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.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Don't forget the diver...

BERLIN - OCTOBER 03:  A giant marionette in th...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Some time back I discovered that my French internet banking was not working.

Despite having made a list of all and any bodies and persons to which or whom I would ever be likely to want to make payments they had managed to delete from the list the local tax gatherers.....and so my property taxes had not been paid.

Thank goodness for good friends in the tax office.
One of them e mailed me to ask if there was a problem...which is the only reason that I discovered that La Banque Postale had been playing wily beguiled with my arrangements.

Now, in the first place, only the French mind could imagine that you would need to make a list of potential authorised recipients of your financial largesse - I mean, how the blazes am I to anticipate which particular crooked state or commercial body will be after my heart's blood among so many potential candidates?
And then, having come up with such a damn fool idea, it takes the French mind to decide to make deletions from the list without so much as a by your leave or kissing Fanny .

You may imagine that I was somewhat wroth. I had risked a ten per cent penalty on my taxes thanks to their high handed incompetence.

Now, in the days when the Post Office and the bank were one and the same, someone from the local office would have contacted me but now, in the era of separation of powers I'm left to find out the hard way...or would have been, if not for kind friends.

One thing was for sure. They couldn't use the 'in the interests of your financial security' wheeze this time.
They had done that years ago when I was buying a long haul flight ticket.
At that period, booking on line was in its infancy and one had to book on line with an agency. I booked, gave my bank card number and awaited the delivery of my ticket.
No ticket. The bank would not honour my card.
Why not?
For your own security. It's more than you usually spend.
Agreed....even I could not buy enough small logs of goat cheese in Leclerc to match up to an airfare, even if they had been on promotion....but why didn't you call me to check?
We don't do that.

But some time later they did allow someone to buy electrical goods to the value of considerably more than my airfare without raising an eyebrow.
It took me three months to sort out that one, much of which was spent in an exchange of correspondence as to why I had not reported the theft of my card to the gendarmerie despite the card having remained on my person in a different continent at the time in question.
No explanation has ever been offered.

It was opportune that my mother had asked me to come over to England to help her sort out her arrangements before going into enabled me to make a descent on La Banque Postale, thanks to the kindness of good friends in France offering me their hospitality.
Always easier to have the bank face to face as they tend to refuse to understand French over the telephone.

My friends live, as did I, out in the wilds of la France Profonde, so it was the usual story of queuing for a ticket at Paris Montparnasse where only three windows were open as the rest of the ticketing staff were on strike, marching round the platforms with banners aloft...then getting the TGV, then a local train and finally a bus which replaced the push me pull you train at all but peak times until finally being met in the car park and being borne to the haven of peace.

I had booked the interview in advance, so at least there was a representative of La Banque Postale present at the branch.
We went through the details.

But the tax office is not on your list, Madame.

Produces paper....always the final word in France.

I agree, it isn't.

She smiles. An easy victory.

But it is on the original list. Here is my carbon copy.

Smile withdrawn and document studied.

I'll need this to process the matter.

I'll give you a copy.

One thing I have learned from experience in France is never to hand over an original document unless it is accompanied by two armed security guards with licence to kill.
Things disappear.

We agree a new list.....with some additions as a precaution....and I go back to relax with my friends.

But all good things come to and end and duty, stern daughter of the voice of God, summons me back from the fleshpots to wrestle with care agencies and suppliers of reading lamps on the other side of the Channel.

I am decanted at the railway station, buy my ticket and join the bus.
There are three of us, all women.
The driver and two passengers.
We talk.
It appears we have acquaintances in common, so the talk becomes more animated and, as the bus sets off and the noise of the engine isolates us from the world outside the windows, we talk more if in our own little bubble, free from being overheard.

We talk about the state of France, as seen by the ordinary person.
How nothing has changed, despite Sarkozy's promise of reforms...France has remained the country of the ´privileged.
How no ordinary person can affect anything that goes on in the world of business and politics.

The elections for President come up next year....

For all the good that will do....candidates parachuted down by the party leadership, not one of them with a clue about what needs doing out here, what matters to's all Paris, Paris, Paris...

Look at this Strauss-Kahn affair...the man's a menace to women and all his mates know it...but does it matter...not a bit! He's one of the boys....they can get away with murder...and God help the woman who stands up to him!

What about Marine Le Pen? (Front National).

Well, she's a lot better that that old schnock her father.....and she's against these immigrants taking advantage of offence, you're not one of them, I know.

But there's plenty of British who's not just a colour thing.

No, but that apart. at least she's not part of the gang, not one of the boys....

The bus pulls in at the next town.
A gaggle of young people get on and we relapse into silence, no longer alone in our bubble.

I return to England and then, eventually, to Costa Rica.

But now, with the developments in the Strauss-Kahn affair and the pressure from the media and inside the Socialist Party to allow him to stand as the PS candidate, I think back to that conversation.

I remember the Presidential run off between Chirac and Marine Le Pen's father, the PS voters walking into the polling station holding their noses and, in one case, wearing a deep sea diver's suit and helmet to express their disgust at the choice they were forced to make.

I shouldn't discard that diving suit.....because if it comes to a run off between Strauss-Kahn and Le Pen in the second round, some women PS voters might be needing it, unless they have the courage of their convictions and overturn the gang of phallocrats and timeservers running their party......and the country.

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  1. Friends in the French tax office? So it pays to have friends in low places as well as in high...? ;-)

  2. Incisive and insightful as ever, Fly, as well as gorgeously funny. Phallocrats - brilliant!

    I'll keep a copy of the bank saga to remind me of yet another possible bureaucratic minefield in France. Sigh....

  3. Good to have you back Fly, and on form as usual. I almost pity the bank clerks - what must they say when they see you coming.

    Hope the trip to Costa Rica is a smoother one.

  4. You must be the only living foreign blooded ‘Fly’ who was savvy enough to escape the alluring charm of that fly trap of all fly traps of a country over there, with most of your petit boules still intact (All puns intended). Reading your fascinating selection of ‘let’s get real’ French life underbelly exposés that form the backbone of this wonderful blog, is a bit like a blissfully ignorant habitué and life long devotee of ‘laudanum cordial’ must feel after they’ve just noticed all the micro text warnings and harmful ingredients on the back of the bottle one grey day - just moments after opening the worlds first ‘Laudanum Cordial’ high street shop.

    You really love to get on your chicken chaser bike about that whole ‘rose coloured spectacle thing’ don’t you Fly. Truly scary stuff. No wonder you pole vaulted off deep into the jungle. Love it. Thanks for the on going education – including the ‘phallocrat’ part.

    Don’t stop lobbing coconuts at all les Gaules in suits and diving suits. Did someone actually do that?!! Sacré bleu.

    Funny…I asked Google what the female equivalent of a phallocrat was, and all the web threads gave the exact same answer…”A Woman” !

  5. Steve,if I had friends in high places I would not be paying tax at all....

    Perpetua, the bank saga has a twist in the tail as I found out later...

    Mark, if the bank didn't cock up I wouldn't be there stropping my claws...

    Phil, there are some great people in France - but none of them run the place.

  6. DSK for me will be always now the 'rutting chimpanzee', a man so lacking in the respect of his peers (in private at least) and probably whole swathes of the population that I'd be amazed if he ran for president.

    My tax office has email and answers it. I'm continually gobsmacked by their efficiency and amiability actually. :)

  7. Sarah, absolutely apt description!
    I just have a horrible feeling that should the PS gain power he'll be rutting away there as Prime Minister....and it's possible that the PS hierarchy don't see things the way we which case he'll be the presidential candidate anyway...

    I've always been O.K. with my local tax offices too....they've been helpful and this time certainly went beyond the call of duty!

  8. Fascinating blogpost with many points, comme d'hab.

    This par:

    "We talk about the state of France, as seen by the ordinary person. How nothing has changed, despite Sarkozy's promise of reforms...France has remained the country of the ´privileged.
    How no ordinary person can affect anything that goes on in the world of business and politics."

    Change a few words and we're in the UK (or anywhere really):

    We talk about the state of Britain, as seen by the ordinary person. How nothing has changed, despite Cameron's promise of reforms... Britain has remained the country of the ´privileged.
    How no ordinary person can affect anything that goes on in the world of business and politics."

    And Marine Le Pen might cause a huge upset (like her dad) because of DSK's shenanigans and the mood of the nation. Okay, DSK has been set up in the US and will walk free but we know what sort of man he is: a predator who won't change his spots. And yet Anne Sinclair sticks by him. Incroyable!

  9. Dumdad, it would be the same for Costa Rica too...same old gang, just change the labels.

    French friends, mostly PS voters, are furious at the way their party has lost momentum and initiative, so sure were they that DSK would be there to wipe the floor with Sarkozy, and there seems to be real revulsion amongst the women that his behaviour has been tolerated and covered up...the provinces think very differently to the gratin of Paris.
    I see Marine Le Pen is making a bid for the middle aged women's vote...I think she'll get it.

  10. Hello:
    Oh how we can identify with all of this. Just put a line through France, French and Phallocrat and insert Hungary, Hungarian and Phallocrat [no better word for it] and we can be writing the same things here. Perhaps the only difference here is that the copies are always technicoloured, it does we feel at least liven up the bureaucracy of it all!

  11. Jane and Lance Hattatt, seems universal...what a gloomy thought!
    But technicolour copies! If that were Costa Rica I'd be asking which minister has shares in the ink cartridge business.

  12. Great article, Fly! As entertaining as ever! I'll need to find some friends in the tax office...

  13. Michael Copon, nice to hear from you and glad you enjoyed it.
    A friend in the tax office is well above pearls and rubies....