A trip to the local Social Security office

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

So there is one aspect to living in a French territory that cannot be ignored……any guesses?

Yes, bureaucracy, paperwork and red tape.

As a third year Erasmus student when undertaking my Law degree at the age of 21, I lived in Chambery, a stunning region of the French Alps. This is when I first encountered French bureacracy, however the intervening years had pushed the experience to the recesses of my memory.

This week I visited the local Social Security office by pre-arranged appointment as I had not yet obtained a response about my application for a Social Security number.

Upon my arrival I am met by a security guard at the door. After providing him with my passport by way of verification and letting him know that I have an appointment at 8am, he sets out the following:

« Bonjour Madame. Je vous informe qu’on se trouve dans un contexte sanitaire très spécifique du au Covid-19 »

Good morning madam. I would like to inform you that we currently in a very specific health context due to Covid-19. (Yes, I managed to gather that over the past 7 months….).

“Je veux donc vous informer qu’il y a les étapes suivantes que vous allez suivre avant que vous puissiez rentrer dans le bureau »

I would therefore like to inform you of the following steps which you will need to take before you can enter the office.

“Etape 1- Vous allez désinfecter les mains avec le gel hydroalcoolique que mon collègue va vous offrir»

Step 1: You will disinfect your hands with the hydroalcoholic gel which my colleague will give you.

Me:  “Pour etape 1, je suis désolée monsieur, mais je ne pourrais pas utiliser votre gel hydroalcoolique car je ne connais pas les ingrédients de ce gel et si cela pourrait me donner une allergie, mais j’ai déjà amené mon propre gel pour pouvoir désinfecter mes mains »

Me: “For step 1, I am sorry Sir but I am not able to use the hydroalcoholic gel that you are proposing as I do not know the ingredients of the gel and whether this could give me an allergy, however I have brought my own gel to disinfect my hands”.

(To explain my reply, as a naturopath I am fully aware that chemicals which we apply on the skin are absorbed directly into the bloodstream which can then be transported all over the body and may eventually cause health issues. I therefore avoid using these gels provided in public places).

Security guard (looking a little put out): “D’accord, mais vous allez montrer votre gel à mon collègue, qui vas le vérifier, puis vous pouvez désinfecter vos mains avec votre gel devant mon collègue »

Security guard: O.k, but you will show your gel to my colleague, who will then check it before you disinfect your hands with your gel in front of my colleague.

Me: D’accord

O.k (Not sure if the military tactics were necessary, but we move on…..)

He then goes on to explain step 2 with regard to social distancing protocols etc before letting me in.

I am eventually called to my appointment and I sit in front of the lady I saw on the last occasion. She asks me to show her my passport against the glass pane which divides us. She then looks up my details on the computer before announcing that my file has not been certified. She then has a closer look and informs me that my name has been spelt “SaraAnne” therefore the file has been returned.

“No, my first name is Sara”.

She explains that she will send an email regarding the error and that I will hear back from her once she has the response.

Yes, French bureaucracy is alive and well and Covid adds another layer of complexity, but I will exercise patience as it will eventually be sorted out.

4 thoughts on “A trip to the local Social Security office

  1. Hi Sara,

    I just wondered if the official should have been challenged and asked why two first names had been classed as one, and who is responsible for the error?


    On Thu, 22 Oct 2020 at 17:16, A British girl in Guadeloupe wrote:

    > sarar1 posted: ” Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com So there is one > aspect to living in a French territory that cannot be ignored……any > guesses? Yes, bureaucracy, paperwork and red tape. As a third year Erasmus > student when undertaking my Law degree at” >


    1. I think it was a case of picking my battles and as the official said she would email to establish what had happened, I decided to wait until i hear back.


  2. Haha oh lorddy the fearsome French bureacracy! It’s not worth doing unless it takes a long time doing it!!

    Good on you for standing up to the hand sanitiser police! Haha. People have no idea what they’re putting in their bodies half the time!


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