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The Bureaucratic Highway in France


The trials and tribulations that expats face in France when registering a car, sometimes it’s no picnic…

Unlike some countries there is no road tax in France.

It is not in my best interest to point out to the French government that the introduction of road tax could seriously help them curb their national deficit. With almost five hundred cars per thousand inhabitants the potential is huge. With almost 30 million taxable cars they could easily raise at least 18 billion euro per year.

Yes, one has to pay a toll to use their wonderful péages but they are privately owned and the companies need to make a return on their investment. Not only have they paid for the construction, but also the maintenance, including thousands of kilometres of fences on either side of the road which keeps the wild boar and deer from denting your bonnet. Moreover, countrywide it offers much needed employment to thousands of men and women. They sit there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in tiny tollbooths waiting for your couple of Euros.

I pay them willingly, if only for the pleasure of driving at a 130 km/h for hours on end as we head south.

The lack of road tax plus the fact that insuring two cars in France costs the same as what a driver in The Netherlands must pay for one car made me think. Having a second home in France allows me to export my Dutch car and use French licence plates. All that was needed was to show my French electricity bill to the Dutch authorities and I could export my car. My car had just passed its MOT (an annual safety inspection), but of course the suspicious French wanted to do it all over again before handing over their precious plates. In Holland every garage can perform an MOT. In France however, the French have independent inspectors which is said to make sure there are no biased inspection. Apart from the extra hassle I got what I wanted, cheaper insurance and no road tax.

It became clear that French MOT inspectors are not as scrupulously accurate as they claim when friends of ours sold their French house and temporarily rented a house in an adjoining department.

For whatever reason, maybe they see people from other regions as suspicious foreigners, French licence plates include the number of the department where the owner of the car lives. As a result the French hardly ever use the name of the region, but refer to its number. Our friends moved from the Soixante-Cinque to the Trente-Deux and had to hand in their ownership papers called a carte grise, at the Mairie in their new village. Two weeks later a new cart grise was issued.

Six months later their car was due for an MOT, but the inspector refused to issue a sticker that confirmed the car had passed. The car was fine but their brand new carte grise was invalid as it did not mention that the car was a hybrid and ran on petrol and LPG. The certificate only showed the E for essence and not the G for gaz.

A minor problem, they were told. All they needed to do was to drive fifty kilometres to the Prefecture of trente-deux for a new card. Once there the Prefecture flatly refused. There had not been the all-important G on their old card either, an omission made by the Prefecture of the Soixante-Cinque, a mere fifty kilometres south of their new lodgings.

They drove to the Prefecture of Soixante-Cinque, and waited an hour until it was their turn to approach the official. As they did so, he closed the glass partition, gave a Gallic shrug and pointed at the clock. Noon! Lunch!

Three hours later he re-opened and they were first in the queue to be told that civil servants don’t make errors so there couldn’t possibly be a mistake and therefore, nothing to correct. They should go back to Soixante-Cinque where they should be provided with a carte grise that showed the required G/E.

One week and four hundred kilometres later, having visited both Prefectures again…twice, our friends had given up acting as law-abiding citizens. Armed with sleeping bags and bulging rucksacks they were back in Trente-Deux and told the dumbfounded official they would live under his counter until the matter was settled for once and for all.

The ‘big boss’ was called and things then began to get heated. He ordered the counter clerk to get things in order. Sensing that the unhappy customers were serious about setting up camp in the office he decided to do it himself. Ushering them into his office, he kept them on tenterhooks for over 45 minutes while he played around with his computer. For all they knew he could have been enjoying a game of Pac-Man as he never once allowed them to see exactly what he was doing.

It took them another couple of hours, but finally they got their correct papers.

Just before lunch.

peter schoenmakerAbout Peter Schoenmaker: At 17 my mother decided that I had had enough schooling and arranged my first job at a chocolate factory, soon followed by a brief stint in IT but advertising became my calling. I loved the writing part but after 30 years decided to become a hotelier in France…. to end up as a full time writer. www.peterschoenmaker.nl

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