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, 24 February 2010

Fed up in France

20070512 ANPE viergeImage by piRGoif via Flickr
Who, me?

No, according to the annual report of the 'Mediateur de la Republique', the French.
Taken from the somewhat unbalanced sample of those complaining about their experience with the public services, he states that the French are fed up to their back teeth with the treatment they are getting - or words to that effect.

They are fed up with taking a ticket and sitting for hours in waiting rooms, they are fed up with less than tactful medical staff, they are fed up with the telephone menus that leave them both baffled and unheard, they are fed up with the unbelievable complication of it all.

The public services spokesmen for their part complain that the people they represent are compelled to work to targets, rather than actually do the job people expect of that's two groups of French who are fed up.

Certain commentators have seen fit to remark that if the French stopped living on benefits and got out to do some work they wouldn't be in the position of complaining about waiting rooms, tickets or telephones in the first place.
I expect the bonfires are being prepared for these heretics at this moment.

In my time in France, as I have ventured toes, feet and thigh length waders into  the waters of regulations and taxes, I have noted changes.
In my earliest days, the maire informed me after about a year that it was high time I got myself a 'carte de sejour' - a sort of visa to permit me to live in France.
I filled in forms with the help of the maire and her secretary. Forms which appeared to want to know the ins and outs of a bull's arse. All that was lacking was a question about when did I last see my father.
I was given a temporary carte - a sort of pink thing with a stamp - and the papers went off to the Prefecture.
A year later, the maire remembered asking me - more likely her secretary was doing the annual clean out of the filing cabinet before August - and I produced the pink card.
'But this expired nine months ago!'
A telphone call to the Prefecture elicited the information that there had been a strike about the time my papers would have arrived so they were probably lost.
'You'll have to do it again'.
'No, I've done it once. If they've lost it, that's their look out. It was sent by registered post and I have the counterfoil.'
Mexican stand off.
'What if the gendarmes stop you?'
'You can tell them what happened.'
'Well, I'd better just update the stamp, then.'

I have never had a 'carte de sejour'. It hasn't seemed to worry anyone.

Now, had I been mad enough to fill out the form again, and it had been registered at the Prefecture I would have had to be sure to renew the wretched thing regularly, or the gendarmerie would indeed have been on my doorstep on the expiry date. The purpose of the carte de sejour was to identify its' holder for the purposes of taxation - you got your carte de sejour one day and the next week a tax demand would appear.

Times have changed,though. In those days, a registered letter was enough to show you had sent a document.
Now, registered letters are 'lost' with gay abandon, and it's down to the individual to start the whole process again. That's enough to make anyone fed up.

I have always got on with the taxman, in all his manifestations. On a personal level. They have always been friendly and helpful, within the limits of a system designed by Dr. Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht, and our disagreements have been purely theoretical. With some of them over the years I have been on a 'come round for an aperitif' basis, and their discreetly expressed grief is not with the ordinary guy but with the loopholes in French tax law which favour the well off.
Every year, they dedicate hours to helping old age pensioners and the hopeless and helpless fill out their tax forms and if the queues are long, it's because you left it until the last minute.
You can do it all online, but there is a certain reluctance to use this service as a number of people labour under the idea that once you give your e mail address to higher authority, it will use it to spy on you.
Perhaps they know more about what you can do with IP addresses than I do.

I can't comment on applying for benefits as I have never done so, but a chap I know who does claim benefit says that whereas in the past there might be a desultory telephone call to ask if you had given any more thought to taking a job, now there is a snowstorm of appointments, of motivational training and all sorts of stuff, as targets have been introduced in the benefits services.
It can be inappropriate.
Last year a woman with two young children living on benefit following divorce was summoned to her local benefit office. This being the country, 'local' meant thirty kilometres away. There was no bus and her only transport was a scooter. She explained all this, together with the difficulties of finding childcare for the day, and found that she had two choices. Get in to the interview or lose her benefit. She lost her benefit.
In an earlier period she would have gone to the maire with the problem and he would have taken up the cudgels on her behalf. These days, a maire ranks well down the list from an internal performance target.

I have never understood why the French health system is lauded to the skies by British immigrants.
I always had good treatment while living in the U.K. and the system was cheap to run and simple to operate - until it started to ape the private sector and money was spent on administrators rather than front line staff.
I can say too that a matron was a far better guarantor of a patient's dignity than any system of 'protocols'. Protocols can't fix staff with a cold eye and suggest a rendez-vous in matron's office.
I have experience of provincial teaching hospitals and country hospitals in France and all depends which doctor you drop on. Some are super, others are not. Same anywhere.
All I can say on the organisation of the French health system is that like the Irishman asked for directions
'I wouldn't start from here.'
Change your job, change your address and it can take months for your health card to be changed and without that card you don't get reimbursed for the carrier bags of useless pharaceuticals which your doctor will have prescribed.

Locally, to apply for your health card, you have to go to the nearest town where you sit in a waiting room until seen by one harassed woman who has to deal with all sorts of problems way beyond her capacity - her only back up a mobile phone. Not even a computer. She has no office telephone, so you can't make an appointment. Does 'third world' come to mind? People are distinctly fed up with that particular situation.

If you are handicapped and want to be assessed for a sticker on your car so that your family can park nearer the supermarket entrance you have to go to an office at the other end of the department. Fine if you live that way, not fine if not. Wouldn't just the fact that it is a service for handicapped people make it appropriate for the service to go to them rather than vice versa?

In my view, the origin of the problem is the over-complication of the French state model. Making changes and then leaving the old structure in place, just in case you want to tweak the system, is a recipe for taking tickets, waiting for hours and pressing the wrong button on the telephone.

No wonder the French are fed up.
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