‘But WHY do you want to change your driving licence, madame?’ said the surprised voice. ‘It’s unnecessary - England is in the EU!’
‘You’re Right!’ I nearly said, ‘What the hell am I doing, voluntarily plunging into the tortured bowels of French bureaucracy?’
But I didn’t say it. Because my English licence is quite old – one of those pink and green papery things coming apart at the folds, and there's certainly No Photograph. (Did we even have cameras)? So it's instantly suspicious.
And you’re never sure of the reaction it’ll provoke when stopped routinely by the gendarmes: we've had hilarity, fascination, incomprehension, Outrage-with-Severe-Reprimand for even bringing it to France (he was an unusually unpleasant specimen having a bad day)… But I don’t want to be flung into an oubliette because of my annoying driving licence.
The Préfectures in France are the Houses of Mass Administration. In March this year I made my first foray into their Website/licences/driving/resident/foreigner/EU/shortperson… This revealed an interminable list of Essential Documents that must be Translated by approved professionals and Sworn to by approved professionals who Mustn't Know me At All.
Naturally I gave up, but re-attacked a month later by phoning for clarification. A very friendly bloke narrowed the List down to proof of address, old licence and a photo - Just take them down to the Préfecture and they’ll send me a French licence. Simple!
Then I forgot about it. Until this week when with uncharacteristic Dynamism, I assembled all the docs, including terrifying photo (“you mustn’t smile, madame!”) and phoned to check they were open that afternoon…
But it seems every member of The Administration has a different set of rules. That day's member, after my insistence on carrying it through, passed me on to a colleague with special knowledge.
The colleague pointed out the need for another document (there's always one more) with proof of Maiden Name. Have you ever noticed that Maiden Names are instantly jettisoned from British passports and the like? Eventually I found some old GCE certificates, and post-eventually, birth and marriage ones (I’ll take them all).
I couldn’t go that afternoon, though, because this person was adamant that an appointment was imperative. ‘OK then – when can I come?’ (Hoping she wouldn't say Wednesday afternoon, as I had a trim & blow dry booked). 'End of September, madame'.
Damn! What a complete waste of Dynamism!
Still, it will be properly sorted out then, because every administrator we've met here has been charming and helpful in spite of our incoherent jabberings.
And of course, it gives me time for a load more attempts at the Terrifying Photo…
The Fenland Reed
19 hours ago