Sunday, June 12, 2011

Knee-deep in French bureaucratic red-tape and sinking....

I guess it would not be France without its bureaucratic red-tape that one must encounter in order to live here. Since I wrote my last post, I have been trying to sign up my children for school, only to realize that it is a very slow and painful process. My French is not that great to start with, but I'm sure that after all the dealings with teachers, townhalls, and other institutions that happily throw piles of paperwork at me, I will become fluent promptly. Apparently, every third person in France is a civil servant so in order to keep all these people employed one must generate sufficient amounts of paperwork and forms with many irrelevant or redundant questions. I was also told not to get discouraged when you arrive at the office and regardless of what you need, the first answer you are given will most likely be a “non”. So far I've learned that....

  • one must be persistent and patient
  • one must accept bureaucracy as part of life in France
  • one must consume wine every evening to shake off the bureaucratic nonsense
  • there is a 50% chance that office hours given are not being followed anyway
  • it is a good idea to always carry every single document you own to every institution
  • it is essential to write down the name of the person you deal with otherwise the next time you go there and talk to someone else, they might not ever find the documents you already submitted.
  • It is possible that you may be forgotten in the office waiting

I must say that I am rather bewildered by the school system in France. For both of my kids (meaning both elementary school and “nursery school”) the school is for free and consists of the following hours: 8:30AM to 11:30AM and 1:30PM to 4:30PM four days of the week (not Wednesdays or weekends). Tommy is going to an international school in Grenoble and Anna goes to a nursery school in Seyssinet-Pariset where we live. However, it is practically impossible to drop both children off at the same time in the two different locations, so I have to sign up one of them for additional school care which costs money. Not only that, the lunch break is 2 hours long and one must also sign the kids up for supervision/lunch for the 2 hours and pay for that also. (Otherwise you would have to go pick up the child at 11:30, drop them back off at 1:30, and then pick them up again when school finishes! - now if you have two kids, it can't be done unless they go to the same school). Finally, if both parents are working, they must also sign up their kids for activities at the recreation centre on Wednesdays. If one of the parents is not working though, they can't sign up their child that goes to nursery school for either morning, lunch or afterschool care!

Since I also wanted to take an intensive French course this month, everything became rather complicated as this does not even count as “work” and this is basically what I had to go through to get both kids signed up so that I can do it:

  • Go to town hall in Grenoble to sign up Tommy for school for May/June. I was told he is signed up for school but can't have eat in the cafeteria because we don't have CAF yet (social benefits/subsidy based on income).  This involved paperwork.
  • After a week of driving Tommy to school 4 times a day I went back to the townhall to ask if we could somehow figure out the cafeteria. A different secretary this time looked into it and we realized that Tommy was not even signed up for school – the other lady signed him up for September. After an hour of phonecalls, filling out paperwork and asking Jakub to send in a fax, he was signed up and the cafeteria sorted out and I was given a document.
  • I took the document to Tommy's school, got it signed and stamped.
  • I went to sign up Anna for nursery care, this time in the Seyssinet Pariset townhall. They told me which school she will go to and gave me paperwork to fill out.
  • I took the paperwork to the principal of Anna's school, was told that if I don't work, Anna can't stay there for lunches and must go home for the 2 hours each day.  I got more paperwork to fill out.
  • Tommy went to school Monday and even though I was told the cafeteria is sorted, the teachers at school had no clue, and told me that they did not receive any documents confirming it. We then received a document in mail which I had to show at school to prove that I was not making it up.
  • I went to talk to the nursery cafeteria/childcare manager from Anna's school, she gave me paperwork for the out of school care, and she drafted up a letter for me to take to the townhall to the mayor of Seyssinet-Pariset begging him to make an exception for me and allow me to put my child in the extra care.
  • Went back to townhall and submitted the letter, some other secretary said the mayor doesn't need to see it, that she decided that it is OK that my daughter can sign up for the extra care.
  • Signed up for French course (paperwork)
  • Signed up both kids for rec centre for two Wednesdays, more lengthy paperwork (the others were full by now).
  • Went to French course, my class got cancelled because it was full of Syrian students that had to take a separate class so with 3 student's left we were moved to a different class.  More paperwork.  I got my new schedule.
  • Went to Anna's school with class schedule to explain I need lunches everyday, morning care 2 days and afternoon care 2 days since the course is at different times each day. The manager called the townhall, after half an hour it was sorted.
To make matters a bit more complicated.....when I tell someone my nationality is Canadian and then they come across the difference in Jakub's and my last names, I have to explain that it is normal in Czech Republic to have a change in the last name for men and women, but then they become puzzled how I can be Canadian and Czech at the same time.....go figure!

Now imagine sorting all this out in French that you did not use for 10 years.....pretty intense stuff....  :o)

More wine anyone??????

1 comment:

  1. WOAW! This sounds like an incredibly hectic and tiresome start in a new country...actually seems much worse than moving to Nairobi. I hope you get everything sorted out, so the kids are happy and that you can get some time to study French. It's soo cool you have a blog now, I am looking forward to follow your "new life" in my old University town! Hugs