Another Odd Thing About Living in Paris #27

France is marvelously, gloriously and proudly backward when it comes to modern technology.

I am sure no one in North America would believe this but you cannot do any transactions in ATMs other than withdraw money. Forget about depositing or transferring money, you cannot even check your balance.

In fact, your balance is updated every couple of days. Say that you withdrew 100 euros and the little receipt showed that you had 1000 euros left in your account. Look closely and that amount is preceded by a date, usually showing two days prior to that transaction.

When I first arrived in Paris, I was baffled by that. ATMs have been in existence in neighboring Belgium since 1980 and even then you could see your balance at the moment of transaction. Apparently, in France the updates are done... wait for it...manually. I still don't know if the person who told me this was pulling my leg (though he was dead serious and defending his country's way of doing business) but what happens is that a branch manager checks all transactions every other day and allows the computer to get up to date.

If that is true (and I never heard any other explanation for the time lag in updates), it means that French people believe that they are more accurate than computers. That is a healthy ego.

When I tell them that elsewhere you can do moderately complicated things like sending someone money instantly through their cell phone which they can withdraw from any ATM, Parisians look at me like I am insane or a science fiction writer.

Why would I want to deposit money through an ATM, a friend told me. It is not secure. What if the machine does not record the transaction? She preferred to go to her branch, wait in line, say bonjour to the teller, take a form from her (the forms are not available elsewhere in the branch), fill it up slowly, give her the cash or cheque to be deposited to her account and wish the teller a good day and leave. 30 minutes of your life to deposit a cheque.

It is not just the ATMs and banking transactions. Once, I was at IKEA buying pieces of a kitchen. To do that, you have to talk to a person in a kiosque who tells you what pieces you need to put the whole thing together. As she was preparing the list through her computer she stopped and called the warehouse. While waiting for her colleague to pick up the phone she explained to me that she was going to check if certain items were in stock. I asked why she was unable to see that in her computer. She looked at me like I was an alien and replied that the inventory is updated once a day.


In other words, they use computers as notebooks (the analog kind) or calculators.

And what is extraordinary is that no French person seems to be aware that better technologies and better uses of technology are available in other parts of the world.

They think what they have is cutting edge.

I know you don't believe me.

How about this:

Remember Minitel? The precursor of the Internet?

As of 2009 there were still 10 million connections every month. And the service is still available.

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