Forays into French bureaucracy: Sécurité Sociale

Last week, Ashley, Lyanne and I finally received our French social security numbers in the mail! We were also alerted that we have to choose a médecin traitant (meaning the default general practitioner who will refer us to specialists), have a consultation with him and have him fill out a form that officially defines the relationship.

Being foreigners with no familiarity with Auch’s medical offerings, we did what we usually do in cases of doubt and consternation: bother Cathy and Stéphane.

Cathy gave us the name of a doctor who’s office is within walking distance of our house, and we ventured there this afternoon to force our paperwork on him.

First the receptionist had to create files for us in their system—no problems there.

Then, since we hadn’t made rendez-vous beforehand, we had to hang out in the salle d’attente. For a long time. 

Having left my copy of Umberto Eco’s Dire presque la même chose: Experiences de traduction at home, I contented myself with reading a waiting room magazine article about how pets are good for your health (apparently there was a study somewhere that found that the vibrations of cats’ purrs do wonders for the body and soul) and doing an easy-level Sudoku (I wasn’t brave enough to try the ones labeled “diabolique”).

Then these two OBNOXIOUS women entered the waiting room. One of them proceeded to get on her cellphone and speak to someone loudly and rapidly for at least half an hour, despite the signs all over the room requesting that you do exactly the opposite. Then she decided the waiting room was the appropriate place to pop the zits on her friend’s forehead. If only the other one had responded by checking the first one’s hair for lice…

Eventually, it was my turn to see the doctor. He asked me the usual questions—what’s your family medical history, have you had any major operations, do you have any allergies, etc. Then he filled out my form, solidifying our doctor-patient relationship forevermore. And then he started making awkward small talk about sunny Southern California and giving me advice for European travel destinations before ushering me into the exam room to weigh and measure me and take my blood pressure.

For all his expertise, I got to pay him 23 euros.

But they were incapable of taking my carte bancaire (even though I saw a card reader on his desk…), so I had to leave the office, run to the bank, take out money and go back to pay them in cash.

Now I have to send my form and a glorified receipt for my visit to the MGEN (my medical insurance provider, specific to those of us working in the field of French education) who will supposedly reimburse me…I’m not holding my breath.

Despite having received our social security numbers with the first letter, Ashley and I both received a second letter from the MGEN early this week telling us that our dossiers are incomplete.

Guess what they need?

My birth certificate (complete with apostille) and its certified translation!

But wait, you say, didn’t you already deal with that and send it to the TAPIF higher-ups in Toulouse like they told you to?

Why yes, dear reader, I did.

Luckily, I foresaw something sketchy like this happening and I came to France equipped with a second original, appostille-d copy of the birth certificate and about a bazillion copies of its translation.

The best part was that the MGEN letter requesting my documents pretty much stated: “We need your birth certificate; please send it in the prepaid envelope. But wait, you’re a foreigner. You should probably send it to this other address” (for which they did not give me a prepaid envelope).

Naturally, I was confused. Why would they give me a prepaid envelope to one address but tell me I might need to send it somewhere else.

So as per usual, I sent Stéphane another nagging, help-me-French-bureaucracy-is-annoying email.

The verdict: I, of course, have to send the goods to the address sans prepaid envelope.

Such is life.



  1. You’re right, better in the States : there is not hussle like that since there’s no social security . Just wonder how a poor foreigner would do in the USA .
    And this “médecin traitant ” mess is new . It came among and after several hard cuts in the French health system . Until a few years ago you could use any doctor when you wished . Like many dysfunctionments nowadays in our once efficient public services it all comes from the rampant privatization of everything in France . Less money to the public, so everything becomes painful to get sorted out .
    What you see now is not France, but a result of American politics using its tool, the EEC against French social conquests, with the collusion of the dirty part of the French, the greedy ones .

    1. Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting that practices like the “médecin traitant” have only recently been put in place in France. This idea of France’s “rampant privatization” is also notable because I feel like Americans overwhelmingly think of France as a country of blatant, unchecked socialism.

      I do want to clarify though that my point with this post and my others about French bureaucracy isn’t that things are necessarily better in the States or that we have any less bureaucratic red tape to wade through. Rather that I, as an American, am culturally attuned to the United State’s bureaucratic peculiarities and thus thrown for a loop by the specifically French run-around I’m encountering during my time abroad. (And I’m sure foreigners in the United States get just as frustrated with our system as I do with the French version.)

  2. Right, I read Anglo comments and, as they don’t know anything about France they think the mess they see now is essentially French while it isn’t . From the early 80s, successive governments ( were they called “Socialist” or not ) did thousands of little steps to progressively take all the money possible from public services and transfer it to private hands . The result was a constantly increasing mess .For instance, in 82 I moved into a new house and by this time it took 2 days do get the phone and one day to get the electricity . now it takes a month . By this time, the maximum delay of a train was 5 minutes . By this time there were hospitals everywhere, everyone could see 2 doctors a day for free and there was no limit to any treatments . There also were enough professionally trained public servants in any branch of administration, so the mistakes and delays of now didn’t happen .
    All I read on Anglo blogs makes me sad . I’m sad to see what France has become but it came from a simple thing : money going from public to private . Come back to France in 70/80 and you’ll see what France means . Now, the pseudo-governments all obey Brussels Commission, IMF and the Central Euro Bank . All those three organisations worship one God : the “Market” . For a French, the “Market” means the Trusts, the rich . Who are the bosses of the rich ? The US Mafia .
    The trains services have been cut in pieces and nearly privatized . The domestic gas service is now private . Electricity is on the way . Telephone also . In every case we pay twice more than before for a worse service . Normal, the shareholders want to steal their part, a part they have no right to, but this world is a gangsters world, and public systems don’t suit gangsters . So we’re coming back to the Middle Age, when everything was private . Just like the kind of religious beliefs of many Americans now, European medieaval concepts .

  3. Doctor: You’re from Canada? Let’s google your home town.
    *10 mins of google maps & pictures…followed by a lecture on why I shouldn’t be vegetarian.
    Doctor: That’ll be 23 euros.


  4. I can’t believe they claim to have not received your documents, after all that work you did to get them there. Maybe you should personally deliver the reserve set!

    1. I’m sure that the Toulouse TAPIF people got the documents. The party asking for them now is the MGEN (social security for education-related people). I am confused about why the Toulouse people (who probably told the MGEN that I exist and need social security) couldn’t have sent what they have along.

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