Monday, 1 November 2010


It is a strange feature of the French employment system that once somebody has been engaged for permanent work, it is almost impossible to get rid of them, no matter how terrible they are at performing their duties. Thus it was with some alarm that the future then husband and I met the new addition to the team of managing agents we had engaged to let out the apartment we had bought here in Nice.

This 'woman' (let's assume for the purposes of this piece that she emanated from this planet, and was not, as I really suspect, hatched in another universe) had a highly-memorable name.  I won't publish it here, but it contained both the word for a beautiful celestial entity, along with a very delicious liqueur. Thus, we'll call her Tia-Maria Seraphim.

The FTH (future then husband, keep up!) ambled into the immobilier one day in order to sort out some details relating to our property.  One employee was talking very fast into a phone, whilst the proprietor, JR, rushed towards the FTH looking worried.

'Monsieur, could you come back zeeze afternoon?  We 'ave a probleme a ce moment.'

The FTH's gaze wandered to the back of the office, and there sat Tia-Maria, seemingly on the floor, with her chin resting on the desk in front of her.  Was she in distress?  Was she cocoa; she was waving to everyone, a wide grin on her angelic face.

The pompiers were on their way, explained JR, they were having to close up for a while.

The FTH had no option other than to leave the place.  When he later returned calm had been restored, and there was no sign of Tia-Maria, who was doubtless in the back of a bright red pompiers van enjoying the dedicated attention of the hunky French resuscitation team.  

Subsequently, every other occasion we had cause to encounter (or tried to encounter) Tia-Maria was fraught.  She arranged to meet with us at an appointed time, but only appeared an hour and a half later, with no explanation for her extreme tardiness. We consulted her about an aspect of French property law, she burst out laughing in response. We began to think that a Tia-Maria by any other name would still be as inebriated...

One day a letter arrived in the mail.  It was from JR and was - as is the French way - a very formal apology to all his clients.  It ran something like 'the performance of late in our rentals department has not been of the level to which we strive, but this has now been dealt with.  From this moment forward I personally assure you that normal service will, once again, be provided.  Your new representative is Gaston Perriere-Wateur.'

So, somehow they'd got rid of batty Tia-Maria! [Do they still have the guillotine here???  Mental note to research.] But this is very rare. Frankly, many businesses would benefit more than a little with the ability to shove a few employees onto the plank...

...all of which brings me to the star of this part of the column.  Having lured you into a false sense of security with a tale of benign French eccentricity at its best, here now is something so horrific, so gruesome, you will be reading this page from the (comparative) safety of the space behind your sofa. (So that's where the sex toy went when Auntie Brenda came to stay. Knew you shouldn't have written to her asking if she'd packed it 'by mistake'.)


[Author of this blog starts to tremble]

Yes, it's the one, the only...Cruella Naziani!!!

Are you sitting comfortably? Well, you won't be in a minute.

Our story begins around seven years ago, when the FTH and I purchased our property in a lovely area of Nice.  (Not every area of Nice is nice. Which is why certain parts of it should be named Not Nice.) Naturally, we had to open a bank account to accommodate our mortgage payments, and one particular bank was recommended by someone who had nothing to gain, other than some large chunk of money for so bringing our custom to this establishment.

At the time of the completion of the purchase (buying places in France is a WHOLE other story) the FTH couldn't attend the ceremony to sign the forms due to work commitments, so we'd had all the relevant papers notarized - at great expense - so that I could sign by proxy the millions of sheets involved in the transaction on his behalf.

I came over for a few days with my friend Jamie.  She's a woman.  (I know you can't see from that angle).  We were driven to the bank - it's not the Banque Populaire, but let's just call it the Banque Unpopulaire - by the charlatan gentleman who recommended such a den of iniquity, whose name is Monsieur Swizzelle.  (Gosh, another coincidence!) Jamie and I were told to wait outside Mme Naziani's room, and she would, we were told, greet us very soon.  And greet us very soon she did.

Forget the Peggy Spencer formation dancing teams of yesteryear, Jamie's and my reactions were so in sync with each other we should have been sporting sequins we'd been up all night sewing on ourselves; for we both had a sharp - highly audible - intake of breath, and both moved backwards one step at the very same time.  (And plie!).  For there, standing in front of us, was...well, I don't think there's a word for it...

Cruella, an Italian, is around 5' 3", of stocky build, and was, on that occasion, wearing a tent fashioned out of shiny deckchair material (HUGE black and white vertical stripes), which sat on shoulder pads so enormous, a seasoned member of the All Blacks would have burst into tears if he thought he'd have to carry those around with him for an entire 90 minutes.

And her hair!  How can I describe her hair?  Well, just imagine a dead, petrified, sabre-tooth tiger, back-combed to within an inch of its life (yes, yes, I know it's already dead, the coroner ruled it was back-combed to death) on top of her head, fur fashioned at the front into a large, curved, upsweeping overhang so that she could eat a fromage et jambon baguette in the rain without any part of it getting wet.  The smart money invests in Elnet, folks.

To complete the look were   g  r  o  s  s  l  y   e  l  o  n  g  a  t  e  d   false eyelashes, so beloved of transvestite performers at Soho's Madame Jojo's, along with the talons of a somewhat mature Golden Eagle.  This, dear, frightened Reader, was the apparition that was confronting us.

It's a good job Jamie and I were offered seats, because we would have ended up sitting down anyway.  But worse (if there could be such a thing worse than this worse) was to come.

For Mme Naziani (40 years Unpopulaire service) was not satisfied with the notarized documentation that was completely acceptable for that well-known amateur set-up, the French Government, oh no.  She expressed complete horror that the FTH was not present, and told me she would not be able to open the account without first having clapped eyes on him.  This threatened to put in jeopardy the whole apartment buying thing.  I tried to explain, I cajoled, I almost begged, but she would only capitulate after she had spoken to the FTH on the phone that instant, and satisfied herself that he really, really fancied her.


The rest of our history, Cruella's and mine, is equally as bizarre.  I naturally went to the Banque Unpopulaire when I moved permanently to Nice and needed a current account.  She didn't order my Carte Bleue, which was supposed to arrive in 10 days, but which took 6 weeks.  (I was living in Antibes at the time, and made several useless train journeys before it became clear she was telling me lies about it having arrived).  And then she called me to tell me it really HAD arrived, so off I trekked to Nice from Antibes on a Friday afternoon.  Only Mme Naziani would not give me my Carte Bleue because my salary - paid to me by the Nice Chamber of Commerce, not exactly a fly-by-night outfit - had not yet arrived in my account.  I entreated her to call them on the phone - which she did, when they confirmed it really would be arriving in my account that very afternoon - but still she would not let me have the card.

No amount of explaining to her that I couldn't withdraw what wasn't in my account, now could I, persuaded her.  I told her I had 10 euros in my pocket to last me the weekend.  Still she wouldn't budge, and so I left the bank looking forward to a hungry few days.

A couple of hours later, well after the banks had shut, I noticed a missed call on my phone.  It was Cruella, who had left me a message shortly before the Banque Unpopulaire (hey, what an apt name!) closed its doors for two days, telling me that my money had indeed landed in my account, and if I could somehow get from Antibes to Nice in the ensuing 2 minutes, I could have my card after all!

There was my money, then, sitting in my account, safe from any untoward access from me.  How on earth was I supposed to buy a string of garlic to hang around my neck whilst burning an effigy of a short, podgy Italian bank woman with a back-combed lacquered dead animal on her head???

Other instances of appalling service include the time she called me on the phone at 3.30pm last Christmas Eve in order to bark: 'There is 30 euros in your account, 'ow you goin' to pay your rent on 1st January?!!!' I told her that she could undoubtedly see from the screen in front of her that my salary always goes into my account on 27th of the month. In England, Mussolini's Ugly Sister, the 27th comes before the 1st.

'Well, don't go overdrawn!' she shouted charmingly, before hanging up so swiftly she completely missed my entreaty for her to enjoy a lovely holiday period.

'appy Chreestmas.  (That was not the entreaty in the exact words I used).

The last straw was when she kept sending the PIN code for my online banking account to my UK address - where I no longer live! - instead of my Nice address (where I now reside!)  It took several, abortive attempts - in writing, sitting across the desk from her - for her not to remedy this.  

On one occasion I asked her on which date the bank statements were sent out.

'I don't know,' came the reply.  

She has worked in that branch for the past 40 years, and she doesn't know???

And so I wrote a letter of complaint to the bank manager (le directeur). He passed it on to Naziani, who sent me an indignant reply not covering at all the points I had raised, and extremely comic in its logic. (For instance, explaining to me that the law forbade her to open the bank especially for me on a Friday evening just so that I could collect my Carte Bleue.)

I wrote another letter to M. Manager, telling him I was extremely disappointed that he had not replied to me himself.  This he ignored completely.

A registered letter was duly received by Head Office in Paris, which demanded the 95 euros I had paid for a year of this sort of abuse (I may have been married 3 times, dear Reader, but I'm really not that masochistic) to be returned to me, and (eventually), return it to me they did.  Some 6 months after having first requested a PIN number for my internet banking account, it still has not arrived.  And so I have closed my account.

My passport is being renewed at the moment, meaning I cannot open another bank account anywhere else for the time being.  Which gives me time to think about where next I would like to take my overdraft.

I think the Bank Manager is scared of Mme Naziani. She has a big, big office, piles of assorted papers on her desk (probably torn out pages of Style magazines for the blind from the early 1970s), and successfully spends her days calling up lone women customers on Christmas Eve to shout at them for it being Christmas Eve. But she's been there 40 years, she can do what the SWEARWORDing well she likes.

Nor does it help that her English is appalling, and that she peppers her conversation to me with the word 'Missus', as a translation of the French 'Madame', which makes her sound like Les Dawson in a pinny, chatting over the fence to another man in a dress in a northern back yard.  Yes, it has comedic value, but she is a nasty piece of work. 

But she knows it doesn't matter.  The French Government is behind her (which is by far the best angle from which to view her).  

Here endeth my three part rant about having the temerity to be a customer who has the gall to offer  money to assorted businesses.  It's not smart, it's certainly not clever, but you do get a decent few posts on a blog from it.


No. of mad French women in Nice:  I don't have enough noughts to relate

No. of needles you can stab into an effigy of an ugly, ignorant, vindictive, Italian bank employee:  I don't have enough noughts to relate

No. of fishfingers 95 euros can buy you if you stuff your cash under your mattress for a year:  582    Surely a no-brainer.

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Please be nice, but not funnier than me. Thanks.