I realised, with a futile annoyance that I should have MOT’d the car before we had left England! Considering that having my car immatriculated “French style” would be straightforward, I decided to take the bull by the horns and approach Toyota in Paris for some general advice. Rather than attempting a phone call which would demonstrate huge omissions in my vocabulary, I went for the safer option of an email. Now, my written French is reasonably passable, so I sent off my request and waited. Paris was quick to reply. To pass first base I needed a “Certificate de Conformité”, which they assured me was straightforward. It was a matter of filling in a form with the chassis number, registration plate, model, fuel type and so on. Once this stage was passed I would be required to put the car in for a Control Tecnique – France’s version of a MOT and obtain a Carte Gris. The most complicated part of the process would be to have my headlights realigned to comply with France’s Volet Gauche (Left hand drive).
A few minutes later, having stuck my head inside the bonnet, I completed the form with chassis number and all other required information and sent it off to the very pleasant man in Paris. This was the point at which our relationship faltered – I promptly received an email back politely requesting that I gave the complete chassis number, as he had only received 12 digits from me. Somewhat bemused I stuck my head once more under the bonnet, but the 12 digits remained 12. From this point onwards the helpful man dug his heels in. All French cars have 16 digits, and mine would have to have the required number or it would not be recognised!
A quick call to our trusty garage in the UK clarified matters, it appeared that because my car was a Japanese import it was missing the vital four digits. Rather than being a Japanese car built for the UK market, it was a Japanese car built for Japan and imported privately once three years old. I had reached a dead end in the simplest part of the Immatriculation process. There was nothing for it but to drive it back to the UK, a month after I had left and MOT it, English style with the distinct possibility that this would be a yearly visit!
We have since discovered that having a non-french, i.e not a Renault or Citroen, car in France is a very bad idea since parts are also hugely expensive and mechanics are also not so familiar with the model to complete repairs quickly. I have also discovered that there is also a recognised system for applying for “grey imports” which applies to my car – but I have yet to get it done. The form looks oenerous and I have yet to muster any enthusiasm to get on with it.
The children have continued to go to school without complaint! Of them all, the most optimistic has been Rory. The French children appear to have been welcoming and friendly, shaking hands, faisant les bises (kissing cheeks) and offering sweets. Rory has also been fortunate, being the sole child with an English speaking student in his class. However the good humour disguises the true nature of their emotions which are on a knife edge. There was an occasion where Rory’s classes finished an hour early at the end of the day and students were permitted to leave school early, so long as their pass card had the right code printed on it, or a parent was there to collect. Arriving early, I was forced to move the car to a proper parking space. In the meantime the students came to the gate and the Surveillant gave the nod to those whose passes were in order. Unfortunately Rory arrived at the gate in those vital minutes when I was parking the car, and was refused leave and sent to Etude. I waited the hour having unsuccessfully located him but my guilt levels ran high as I received him an hour later deeply upset and frustrated at his inability to explain that I would be outside. Such small events were to be such huge triggers for emotion.
Similarly Anabel had her mobile phone confiscated for being used in school, despite the fact that she was texting me for translation of a task she had been set. I had to explain to the very unaccommodating member of staff, that at present their mobile phone’s were a life-line to enable them to communicate and that perhaps for the first month or two a certain leniency could be accommodated since none of the staff seemed to be able to speak English in case of difficulty.
As Rory’s birthday approached, a huge fair was constructed on the quay-side of the River Seine. Lasting almost a month, the lights glittered, and the smell of the fair tantalised the children for weeks, until we suggested a birthday trip by way of a celebration. So we roared around on rollercoasters and spun in teacups under a warm evening sky, a great compromise instead of a party as we waited for our children’s friendships to establish.
Finding the cost of living prohibitively more expensive than the UK, the need for registration with the Caisse Allocation Familiale and Assurance Medicale were all the more urgent. With some outstanding costs still to cover thanks to the move we were feeling the drain on our resources. We took a two pronged attack, one contacting the London and Rouen offices to clarify the allowance situation for overseas moves for which there seemed to be divergent views, and the second to visit the Caisse Familiale to find out what was causing such a delay with our registration. The former attack seemed to be inconclusive, the latter produced results. The Caisse Familiale, once contacted revealed that three of our birth certificates were of the short format, and unacceptable. We contacted the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the UK and ordered 3 long version certificates, and believing our work completed, sat back and waited!