Today’s post is reposted with permission from paris im(perfect), the blog of American writer Sion Dayson. There’s little practical information here but Sion’s experience here is an engaging all-too-real tale about what happens when an American expat encounters the French banking system. The moral of the story? Life in France will be frustrating, even maddening at times but there’s usually a happy ending.
by Sion Dayson
For the first year I was in France, I kept all my money in a sock.
This was well before the global economic crisis, so it was not a protest against untrustworthy banks.
No, the clothing/cash method wasn’t my choice. It’s because no bank would let me open an account.
Now y’all must remember, I came to Paris on a bit of a whim with not much of a plan. I moved straight into someone else’s tiny studio so my name wasn’t on any official document that could have helped me at first: the lease or gas/electricity bills (proof of stable address), payslips or work contract (proof of income).
Even after my name was plastered on everything from the phone bill to EDF (electricity bill – the best proof of residence) and I had just gotten married, this still wasn’t enough. We went to J’s bank where he had been a client for 15 years and they refused my request.
This became one of those tricky catch-22’s so infamous in France. To get my first carte de sejour I needed a bank account. To open a bank account, I needed my carte de sejour.
Thankfully, I had just gotten a job with Expedia, and through a personal introduction by a colleague to a bank counselor at the branch next door, they let me open an account (the personal introduction so often smooths over a situation, though funny that an introduction from a colleague worked, but by my husband, nope).
Anyway, I’ve been successfully banking for awhile now.
But my experience makes me wary. So when I received a check from England back in September, I made sure to ask the woman at the bank whether I needed to do anything particular with this (gasp!) foreign check.
The check was actually drawn in euros, not pounds, even though it was from the UK, so she said it would be fine. Just deposit it normally.
-Are you sure? I ask.
-Even though it’s foreign, I insist.
-Yes, no problem.
Ok, so I deposit the check.
One week. Two weeks. Three weeks. A month. No money in the account.
I go to ask about the status of the check.
-Oh, but it’s foreign, it just takes extra time, the woman says.
-How much time?
-You’ll see it in your account soon.
A few more weeks. I ain’t seeing nothing.
Same woman. I explain the same situation.
-Oh! But it’s foreign! You had to fill out a special form!
-I asked you if I had to fill out a special form the first time and you said no.
-Oh, but it’s foreign!
-Right, got that. So what do I do?
We have to track it down. She takes my copy of the deposit slip and tells me she’ll call the next day.
Next day, day after, week after. Nothing.
Go back. New man. Yay, explain the situation to someone new (and actually I am glad it’s someone new, as obviously original woman is not helping).
He makes some calls, photocopies my deposit slip again. Says he’ll call.
Go back again. Original woman. She says, oh! But we cannot do anything here. You have to go to your branch (I had deposited it in a different LCL bank than my main LCL branch).
Go across town (almost all of line 2) to my branch (it was close to the job I no longer have).
I recount the story again and say I was told they had to handle it here.
-Mais c’est faux, Madame! It’s false! Ce n’est pas nous! It’s not us.
(Of course not. Of course it’s never anybody’s responsibility.)
-Look, this check has been dangling in some vacuum for 2 months now. I was told to come here. You tell me to go back to the branch that 5, 6 times in a row has done nothing. Tell me exactly what needs to happen. What I need to say to them.
He shows me the form they will have to fill out, a “formulaire de recherche” I think it was called.
I go back to original bank. I say they need to fill out a formulaire de recherche.
-But of course, the woman says, pulling out the form before I can even finish.
OMG. I’m going to kill her.
So this sounds promising, right? They are “looking” for it. “Recherching” it.
Another month. Nothing.
I make an appointment with my bank counselor just to talk about this. I tell her to get on the phone with somebody who will sort this out right now. I’m not leaving the office until she does.
She calls someone. I hear her go “oh, c’est normal.” But then she kind of rolls her eyes, like, yeah, I don’t think this is normal, either.
Alright, is this post long and boring enough for you? Sorry, just a little longer to give you the full picture.
Because, oh wait, what?
Yeah, the story’s still not done.
I hear nothing after the phone call. I get an “avis de suspens d’une remise export a l’encaissement.” I’m not even going to try to translate because it’s still incomprehensible.
I call again. Give all of my information to some new person. She sounds capable. I feel like I’m in better hands.
Then she calls back 3 days later saying she needs all of the information again. They’ve lost it.
Are. You. Kidding. Me.
I leave her a phone message. I leave my bank counselor a message.
I am ready to give up.
And then, four months after the deposit and numerous trips to the bank, I suddenly see my account credited. Just like that.
This is the positive lesson out of all this: just when things seem dire and impossible, something magically happens and the problem is resolved.
The other lessons? If it’s foreign, it’s going to be a problem in France. (Also, get your name on an EDF bill right away).
And really. Sometimes I think I was better off with the sock.
Sion Dayson is an American writer living in Paris. Her life is not as clichéd as that statement sounds. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Girls’ Guide to Paris, and a National Book foundation anthology among other venues. She’s currently working on her first novel and blogs about the City of Light’s quirkier side at paris (im)perfect.