Baguettes, Breton Stripes, and…Bureaucracy?

Ah France, the land where the gourmet is the everyday, public transportation is (comparatively) inexpensive and effective, toddlers are more fashionable than I will ever aspire to be, and the bureaucratic system is stuck in a hellish version of the 1970s. Somewhere along the line the intersection between the laissez faire attitude towards life and the emphasis on joie de vivre birthed a nasty underbelly to all the admirable aspects of French living (which, at least in the humble opinion of this American, are numerous). The idea might not at first seem intuitive, if not downright counterintuitive, but I’ve formulated a hypothesis (which has probably already been debated and dumped long ago in intellectual circles) that these things go hand in hand.

My hasty attempt to recreate the alliterative title, with a berret thrown in for good measure. Fake French person that I am, I do not actually own anything Breton-striped so this cheap knock off will have to do.


To ground this theory in reality, allow me to recount a bit of my experience with the bureaucracy surrounding university proceedings. A good deal of these dealings take place—fittingly—in a literal basement. One descends the stairs, sense of doom hanging more heavily in the air with each step, to find a series of rudimentarily-marked doors behind which are windowless rooms full of semi-organized chaos and, notably, loose papers in quantities no longer found in one place in the U.S. I’d heard that there was an abundance of paperwork in France prior to my arrival, but thought (and hoped) it might be an outdated stereotype. Alas, it turns out that innumerable trees continue to make the ultimate sacrifice 2017 to back processes whose U.S. equivalents have long been automated. When I broached this subject at dinner with my host family towards the beginning of the year, my host father nodded his head gravely and suggested that things will probably move online eventually in a reserved tone which seemed to imply “Some day. Far in the future. Maybe.”


All those visits to the Dungeon of Paperwork Shuffling happened before class sign-up even began. Without going into too much detail in regards to the crucible of registration itself, I’ll suffice to express my—ahem—extreme confusion with what I perceive as a logical fallacy emblematic of the system as a whole: one must attend any and all courses in which one has a modicum of interest during a two week period at the end of which one submits (by hand, naturally) a form on which one has written one’s choice of classes. The disclaimer at the bottom of the page roughly translates to “once you make this decision you’ve sold your soul and may never go back. You’ve been warned.”


It is not only the bureaucratic systems which are behind in France. While some segments of society whizz along on electric self-balancing wheels (a surprisingly popular mode of transport here), others seem content to make due with what, to my millennial eyes, is horrifically outdated technology. Take, for instance, the ongoing saga of my internet struggles. Prior to my arrival in Lyon I would have dismissed ethernet cables as a relic of a bygone era, certainly not something I’d ever have to deal with. So imagine my surprise when I began to unpack my things in my lovely lofted room in my host family’s centre ville apartment and realized that there did not appear to be wifi. When I approached my host mom about the issue, she kindly explained that there was an ethernet cable which I could plug into my computer. As it turned out, I had to buy another 60 € cable to connect the aforementioned cable to my MacBook. Cue a brief period during which I thought my problems had been solved until the internet became spottier and spottier before eventually sputtering towards its demise. A month and a half after this tragic event, I’d nearly come to terms with my unconnected existence. Then, just yesterday, a miracle took place. Upon returning to the apartment, I heard a noise I’m no longer accustomed to: a message alert. Somehow, I had acquired…wifi. Although highly suspicious, I’ve decided not to question it and instead bask in my newfound appreciation for the ability to casually Google things from bed.


On good days (read most days) I’m able to laugh at the occasionally Kafkaesque nature of affairs in l’Hexagone. The rest of the time, well, I guess all the hours I’ve collectively spent avoiding the MacDo security guards while trying to use wifi to check messages makes for a good story.

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