Based in Birmingham, Alabama, forgotten regrets is a blog by suzanne, a nutrition scientist with a passion for food across the world. this blog chronicles her experience in bordeaux france with an exciting opportunity from the fulbright commission.

Cell phones, banks, and school but mostly just a cell phone

It is my official first day of work in Bordeaux. I am so excited to be here that the minor setbacks I have experienced seem trivial.  What possible setbacks could there be when I have even started work? Well, there are three main tasks I wanted to tackle that don’t have anything to do with the work I will be doing here include:  

1.)  Open a French bank account - a requirements for receiving the Fulbright grant.

2.)  Obtain a French cell phone

3.)  Enroll my son in school

My goal was to get these done before I started working.  That goal was smashed before I even left the United States.  I had hoped to enroll my son in school before we moved to Bordeaux thus checking completing one task.  The US State department maintains an excellent website that lists schooling options other Americans have used to educate their children.  Using the list, I contacted the local international school in October of 2016 (more than one year before he was to be enrolled).  To my surprise, they did not have any spots available.  They did offer us the opportunity to complete an application and pay $1000 deposit in case something opened up.  In the end, we decided that was not the way we wanted to go.  

I emailed 3 other private schools on the list.  Each of them were listed as having been good options for transitioning english speaking children into the French classroom.  Only one emailed me back to say we don’t know our availability for next year, but contact us again at the start of the school year.  So I contacted them again 9 months later only to find out they were full…..ugh.  My exploration into schooling wasn’t going so well.  I realized quickly that I would need to wait until we got to Bordeaux to find a school for him.  I also realized I needed to put my American drive to get things done in check a little.  So finding a school had to be delayed until we got to Bordeaux and the schools in Bordeaux are on break until January 8 so it will be a while before this task is completed.

Obtaining a French cell phone provided me with a bit of a victory.  My own cell phone when I arrived in France picked up a cell tower called Orange so I decided this was as good as any cell phone company.  Now for those of you who know one cell company is better than another, this part of the post is pretty useless.  I don’t have much loyalty to any one cell phone company.  They are just a means to communicate with friends and family.  So for me, as long as they place calls and receive texts, I am happy.  


It took me two full days to obtain a French cell phone.  My husband is far more organized and better at planning than me.  He knew you could go into the local Tabac, pick up a French SIM card, put the card in your American phone and voilà a French cell number.  I didn’t want to do that because I wanted to keep my US phone separate.  Plus I figured you could just walk into a French cell phone store and they would sell you a cell phone.  When you walk into an American cell phone store, they are just itching to sell you a phone.  The logic made sense to me.


Anyways, I walked into the cell phone store.  There was a line about 4 deep right next to the door.  The beginning of the line did not appear to be lined up at anything specific so I just wandered around the store.  I did think it was odd that people would wait in a line that appeared to be in line for nothing but dismissed it quickly.  My assumption was that some one would come up to me to ask if they could help me.  Nope.  Instead, after about 10 minutes, an employee with a tablet went to the front of the line to nothing and started entering data in her tablet.  One by one the folks in the line were paired with someone who could help them.  It was sort of like walking into an Apple Store, without the extra folks that are wandering around asking if they can help.

I marched myself to the back of the line to nowhere and eventually it was my turn.  I had used Google Translate before I got to the store to be sure I knew how to ask for a cell phone in French.  I let the associate with the tablet know what I needed and sure enough, she paired me with someone who could help me.  As soon as I talked to the sales clerk, he informed me that they did not have 6 month plans.  The shortest I could do was 12 months.  I wasn’t prepared to purchase a 12 month plan so I left the store to debate what to do.  In the end I decided 12 months would be okay so I got up the next morning and went back to the cell phone store.  This time the store associate told me I could not obtain a French cell phone without a French bank account….what?

I need to back up a little here.  In addition to my getting a cell phone, I had been trying to open a bank account too that day.  I first went into Societé Générale and was told the they were not allowed to open bank accounts for Americans.  I’m still not sure if that is true but off I went.  I next went into BNP Paribas and was told they did not open temporary bank accounts.  I learned two important things here:  1.)  Not to say I was American and 2.) Not to say the account was temporary.  So I changed up my dialog a bit and went into two more banks.  This time I was told I couldn’t open a bank account on the spot and that I needed to make an appointment with a banker.  Here’s the catch, the banker wasn’t free for at least 2 days.  So I have two appointments with bankers at two different banks but so far no bank account.  More on this later.

Back to the cell phone store.  Remember they said I needed a French bank account to obtain a cell phone with a 12 month contract. I didn’t have a bank account so I had to leave again.  At this point, I decided my husbands way was probably better so I went back to Orange and asked if I could buy a cell phone with no cell phone plan.  They said sure no problem but could I please show my passport.  I didn’t have my passport so out I went again.  If you are keeping score, this is three times I have been rejected from the Orange cell phone store.  Strangely, I never considered another carrier as an option.  

The three of us were in the Orange store in the Mériadek shopping mall and decided to just walk around to see what else was there.  We came to a store called Auchun that seemed a lot like Walmart or Target and reasoned they probably sold cell phones.  Sure enough they had a whole sections of phones.  I asked the clerk if I could buy a phone and she gladly sold it to me.  We then went to the Tabac in the store to buy a SIM card.  My husband had already done this to convert his American cell phone to a French cell phone so I was feeling pretty confident. They were sold out of SIM cards for Orange but did have data recharge packages (also called la carte de téléphone prépayé Mobicarte d’Orange).  I bought a one month plan for 20 euros.  It got me unlimited data and texts, perfect!  But I still didn’t have a SIM card which is the actual phone number.  I actually went into 5 separate Tabacs before I found the SIM card I needed but I did indeed find it!

By the end of the day, I had a cell phone that worked.  I considered it a huge win (even though it is only one of the three major items on my list and it took one and a half days to complete).

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