Search Google for anything remotely related to repatriating in France and you will find a wealth of accounts
whining about testifying to the nightmarish near-impossibility of navigating french administration/bureaucracy. In my mission to prepare myself as fully as possible for my new life, I read many (oh, so many) of these myself before I moved here in 2017 and if I’m honest, my conclusion was that people were complaining about these so-called trials and tribulations for the sake of entertaining their audiences. Really, how hard could it actually be? People just needed to get organized and get on with it. Simple.
So. Bloody. Naïve.
Honestly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.* If anything, the various blog posts and articles I read were understating the situation. It’s not just a problem for expats either, although we do have to deal with aspects of the french administration systems that native french people don’t. Whoever you are and wherever you’re from, if you make this beautiful country your home, you WILL go through paperwork hell at some point. Probably lots of points. It’s just the way it is.
One of the ways in which I personally suffered at the hands of these impossibly irksome systems was with regards to my Social Security number. It took almost exactly TWO YEARS of living in France for a permanent number to finally be issued to me – and that was due to no fault on my part. It might have been less irritating if I hadn’t been paying (rather a LOT) for flipping Social Security since Day 1. I won’t go into some of the ridiculousness I endured in the process, but suffice to say, when I did receive the damn number, I genuinely cried a little. It felt like that much of a hard-won battle.
Mercifully, my Carte Vitale (a chipped card that either facilitates the automated repayment of, or means you don’t actually have to pay most health-related costs) arrived very soon afterwards – I’d heard that it could sometimes take months or even over a year to follow the SSN. Now all I needed was a proper account with the (mandatory) private health insurance I had through work (again, had been paying for, but not profiting from it since arriving in Paris) and I was GOOD TO GO.
And by GOOD TO GO, I mean finally ready to get on with the ever-increasing list of Grown-Up Things I’d been putting off for the previous two years.
After a bit more boring to-ing and fro-ing, I was eventually (and somewhat annoyingly) sent my insurance documents at the start of the french confinement/lockdown/quarantine back in March. Not much I could do with them under house arrest.
But then we were FREE. And how did I celebrate my new-found liberty, as soon as it was safe and allowed?
With a GP appointment. And a “specialist” appointment. And my first trip to the dentist in… well, more years than I care to admit. I went to the opticians for the first time (whole different ball game in France vs the UK). I got new glasses (a separate task here), several years later than I should have done.
And whilst I was on this roll of powering through my to-do list (and mentally racking up a whole skyful of gold stars for Excellent Adulting), I decided to cancel the contact lens subscription I’d been having sent to my mother’s house in England for the past three years.
Perhaps most significantly of all, I also cancelled my english phone contract. Not a secondary number, as you might (reasonably) be assuming. Nope. My only one. To my shame (but for various semi-defensible reasons), I lived in France for over two and a half years without a french phone number. It had been getting increasingly embarrassing, the longer I was here, and also increasingly impractical (a LOT of online forms won’t accept a foreign number). So I did my research (feat. a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet, obviously) and then I took the plunge. I don’t think anybody in the history of ever has been prouder of their shiny new digits.
Of course, the practical merits of “accomplishing” all of this don’t really need explaining. But there was an unexpected benefit to my sudden burst of productivity too, and that was the way it made me feel about my life in Paris. Changing my number and ending my (very) longstanding relationship with my UK Opticians gave me an odd sense of cutting certain ties with the country I come from and I had mixed feelings about that. But on the flip side, every new registration, every one of these (long overdue) jobs ticked off my list carried a sense of gravity I hadn’t anticipated and struggled to articulate – like each one bound me a little tighter to my adopted home. They were all relatively small, everyday things, very ordinary. And yet, they felt like… roots. They feel like roots. And that’s quite important, really.
*To the extent where I’ve actually written more than one of my own whiny blog post on this subject – this (unusually short) one goes into my personal “favourite” absurdity in the french system…