In December, I went to the prefecture in Annecy to switch my British driving licence for a French one. Since Britain is part of the EU (for now at least!), a British licence is accepted for driving in France unless you are caught doing something wrong, like speeding. For the first time in my life, I was pulled over for speeding around Lake Annecy last year. This is an area where the speed limit changes between 30 and 70 with a few 50s thrown in, and I was careless. Two gendarmes with a handheld speed camera pulled me over. The bad one of their good cop/bad cop combo told me I wasn’t allowed to drive in France on a British licence and that he would have to charge me for that too. I stood up for myself and said I knew that was incorrect, and the good cop agreed. Phew! Feathers ruffled, bad cop insisted I must change my licence to a French permis de conduire immediately. Most of the Brits I know have never bothered changing their British licence even if they’re legally meant to, but exchanging my Australian licence for a British one only took a couple of weeks and it was a very simple procedure involving the post office and a form, so I decided to do the right thing.
I kind of regret that now.
Three visits to the prefecture later, all well-spaced thanks to letters being sent backwards and forwards demanding to see paperwork they had already seen, and I was given an A5 sheet of printed paper with the blank spots handwritten as a temporary permis de conduire.
It was March!
The paper had a two-month limit. No problems, I thought. The British one took less than two weeks to arrive. How much more difficult can this be? Well, there’s either a backlog, or it’s very, very difficult. As the end of the two-month limit loomed, I wondered if I should no longer drive. Six days before the deadline, I called the prefecture. Bad news: two public holidays in a row, so no chance of getting through. Counting down to four days, I called and was told that nobody was there that day to take my call. Ah, that’s why it takes two months perhaps. It was a Friday, so I called back Monday — the day the temporary paper ran out — and spoke to a lady who seemed totally confused as to why I was calling. “But we sent it out to you more than a week ago!” she gasped. Perhaps she lives in a different France where mail takes only a week to arrive.
Two days later, the licence arrived. The accompanying letter said I’d need to replace it in 2014 due to a new law to update the current tri-fold style permis to a more standard credit-card-sized permis. Of course I’ll need to replace it. Why on earth would the French government offices be any more efficient than offering a driving licence for a year and a half? If nothing else, the extra workload is bolstering the French employment figures at a time when France has officially entered a recession. So, well done, I say.
Besides, the tri-fold permis is enormous. It doesn’t fit in my purse at all, so I’m looking forward to the next round of switching licences next year when I will once again be able to fit the card in my purse. I’m guessing it will arrive some time in 2015.