I just had a remarkably easy trip into Bergerac to sort out some paperwork.

First stop, the caf (the people who handle child benefit) to tell them about the recent change in our domestic situation.

The caf itself has changed a lot since 2007. It’s evolved from a hostile place, where you were made to feel like a scrounger and a burden on the state, into something far more friendly and service oriented.

My previous draconian experiences helped smooth the way, though. Instead of taking the few bits of paper I thought they might want to see (a strategy that invariably leads to multiple trips to the caf), I took all possible files in a large shopping bag. A short wait. Some confusion over the wording of a form (a form provided by them and which took three people to understand), and I was in and out of there in minutes. Job done. (Hopefully. I’ll keep an eye on the post box.)

With unexpected time on my hands, I went to the Chamber of Commerce to see if I could add a few activities to my Auto Entrepreneur (translation: self-employed) status. This wasn’t necessarily going to be easy, as the former Her Outdoors attempted this on the Internet, then over the phone, and was charged about €120 for the changes. But fortune smiled on me again and I found myself sitting in the office of the woman who helped put me on the system in 2013. She added everything I do and am planning on doing – free of charge. (More on this, later.)

Face to face with a human, I learnt that great changes are coming to the Auto Entrepreneur system. Presumably, someone will write to everyone and explain what’s going on before the form-completing deadline of December 18th this year. I also discovered that the Chamber of Commerce is being moved from Bergerac to the regional capital of Périgueux. Which means that next year, many more people will have to struggle their way through the impenetrable government websites.

I’m not sure who this will make life easier for, but I ingenuinely hope they’ll be very happy.

Since registering myself as an auto-entrepreneur, I’ve received quite a few letters containing forms to complete, a couple of phone calls and one outrageous scam.

The forms were not very clear, so I took them to the job centre and talked them through with the professionals. Together, we made a best guess at what was wanted and envelopes are currently winging their way to various corners of France.

The phone calls were probably trying to sell me something. But I’ve adopted a policy of not buying anything over the phone, following a call from one of our utility companies offering something for free that ended up costing a few hundred euros and took some time (and aggressively worded emails) to resolve.

But the outrageous scam is worth showing you:

siret scam

It looks very official. I’m particularly impressed by the line asking me to return the form in less than 8 days with my payment. And the large amount of money they’re asking for. With tax.

It’s so convincing, I had to confirm it was a scam with the woman in the job centre, who admitted it was “dishonest”. In the Ts & Cs on the back, it says you can only cancel it within 8 days of signing the form. And that the money pays for your company to be registered (my guess is, on a piece of paper in a file marked “Kerching!”) for one year. After which, I guess they’ll ask for another €200. Probably adjusted for inflation.

Because I’m looking at it closely now, before it goes in the firelighter bag, I’ve just noticed the very small print on the top right that states: “Offre publicitaire non obligatoire.” I can picture the smile on the face of whoever wrote that. Offer, indeed. I wish them all the worst for the future.

A couple things, now I come to mention it.

The first is: During my first post-paperwork paid job, my strimmer broke down and will be in the strimmer hospital for a couple of weeks. I’m hoping it’s not serious (or expensive) and am confident the strimmer doctor will do his best. Fortunately, I have access to two other machines through the English mafia, and the breakdown only stopped me for a few minutes, which coincided nicely with lunch.

The second is: I met someone on Friday who confirmed that the auto-entrepreneur scheme will be abolished. Apparently, nothing will be written into law until September, so there is still plenty of time for people to get very, very upset in an attempt to overturn, or amend, delay, or in other ways fight the abolition. All we can do in the meantime, which is all we have ever been able to do, is: Go back to work.

I had meeting with a Very Nice Woman at the Chamber of Commerce, first thing. I explained that I’d registered as an auto-entrepreneur (AE) last month but the dossier had disappeared. She checked to make sure it really wasn’t on the system and we went through the whole process again. It only took a few minutes and was punctuated by the odd phone call, some banter with other women in the office, and the occasional dashing out for some reason. I was fine with all of this – I was paying 42 very hard-earned euros for the meeting, so I was determined to enjoy every moment.

When all the details were in her computer, she printed out a document for me to read and sign. Then she went off to photocopy it, along with various pieces of paper I brought with me, and gave me a whole load of papers to take away.

If you’re thinking of becoming an auto-entrepreneur, I recommend having the meeting. She went through the same steps as I did before, but when it came to something I didn’t understand (like which medical insurance I would like to sign up for – answer, it doesn’t matter – and when would I like to pay a tax I will never have to pay – answer, annually), she could explain. When you do it at home, you just look at the computer screen while your brain goes into lockdown because It Just Doesn’t Make Any Sense.

I also Learnt Something New. One of the pieces of paper she gave me has the registered number for my business on it. I asked if it was my SIREN or my SIRET (types of business registration) and she told me that the nine-figure number is my SIREN. The SIRET has another five figures, which is the postcode for the business. If we ever move, the SIRET will change, but the SIREN would always be the same. (Ahhhh, I don’t hear you say.)

After the meeting, I went to the job centre to give them copies of the things they need copies for. A woman came over and I explained the situation to her. She directed me to another woman, behind a reception desk and I explained everything to her. I was then asked to sit and wait for a few minutes. I sat, calm and composed, feeling like I had won a black belt in bureaucracy. I remained serene while explaining everything to another woman, who changed some information on her computer and gave me another form to complete. I am to wait for Something to arrive in the post and send a copy to another office where, presumably, a woman will type something into a computer and Everything Will Be Alright.

Will the Something arrive in the post on time for something? How can we be sure that everything really will be alright? Where are all the men? Come back soon for Part Three of my latest bureaucratic adventure.

I’ve spent half my working life as a self-employed person.

In the UK, it was pretty straightforward. You’d call an accountant. They’d do something accountantish. A couple of hours later, you were good to go. You’d do some work. Send an invoice. And get paid. (The only trap to be aware of is remembering to put your tax money aside when the cheque comes in, so when the tax bill arrives 18 months later, you can pay it. It took me a long time to get that one.)

Over in France, as you might expect, it’s a bit more complicated.

It used to be fantastically complicated, and punishingly expensive. Then President Sarkosy’s government introduced a new system called “Auto Entrepreneur” (AE) to make things easier. Instead of paying all your charges up front (I kid you not – Her Outdoors was quoted a minimum of €3,400 per year if she wanted to make and sell arty cushion covers, for example), you could pay a percentage of what you earn, as you earn it.

Many people, it must be said, found the change to the new, simple system extremely distressing and they’ve been vigorously campaigning against it ever since. Every now and again, we hear that the AE system will be abolished and everyone will be enrolled in the old, complicated, expensive system. But just as many people find this prospect just as distressing and are campaigning equally vigorously against that.

Meanwhile the window to becoming an AE remains open, and I have climbed through it, strimmer in hand.

I made the leap in early April, the day before I had agreed to do some work for someone – for actual money. To make my life easier, I decided to sign up using the official website. My first difficulty was deciding what kind of work I am going to do. Many English speakers do gardening work, but after a little digging (ahem), I discovered that mowing is not covered by the AE scheme as it is considered agricultural and therefore handled by a different department that allows you to work a certain number of hours a year, after which you have to become a Chef d’Enterprise and start paying those €3,400-odd charges. But I did discover that, while I could not legally mow a lawn, I can strim around the edges – and lawns have lots of edges.

I ticked the right boxes, clicked “Submit” and waited for Some Documents to arrive. Very quickly, I got an email asking for my French ID, among other things, even though I had sent in a copy of my passport. I re-sent it. And waited for those Some Documents again. (I also started working, which partly explains the lack of blog posts recently.)

Last week, I decided to see how it was all going and discovered that my dossier had vanished. But I need those Some Documents, I emailed. The rapid reply suggested I go back to the website and start again.

Only a fool with a lot of time on their hands would be taken in by such a suggestion, so I arranged a meeting with a Real Person at the Chamber of Commerce next week. I am to pay €42 for this meeting. I’m not sure why, and am aware that I will have to sweat away strimming incredibly steep embankments, receiving nettle fragments to exposed areas of neck, slug parts to the face shield, occasionally finding the outlets of septic tanks with my feet and trying to avoid dog shit hitting what amounts to a very fast-moving hand-held fan for 3.5 long hours (before tax – and paying for my own fuel – and transport) to pay for this short meeting. So I’m going to make sure it’s value for money.

You, on the other hand, can come back in a few days and see what happened for nothing.