French fonctionnaires can be a joy to deal with, if you're polite, make an effort in French and approach people face-to-face. Here are some Connexion readers' experiences
Just read the item about dealing with French officials face to face. We have twice visited our local Hotel des Impôts, in Issoire, Puy de Dome, and have been dealt with promptly and sympathetically both times. Yes, of course it was necessary to communicate in French. Why should we expect them to be able to help us in English? We went armed with all our information for completing our tax return, which was then done for us by a very helpful lady, who then instantly printed off an estimate of what we might have to pay. The receptionist seemed pleased to meet us and called us 'mes amis anglais'. I would not expect this pleasant atmosphere at a UK tax office. We have also found the sous-prefecture equally helpful for re-registering our UK car. I agree that it's worth the drive to talk face to face. Just check the opening times before you go and be prepared to wait a bit.
Following a move from CPAM for the Dordogne to that of the Aude we encountered hold-ups in obtaining refunds for medical consultations and prescriptions. On visiting our local office to explain the problems we were able to see an official after waiting less than 10 mins and with no prior appointment. Details and documents were exchanged and copied and we left hoping that all would now be in order. We had left the office and were some 50 metres down the road when we heard our name being called. The official realising that there was an additional document requiring our attention was pursuing us down the road to pass it over. I would state that over our 14 years in France only on one occasion have we met a less that helpful fonctionnaire and that was at the Hotel des Impôts. I must also add that, like other readers, we always conduct our business in very fractured French and I was once referred to as sounding like Hugh Grant, but sadly without the material benefits.
Is it easier to communicate face to face? It depends on so many factors. How you look: if you are poorly dressed and have long hair you should avoid any personal contact with the bureaucracy: they will crucify you. Your age: elderly people get a marginally better hearing in face to face situations. Your command of the language: the better you speak French the easier it is to approach the bureaucrats head-on. Phone calls are to be avoided unless you have total command of the language and know exactly what your rights are and what you want. A good written enquiry/complaint is by far the best method. If you get your letter checked for grammar and syntax by a French speaker first, then the bureaucrat will treat your case as he/she would any other. A (very) recent example: I received a demand for payment of CSG social charges, plus a fine for late payment. I stormed down to the tax office (disshevelled, unshaven, longish hair) to complain as I had never received the first demand. The two minutes I spent at the desk were a disaster ... the woman in charge had decided - before I spoke - that I was going to get short shrift. Despite my (impeccable) French she wouldn't listen to a word of my story, reminding me that everyone is supposed to know the law. I retreated in disarray. Later the same day I sent, by post, an exquisitely polite and unthreatening letter requesting a dégrèvement of the fine in question. A week later I received a very nice letter from my local taxman, almost apologizing for the trouble he had caused, and exempting me from the fine.
I cannot speak too highly of the tax official in Abbeville in Picardy. The lady I was directed to even filled in my tax forms for me; totally different from the unhelpful Inland Revenue. She was and still is incredibly helpful.