Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho
Infuriating. Infuriating. Have I said infuriating? For the nth time in the past three years the French Douane (customs office) has sent us a request for supplementary information on a work of art being shipped. Information that was all already readily available to them. This time I’ve decided they’re going to get a bit more than the information they requested. So I’ve started writing to Madam L., at the customs office in Toulouse.
Madam L. says “Comme indiqué dans mon message précédent, le service fait le maximum pour pouvoir libérer l’objet d’art le plus rapidement.”
My answer to that is a rotund no. No, Madam L. Let me explain to you, Madam, why you are not doing Your Maximum. You are not doing Your Maximum because we’re not in 1975. If a customs agent has a suspicion that a work of art could be stolen, there is a searchable database spearheaded by the French ministry of culture which is connected to a whopping 70 other databases of missing and stolen art works.
“Le moteur de recherche « Collections » indexe plus de 70 bases de données du Ministère de la culture et de ses partenaires et contribue au portail européen Europeana. Une recherche spécifique sur les « biens volés et disparus » a été mise en place depuis 2015 dans « Collections ». https://www.culture.gouv.fr/Sites-thematiques/Circulation-des-biens-culturels/Informations-pratiques/Rechercher-un-bien-vole-ou-disparu
It takes me as a dealer, literally less than 5 minutes to check if an item I’m considering purchasing is in the aforementioned databases. If I want to be especially thorough and check international databases like the Art Loss Registry, it would take me a further 10 minutes at most to sort through search results. I would not need to, as customs agents have done, send a written request to another government department in the wild hope someone is going to match the written description of an item they haven’t seen with another written description of a missing item they also haven’t seen. This is not Your Maximum, madam. It is slow, inefficient and hinders trade – it is the McDonald’s model of work, where people who know nothing and feel no need to think, check boxes on forms.
Your Maximum would be that packages are not stopped on the basis of mere technicalities that will not generate taxes nor protections for citizens. Your Maximum would be that customs agents have sufficient knowledge to differentiate between popular bourgeois art and a national treasure protected by the ministry of culture. Your Maximum would be that if customs already has all our information because we’re registered with customs for an EORI number/license, that customs doesn’t ask us to send them yet again all the same documents they already have. Your Maximum, Madam L., would be that if it takes 10 minutes to check if an item is stolen, 2 minutes to check its sale price, and 0 minutes to check our identity as we’re already registered with customs, that it not take ten days for an item to be cleared by your customs office at Toulouse Blagnac Aero Bureau
So let me say this very frankly, Madam, if this is Your Maximum, it is not good enough, it is not fit for purpose, it is a waste of tax-payer money, it is a waste of the time for a good number of people. It does not help France be a better country and its citizens lead better lives. It does precisely the opposite. And the people who work within that system and do nothing to make it function and instead make excuses and call it their maximum, should be ashamed of themselves, Madam.
So there, that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the past couple of weeks, how about all of you? I can’t remember if I’d mentioned it but the house next door sold. The agent who sold it came to knock on our door to say he had a client for our place – I sent him packing as we’re not for sale and never have been. There is however a quite nice place, completely remodelled for sale here in the neighbourhood that’s just come on the market. They’ve done a lovely job. https://www.century21.fr/trouver_logement/detail/2288798659/?came_from=/annonces/achat/v-mazamet/