Paris Récit: Paying the rent

Before I go to the appointment in the 5th arrondissement, an area made up of specialist food shops and populated by well-heeled older people (my doctor says it’s a ‘student area’ as the Sorbonne is nearby) I think to myself, I’ll pay my rent. It will be easier that way.

On entering La Banque Postale here, on the other side of the river, I see that the form required for the transfer is readily available. This makes me happy. I won’t need to wait in line to receive a form, this will reduce the time this takes. My how I have changed to be grateful for something so small, I think to myself (this makes me smile more than anything else).

There is one person working in the bank section, he has a badge that says he is hearing-impaired. ‘This is incorrect,’ the man says pointing at the location I’d written on the form. I had written Château-Rouge, an area on the other side of Paris that is a largely West African immigrant area in the city’s north, and branch where I opened the account.

‘What should I write there? Paris?’ I ask. He doesn’t reply. He writes Paris. He has my passport, my La Banque Postale bank card. He accesses my account, on the screen, he can check the balance. The account has 200 euros above the amount needed to pay the rent.

‘I will let you transfer 800 euros,’ the man says. This is less than what is needed to pay the rent, less than the amount I had filled out on the transfer form.

Speaking as urgently as I can, I make an effort to convince him to help me out and make an exception from his stated rules for me. ‘I don’t understand,' I say, 'This is the first time I’ve had this problem; I’ve paid my rent this way all over Paris, in the 9th, in the 10th, in the 18th, the 17th (I made the last location up) and never had this issue before (this is true). I don’t understand. I have enough money to cover the required amount, you can see it in my account.’

Two other times La Banque Postale employees had refused to let me pay the rent. Once in the 9th, the woman said she could not process the payment that afternoon, I could fill out the form but would need to return the next day. (Immediately after this interaction I went to another bureau and did it there).

At Château-Rouge, I was told that the bank employees were on strike and this meant that there were no financial services that day. I asked the man working there if other banks/post offices nearby were also on strike, he didn’t know or wouldn’t tell me. He ended up doing the transaction for me, though, when his supervisor wasn’t looking.

The man in the La Banque Postale in the 5th repeated: ‘If you had opened this account at my branch it would be different, I will let you transfer 800 euros today – that is the limit.’

He told me that I should organise a direct debit from my account. To do this, though, you need to get permission from a bank employee in person. This can only be done via appointment and to avoid the wait at Château-Rouge you have to go there very early in the morning, I hadn't been able to find the time, but I will.   

On leaving the bank, disgruntled thoughts came to mind about the simplistic politics of oppression that are so popular these days, based as it is on a point system of fixed categories. How would this interaction play out : the man had a disability, but had the power to refuse me because of his job. He was perfectly nice to the French people behind me, was it because I spoke with an accent? Or that I had opened my account in a part of Paris he didn’t like.

A few hours later, I went to La Banque Postale at Goutte d’Or – the North African neighbourhood just near métro Barbès – Rochechouart where the young men congregate selling contraband cigarettes.

I go there because I think it will be quieter than the post office/bank at Château-Rouge at this time, where it’s always chaotic, with too many people and long queues and often people losing their cool and yelling. It can be tiring sometimes.

When I arrive at La Banque Postale at Goutte d’Or I see a line of about 12-15 people waiting in the banking queue. I am the only non-black, or non-North African person there. Another white woman uses a machine to buy a stamp and then leaves. There is one employee, a woman, working in the bank section and one woman working in the post office. Two people on a Friday afternoon: when there are around 40 people waiting to be served in the two lines.

Later another woman comes and sits in the bank section, she turns on her computer and looks at the screen, she doesn’t help customers.

I wait for more than 15, or maybe 20 minutes, I don’t check the time.

‘It must be hard for you,’ I say to the woman as she processes the rent payment, I say this to try and make light conversation. ‘Working alone like this, when there are so many people waiting.’

‘No, not really. Most of them could do what they need to do at home, online. They don’t need to come here.’

‘Maybe they don’t have the Internet at home?’

The woman laughs at me, to say, unlikely. ‘They don’t need to come here,’ she says. ‘This is a post office in the end, not a bank.’