The last week was full of running around in circles trying to do one simple thing - open a bank account. In order to get paid, I have to have a French bank account. But there were a few problems - I don't have residency, an EU passport and am here for just 3 months. There is a way around it but it involved a lot of things - getting a birth certificate, photocopies and attestations of some documents, proof of rent, etc. After that, the professor who's my host had to call a special number and they sent him the link to a website where I had to fill out an online form (in French, so I made a lot of mistakes).
After submitting it, I got an email with some membership no. With that number and all my documents, I had to head out to the southern edge of Paris to meet with someone who's in charge of foreign researchers. She checked my documents, called up someone else and set up an appointment with a bank official in the centre of Paris. Headed there later in the day, and she politely told me that their computers weren't working, so I had to come the next day.
Went the next day, and after making copies of all my documents, asking a few questions, I was given a couple of papers. One of them had a long number which was my account number and another one had a set of coupons. Apparently, each time I make a deposit or withdraw cash I need to use those coupons. I asked about a debit card and checkbook, but was told since I was here for just 3 months I wasn't entitled to one. To withdraw or deposit any money, I have to go all the way to the main branch, between 9 and 12, 4 days a week, and do any transaction. I can't check my balance online, or do anything electronically.
I was glad to at least have an account, but when I went back to the University (which is the northern suburbs), I was told to get an advance on my salary I have to write a check to the University, and then they give me a check which I'll deposit. Unfortunately, I don't have a check book. So, I have to go to the main branch, give them 2 days notice and get a banker's check.
One would think I was back in the 1950s living under a communist regime.
I'm sharing an office with JR, a prof from Michigan, who's been visiting Paris for the last 30 years and has spent about a quarter of his life in various mathematics departments of Paris. He laughed when I told him all this, and said things haven't changed since he first came. Since he's been coming regularly, he's kept his French account open so things appear in his account a month or two after he's left. He uses that surplus for his next trip, so he's worked out the system. He also has electronic copies of every document (and its translation) in his computer, so he's avoided any hassles that way - which are worse if you visit for more than 3 months.
In fact, since he's been paying taxes, etc he's now eligible for social security benefits and free health care. Considering the dire situation of health care in the US, he's gotten some medical checkups in France (which are almost free) and gotten cheaper drugs from the US. The first time that he came, he didn't get paid for well over a month. After realising he couldn't solve the bureaucracy, he walked into the chairman's office and said "If I don't get paid, I don't have money for food". He got paid within a week. Food is one thing the French respect.
He winked, and said if I plan to come back to Paris regularly he can teach me more such tricks. Paris is almost a second home for him, and even though it's been less than two months here and in spite of all the hurdles one faces, I can see why he keeps coming back.