#4 The holy trinity of French administration

I. Bank Account

I want to open a bank account. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong; I am in France.

I go to a bank branch that immediately turns me away, saying they do not deal with students. They direct me to another branch.

When I arrive, they say I must have my physical passport so I leave. The second time I go, the bank is closed. The third time they say there is no one available to help me and to Please make an appointment, but I say Actually here’s the thing this is the third time I’ve been here and I would like to open an account please, and an associate appears as if by magic. He tells me to prepare myself because this will take an hour. I ask how it could possibly take an hour. He unsheathes every piece of paperwork in the world. I kiss my evening goodbye and set to work signing everywhere he tells me to sign.

When I am done he tells me that I will receive my credentials to my online account in a week, but I receive no email and end up having to go into the branch and asking directly for the password. I log in successfully.

I get my pin number by post along with a bunch of other information I don’t know what to do with, but I have to go into town to pick up the card. It is only days later that I notice that they have spelt my name completely wrong: “Marisa Culton,” without the “o”.

They have written it exactly how it is pronounced in French, and this makes me laugh. The literal translation is Marisa Ass-ton, and I wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something.

II. Housing Insurance

The bank insists that I must buy housing insurance to open a bank account. I cannot see how the two are related but fork over 85 EUR ($120 CDN) anyway, because someone somewhere once said to me that I need to buy it, so I do.

I hand this document to the front desk at my residence. They ask me Where is the responsabilité civile. I say it is there. They say no. I say yes. They say no. I ask how I could have possibly paid 85EUR for only half of what I needed. I go back into the bank branch in town to demand a cancellation of the insurance. I want to purchase the two necessary pieces of insurance for a better price from a different company.

The lady at the front desk says that will not be possible. I ask why. She says it is already being processed. I am annoyed and tell her to cancel the whole bank account, then. She says that, too, will not be possible. I ask why not, gritting my teeth. She says I will need to write a letter of cancellation. I wonder if this is the 90s.

I spot, out of the corner of my eye, the man who sold me the insurance. I ask the front desk lady if I can go talk to him. She says Maybe; I will ask him. She calls him from across the office. They are in the same room but are talking to each other on the phone and it is absurd. He motions me over.

I tell him I need to cancel my insurance because there is no responsabilité civile. He says yes there is. I say no there is not. He takes a green highlighter and highlights fine print on my contract that reads “responsabilité civile.” They didn’t read it properly, he says.

I go back to the front desk of my residence. Night is falling, now.

I hand in the insurance. When they say there is no responsabilité civile, I point out the green highlighting. They say Oh, and I know I am victorious. I’ve purchased French housing insurance.


III. Health Insurance

I am told I must buy health insurance at the post office. I arrive and wait in a line. I am handed an ancient document that looks like it is from before I was born; it is a Mandat Cash. I am a Millennial and am starting to feel offended by all of this paper. I wonder if anyone here has heard of the internet.

I am told to fill out the Mandat Cash and pay 217 EUR. Then I must take the receipt to the staff member who is in charge of me at the university, Mr. Perez.

I do this and ask Mr. Perez what to do with the original. I must bring it to the MEP student insurance service, he says.

At the MEP, the lady at the front asks what she is supposed to do with this document. I say I honestly do not know. She says she does not know either. I check my watch. The standoff commences.

She says she does not need this receipt, and that I cannot complete the health insurance process without 3 different random documents, which she lists. Luckily, I have all of these on me plus copies.

She raises her eyebrows. I smile. I’ve beaten the system.


Published by


I believe that: (1) language is the most powerful tool we have (2) that bravery is the most admirable quality in a person and (3) that the best is yet to come.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s