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‘The torturous tale of my missing carte Vitale and French bureaucracy’

French administration systems are always right and never make mistakes, jokes columnist Peter Wyeth

The local official was friendly. He confirmed the card had been sent three times but was not permitted to say where Pic: Media_Photos / Shutterstock

I bet more readers in France have had more murderous thoughts than you might imagine. 

I am not thinking of a crime passionnel but the daily grind of dealing with French bureaucracy.

The editor risks being deluged with far worse examples, but my experience is as follows.

My carte Vitale was six months late. Delays can be expected but it had been going on a bit too long. 

Read more: Which French public services do Connexion readers find ‘most helpful’?

I did not exist in the system

We rang the helpline and a brusque fellow declared I did not exist in the system and must start the application all over again.

I then called the UK health service’s overseas helpline and a doughty Scots woman said I had been in the French system for five months.

We rang the French number again and a woman confirmed I was not in the system, but then suddenly declared that she had found me.

She then became a bit more helpful, revealing my card had been sent out three times. As we had not received it, I asked to what address? 

Where had my carte Vitale been sent three times?

She was unable to reveal this due to data security. Nor could she accept a change of address over the telephone. She did, however, suggest we make an appointment at the local office where I had begun my application.

The local guy was friendly. He confirmed the card had been sent three times but was not permitted to say where. Eventually, he got bored and told us the address. 

Somehow, the system had it wrong: same street, different number.

He could not understand our failure to pick up the card at this address, as identity theft is rife these days. It was dangerous to leave a carte Vitale unattended, he remonstrated.

Our explanation that we had not known where it was until he told us did not hold water, and he kept asking why we had not retrieved it.

Read more: What to do if I lose my French carte Vitale?

The system is never wrong

Finally, we got through to him, but were left with the fact that the system had our address wrong and there was no way of changing it. 

As our hour began to run out, he, amazingly, improvised suggesting we propose a new address, the correct one, which the system could accept, but only on the grounds we had moved house.

The bureaucrat was not being obstructive and, in fact, was trying his best to be helpful, but his indoctrination by the system made him quite unable to see there was no way we could have known where the card had gone. 

The very idea that the system could have both made an error and was responsible for its correction could not be entertained.

The French passion for reason here became dysfunctional, quite a surreal experience.

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