Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

French Bureaucracy Round 1 -Efficiency

“Bureaucracy is the death of all sound work” -Einstein

Many would consider the above title perhaps one of the most prolific of oxymorons.

The notion of a an effective, responsive bureaucracy is unthinkable -absurd even to some. The common stereotype is of an unnamed, unidentifiable “administrator” whose very purpose in life is to hinder the ordinary person in every way possible. Stereotypes, like clichés, exist because for the most part they are true, or at least perceived to be. They are, as was once described to me, “shortcuts through thinking”.

On top of this is the concept of the French bureaucrat, the stereotype is of a middle-aged smoker who simply shrugs their shoulders in that truly French “meh” expression conveying that not only do they not care but offended that one could possibly think that should. In fact, UCC’s International Education Office in its Survival Tips for Erasmus Students Guide warns of “rudeness”  and advises “assertiveness” in one’s travails with French and Italian civil servants in particular.

It was against this stereotypical backdrop that I emailed such a figure last week more in hope than anything else expecting perhaps a reply sometime in late November telling me that my query was never going to be addressed. How very wrong I was, instead of engaging in a Waiting for Godot style saga, I received a prompt email (within an hour in fact and lunch hour at that!!) which could not have been nicer, more comprehensive and what’s more it informed me that they would be “delighted” to answer any further queries. This response turned my world upside down, my expectations, my prejudices were all shot to pieces; stereotyping (while of course always a lazy thing to rely on) now seemed like a futile exercise for the future.

So now here I am my entire concept of a monstrous black-hole bureaucracy shattered, all my expectations askew, I  am now looking forward to dealing with a highly efficient and pleasant civil service in Strasbourg but somehow after hearing all the horror stories I am not going to hold my breath that such service is widespread in France (more likely some over eager new employee) but it does give me some hope that dealing with the French bureaucracy might just be not as hellish as it is made out to be.