25 Jul 2010

Pluses & Minuses (Part 2)

Minuses now, we'll try to make them sound as painless as possible!

The Heat is On: Corsican Summers are hot, really hot and may dampen many a spirit as a result, especially if you work in full sun in the great outdoors and/ or about to tackle a DIY/ building/ civil engineering task... Even a spot of gardening can turn into an uncomfortable chore. Yet not just workers, even holidaymakers, can find the whole experience a rather sweaty and energy-draining one!

Cut off from the World: A positive on the days you are feeling moody and Brontë-esque, a curse when you have your business hat on, and want to keep a finger on the pulse of the world. What would be a simple, no-second-thought task back in England can suddenly become more complicated here, like finding a British newspaper, sourcing a direct flight to a European destination, or even randomly going down the shops to buy a book of stamps...

Not in a New York State of Mind: It seems here that time is not constructively used, and in all due respect I don't think Corsicans invented timeliness. Respecting deadlines, being on time for meetings, or for a business to adhere to its own opening hours, are not perceived as priorities, in my experience. I have also noticed, especially in the Public sector, that decisions and responsibilities seem to be taken away from employees' hands, even the most basic ones, and you - the customer - end up being caught in an avoidable vortex of bureaucratic delays. But to be truthful this is more likely to be symptomatic of French civil service in general.

The Empire State Building by swamistream.com

Even when time is critical and/ or you are seeking a straightforward no-nonsense answer, Corsicans will play down any sense of urgency and still find the time to talk endlessly and aimlessly in an almost Comedia dell'Arte fashion (Well, Italy's just across the pond and on a clear day you can even wave at it!): raising the arms and the voice (even for confidences), grimacing, sighing, shrugging, grasping the air, winking, etc! The act of talking brings the whole body to life like an act of possession.

However, despite having all the time in the world, Corsicans are loyal to the bad driver reputation that plagues Southern Europe. They will tend to speed down roads, driving erratically and flirting with danger. As my partner sums it up, 'they are in a rush but not busy'.

If time is money, and western societies exort the importance of time management while complaining at the same time about being time-poor, then Corsica surely must be a prize contender for time-wasting contentment!

Royal Century typewriter, via Paris Hotel Boutique

Paperwork by the Spade: There is no beating about the bush with this one, and then again this is not an endemic issue, more a part of the French heritage. When I left France over 16 years ago, the country was already internationally famous for its red tape and convoluted bureaucracy. Since then, successive presidential cabinets have pledged to streamline procedures and simplify paperwork, by merging civil service departments, issuing new laws and cutting down on the number of civil servants. However it looks like we have now gone beyond inflexible regimented bureaucracy to reach the arcanes of absurdity.

Here in Bastia, despite sharing the same building and a common purpose, CAF (Caisse d'Assurances Familiales) and Assurance Maladie (two government bodies that make up the Department of Social Security) do not share or cross-reference information, and you - the customer - end up having to send to each duplicates of documents and letters, with more delays in the process.

Glamour magazine (UK), April 2010

You - the customer - are supposed to act as the liaising agent between the two government bodies, with no support, direction or follow-up from either of them. So far it has taken me more than four months to claim a Carte Vitale (Social Security card), despite erm being French in the first place (oh, but did I tell you that the central Social Security archives had already filed away my social security number like I was dead and buried?!).

Pôle Emploi is another aberration, still going through an identity crisis since ANPE (job centre) and ASSEDIC (unemployment benefits) merged their services nearly a year ago. Conflicts of interests and personal motives over the general good seem to have turned this 'supercentre' into some inadequate, out-of-step institution that drowns its customers into a sea of confusing procedures and time-wasting protocoles, rather than supporting them with a clear-headed no-nonsense back-to-work vision.

Somehow it seems to us that some posts in the above institutions and elsewhere can only justify their purpose and existence by requesting you to fill in yet another form, and provide yet another proof of identity, and submit yet another bit of paper that will, no doubt, lose its track some way down the system and for which you - the customer - will take the blame for! In these situations, it looks like the customer is never right! (to be continued)

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