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My French Life: I didn’t bank on so many problems…

Buying a house in France means needing a French bank account usually. We did have some English neighbours in our little village who paid for everything in cash as they had no bank account but that meant going to pay every bill in person, whether it was tax, electric, water – whatever. They didn’t live here so they planned their trips around paying bills, not really ideal.

When I bought my house in lovely Pas-de-Calais I decided to go for an English speaking French bank service. Aside from the fact that you have to fill in hundreds of bits of paper, it was fairly painless, straight forward and has worked well for me.

However… didn’t you just know that was coming!  However, we have had to use a different branch a couple of times and that has been an experience that we didn’t bank on.

My bank account needed a top up, I was on holiday and it was close to being empty. I thought to save time, phone calls, unsecure online transactions from an internet café trying to transfer money from the UK it would be easier to just put some cash in to a branch of my bank which is in Normandy.  I went to a branch in a small village in rural Pas-de-Calais and asked to pay some cash in. You can’t always just walk into banks in France, you have to ring the doorbell to be checked out. This bank required me to state my business before they’d let me in. After a 10 minute consultation with a colleague which involved looks of suspicion directed my way, much whispering and a fair amount of pinched mouth-edness I handed over my bank card and money. I was asked for my passport.

Well, as luck (bad luck) would have it, I didn’t have my passport – I’d left it in another handbag. I was informed they could do nothing without my passport. So I drove back to where we were staying and got the required document and returned to the bank. Queued up, went through all the rigmarole again with a different bank employee, handed my passport over and then was asked for my cheque book.

I didn’t have the cheque book on me. They couldn’t possibly allow me to pay money into my account at a branch of my bank without a cheque book they said.

“Is there anything else you need?” I asked. “Non” came the unsmiling answer.

By this time it was almost 12.00 – of course the bank was closing for a 2 hour lunch break. So I drove home, went back at 14.00 when the bank opened with my cheque book and my passport and queued … and asked to pay some cash in. In case you are wondering if it was a huge sum of money and this is why I had to go through this palaver – it wasn’t. It was €100 – just enough to top my account up for a standing order until I could get money transferred from the UK.

It was a different person again. I was by then wondering how a tiny bank in the middle of a little village in rural France could have so many people working there. My reverie was interrupted by the request for a copy of a utility bill to prove my address.

I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing. The woman behind the counter looked at me as if I was insane. There is no point in losing your temper I have found when it comes to dealing with officialdom in France, it gets you nowhere.

On my fourth visit and with the three pieces of documentation ,I paid my money into my account at a branch of my bank. My advice should you have an encounter with bank officials and have an issue is to ask for the manager or request them to write down what they require from you, I’ve since found that it does seem to help!

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