All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Post it

I bank at the Post Office. Well, the banking bit has been hived off into La Banque Postale, but all my activities take place at the local office of La Poste so it makes no difference to me. I have a great service, thanks to the co operation between the post office staff and the banking staff who blithely ignore the separation of powers in the interests of helping their clients. There have been exceptions on the banking side, but they don't stay long.

When ill and unable to get to the post office I could telephone, ask for what I wanted to be done and the next day the appropriate forms would come out by the postlady's van. She would check I had filled them out correctly, take them back transactions were made. I am not at all sure that the bosses of the Banque Postale would approve, but for me it was a great help and much appreciated.

La Poste is undergoing reforms....less front line staff, longer post rounds, more pressure from above, but the staff really do their best to make sure that their clients do not suffer. My postlady is annoyed because when her round was altered, the one important factory in the area was put on the end of the round rather than the beginning. Her bosses were busy looking at the petrol tanks rather than at the risk that when, at last, commercial competition is permitted in France, those factory bosses will desert the post office for a private competitor in order to get their mail early in the day. They should put her in charge of commercial relations, but there's no chance of that...she has a good education but no 'business' qualifications which would make her eligible for such a post.

The last time the powers that be decided to reorganise the rounds, the postal staff called for a public protest so I duly attended, together with the family who happened to be visiting at the time. We made a large group, boosting the turn out on a cold winter's day, and had a great time watching all the local maires and departmental councillors girded in tricolour sashes demonstrating their oratorical powers from a little platform in front of the mairie. They were united in one thing....their post should arrive first thing in the morning! One maire, the one from my commune, was missing and the postlady tracked him down the next day to enquire into his backsliding. He was foolhardy enough to tell her that he was not in sympathy with all these left wing demands and that it was about time she did a bit of work instead of lounging about having demonstrations. I leave it to you to guess when his post arrived in future.

Back when I first lived in France, the post office had a social mission. My first postman used to call on all the elderly people on his round whether or not they had post, just so that they had someone to speak to and so that he could check on how they were keeping. These visits probably accounted for the strong smell of drink that preceded his arrival at my place at about three in the afternoon, but I suspect that he was a better bet for the welfare of the elderly people on his round than the modern day social worker. For one thing, they trusted him, he was one of their own, not someone imposed on them from the outside. My postlady does not drink, but she still tries to keep up with the old people on her round despite the pressures on her time and the changing nature of public service in France, but it's not appreciated by her bosses.

Still, banking with the Post Office certainly beats banking with Credit Agricole, with whom I used to have an account. I had sold a house and by some administrative mix up the demand for the Taxe Fonciere went neither to me nor to the new owners. Accordingly, neither of us paid it. Then I received a statement from Credit Agricole showing an unauthorised overdraft on my current account, where I kept just enough money to maintain activity. My savings account was still virgo intacta. I telephoned and was told that there was a problem with the tax office. The tax office told me that they had appropriated the taxe fonciere that I had not paid from my bank account. My dealings with the tax office are another story, but my dealings with Credit Agricole demonstrated clearly the difference between having an account with them and having one with La Poste. The Post Office in similar circumstances would have telephoned me as soon as the taxman struck to warn me, and to let me transfer money between accounts. Credit Agricole smugly charged me for the overdraft and waited until the next statement day in order to collect as much as possible.
I had already had unsatisfactory dealings with them. I wanted to buy shares, and as the Post Office could not buy on the markets outside Europe, I used Credit Agricole. I impressed upon the 'financial adviser' that time was of the essence, given the state of the market, but, of course, by the time their regional office geared itself up, the markets had risen and I had missed a good opportunity. I was following the share price on the web and saw no buyers in the market for the amount I had ordered, so went into the local branch to complain. The 'financial adviser' first told me that I could not possibly know whether or not the shares had been bought, and then, when I kicked up, deigned to telephone the regional office, who reassured me that they were indeed getting round to entering the market, but, due to the amount of intermediaries they were using, it all took time. Finally, the shares were bought and, as the market went on rising I swallowed my annoyance until I got the statement with the charges for holding my in France the individual cannot hold his or her own shares...a financial institution does so and charges handsomely for this monopoly. Eyes watering from the financial pain, I went into the branch again and asked which registration institution was holding my shares...these days it is all electronic and the lovely old share certificates are no more. Once more the 'financial advisor' called the regional office,and I put my question again. There was much huffing and puffing about why I wanted to know and I was finally told that this was confidential information which could not be divulged!
I later discovered, by other means, that my shares were being held in a nominee account, in the name of Credit Agricole!
I sold my shares, and, as I was leaving the 'financial advisor' asked me if I needed any advice. She was a nice little girl, her lack of training was not her fault, so I did not say what was bouncing up and down on the tip of my tongue, but decided to close my accounts.
I waited until a Friday afternoon, went to the local branch, waited while the assistant had a conversation with her uncle and then asked to close my accounts. I signed all the appropriate forms, and then she asked me to wait while she prepared a cheque.
'No, I want it in cash.'
It took a time, because the safe had to be opened, and they even had to have a whip round among the staff, but they finally made it. I walked down the road and deposited it all in the Post Office.

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