Friday, 25 March 2011

A Modern French Paradox

The other week, I realised I needed to pay my rent but had run out of cheques in my chequebook. Having been assured by various people that a replacement would have been ordered automatically and sent to my bank, I went to ask for it.

It wasn't there.

The man who works there, who seems very nice and helpful despite the fact that he works for a French bank, did some digging around on the computer and found out what had happened. With a totally straight face, he explained to me that a new chequebook had been ordered for me in October when I used the tenth-last cheque in the old book. The new book was subsequently delivered to the bank. This was somewhat premature because I go through cheques at a rate of approximately one per month when I pay my rent.

Everything would have been well and good, however, if they had actually told me that the new chequebook had arrived. And their reason for not doing so was that they didn't have a mobile phone number for me. Apparently knowing my full postal and email addresses as well as my place of employment, my date of birth and my first pet's maiden name was not enough to enable them to get in touch with me, as despite the fact that they charge me through the nose for sending endless pages of bank statements, advertising and other irrelevant information through the post, the only way to communicate this particular piece of information was by text message.

The fact that I responded to this story with as straight a face as the bank man's is probably a sign that I have been in France far too long.

The paradox in all of it was that the bank's inability to communicate using anything other than modern technology meant that I was unable to pay my rent for this month. The reason? My landlord abhors bank transfers and will only accept cheques, which he exchanges on a monthly basis for a receipt written in beautiful copperplate handwriting using the fountain pen he keeps in his breast pocket.


  1. Oh yes, oh yes - lovely story! I was intrigued during my year in France at how many people used cheque books. It seemed to be part of the supermarket shopping experience - the whole dramatic flourish of producing a very large cheque book. :-)