Experiencing La Poste (my first French experience)

Well, now I can really say that I have experienced the French bureaucracy! 🙂

Mission: open a bank account.

Day one: First of all I was recommended to go to the post office to set up an account. Not the most logic place, but the daily director of my student house told me that the local BNP-bank was very rude and unfriendly(!) so I thought that “La Poste” was just outsmarting the banks and expanding their business from traditional post office duties (they also offer cell phone contracts). Well, “outsmarting”….maybe not the right words. Keep that in mind…

Nearest post office was the one inside the International University City where I live (with 5000 other students from all over the world). Of all the places in Paris/France this should be THE place where I could manage to set up an account, since my French is still limited to “bonjour” and “merci beacoup”.

So I went there Monday evening after arriving, but the woman behind the desk didn’t speak a word of English. However, she managed to explain me somehow that I should come back the next day after 14H (the bank-part of the post office apparently was closed).

Day two: Sooo…yesterday I returned to La Poste full of confidence and with all the papers needed (my nice, new Orange colleagues called them in advance and asked. And they even gave me a day at home to fix my banking). Now a guy was sitting behind the desk. Hoping that he spoke English I was quickly disappointed, especially when he wrote me a note – in French – telling me that I should come back tomorrow (today). So much for my day off and the message I received the day before.

He did manage to sell me a phone number though, and I managed to set up by myself only with a French manual 🙂

Day three: Again, I went to La Poste (I really needed the account this week to receive my first internship gratification). The man was again sitting behind the desk. This time he made a phone call and then he explained me in French (He could have spoken Swahili to me and being just as understandable) that I should go down to another branch to talk to Madame Nicole. (Why I was not told that one of the previous times I don’t know).
Anyway, so I did. (Still naive I thought that Nicole maybe was an English speaking employee). When I came in I was politely greeted in French by two not very busy employees. As I asked for madame Nicole they just pointed down the hall to some undefined place. I looked in through the doors, and managed to find Madame Nicole – a friendly looking lady busy with another customer. But she found time to find me a chair so I could wait outside.

Then I saw a sign just next to her door saying open from 17-18 (in French of course), and the clock was quickly approaching 18. The man from yesterday had written from 17-19 so I got quite surprised, and started imagining me waiting and waiting, and then at 18 they’d close down and ask me to come back next day – again.

Fortunately she just welcomed me once she was done with the other customer. English was not a language she had ever heard about though! And just like all other French persons I have med so far, they happily speak French – despite my obvious non-existing French abilities. I was not even sure how to say “bank account” in French!!

And now to the positive part: An hour later I walked out of La Poste på Rue d’Acueil after signing 10 different papers, and now with 1) a bank account, 2) a credit card, 3) online banking – AND I actually know how to activate it, what letters I will receive, what I should tell Orange, and that I will receive emails with my account status.
Nicole, thank you! You are amazing! You showed that language apparently isn’t necessary. Not even for opening bank accounts. And I’m now sure that I can manage ANY situation in the coming six months where I run out of words! 🙂

One last curiosity:
(and a nice example of La Poste’s excellent procedures)
I needed to put money in the account right away, and it was fine to use my Visa card for it.
However, what I did not expect was that I had to go to her ATM machine, withdraw 20 €, give the money back to her, so she could write a receipt manually and put that back into her system(!)

Why she couldn’t withdraw the money directly from my card I still don’t know… 🙂


About Morten

well...I'm just Morten... :)

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