Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A French letter and an English lesson

In the following letter, our friend, who is currently teaching in France, describes her attempt to obtain a driving license. Très drôle.

Hi Doug, Pat and Marj,

I thought you might be interested in my day:

Background: I can change my Ontario driving license for a French one if I do it within 1 year of arriving in France. After that, I have to take the French test. To change license, you have to go to the prefecture (police administrative headquarters) of the town where you live. The prefecture for Savigny sur Orge is in Evry Courcouronnes, a 30-minute, two-train journey from Savigny, and is only open from 9 to 12 Mon, Tue, Thu and Fri. I went 3 weeks ago with a stack of papers and was told that the only thing missing was something to prove I had been in France less than a year - like a letter or payslips from the place where I had worked in Bratislava. I got a letter from Bratislava.

I arrived at the prefecture this morning at 7.40 am with just 7 people in front of me. At 9am the doors opened and two people, who had arrived just 20 minutes before opening, managed to squeeze in ahead of everyone else. Even so, I got the first ticket for the "échange permis de conduire étranger" wicket. A promising start.

How misleading.

I gave the woman (a different one from last time, of course) my driving license, British passport and application form. All of what follows was in French:

MOT (Miserable Old Tart) (holding my British passport): Is this the only ID you have?
Jean: It's a passport
MOT: I need other ID
Jean: My driving license
Jean (thinking she needs other Canadian ID): Here's my Canadian passport
MOT: Bof
Jean: " " (speechless)

So the MOT disappears for a bit, then comes back, shrugs and continues

MOT: Your license doesn't say when you got it.
Jean: 1980 (hands over abstract from the real MOT - Ontario Ministry of Transport - with date license received - bilingual)
MOT: Hmm

MOT: I need a translation of your driving license
Jean: It's bilingual. Look - French
MOT: It says it is class G. I need a translation of what that is in French terms
Jean: According to the French Public Service (hah!) web site, it is equivalent to class B. Look. (shows a print-out of the page (in French) with the web site address)
MOT: Bof. That's just the internet.
Jean: But it's the French public service web site.
MOT: Bof
Jean: " "

MOT: When did you arrive in France?
Jean: September last year. (Shows letter from BTL saying I started on 8 September 2008 and letter from IH Bratislava saying I finished on 28 August 2008)
MOT: Bof. (slaps letters) I need a letter of attestation from the mayor of the town where you lived in Canada saying when you left.
Jean: But the woman whom I saw 3 weeks ago said a letter or payslips from Bratislava would be sufficient.
MOT: " "

MOT: Where is proof that you were living in Ontario 6 months before receiving your Ontario driving license?
Jean: I'm a Canadian citizen. Look - Canadian passport.
MOT: Bof
Jean: It was 1980 - how can I prove that?
MOT: " "

Somewhere in there she got another MOT who was an equally dismissive, unhelpful petasse.
Also, I kept saying "but 3 weeks ago the lady said..." and the MOT kept not replying.

MOTs: Get a translation of your driving license, a letter from the mayor in Canada and proof that you were in Canada for six months prior to getting your Canadian driving license.

Jean: " " Gathers up papers and leaves, muttering

When I got to BTL (where I work) I explained to one of the senior teachers, who said to try in Bordeaux. I'll try there when I go next week to look for a flat. With French bureaucracy it really does depend on whom you get when you turn up. It's bizarre. Every evil thing people say about it is incredibly true. Another teacher said the MOT was a "con" (stupid person).

Sequel: During one of my lessons this afternoon, my student (Fabrice) told me about his trip to Bulgaria and I told him about my trip to the prefecture and said the woman was a con.

Fabrice: "No, she was a conne - female."
Jean: Is a conne bad?
F: Yes, it is.
Jean: What's worse?
F: Connase is the worse
Jean: No, connase is worse or the worst, but not the worse. What's the worst?
F: In order of worseness..
Jean: In order of badness
F: In order of badness: conne, connase, petasse...
Jean: What's a petasse?
F: Hmm. It means someone who farts above their arse.
Jean: That's a bit like the English "she thinks the sun shines out of her arse"
F: Oh, I like that. (writes it down, checking the spelling)
Jean: Maybe we should get back to business English.
F: Maybe we should.

All of that conversation was totally straight-faced with particular attention paid to grammar and pronunciation. Sometimes life here is surreal.

I hope all is well!


1 comment:

  1. G'day, eh,

    I came across this entertaining and useful post whilst doing lengthy research prior to a successful trip to the Evry préfecture to trade in my Ontario license and thought I would offer a few tips:
    - Monday morning is the worst possible time to go, Friday close of play is best (at Evry they stop handing out numbers at noon.) In the morning the fonctionnaire is grumpy, in the afternoon they are looking forward to going home and are expediting.
    - Be cheerful, respectful but confused -- give them an opportunity to want to help you.
    - Remember that they need to tick off all the boxes on their document checklist. The actual quality of these documents is less important. ;-)
    - Having said that, give them something irrelevant or incomplete that they can disqualify (make sure you have an appropriate back-up document.) You will be helping them feel that they are doing their job well.
    - Remember that they are doing an unrewarding job in which they feel unrecognised and underpaid (no matter what we may think.)

    Hope this helps someone!