Sometimes it is very hard to narrow down a topic for the blog. There is so much happening and I try to have a theme for the post to keep it short and interesting. I’m sure there will come a time when I have nothing to share. Today’s theme is banking.
In France, banks do not like Americans. More to the point, they do not like US bank regulations.
America has the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). FATCA “requires banks report the foreign assets held by their US account holders or be subject to withholding on withholdable payments,” according to the IRS. This layer of paperwork is the reason most French banks will not open accounts for Americans.
Second to obtaining the residency visa, the most important step for new immigrants is to get a French bank account. This account gives an RIB number “relevé d’identité bancaire” - or statement of banking identity. Without an RIB, residents cannot get utilities, lodging, many services, and most important, national healthcare coverage. Utilities and rents are paid by account transfers - basically direct debits. The account holder gives their banking details to the sender/receiver and everything is done electronically.
We are fortunate that our landlord and lady are covering all utilities in our rent which we pay by cash. We still must have an RIB to apply for healthcare in 9 weeks.
Our landlady speaks flawless French and English (and Spanish and Arabic) and two weeks ago, scheduled an appointment for today at noon with a local bank officer and she would take time from work to accompany us and translate. One must make an appointment to open an account and this was the first opening.)
We pre-submitted the requested documentation and printed no less than 30 pages of additional supporting documents. (Belt and suspenders!) This application process should take an hour and then the local bank sends the paperwork to Paris and we should know in two weeks if we are approved.
At 11:30 am we lost power. No big deal, because I had everything ready yesterday. As we travelled to the bank, we noticed all the traffic lights were dark. At the bank, everyone was standing around chatting. No power.
The amiable banker welcomed us into her office and pointed to l’ordinateur that was dark and explained we could do nothing today because there was no power. We would have to make another appointment once she could access her computer. Sigh.
It turns out the entire city was without power…and cellphone service.
Was it a cyber-attack?
Did the folks building the new tramway hit a cable?
The energy workers are demanding raises, so they turned off the power for an hour. To the entire city and region beyond. The cell towers must not have battery back up because our phones didn’t work either.
Strikes are common in France and are usually scheduled in advance, but this was a surprise to everyone. (Turns out it was an illegal strike in which some idiot workers from the energy company broke into the generating plant and shut things down. They will be prosecuted.)
At 12:40 the power resumed as did cell service, our bank meeting however, did not.
Our lovely landlady said she’d let us know when the banker contacts her with a new appointment and with a laugh she added, “It will all work out next time…unless there’s a flood.”
She is getting to know us.