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How The French Bureaucracy Can Make You Mentally & Emotionally Stronger

How The French Bureaucracy Can Make You Mentally & Emotionally Stronger

Most foreigners have a story to tell of their several interactions with French bureaucracy

We all know that bureaucracy can seem, at times, as just a waste of time.

The French bureaucracy is an administration characterized by excessive red tape and routine, which - I tend to think - implies that nothing useful actually gets done. 

I know. One of the things I promised to stop doing this year was complaining against the French Administration. 

So, in this post, I’ll try not to (won’t be easy, though).

The French bureaucracy is terrible, so prepare yourself for frustration caused by time-wasting and undisguised obstruction on the part of some officials.  

The people who work for government agencies usually don’t agree and they contradict each other all the time.  

They frustrate you by taking you around different offices, and in the end you deal with an impatient, pissed off administrator who won’t attend to you because you forgot a document or because you don’t have an appointment.

The outgoing French President François Hollande (he’s not the only French official) said he agreed that the Red tape and state bureaucracy slows everything down and is a drain on French finances and he actually promised to reform with the aim of speeding up the system. 

At some point, he called for deeper reforms and belt-tightening, saying the French state machinery was too costly and slow.

In his 2017 address to civil servants, he said the state machinery was "too heavy, too slow, too expensive," and vowed to focus on cutting expenditure.

He said "We will try and do this everywhere, or wherever possible," pledging to make 50 billion euros (70 billion dollars) in savings by 2017. "Everyone must do their bit."

In addressing the French, Hollande also vowed to minimize red tape and centralization in keeping with his New Year's Eve message to "make life simple" for French citizens.

The country's multi-layered administration has been criticized as overlapping and slow. Many foreigners also complain of too much red tape and paperwork in the French public service.

A few tips and tricks to deal with French red tape: 

1.  Always find out from an official source exactly what you need before making an application.

2.  Double-check the hours of the office and ensure it isn't a public holiday.

3.  Always take a duplicate of everything.

4.  Expect not to have the right paperwork the first time. 

5.  Allow plenty of time to make an application 

Have you ever asked yourself what specific strategy you can apply to dealing with secretaries and administrators in France?

Do you feel as if they dislike you? 

Are they rude

So mean? 

Do you feel as if they ignore your opinions, invent rules, make insulting comments, pretend they are incompetent at their job?

Of course, I’ve realized that bureaucracy tends to be incompetent and despised almost anywhere, but it seems that there is a peculiar French style of administration where everything depends on personal sympathy with the secretary/admin officer, and I think the actual people working in it are seldom as spiteful as some expats have come across over the years.

Ah! The French bureaucracy

It’s certainly the biggest struggle for foreigners to adapt to life in France. 

If you manage to deal with it successfully, it means you really are strong and can make it in France.

I usually think that a common mistake many foreigners make when dealing with the French administration is to expect administrative employees to behave with them as if they were a customer in a store or in a restaurant.

Two big mistakes in one. 

First of all, customers in France don’t behave like customers in many other countries (especially the English speaking ones) and shop owners don’t either.

Second, you’re not a customer, and while you want to have a successful interaction with the person that’s in front of you, they really don’t care. Whereas a shop owner will care at least a little (they want to sell you their product), an administrative employee doesn’t. At all! If your interaction is unsuccessful, it will have no influence whatsoever on them or their job.

Another factor that you need to consider is that they seem less enthusiastic about their job, and as you are part of their job, they may not be enthusiastic either about offering you any services. 

OK, that’s a lot of an exaggeration, not everyone hates their job, far from it, but I’m not exactly sure that it’s an exciting job either.

Also keep in mind that most people you deal with don’t do that one task all day long, their job is divided between office work and dealing with people like you and me, and sometimes they only hate that one part of the job, because, you know, they’re going to be yelled at for no reason by some people that they’re trying to help.

The way I see it there are few ways to survive in France as a foreigner.

Marry in.

Technically, you only need an EU-citizen these days, not just a Frenchie. 

However, realize that even this is a process, involving certified birth certificates (issued within 3 months), culture classes, etc. Hopefully your partner speaks French to assist you in this process. You still have to go to the Prefecture every year to renew for a few years before you’re eligible for a 10 year card or naturalization, and there will be more papers + processes with that.

Get sent over to work by a company

This option is awesome. It probably means you’re really making it in life + you will have an HR department to deal with all the bureaucratic issues that will come your way in this country. It will save countless hours + sanity to have someone dealing with this for you. It probably also means you’re working more than a 35-40 hour work week. Make sure you negotiate the 5-9 weeks of vacation a year into your contract!

Get sponsored by a company

The main thing you have to realize here is that the company has to prove that they need you (think: one-of-a-kind skill set) and that you’re not taking a job from a French person. There may be costs involved in this process or you may succeed + 6 months later decide to leave the job, so is it a risk the company is willing to take? From what I’ve seen, French salaries are notoriously low, but if you are making above a certain amount, you are considered  an upper level employee, and therefore not taking the job from a countryman, so go for high level positions and bypass some steps. (Most of my American friends here completely acknowledge that they’d be earning $10-20K more / year for doing the same job in the U.S.).

Realize that the process is ongoing

In order to schedule an appointment at the Prefecture you must book 4-5 months in advance. I tried 4 months in advance this time, all slots were taken until 1.5 month after my carte de séjour expired. Instead this will add an extra step of getting a temporary récépissé that will validate my carte de séjour until I can go to my official appointment. 

See the theme here? 

Yeah, let’s vaguely communicate ideas and add in as many extra steps as possible.

Also know that often times in holding pattern, you will not have the right to work. 

And we wonder why there are problems with the economy…


Conclusively, French Bureaucracy has been an enormous achievement in making people mentally or emotionally stronger. 

The Bureaucracy is a fine achievement of maturity. 

But it can sometimes lead to several painful conflicts with the specific contours of individual cases. 

This is the nightmare of being trapped in an unending, deaf, cold cage. 

But the current unresponsiveness of bureaucracy is not brought about by a deliberate desire to ignore people’s situations. 

Seldom times we are caught thinking that the bureaucracy is out to get us or that those who manage it are in themselves soulless sadists. 

However, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!

Over To You!

What has been your experience? 

Has the French bureaucracy had an influence on the mental as well as emotional strength and maturity you’ve gained over the years?

If you have any suggestions or ideas to share, please drop your comments.


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Last modified onMonday, 13 March 2017 09:40
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