Yesterday, I registered my kids for summer camp through our town here in France. Last summer, I posted a bit on this experience - Summer, Pessac Market, friends & Sailing Camp & the day camp experience - Day Camp French Style-Centre-de-Loisirs. What I didn't post was how frustrating, pain-in-the-neck, long process it was to register them last year. Having been through many different registration processes in the states, this one had to be one of the worst. This is also one of the tough things about being an expat...systems are different.
|Lac Cazoux - home of the Nautical camp|
Rewind to last April - we had only been in the country for a mere 4 1/2 months. We had heard lots of great things about summer camps or "Sejours d'ete" as they call them here. We had learned they were reasonable in cost, fun for the kids and parents spoke very highly about them. Great, I started doing my research early and found out that our town offered 2 camps in the summer. One was a sailing/nautical camp at a lake about 45 minutes away near the ocean and the other was a mountain/hiking/outdoor adventure-kind of camp in the Pyrenees mountains. As I did my on-line research, I figured out when to register, what paperwork I needed to bring in, but nothing about the cost or if English paperwork (kid's health immunizations) were acceptable.
|Departure day for camp|
Now, at that point, I was less comfortable with my written French, so I had my husband email about a month before we were to start registering for camp. The response back to his email, "We haven't set up the cost table, so can not answer your question at this time, we will send it out once we have created it.". So we waited, I had heard that these camps have limited spaces and fill up fast so it's best to sign up as soon as registration opens. (No surprise there, I know where I lived in the States - same thing for a lot of summer programs). It came to the weekend before registration and still no word on cost - so I sent an email in my probably, at the time, not so great French and asked for the cost - This was done the morning before registration was to open that afternoon.
|Sending the big girls off to camp for a week|
So off I went that afternoon to the Mayor's office with paperwork in hand and armed with my questions. As I got to the Mayor's office (Now, you have to remember that here in France, La Mairie (or mayor's office) is the place to do all paperwork and anything relating to town activities - Think, School District, Town Offices & State Offices rolled into one..so it's a busy place on any given day!) and went inside and noticed it was jammed packed - lots of people - all with paperwork in hand - all doing the exact same thing as me. You are given a number in line and you wait until your called. They were at number 104 and I was number 181!! I glanced around to see that yes, there were many assistants open and taking people, so I hoped that this would move along at a decent pace. This was not the case, it seemed to take each person 10-15 minutes each to do their registrations. Another difference in France, people are not in a hurry, especially in situations like this. The clerk works through the paperwork, talks with person but at their own pace. Again, coming from the States, having been in registration situations similar, I was use to people speeding along - trying to get everyone through the process. Here it's more about taking care of the people in the process, and there is always tomorrow.
I then realized that I had forgotten the registration form which I had printed out at home. That's okay - I figured it wouldn't take me long to go home, get the form and return - I would probably still make it back before my number was called. At least that trip took some time away from waiting. I returned at 3 pm and they were only at 155. I then proceeded to wait until 4:40 and still being 10 numbers away from being called, I had to leave to go pick up my kids from school. There were still about 20 - 30 people waiting just like me. Frustrated, no questions answered, no registration done, I headed home. This was ridiculous, I had wasted my whole afternoon for nothing. I was not happy. I figured I would return the next day and start this ridiculous process again - hopefully with better results - if there was still room in the programs.
|They come back - tanned, relaxed and thrilled about their experience.|
But I had one done and sent - so I went on to register my other daughter - I figured on her question section, I would ask about payment. Her registration was a bit easier as I knew what to attach. I asked my questions about billing and sent it in. This whole process took me about an hour and a half. But at least it was done...I was pretty sure I had registered them. Happily the next morning, I received confirmation that my registrations had been received and accepted. They were set. They even confirmed that they would bill us on our monthly town bill in 3 payments. Great, but this information could have been posted somewhere.
Fast -forward a year later, Yesterday, was registration day. This time, I was not going to go to the Mayor's office and waste my afternoon - Armed with the completed registration form, I sat down at my computer at the 1:30 pm - the designated start time for registration and proceeded through the process. In just under 10 minutes, I was done! Within an hour, I received confirmation that they were all set. Now, that was efficient! Yes, what a difference a year makes - I have to say - the French love their paperwork and it's not always clear to know what exactly is needed - but it's improving. With an Internet registration, this was about as easy as it gets.
|I think we are finally understanding the system better here - but a little good luck helps too!|
Have a great day!!