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No Money, Please, We’re a Bank

Saturday, October 29, 2011 @ 02:10 AM  posted by Mark

After passing through a gauntlet of sliding glass bulletproof security doors, code-locked elevators, and skeptical personnel at Crédit Agricole yesterday, I had a lovely meeting with a woman I’ll call Manon, to establish a French bank account. Manon’s rather plain, bare office came as a surprise, considering the formidable infrastructure guarding it. In fact, all of the offices on her floor sported drab indoor/outdoor gray carpeting, with a kind of low-rent Swedish aesthetic and no prints or paintings on the walls. It could have been the corporate headquarters of a paper clip manufacturing concern. Even more surprising, there were no vaults, locked filing cabinets or safe deposit boxes in sight, nothing at all of apparent value to warrant the Get Smart security. I asked Manon about it.

“It’s not all that secure.” She shrugged. “You just have to know which buttons to press and which codes to enter.”

I filled out five different sets of forms, each about half an inch thick. Most of them were more or less identical but contained overlapping rather than exactly duplicated information. Each packet wanted such basic pieces of information as my name, place of birth, residence and income with slightly different proofs (IRS 1040, bank statements, utility bills, passport, etc.). One set was for Crédit Agricole, one for the Bank of France, one for the European Central Bank, one for the French Ministry of Economy, Industry and Employment, and one for a guy named Guillaume, who waited outside the office for it and then ran down to the street, where I saw him race away on a black Vespa. I think he was taking the application to Sarkozy. Finally, after all the forms had been signed, I signed another form stating that I had signed all the other ones.

“Why don’t I have to sign another form stating that I signed the form stating that I signed all the other forms?”

Manon thought about it. “You know, I should suggest that to the people upstairs.” She jotted a note to herself.

Finally, I produced the few hundred euros in cash I had brought to open the account, as a stopgap until I had the appropriate routing numbers to make a wire transfer from the States.

“Oh, no, I’m sorry, Monsieur,” Manon said. “We don’t handle money. You’ll have to go to a different branch.”

“Why all the security, then, if there’s no money in this building?”

“Well, we’re a bank!”

I followed her back through the locked and coded sliding glass door in front of the elevators, the security coded elevator door itself, the locked and coded turnstile, the security guard at the front gate, and the locked and coded secondary entrance, before finally opening the main door and emerging on the street, holding exactly as much cash as I’d had when I’d arrived. Why did I need a bank account again?

Oh, yeah, because the ticket vending machine at the Goncourt metro station wouldn’t accept either my euro coins or my American visa card, and I had to jump the turnstile. Now I have a French visa card, so I can buy such everyday items as metro tickets wherever I go; all that’s left is to find a bank branch that will accept my money.

One Response to “No Money, Please, We’re a Bank”

  1. Raquelle says:

    Even though I have never been to France, this all seems very French to me. Ha! “We’re a bank!”.


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