20 June 2011


Once our visitors had gone it was time to get on with some business that was pressing.  By now it was Tuesday and Thursday was a public holiday for Ascension Day so we only had three working days to get the job done before we went home.


The château with a badly parched field of failed sunflowers in front.

We had decided to keep my motorcycle in France to save having to ride it back to England for an MOT every year.  (For non-UK readers, an MOT is a Ministry of Transport test carried out on all vehicles over three years old, once a year.  It is a legal requirement.) 

In France there is no MOT test (Contrôle Technique) for motorcycles at all.  All we needed to do was get the bike registered in France so it could also be insured there and that’s that.  We wanted to get this done before the existing UK MOT and insurance expired, so that meant this week.  The first step was to formally export the bike to France and get a French registration document, a “carte grise”.


One of our favourite views in Le Grand-Pressigny.

We just knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Even though we had bought a house in France, we had never tackled French bureaucracy by ourselves before.  Previously we had been steered through it by the estate agent and the solicitor – we just signed where needed and they did all the work.  Even when we had to have planning permission to reinstate our ground floor window and replace the broken skylight in the roof with a Velux, all dealings with the Mairie were handled by our friend and architect, Barrie.  We just paid the bill.

This time we were on our own.


Lulu sniffing something interesting in the breeze.

Someone who had already exported a motorcycle from the UK to France had given us some ideas on where to start.  Also Nick had done some web research and the people at Harley-Davidson had also given us some tips but when it actually came down to it, it was things like where do we actually present ourselves and where do we park that were puzzling us.


There seemed to be fewer poppies than in previous years.

To begin with, we knew we needed to take with us the UK Registration document (V5) and something called a “certificate of conformity” from the manufacturer of the vehicle.  When Nick applied for this for his BMW motorcycle, he filled in an online form and it arrived in the post two days later, free of charge.  Mine took took two weeks to come from Harley-Davidson and cost me £150.  Still, that was going to be cheaper and a lot less trouble than ferrying the bike back to the UK every year.

Nick had also found an application form for a carte grise on the web and printed it out. 


Lulu getting comfortable on her bed.

So, armed with my V5, certificate of conformity, passport, driving licence, application form, an EDF bill and cheque book, we set off in search of my carte grise

The EDF bill is an electricity bill in my name which proves we actually live in France.  Friends say this document is actually more use than a passport and they always carry a spare one with them, just in case !!


One of Mme André’s flowers after a rare shower of rain.

We assumed there must be somewhere in Loches, maybe the town hall, where we should start or at least make enquiries.  Most of the official stuff we do gets dealt with somewhere in Loches so that seemed logical.  We parked in the town centre outside where we thought we had seen the Hôtel de Ville, only to find it was the Palais de Justice instead.

So we headed off on foot and followed the tourist signs pointing us in the direction of the Hôtel de Ville.  It was quite an imposing building when we found it.  In fact I had taken a picture of it only the day before when we were doing our tourist bit with our visitors.


The Hôtel de Ville in Loches.

Inside, the building was magnificent.  A wide oak staircase and panelled walls with sombre pictures of presumably former “persons of great importance” in the town.

There was a long oak counter and on the other side of it was Mme Sourface, positively the very image of everything you dread in a French official.  Still, we straightened our backs, clutched our dossier with sweaty palms and smiled at her confidently.  The worst she could do was kill us.

She was on the phone but luckily there was no-one else in front of us, although a woman came up the stairs behind us with her own dossier under her arm and stood a polite distance behind us at the counter, waiting her turn as we waited to be noticed.

Mme Sourface put down the phone and without smiling uttered a grudging “bonjour” and looked up at us.  We explained our situation in our best French and she gave us the classic grimace that parents usually reserve for irritating children.  A kind of screwing-up of the eyes and baring of the teeth at the same time and said something that I presumed meant “you want WHAT?”.

In my line of work, if I reacted like that every time some one asked me a daft question, I would be sacked.  However, we re-explained ourselves and she corrected our French, hissing the proper pronunciation of the word “grise” as GREEEEZZZZ” through clenched teeth.  OK, we said it like “gree”.  Oops.  Anyone would think we were aliens landed from another planet asking for her leader.  Perhaps she thought we were.

Mme Sourface snarled that we were in the wrong place and directed us to the Sous-Préfecture, saying it was near the hospital.  The lady behind us gave a little smile and a nod as we turned to leave the room.  We weren’t sure if this was in sympathy or apology for the way we had been treated or if she thought we were aliens too.  We also felt the eyes of all those pictures looking down on us, whispering to each other “stupid Brits”.  In French of course.

So we headed back to the car and set off, following the tourist signs out of town towards the hospital. 

The quest for a carte greeeezzzz was under way !!


  1. Hello:
    This reminds us so much of the performance, some years ago now, when we 'exported' our two cats as 'live' animal exports to Hungary. The requirements of DEFRA were a bagatelle compared with what it actually took to receive the cats as 'cargo' at Budapest airport.

    And how well we know the grim faced official behind every desk; we face them frequently and, as you with your French, have our Hungarian corrected by them all the time.

    You have our complete sympathy.

  2. Oh I remember that so well Jean! When we moved to France from the USA we brought our two cars with us and went through the pain involved with registering them in France! But there are some saints who feel pity on you and help you through as I'm sure we will hear from you in a future post!

  3. J&L - it was hard enough with a vehicle, never mind a pet.

    Craig - how did you guess ?!

  4. BTW - Lulu looks fab - as serene and regal as always. She's gorgeous.

  5. Jean, do you have to have modification made to the H-D to get it registered. I think you have to have cars, at least ones coming from America, modified to meet French standards. Maybe Craig can tell us.

    You have to remember that if you need a "gray card" in England or the U.S. but you pronounce it "gree" or "groo" or "gry" card, people are going to wonder what planet you are from.

  6. Unfortunately I sold my Harley last year to make the move to France.
    But despite the cost of used vehicles in France I think I will buy a French registered bike when the time comes again.
    The first step on the ladder is always the costliest.

  7. Craig - on behalf of Lulu, thanks!

    Ken - we don't know yet! And I don't mind one bit having our pronunciation corrected but the woman was downright rude. Which is unusual, we have found - most of the French people we encounter are bemused, amused and helpful when faced with our efforts at their language. She was just horrid to us.

    Seve - we considered selling the bike in the UK and buying one in France but that would have cost an awful lot of money.

  8. Likewise, we found the EDF energy bill more use than our passports when we went to 'register' at our local tip! Sorry to hear you've had such a bad experience, too.

  9. To answer Ken's question. No we didn't have to have any mods done to the cars. It was probably even easier than registering UK car in that as they were already LHD we didn't even have to get the lights changed.
    But it was easy because one was a Mercedes and one a VW, both late model, made in Germany and made to "world" standards. Importing a US spec Buick or Pontiac would be a nightmare and would require specialist assistance and probably major modifications and testing.

  10. You may have to go up to St Pierre des corps to the test centre there. When you change a car from UK to French plates you have to go there and get the car checked out before you can get the paper.
    Did you find the sous prefecture?

  11. Je pense qu'il y aura beaucoup de problèmes. Pauvre Mme Sourface; essai d'aider l'anglais de nouveau.

  12. fewer poppies but more (and longer) buttercups....

    loved your photo of hardwick hall..its been an age since went there

  13. We have never been able to visit with our mayor, which was something that the books said we should do as soon as we arrived in France. And the reason for this is that he is guarded by a rotweiller-type lady who is exactly the same as the lady you had to cope with. Despite my numerous visits, and my winsome smile, she remains her usual snarling self! Everyone else is OK though! Good luck with getting registered!