Computer says “non”


Extricating ourselves from France is no easy task. To cancel a contract, whether for phone, internet, bank or even membership to the local DVD shop, seems to require at least three letters, signed references, a passport scan and a signature in blood.

The problem is that French companies love paper and nothing can be done until they receive lots of it. This is why you can’t set up an internet service online or arrange a phone line by phone. Only a letter will do.

For instance, when applying for an annual pass for the Velib free bikes scheme you are encouraged to fill out the form online. It is only when you get to the end of the form does it tell you to then print it out, send it by snail mail and wait for six weeks to be processed. This tends to be the rule in France with very few exceptions.

So it was with great trepidation that we called our mobile phone company to cancel our contracts. The conversation confirmed our fears:

Manna: We want to cancel our contracts as we are leaving the country.

Phone automaton: Ok I just need your proof of employment in the country you are moving to and proof of address.

Manna: We are travelling around the world for six months but I can send you the booking to prove we will not be anywhere near France.

PA: Can you send me proof of employment in each of the countries you will be in?

Manna: No, we’re travelling.

PA: So you won’t have a job.

Manna: No we’re travelling!

PA: Er, in that case, hmm, we would need an attestation de mairie (an official letter from the town hall) of the place you are going to. And proof of address.

Manna: Of all 14 countries?

PA: Yes

Manna: So you need 14 attestations de mairie?

PA: Er, yes. Or a letter of employment.

Manna: From each of the 14 countries?

PA: Er, yes…

After a couple of calls to other automatons I eventually got through to a guy who spoke English and crucially possessed the ability to think beyond the confines of his computer. He said that it does not matter if we are employed for one week or one day. “We just need the paper” were his exact words. At least he admitted it.

Hopefully a hastily written note saying we are working for one of my friend’s companies and living at a friend’s house in London (at least for four days!) will suffice.

Unfortunately, this is just one painful negotiation out of many we have had to do over the past few weeks. Don’t get me started on the €1,500 that British Airways wanted to charge us to transport our cat to the UK.

Suffice to say, organizing a six month trip around the world whilst simultaneously moving from Paris to London is not the most straightforward of tasks.

But apart from the mind-numbing bureaucracy there is no doubt that I will miss this place.

I’ll miss the many free parties and events organised by the French government – the frenetic energy of Fete de la Musique, the friendly fervour of the local Balles de Mairies, the phenomenal fireworks of Bastille Day.

I’ll miss the many French bank holidays which fall on Thursday or Tuesday, encouraging you to take four-day weekends.

I’ll miss the expat life where you can go to a party and in one night meet friends from the US, Canada, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Hong Kong, Japan, Romania, Moldova and even some from France.

I’ll miss the multitude of quality restaurants within walking distance from my apartment.

I’ll miss fois gras (it’s so wrong but so right).

I’ll miss being able to drive or hop on the train to the Alps for the weekend.

I’ll miss my eight-minute commute into work.

I’ll miss the outdoor ping pong tables; walking across the Seine at night; Velib culture; my local gay bakery; apero evenings; croissant mornings; running on the Jardin du Palais Royal; sleeping on the Champs de Mars; drinking vin rouge; eating côte de boeuf; and never getting tired of the amazing architecture of this city.

Most of all I’ll miss the many good friends I’ve made in Paris who hopefully I’ll stay in touch with for life.

There’s no doubt that my three-year stint here has been a great adventure and I’m delighted I got the chance to do it. But now it is time to move onto the next one and I’m very much looking forward to that.



7 Responses to “Computer says “non””

  1. Patrice Fiset Says:

    Hilarious, I was reading the post to Sarah and she said, Oh my God, it’s like “Computer Says no!”. I then took my laptop and showed her the title of the post. Cracking up !!!

  2. Brian Says:


  3. Stephan Ralescu Says:

    Hi Marc,

    I’m one of Manna’s friends from Japan, the Stephan of the infamous Road Trip 2008. I actually met you in Paris on the very evening that you and Manna met!

    Your post is both funny and touching, reminding me of some absurdist existential metaphor for our times. At some point, Paris suddenly seemed to come alive in between your words, and I imaged a Paris that doesn’t want people to leave by entrenching her Parisians within both a bureaucratic nightmare and revelatory delight.

    Looking forward to your future adventures.

  4. Braden Says:

    Is it wrong that I secretly want you guys to HATE London and move back next year? Oh and I have the best answer to all your paperwork problems, Adobe Photoshop.

  5. Jontanen Says:

    ha ha ha

  6. cynthia cutler Says:

    Are you all sorted now, What a nightmare x

  7. Darren Cutler Says:

    Go bro , both of you have a chillin time !

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