Pretty in Pink: My New Driving Licence.

The fearless Amazonian MM returns triumphantly from the administrative jungle with Penelope the Pink Permis.

The fearless Amazonian MM returns triumphantly from the administrative jungle with Penelope the Pink Licence.

Drum roll….  Raise your glasses, ladies and gents. MM is finally clutching her French Driving Licence in her sweaty mitts after a long, medically-assisted gestation by the Préfecture.

My French driving licence is pinker than a baboon’s bottom. It’s so pink that Barbie could use it to dress up as a sandwich girl. Talk about girly – it even has sparkly glitter ingrained in the paper. I was almost expecting a Hello Kitty watermark. I have called it Penelope, in homage to the only ultra-pink female personalities I have ever had any respect for: Lady Penelope and Penelope Pittstop.

 Enough gloating. After two months of calling an unmanned phone, I finally got hold of a human being last Friday, who told me that my licence had been waiting for me for two months. They’d just omitted the minor detail of informing me that my marathon was finally over. The road through French beaurocracy to my French licence had been paved with paperwork and involved an exciting wild goose chase in which I sent a medical certificate to the administrative Gods, who promptly sent it to the wrong town, then lost it, then asked me to get it done again, then told me they’d found the old one after all.

The next Monday, MM was at the gate to La Préfecture. The police security guard delved into the bottomless depths of my Mary Poppins hold-all, rummaged reluctantly through the unwelcoming detritus a mother’s handbag always contains, and hastily waved me through.

Inside, Attila the Pun and Bulldog were still manning the reception desk (see here for details). Attila the Pun’s eyesight had apparently gone downhill, as he had a pair of Dumbeldore-style specs on his nose. Bulldog had still not learned how to smile or apply lipstick. Her jowls were quivering in time to her staccato syllables as she gave her visitor some gyp. The word Monsieur peppered every sentence she uttered. “Monsieur, you have to fill in the form…  Monsieur, you will have to come back… Monsieur, you have not understood what I said…” This quintessentially French use of excessive deference to dominate others has always fascinated me. Paradoxically, by dripping with politeness, they actually manage to patronise their opponent into submission: it’s an art form.

Attila the Pun took off his glasses, gave me my ticket, and sent me off to wait my turn at the great administrative cheese counter. He wasn’t as cheerful as the last time. Had he read my blog?

There were a good few people trying to jump the queue. Or maybe they were all colour blind and couldn’t read the writing on the blue tape on the floor, saying that it was rude to butt in on other people who had already gathered dust for hours as they waited their turn.

Then there was the poor man who had ticked all the boxes and photocopied mountains of paperwork. He brandished his ticket triumphantly in the air when his number flashed up on the screen and leapt to his feet if he had just won the pools… then realised that he had forgotten his glasses at home and couldn’t see well enough to sign for the open sesame he had no doubt been waiting for over the last six months.

A vivarium for the lesser spotted civil servant. Note the Hygiaphone in the centre.

A vivarium for the lesser spotted civil servant. Note the Hygiaphone in the centre.

My number was called, and I went to the designated cubicle. A thin-faced man behind the screen pointed at the seat as he hastily glugged down a plastic cup of water. He smiled at me, then yelled, “How can I help you?” I’m sure that he heard himself loud enough, but I had to strain to hear him despite the “Hygiaphone” – a grille in the middle of the screen that is supposed to let the sound through. This term has always had me flummoxed: it implies that it is to stop anything unhygienic happening. Like what? A piece of spinach getting unstuck from between your teeth and flying into the other person’s face? Subjecting them to the residual smell of garlic emanating from your restaurant lunch? In any case, communication was muffled, resulting in lots of shouting, and requiring gallons of water for the poor, parched civil servant on the other side of the glass.

He asked me for my UK licence, typed my name, then said “It’s not ready yet.” His finger hovered over the button that would bring the next person hotfooting to his desk. I suggested that he check under my maiden name, and he said: “Your maiden name isn’t on your passport”. Uh-oh. I was lucky – he asked for my maiden name, typed it in, and gave me my French licence. I left Cerfa’s palace, legal and happy that I didn’t have to go back again for a while.

I’ll round up this post with a little request: Please go over to Pecora Nera’s blog, An Englishman in Italy, to cheer him on.  He started the same quest as me back in April, but he’s dealing with Italian beaurocracy, which is apparently much worse than it is in France.

Especially for Bevchen: French driving licence glitter :-)

Especially for Bevchen: French driving licence glitter 🙂

To read the whole story, here are the three previous episodes:

Mugshot musings: the first step towards a French licence

Into the Jaws of Administromia

Waiting room witterings: a portrait of France

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57 thoughts on “Pretty in Pink: My New Driving Licence.

  1. Penelope? LOL! Does it really have glitter on it?

    I can’t actually drive, so I will never have to experience the horrors of getting my licence changed to a German one 😉

    • I think that Penelope is a FAB name for a driving licence; In fact, I thik I’ll buy myself a thunderbirds FAB 1 car to go with it. Yes, there is indeed glitter; I’ll put a photo on the post. Your’re so lucky to live somewhere where you have adequate public transport: if we didn’t have a car here, we’d be up the proverbial creek with out a paddle.

  2. So. I slogged through a very long and initially inexplicable exchange between you and PN on his blog, my eyebrows down in slight disapproval that you would be discussing your little pink thing with a stranger in Italy when all suddenly became clear. Now I have the full picture. My American one has a picture of the Grand Canyon on it!

    • LOL! PN and I go back a long way, we can talk about our little pink things together without any taboos now….. You have a picture of the Grand Canyon? Humpf. Not fair. I had an orange on mine in Florida. But I bet you haven’t got glitter on yours. Nah. #playground paddy mode off

  3. Wonderful fun here….when we did it the appropriate website was out of date so we went to where the office used to be and while wandering like two lost souls were collared by a kindly taxi driver who took us to ‘his’ doctor for the medical examination.

    My husband has any amount of problems….but all the boxes were ticked and then came the sight test.
    Doctor pointed to his diploma hanging on the wall behind him – something the size of a table top.
    Read that…
    Universidad de Costa Rica…this being in big letters at the top;.
    Fine!

    Then off to the bank to pay the fee into the licence authority’s bank account. Public officials (well, at the bottom end of the feeding chain) don’t touch money.

    Then to where the office actually was…on the edge of the city. Ducking to avoid the gentlemen who wished to help us we headed for the appropriate building and joined the queue of hundreds standing in the open under a sort of school bike shed contraption.

    The policeman on the door must have had good eyesight as he spotted that my husband was frail and elderly and had us passed up the queue and inside – and this is the nice part of living here, no one complained!

    ‘Home’ licence produced we were wafted upstairs to see a supervisor who checked something on her computer and sent us down again.
    Photographed. Sat down. Twenty minutes later…driving licence!

    And I hear North Americans complaining about the bureacracy here….I tell them to try France…

    • Oh boy. I wanna live in Costa Rica. I must admit that the service has improved at the Préfecture since I arrived in France and saw women fighting in the immigration queue (an Algerian lady learnt that it was unwise to push in front of a Russian), but four months to get a European licence exchanged is a bit long compared to your experience….

      • After France the bureaucracy is a doddle….and each government office has a ‘contraloria’ to whom you complain bitterly when your dossier becomes inexplicably lost – and it is found and followed up…
        It’s no paradise….but my blood pressure doesn’t go off the scale anywhere near so often.
        Oddly enough France was a lot better when I was first there in the eighties and nineties – systeme D would see you through more often than not….

  4. My pink Permis de Conduire is so battered that I am now engaged in the Grail like mission to replace it. Being France, it’s impossible to replace it simply, as it simply won’t exist after next year when it will be replaced by plastic. To get this plastic, the woman behind the Hygiaphone, gave me a forest of paper formulaires to complete in triplicate. The performance includes a visit to an approved doctor, six identical pictures and many other obstacles. I’m plucking up courage to get started. I wonder if Aeneas hesitated before setting off. He probably wouldn’t have gone at all if the Fleece had been pink 🙂

    • hmmm… a grail-like mission…. did they ask you to brrrring back a shhhhrubbery? The approved doctor bit is very fun. I ended up with a hybrid of pen-pusher and doctor who knew his way around Cerfa’s forms better than Nigella Lawson knows her way around a fridge. I’d get started a little later for the doctor’s visit and form filling, as you can only hand in the application in January. I’ll have to do it too, as will PF, and the rest of France… the Préfectures are going to be fuller than the French prisons 😦

      • Thanks for the link, Ago. I will have to get my licence replaced as it was supplied in 2013, and these are the ones the French state want to replace first. It’s good news that they will be posting it directly to applicant’s homes though – no more queuing to check ID 🙂

      • Quite frankly the French Administration is not something we are very proud of., as you have already noticed and “converting” a French PC (DL) is obviously not something we have to go through…
        A driving license is not an innocent piece of paper and obviously it has to be double checked with the country of origin and this might take time as each country want things to be done their way…
        As an example when I came back to France I had many issues with some documents (about my work in the UK) that HMR&C was very reluctant to send to France (all about not being in line with EU regulations)…

        … About names, can’t remember how this works in the UK (not being British and not being a woman) but here a woman’s name is and will be forever (until she dies I mean) her maiden name.
        All official documents (CNI, PC, Passeport) will carry her maiden name.
        Yes a marrieid woman is usually called with the spouse’s name but it’s only a custom, an habit, nothing more. T
        … That might explain why you might have some “trouble” if you don’t give what we condider to be your name….

      • I have noticed that the French are not always thrilled with their administrative powers that be – and I think that it’s the same problem in many European countries. When I returned to the UK for a year I had all sorts of palava trying to get my car registered, getting a photo card for my licence, etc so I completely agree that it’s not just a French phenomenon 🙂
        The problem appears to be one of connecting the different European administrative bodies and tidying up inconsistencies in legislation – as a married woman’s paperwork in the UK can be in her married name and not mention her maiden name anywhere on the document, it’s difficult to prove your identity to the French civil service who work on the basis of your maiden name. Britain and France appear to be separated by so much more than just water… 😀

  5. Love your Playmo looky likey…hope your hair actually looks like that in real life?? After hearing all about the hassles you and PM have had with driving licences, I will stick to not driving in Italy. Feet will do me just fine!

    • I’m afraid my hair looks nothing like that- it’s the complete opposite of this well-tamed helmet. My hair’s the result of an argument between my Irish, Welsh, Scottish and English capillary ancestry, and the Irish and Welsh factors have carried it off, leading to a huge bush of reddish-tinged disaster. Think Magic Roundabout, think Dougal after a copper rinse and curlers, and you’re getting there.

  6. Felicitations, MM. I think you deserve a medaille-d’honneur after all that, not just a sugar-pink licence. 🙂 I never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness for the DVLA. I’ve never ever had to see an official (other than the driving test examiner) in connection with my driving licence and I’ve had one for the past 40 years.

  7. well done, must bring out the bubbly for celebration!! but please now this is not a licence to run over any French Monsieur that comes your way … 😉 (poor PN still waiting for his turn, had the brilliant idea of changing his surname…. did he think Italians would understand and accept that??)….

    • Thank you. I nearly wore my sequined black dress to the Prefecture to collect it, but thought against it incase I got arrested. Hot off the press: PN is now legal too! Now to see if his is pink too (the licence, I mean. Uhum).

  8. Hey! Congratulations MM, at last eh? You can stick you Dougal copper rinsed, curly head out of the car window and do a whoop whoop! Make sure you don’t hold the licence out in the breeze though in case it gets whipped from your hand and then you’ll be back at square one! Love your playmobil figures and the fact that your mum still buys them for you, excellent! 😀

    • Yeah, it’s TAC! *happy dance* How’s tricks, Mrs Happy? How’s Mutley? I took my licence for a drive today and showed it the sights. All very exciting. Now I’m home I’ll play with my figurine a bit – you’re right, my Mum is a real brick 🙂

      • Ah shucks thanks for making me feel missed! 😀 I thought once the summer hols were over I’d have tons of time on my hands but alas it seems I was wrong (not an unfamiliar occurrence when it comes to time management!) trying my best to catch up and always love reading your posts, you never fail to make me chuckle! Mutley’s as wonderful as ever, currently giving me sad puppy dog eyes because she’s waiting for her daily romp in the woods! I’m going to have to ask my mum why she doesn’t buy me toys anymore! 😉

      • I was worried, I kept coming over to check that your blog hadn’t gone into a coma. I’ll be posting about that subject shortly, I have plans 🙂 Poor old Mutley,get her out for a bit of fresh air. I’ll have a word with your mum if you like… or I can send my mum around to sort her out 🙂

      • 😀 I do feel a bit comatose of late! Off out to walk Mutley moo now… will continue catching up later! Will ask my mum for a toy for Christmas and tell her what a cool mum MMM is then she’ll have to get me one, she won’t want to be outdone by another mummy! 😀

    • It wasn’t a fair challenge, because the Italian beaurocrats are much worse than the French We’ll have to go for something simpler. I won’t be joining you in the race for dual nationality – I don’t want to become French.

      • Thank you!!!…
        I am French and quite frankly I don’t bother whether you want to be French or not, but it’s the things your statement(s) implies that I am not very comfortable with…
        Some sort of British humour I guess.

      • Hello, Ago, and thanks for your contribution. I don’t know if you are referring to my decision not to become French or PN’s comment – in my case there is nothing anti-French about wanting to remain British. I can’t speak for PN, but on a world population level he’s probably right.

    • Everybody is entitled to have their own opinion indeed, and maybe my grasp of the english language is not as good as I think it is 🙂
      However a not-so-old worldwide survey (you know the time it takes to compile data…) by Gallup shows that when asked about where they would like to permanently immigrate France ranks 4th (a mere 45 millions people) in the people’s answers.
      A figure roughly equal to the Canada (2nd) and the UK (3rd), the 2 other countries that come after the US (165 million) in the Top4.
      Pas mal for a non english-speaking country I would say…

      http://www.gallup.com/poll/124028/700-million-worldwide-desire-migrate-permanently.aspx

      • Yourr grasp of the English language appears to be excellent! Are you suuuure you are French? 🙂 (JOKE). The Gallup poll is interesting- I’d like to see the figures to know the nationalities of those who want to move to France. However, I think that things have changed since the poll was carried out (although obviously, as you say, it takes donkey’s years to collect and analyse the data) so I’m not sure the same figures apply worldwide today… I’d like to know if French people want to move away, too, and where they’d like to live abroad…

      • Hello Ago Your English is much better than my Italian.
        I am sorry if I offended you. The British have had a love / hate relationship with the French for hundreds of years. I can understand why many Brits want to emigrate to France, the weather, wine sunshine plus we were taught French at school (well at least those that paid attention).

        I personally prefer Italy.

    • Globally the French don’t want to live in another country (like MOST ot the people around the world indeed) but the French ARE moaners, it is in our DNA. We complain all the time, we challenge the government all the time no matter Sarkozy or Hollande. We criticise everything, we are never happy!

      We are no anglo-saxons at all, I’m not saying we are better, or worse we are what we are, what our History, and our geography has made us after a thousand years as a country.
      We are the country that receives the most tourists in the world… I couldn’t believe it in the first place, but that’s a fact, don’t ask why, I don’t know but I guess I shows something…
      Many Brits are living here (not talking about those working on a temporary assignment) do you think many frenchmen will retire in Manchester area? In Scotland? Do you think many health and care systems can compare to ours?

      So OK we have plenty of bad sides, some of them mainly because some of you expect us to behave like you do… Forget it! this is not going to happen.

      I like England for what it is, I am not expecting the English to drive on the right (the well named!) side of the road, to measure in meter, kilogram, lliter, nor to speak french, although the well educated do!(joke!), nor to chop the head of your queen (God bless her!)

      I love you for what you are. A mirror in which I can measure my own culture, become a better person, rich from our differences, and of the so many things we’ve got in common.

      So yes many people want to relocate abroad (l’herbe est toujours plus verte chez le voisin as we say) and that’s quite normal remember we too had an Empire, and there are still more than 50 countries speaking French in this world.

      This country is no paradise, but it’s ours and we are going to change it as it pleases us. I do not fear for the future, we’ve been there a lot time….

      About the changes in the figures from Gallup mind you I wouldn’t put a quid on a big change in the trends 🙂

      Does that answers some of your questions?

      • I’d say that’s a pretty complete answer, yup 🙂 We could debate about France and the French for hours, but the bottom line is that if I’m living in France it’s because I love France- and the French. It doesn’t stop me from making fun of the French from time to time though – “qui aime bien, châtie bien”. 🙂 Thanks for the very enriching conversation, Ago!

      • Of course! making fun of each other is good and quite natural I think… One’s habits might look so odd or peculiar that a good laugh is no surprise at all…
        It’s the things we don’t like that we’ve got to try to understand… That’s where we learn for the other. When in England not shaking hands with my colleagues every morning was a real pain… it took me ages to adjust, and they helped me indeed.
        Your blog is great, I just felt I had to give my views on this page… and I will continue if you don’t mind.
        A nice day to everybody here!

      • I’m glad we got that all ironed out. I wouldn’t have liked to see anyone hurt or upset by my blog, particularly when it’s someone who has been an expat in my home country. I suppose that many of the few things I don’t like about France aren’t necessarily anything to do with being an expat, but with living here (I can’t pertain to being a French citizen, so I’ll have to make do with “habitant”. Ne’er mind). I am struck by the physical distance in the UK – I keep following people across the supermarket when I chat because I get too close too their personal space for comfort. I agree with you on the handshaking and bise front, too: it feels so awkward in the UK after you’ve been in France. At the market this morning I was bised, hand-shaken and prodded like an over-ripe melon all the way around – I wouldn’t swap that side of France for anything in the world! I’m writing a post about what I love about the French for a writing competition – I’ll post a link when I submit it so that you can have a read 🙂

      • I am happy you like all the kissing, hugging and handshaking but the thing is this is not a common practice in the UK and that should NOT be seen as wrong, because it is not.
        So now, one has to cope with the situation… It would be so easy to conclude ‘the Brits are not friendly, they are very cold people” but this is not true.

        It’s difficult (I should say It was difficult for me) to accept something that hurts you even if you know, -for a fact- this people don’t do it to hurt you…
        You see my point?
        Not much eye contact in the street, always watching the distance you stand from people… Getting used to it, accepting it, taking the frustration away, that is a hard work, this is a proof (to yourself) you are (starting to) pay a real attention to them… And you’ve learnt for yourself that your culture is not THE culture.

        Obviously when they do something you like there is no problem at all, but you don’t learn much about them… neither about you! 🙂

        Good evening to everybody here!

  9. hahaha, you’ve made my day, young lady! 🙂 I got mine in Paris years ago and I still recall that day… ’cause driving in Paris is quite an experience and an adventure, too! 🙂 congrats & drive carefully sur les routes de France et de Navarre! 🙂

    • Navarro? Où ça? Gnark 😉 I remember my first driving in France -one month after passing my drving test, I drove across France from Roscoff to Nice with th best navigation tool ever: a map of France and a piece of string stretched from one town to the other. It was a mind-blowing experience of the Nationales, and my arrival in Marseilles heralded the first mastering of swearing at taxi drivers out of the window, complete with flaying arms and rude hand gestures. Never tried driving in Paris – it’s dangerous enough as a pedestrian!

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