Friday, January 04, 2008

France, our home of choice, has a really bad reputation for bureaucracy, both amongst the French as well as us etrangers. (By the way, this story has a happy ending, so do read to the end). In fact, recently, we’ve come to the opinion that the law and regulations are actually too complicated even for the fonctionnaires (civil servants) themselves. A couple of examples for you:

In my blog of Monday, December 17th, I told you about the recent changes to the French health system that would affect us. I did loads of research, aided by the website of the British Embassy in Paris and another and I found a solution that works for us. On the last day of 2007, I went to the health system office, together with a disarming smile and a folder bursting with my tax situation since I’ve been in France, every scrap of paper relating to my membership of the health system so far, and printouts of info that I’d gleaned from the Internet, including from the French health system’s own website.

Would you Adam-and-Eve it, I was hugely more well-informed than the guy in the office who showed me a photocopy of a press article from October that another British person had given him, seemingly the most up-to-date information he had to work on. He took photocopies of the stuff I’d got from the French health system website and promised to look into it!

The second example concerns me asking for permission to cut trees in our wood to remove unhealthy trees, replant with more suitable species and set up a coppicing cycle according to the permaculture woodland management plan that I’ve drawn up. Our French neighbours raised their French eyebrows that we were actually asking for permission (a legal requirement) as it makes things so complicated, much better, in their opinion, just to get on with it and leave the local administration in blissful ignorance. When I went to the local mairie (different from the village where we live) to ask what to do, I caused the system to grind to a complete halt because, apparently it was the first he’d ever dealt with (note advice from French neighbours). He spent some time searching the French government website for instructions, giving me various photocopies and advice. I thus wrote a detailed letter to the maire and received, some weeks later, permission to cut a forest ride and for the first thinning of a plantation of pines. For the permission to cut the two coupes I’d requested, I needed to return to the mairie and fill out the form in quadruplicate. No sooner had I returned home than a phonecall summoned me back to the mairie. The forms had changed in October, added to which, the secretary had phoned up for guidance and received conflicting advice. His sensible solution was to fill in both alternatives (in quadruplicate) so that at least one would be correct and had already filled in the second form for me, just requiring a signature, definitely no “jobsworth” but rather someone seemingly on my side fighting the confusions of the state behemoth.

So today, I phoned the Établissement d’Élevage (who register animals such as sheep, pigs, goats and cows) to ask for some ear tags to replace some that had fallen out of our sheep and for our expected lambs; an animal lacking identification is a serious business. As I wanted a different type of ear tag to the small metal ones that fall out easily, I couldn’t have replacements with the same number but was simply told to put new ones in and note the new number against the original number they relate to in a notebook. My next question was more complicated and I already thought I knew the (negative) answer, as I’d read through the guide before phoning. We have been offered an unregistered goat by a French friend for free. I advised him to get himself registered (it’s the law) but, after finding out that it would cost him some money, he decided not to. Could I take the animal and put my number on it.
“Yes” … I drew her attention to advice in their guide against it.
“Yes, under your circumstances, it’s not a problem at all, one more animal in the system.”
Now go and compare that with our Somerset sheep smallholding friend Val’s problems with the UK equivalent text displayed, DEFRA (starting on her blog of December 7th … and ongoing!)