Teeth, 2CVs and fonctionnaires

In order to get the money to have my teeth fixed I’m going to sell a Citroen 2CV that is lurking in the barn. One of the selling points of my 2CV is that it’s classified as a classic car, and as such does not have to go through a contrôle technique every two years (a CT is a roadworthiness test a bit like the British MOT), and can be insured very cheaply. The rules concerning classic cars used to be that the car had to be at least 25 years old, and the CT ran indefinitely during ownership of the car; ie, you didn’t have to get it tested for road worthiness every two years. These rules have recently changed. Now the car has to be at least 30 years old and a CT is required every five years. The French have a penchant for changing rules and regulations, and oft times it’s hard to keep up.

To sell a car in France it has to go through a CT. The buyer of the car then has one month to take the Carte de Grise (registration document) and CT certificate to the Prefecture, to register the car in their name. Note that the buyer has to do this in person during office hours, except of course at lunchtime, when the Prefecture will be closed for two or three hours. The process of registering a car in France takes a lot of time and trouble, and of course mountains of paperwork.

I used to live in a small village in a very remote area. As well as Monsieur le Mayor, there were three other people working in the village town hall. There was barely enough work for one person to do. Likewise, this small village had three caretakers, one of whom was almost permanently drunk. At the bottom end of the village was La Poste, which is also an arm of the government. Two people sat behind the post office counter and spent most of the time twiddling their thumbs.

Of course, France is infamous for its bureaucracy and bureaucrats (known as fonctionnaires). Two summers ago there was an amusing case concerning a young French civil servant called Aurélie Boullet. After six years attending some of France’s most prestigious universities, Boullet got a full-time job at the Aquitaine Regional Council in southwest France. Somewhat naively, Boullet was horrified by the way the council was run. Her workload amounted to between five and 12 hours a month. She spent her time writing summaries of existing reports and helping councillors to book first-class travel to destinations in Asia that had little or no relation to their work. Most of the 30 people she worked with appeared to have little or nothing to do and would spend their days surfing the internet.

Disgusted by the waste and inefficiency, Boullet started a blog about the wacky world of the fonctionnaires. She used the pen name of Zoé Shepard and the blog was ironically called Absolument Dé-bor-dée (Absolutely Snowed Under). It became so popular that it was later published as a book. Of course, the Aquitaine Regional Council found out about it and in a blaze of publicity Aurélie Boullet was fired from her job. This year, in a court case that also received a blaze of publicity, Boullet had her job reinstated.

When President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power he pledged to reform the public sector. The problem, of course, is that a huge number of people have a vested interest in the gravy train (56 per cent of the French workforce is employed by the state in one form or another), and all of them are voters. So, for the time being, to register a car you’ll still have to go to the Prefecture in person during office hours.

C’est la vie in French public sector – but the fight is on

Aurelie Boullet

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