Moving to Paris: The Checklist Part IV: French phone contracts and a French bank account
Last week I shared all the gory details of renting as a foreigner, and some of the more traumatic elements of our move. I'm pleased to say that the most difficult parts are now behind us, so I'm going to go back to the 'checklist' format - these posts are titled 'The Checklist', after all!
Sort out phone contracts
This task comes in two phases: first I needed to get a British SIM card that would work abroad for the first few weeks, so we could have maps for driving from the Eurotunnel, and so we could contact our landlady/utilities/jobs etc. should we need to. The second phase was to get a French SIM, so we could live like real people. We couldn't do this before we left because we needed a French bank account to get a French phone contract, and to get a French bank account we needed a French address, as detailed at length here.
- Switching my British SIM
- I'd previously been on GiffGaff which was great, but sadly you can't use your minutes and data while abroad without racking up a fairly hefty bill. Tom has used a 3 SIM abroad before with much success, so I ordered my own SIM card and transferred my British number over to that. I'm not sentimental about many things, but it's the only mobile number I've ever had (I got my first phone, a Nokia 3330, circa 2003) so I feel irrationally attached to it. Anyway, I loaded my 3 SIM with £10 of credit (which reminded me of the old days of pay-as-you-go on my trusty 3310), and then converted that credit to a goodybag which gave me 1GB of data for the month. Calls and texts were also included, but everyone I know uses iMessage, and no one except my Grandma has called me in years, so I wasn't too bothered about that.
- At the time of writing, you can use your 3 SIM abroad for up to 2 continuous months before they cut you off, which I hoped would be more than enough time for me to transition to a French number. The other advantage of this is that I can just get another goody bag if I ever go back to the UK, and I'll be on my old number again.
- Getting a French SIM
- This was actually incredibly easy - much easier than I thought it would be! I didn't really know where to start with choosing a company, so first I checked out Bouygues. Most of the time when I was using my 3 SIM in Paris it would be working via the Bouygues network (and very occasionally through Orange), so I thought this seemed to have a strong signal in all the places I was likely to use my phone. They had an amazing offer on that would give me 50GB of data for €9.99 a month for up to 12 months, with no contract. Seems too good to be true, right?!
- Wrong! It was totally legit! I did a lot of online research looking at deals from other providers and asking a friend who had had a French phone contract, and it was actually just a genuinely good deal that I happened to stumble across on my first try. I signed myself up for it, my SIM came a few days later, and I was sorted!
- The deal did specify (in French) that you could only use this offer once per household, but this is where the French postal system really worked in our favour. Instead of specifying a building number and apartment number here when writing your address, you give the building number and your surname. So there was no way for the phone company to know whether both Tom and I were in the same household or not (another great reason not to change your name after marriage), because we didn't need to specify our apartment number on the form. So we could both use the offer, cha ching once more!
- Now we have 100GB of data between us for €20 a month, which is more than we could ever hope to need. You want to hotspot from us? No problem! Fancy watching Netflix in the park? We've got your back!
Get a French bank account
The biggie! As you might have read in my previous post, French bank accounts are notoriously difficult to get if you weren't born and bred in France. When it came to it, the experience wasn't as bad as we'd expected, but we did need a bit of help from a French secretary at Tom's work. Here's what went down...
- Thursday: We went into the bank we'd been recommended (Société Général), and asked to make an appointment with a man who we'd been told spoke some English. We asked all this in French (we'd prepped all the necessary vocabulary), and the girl on reception just said 'non'. No explanation, no pleasantries, just 'non'. She had a face like a slapped arse and embodied everything we'd been warned about in French banks. We asked again in French but she just shrugged, so we asked if she spoke English. She said 'non' again, which left us stranded - she refused to listen to our French (which of course isn't perfect, but we're competent enough to ask to speak to a specific person), and she refused to help us in a different language. We left the bank feeling defeated and angry, as I'm sure you can imagine!
- Friday: One of the receptionists at Tom's work was kind enough to offer to help us with our stuggle. She said 'I've made an appointment for you to meet Monsieur DuSilva on Friday at 11am, and in my opinion, all bankers are criminals'. There you go! So we went back to the bank on Friday and asked the horrible girl for 'Monsieur DuSilva'. Can you guess what she said?! 'Non'. She tried to tell us (in French) that no Monsieur DuSilva worked at that bank, and gestured for us to leave. We were getting pretty desperate by this point, so Tom got out his phone with the email reservation on it, and she said 'ahhh, Monsieur DuSilva', as though it was a completely different name. WHAT?! She than asked Tom if he was 'Monsieur Ssssharnock', to which I wanted to say 'NO, Mr CHARnock', but I held back. It wasn't the time.
- Still Friday: We waited on the little chairs in the front of the bank for about half an hour, till a woman came to take us to our appointment. Apparently Monsieur DuSilva had washed his hands of us, but our new banker was very nice and spoke about as much English as we spoke French, so we got on just fine. At one point she had to call two colleagues in because she'd never opened a joint account before, and things got a little hairy! The three of them were trying to sit on the same chair and use the same computer, and were fighting over who would hold our passports and who would type the numbers into the computer. It's no exaggeration that I briefly feared Tom's passport would be ripped in two as one of them snatched it from the other!
- Still Friday (we were in the appointment for two hours): The banker was actually really nice, and the process just seemed to take so long because of how many forms needed to be filled in/printed off/signed/stapled/filed. We have a friend who describes bank receptionists as 'Bank Bouncers', and I think it's an accurate description - once we were in our appointment it was a perfectly pleasant experience, it's just the aggressive administrative staff that make the process so horrible.
- The next Wednesday: We received our online banking details and PIN codes in the post, woohoo! We thought that our PIN codes arriving meant that our debit cards would also have arrived at our branch, so...
- Thursday: We went into the branch to try and collect our cards. I checked and double checked the French verb 'to collect' ('collecter', if you were wondering). We were over the moon when the awful receptionist was busy as we arrived, so we got to speak to the other one, who turned out to be a delight! She took our ID, checked some things on the system, and then asked us where we'd like all our money to be transferred to. HUH?! She'd accidentally thought we wanted to close our account, not pick up our cards! This is the closest we've ever come to a French disaster, so I'm glad we caught it in time - can you imagine if they'd closed our account after it took us so much time to open it?! She laughed about it with us though, and told us that the verb we actually needed was 'recuperer', which literally means to recoup, or to recover. As it happened, our cards hadn't arrived at the bank yet (there had been quite a few public holidays around then so lots of things had been delayed), so she told us to go back on Tuesday (because of another public holiday on the Monday!).
- Next Tuesday: We went into the bank, managed to find our nice receptionist, used the correct verb, and recouped our cards! They're so blingy, like sparkly gold, and they worked right away. We're real people again!
So the moral of the story is that it's not actually that hard to open a bank account in Paris, once you've got past the bouncer receptionist. If you know any French speakers, or have kindly French neighbours, just ask them to call and make the appointment for you. There's no shame in it, you're not living a less authentic French life by not doing it yourself, and I'm sure you'd do the same thing for someone struggling in your own native language. Just do anything to side step those mean ol' receptionists!
Getting a supermarket loyalty card!
Okay, so this one wasn't technically on our to-do list but it was a triumphant moment for me so I'm going to brag about it anyway. We go to Monoprix, a local supermarket, most days on our way home. In the UK we used to love doing a Big Shop, but our fridge here doesn't work so well (more on that later), so it freezes anything you put in it, or sometimes lets it melt (just for the lols), so we've been living day-to-day, food-wise. Every time we go to the cashier she asks us if we have a Monoprix card, and every time we say no, so one day last week I decided that it was time to sort it out. I went to the customer service desk and asked the chap if I could get a Monoprix card. I had to fill out a form there and then with a fountain pen he gave me - the French are so goddamn fancy - and he handed me a regular sized card with three mini cards attached! At one point I had to ask him what the date was, and I totally understood what he said, because I'm a pro.
As a by-the-by, you often see a field on French forms that requests your 'département de naissance', which means your place of birth. Each area of France has a 2-digit code, but if you were born outside of France, or 'à l'étranger', you need to put '99', which is their code for non-conformists (foreigners). It took me a while to work this out, so hopefully this info will help someone else in the future!