Why you Need Patience at the Sous Préfecture in Provence

Nutmeg is self-admittedly not a patient person. She develops a plan, does not appreciate too much external input, and certainly is not thrilled when there is a proposed change. Living in France, with life at a slower pace, has helped with her natural inclination somewhat. Although, Ginger is certain that she may never be fully cured of her affliction.

Here, are some verbal “pictures” of life in slow motion:

  • Walks with a 12 year old yellow lab
  • Sunday morning coffee service at the village café
  • Opening hours/days for the local boulangerie and boucherie
  • Watching a dog sleep in the sun
  • WiFi access in a thunderstorm
  • A swimming pool warmed only by the sun
  • Waiting for your tax refund

Coffee Time

This post is about the ultimate lesson in patience, a heavy dose of bureaucracy, mountains of paperwork and long queues. Welcome to the world of the sous-préfectures (home of French Administration)! Nutmeg has had the pleasure of visiting a couple of these offices while in Provence, the location in Aix-en-Provence and equally attractive Arles office.

The local sous-préfecture is where one goes in France, to complete the paperwork process for car ownership, vehicle transfer etc.. Proof of ownership of a vehicle in France is your Carte Grise. Ginger and Nutmeg were moving locations and their Carte Grise had to be updated to reflect their new address for insurance purposes. Thankfully, a friend had forewarned Nutmeg that the wait is always long and often requires a second visit.  He was right!

  • Two visits
  • Four hours of waiting
  • Ten minutes with the officials
  • One new Carte Grise with all the updated details

The sous-préfecture is also the place you must visit for long-stay visa paperwork. The office is only available to the public Monday to Friday from 8:15 – 12:15, except for the days when it is closed for holidays or the other days that it closes, just because. It is difficult to determine the best strategy. Arrive early? Arrive late? Put your head in the sand? Ginger and Nutmeg had to renew their visa paperwork and decided on the “arrive early” strategy. One Monday morning at 8:32am, they withdrew queue ticket numbers 353 & 354 from the machine. There were 46 people ahead of them in line!!

French Tricolour

The French government must be commended for the lack of public funds spent on these offices. Nutmeg is certain that there are no additional operational funds that can be squeezed out of these agencies without permanently shutting the doors.  The following may give you an idea of the scene:

  • Woefully understaffed
  • The system is 100% manual – no online applications
  • Cramped waiting area
  • Dilapidated seating
  • No bathrooms
  • Meager signage
  • No coffee machine – shocking!
  • No smoking – except just outside the door… that way everyone can enjoy the 2nd hand smoke

Ginger and Nutmeg consider themselves to be fortunate. They were prepared for a long wait so they took their books and they can communicate with their mediocre French. There are thousands of others who literally camp out waiting for their turn, do not understand the language and have little chance of getting through the mountain of bureaucracy.

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