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.

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In the last few days, I’ve re-read the blog(s) while writing a short(ish) summary of the bureaucratic issues surrounding the project so far. I can’t tell you why at the moment.

During this reading, I’ve noticed a few things. One thing is that importing the original Blogger blog into Wordpress didn’t go as well as I thought. The order of posts is a bit random and some posts have disappeared altogether (ALL: “Some posts have disappeared!”).

So, for a more satisfying reader experience, for posts leading up to September 23 2012, go here.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that my blog posts have become far less frequent – and less playful or amusing. I’ll try and redress that over the coming months – months during which, once again, I will try and write Part Two of my book.

Before other news (of which there is much), here’s where we now stand on the long-running re-zoning issue that was already ongoing when we arrived here over eight years ago.

We’ve just presented a dossier about the whole project to someone who is so intrigued that he will come and see us in the next couple of weeks. He will then write a report about all the projects going on in the village, before the end of October. His report will then be studied by other people, who will take the advice of yet more people, and a final zoning decision will be made in January. Possibly January. Almost certainly in the first few months of next year. After which, we can start filling out a whole bunch of new bits of paper. (I say we, but it will actually be me, as one of the Very Big Bits of News from this year is that I will be running écovallée on my own from now on. More on that, later.)

It feels – as I’ve written many times before – like we’re back where we thought we were in 2007. To say nothing moves fast in this country is an understatement of massive proportions. By way of a comparison, over the same period, light everywhere has travelled over 47 billions miles (over 76 billion kilometres).

More on this, too, in the posts to come.

Back in 2008, weary after so many futile meetings, I wrote this blog post. At the time it looked like our bureaucratic troubles were over. They weren’t. A couple of years later, we stopped going to meetings with bureaucrats because it was just upsetting.

Until today.

This afternoon, we’ve got a meeting with our third mayor in eight years and have been asked to “bring everything” relating to the project. (I’m going to need a box for all the papers.) We’re assured that we’re in the final stages of the bureaucratic process, but there’s always another piece of paper that needs to be stamped. In this case, a new organisation that apparently needs to know all about us.

So I’m bringing the bureaucracy tab out of retirement and I’ll let you know what’s going on as it happens.

UPDATE:

Tweaking the dossier today to give to the person in charge of the process this afternoon. Will have to wait until January for a Final Decision on change of use. I’m hoping that will be this coming January…

Last night, there was a meeting in the local town hall to talk about Agenda 21. It was probably the most exciting meeting we’ve been to in France.

After a fairly tedious slideshow on the French interpretation of Agenda 21 (eg, caring for the environment means planting some flowers so the village looks nice), from someone I took to be a professional bureaucrat, a friend from the local Transition town movement stood up and talked about what they’ve been doing. Which is a lot. All of it positive.

It electrified the room. Objections based on cost and difficulty were swept aside by the idea that: If you can do something, you should. If there are blockages that come up (a certainty in this country), you work with the blockages, not against them. And/Or, you just get on with it anyway. The simple, beautiful thing about Transition initiatives is that they are unrelentingly positive. If someone is stuck in their negativity, you can just remind them that we’re staying with the positive – and leave them behind. Or to change.

A few things made this meeting especially exciting. First, I learnt that our friend from the Transition town who stood up to talk has just been elected mayor in his village. Second, it seems that our new mayoral team locally is open to these ideas. In fact we’re having a meeting with them later on today to go into detail about what we’ve been doing in écovallée for the last seven years. Where we have been depressed by our previous brushes with bureaucracy, we are elated. And long may this continue.

Today, it strikes me that this meeting was a microcosm of how our world will change. People who are already doing what they can – transition, alternative currencies, renewable energies, recycling and upcycling, walk-to-school initiatives – will meet the institutional blockages of our existing political and economic systems and just breeze through them tossing a: “We’re doing it anyway” over their shoulder. The political and economic systems will then turn round and start running to catch up – or be left behind.

The world is changing people. And it’s all for the good.

UPDATE

Very positive meeting with the new mayoral team. Open, honest, proactive. Looking forward to working with them.

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.

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.