I almost laughed out loud the other day when I was driving to the two different préfectures to change my address. I was listening to the radio and an announcement came on saying that we should try to avoid printing paper unnecessarily in order to be more respectful of the environment. Why I found this amusing was because in my bag I had two sets of photocopies of my ID, my proof of address, my récépissé (receipt) for my carte de séjour and my car registration. Not only that, but I was driving 15km each way just to officially change my address. So ecological! The authorities - banks included - are generally not keen on changing addresses without all these things and they won't just take your word for it (unlike my banks in Canada who are more than happy to change my address over the phone). Changing my car registration apparently could have been done by mail, but reading about it made it seem more complicated than just driving the 30 km roundtrip and doing it in person.
After taking care of my car registration I went to the foreign services part of the préfecture to do the same thing for my carte de séjour, which I have been waiting for since the beginning of September. I had called ahead of time to see how I could best advise them of the change of address. They said I should just drop off my papers at the reception desk and that I didn't need to wait in the line (which is usually about 50 people long). When I arrived, the man at reception asked what I was there for. I explained and he immediately gave me a number and told me to join the line. I stood my ground and said that I had already called and that I was told it was possible to just drop off the papers for Mme D, the person in charge of my file. He said no, I explained further, he said no, I continued on, he said no, I countered, saying that I didn't have the time to wait in the long line, and then he said OK. I have learned that in France, when the first response is "it is not possible" it is usually possible if you argue enough. This reaction at reception didn't surprise me, but the manner with which he spoke to me did. I have been to this office many times and each time I have witnessed the worst personal relations I have ever seen. It is filled with disdain, rudeness and superiority, and absolutely no empathy for the many foreigners who are just trying to get their paperwork in order. Could it be that they are not eager to help foreigners settle in their land? No, surely not. At times like those I consider myself lucky to not be a visible minority and to be able to speak French. I know that it's much worse for others.
In fairness to the French authorities, I did find an online government site where I was able to change my address for my health care and taxes without all the paperasse that is normally required and I think this is a sign of good things to come. Of course if we print less paper, that might mean that there will be fewer fonctionnaire jobs for people whose job it is to deal with all these files. Hmmm... this could take a while to catch on.