if you've missed 'inscription' you can just turn up anyway. But imagine if you came to Lyon for a six month 'stage' that began in, say, January. You would be, quite honestly, stuck. D'oh.
2. There is nothing, not even the helpful country notes from the British Council, that clearly tells you in what order to go about attacking the stacks of paperwork when you arrive, yet there is definitely an order. Bank account comes number 1…but to get that you need an 'attestation de domiciliation' (proof of address)-fine if you are living with someone who can 'atteste' you but not if you're living alone. Then, you need to fill in work contracts and social security forms, house contracts (for which you need endless pointless pieces of paper, including your parents' details even if they can't be your rent guarantor because they're english and even if you have proof of your salary). Only once you have finally got through this (the agency will always tell you a different set of papers on the phone to when you actually arrive there) can you then apply for the 'CAF' which will give you back some of your rent money. A lot of amusement can be gained by discovering whether by claiming you are 'concubiné' with another flatmate you could both get more money…this is, apparently, the only situation where non-married couples receive extra benefits. Don't even start asking why.
3. The bank will eventually send you a letter telling you to collect your bank card from the branch…that is fairly standard, what you don't expect is that you will then pay a further two visits to the bank before they do actually have your card there. Nor that they will then fail to tell you that your cheque book is also there for you to collect. In the meantime, the one thing that will arrive will be your internet banking access codes. Okay, thinks you, I'll pay my rent by online transfer. Ah no, for to do that, you must add the recipient as a 'beneficiaire' and then wait for the bank to *post* you a confirmation code, before you can proceed. In other words, it is 20 times faster just to go to your branch. However, if, like Hattie, your branch is a long way away, you are even more stuck because other branches of the same bank will tell you they can't deal with your account. Helpful.
4. School. It is well crazy. I got "convoqué" for my training course (if you can call it that) last friday. I got three copies of a sheet of paper telling me I had been convoqué, whereas Tom (the other assistant) didn't get one at all. There was no kind of explanation of how to understand the form (there never is, all forms in france are incomprehensible and unexplained), and half of the paper was taken up with a form to fill in for 'remboursement des frais' (travel expenses) despite the fact that the paper clearly stated just lines above, that no expenses were to be reimbursed. Given the general level of french of the assistants (not to be boastful, but those of us who can actually speak well on arrival are in a minority) I would be very surprised if most would have understood the little tiny print saying 'vous etes convoqué pour le stage suivant:' meaning it's your legal duty to attend. And goodness only knows why I needed it three times (and the headmaster bothered to sign all three…).
The students have a form tutor, or "professeur principal" but they have no registration, assembly or form time (each teacher takes a register of their group every lesson). So how the devil do they get information? As far as I can work out they have a form rep who goes and gets stuff in the morning but who knows how the teachers actually communicate with the classes. It's a very complex system. In addition, the kids can never have trouble with their homework as there's no way of finding teachers other than "lurking" around their classroom at the end of a lesson, totally impractical when everyone's rushing to the next class…
For some unknown reason teachers, even 'part-time' ones like me who are not civil servants unlike the others, are not allowed to take another part time job (the social security computer would crash…apparently. Sounds like a rather stupid computer system to me), although apparently we can apply to be allowed to by filling in yet another piece of paper that will go through school headteacher and regional education man, and probably be lost in some black hole of paperwork. As my friendly teachers pointed out the other day, this is absurd because with an assistant's salary you might have time to travel but you certainly don't have a lot of money!
5. Shop assistants and receptionists. Perhaps it's just me, but my impression is that in England people try to sell you things. Here it is totally not the case. There are loads of people on the street shoving leaflets into your hand…but if you go into a shop, the shop assistants are either apathetic or plain unhelpful. If you are looking for something they don't have, they just say sorry no, they will not try to sell you something similar, nor will they suggest where you might find it. If you ask what they have in the way of…they'll show you one, but they won't try to encourage you to get the next most expensive one because it has this or that advantage. If there's some kind of a promotion the chances are you'll have to specifically ask for it, they won't tell you about it…

Time to plan some lessons now so i'll finish this later…thank you to all of you who've sent me letters/postcards recently–replies coming up soon!

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