A French crime spree: thieves in St-Rémy-de-Provence

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – MyFrenchLife™ - A French crime spree: thieves in St-Rémy-de-ProvenceMy wife Val and I spend every spring in St-Rémy-de-Provence. One year, we received a “French lesson” we weren’t expecting: what happens when your car is broken into.

A heinous crime: window smashing in St-Rémy

We like to go for bike rides when we’re in St-Rémy.  One of our favorite routes begins far from town, so we cram our bikes in the car and drive to the starting point.

One day, we parked on the side of the road, unloaded the bikes, and began our ride. Everything was fine, until we got back and saw broken glass next to the car.

“That’s funny,” said Val, “I don’t remember any glass there before.”

“Look,” I said, “someone broke our window! We’ve been robbed!”

Val said a very bad word and then, “…I left my purse under the seat! How could I have been so stupid?”

We frantically checked the inside of the car. The thieves must have rifled through our belongings, because everything was in disarray, with the glove compartment open and maps and papers all over the floor. Luckily, they’d missed Val’s purse The only thing they’d stolen was a Styrofoam ice chest. Real criminal masterminds, these.

Meeting the St-Rémy Police

The car was a rental and came with insurance, so we found the insurance company’s phone number and called them to report the broken window. They told us to file a report with the St-Rémy police department. When we got there, the officer manning the front desk turned out to be a real comedian.

“Our car’s been broken into,” said Val.

“Was anything stolen?” asked the officer.

“Nothing important, just an ice chest,” said Val.

“They didn’t get the sandwiches, did they?” he asked, looking alarmed.

“No,” I replied, “we’d already eaten them.”

“Thank goodness!”

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – MyFrenchLife™ - A French crime spree: thieves in St-Rémy-de-Provence

Then he took the car’s paperwork and our IDs and started filling out a long form on his computer. While he was doing that, another officer came by to “investigate the crime scene.” He was wearing a white lab coat plus a facemask, safety goggles, and latex gloves. In one hand, he carried a big box marked Kit de Crime.

It was like a scene straight out of CSI: St-Rémy. 

This officer left to inspect our car and came back a few minutes later. “I have examined the crime scene,” he announced dramatically, “and determined that your car’s window has been broken.”

‘Wow’, I thought, ‘these guys are good!’

When the first officer finally finished with the long form, he printed it out, signed it and then loudly stamped it in a bunch of places.

Stamp stamp stamp stamp stamp.

The French just love to stamp paperwork and the more times the better. That done, we shook hands with both officers and headed home.

As we left, I remembered that we’d been in this police station once before. Years earlier, when the car we were renting had been parked on a different country road, someone had broken into it and stolen a melon.

St-Rémy was definitely experiencing a crime wave.

The promise: we’ll fix your window – someday

The next step was getting the broken window fixed and then getting the insurance company to pay for it, which took much longer than expected. We first went to the auto shop to get a replacement window.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – MyFrenchLife™ - A French crime spree: thieves in St-Rémy-de-Provence

This was on a Monday. They didn’t have one in stock so they ordered one and the shop manager told me that it would arrive on Wednesday.

“Great!” I said. “Can we schedule the work for that afternoon?”

“No, no,” he replied, “there won’t be time that day because we close at 4pm.”

Ah yes, I thought, those famous long French working hours. “Ok, so how about the next day?” I asked.

“Of course not,” he said, “we’ll be closed for the holiday.”

I had forgotten that Thursday was a national holiday, one of four in that month of May. Those holidays put so many holes in the work calendar that the French call May the ‘Swiss cheese Month’.

“No problem,” I said, “how about Friday?”

“It’s not possible!” he cried, “that’s a bridge day and we’ll be closed!”

When a holiday falls on a Thursday, companies usually give Friday off to create a “bridge” to the weekend.

Ok, I thought, Wednesday is out, Thursday is out and Friday is out. I was getting a little exasperated but tried again:

“Ok, fine, how about Saturday?”

The manager’s eyes opened wide and looked at me like I was crazy. “Monsieur, that is the weekend and of course we are closed. You don’t expect us to work all the time, do you?”

We scheduled the work for the following Monday.

Insurance companies are all the same – even in St-Rémy

Once that was settled we began our long and painful discussions with the insurance company.

Val made lots of phone calls to the company and no matter what question she asked– for example, “is there a deductible?” they gave her the wrong answer. For a while we were worried that we would have to pay a lot to get the car repaired but it finally turned out that everything was covered.

MyFrenchLife™ – MyFrenchLife.org – MyFrenchLife™ - A French crime spree: thieves in St-Rémy-de-Provence

The insurance company also wanted paperwork—lots and lots of it. AND they didn’t follow up on their commitments. AND one person never seemed to know what another person had done. It was very frustrating. In other words, we felt right at home! It turns out that insurance companies are the same everywhere.

On the promised Monday morning, we took our car in for repair. But when we returned to pick it up, the paperwork that the insurance company was supposed to send to the repair shop still hadn’t arrived.

So, Val and the manager called the company together and talked to them for a while. Actually, ‘talk’ is a polite description of what they did. Let’s just say that I learned some new and very interesting bad words. Eventually everything was sorted out (and more papers were stamped) and we were able to take our car home.

We hoped this was the end of the crime spree.

Have you had similar experiences dealing with insurance companies in France? Is the sound of the stamp stamp stamp all-too-familiar? Share your thoughts and comments in the box below!

Image credits
1. Do not cross, crime scene, by Yumi Kimura via Wikipedia
2. Collateral damage, by Turelio via Wikipedia
3. Car dealership, by CZmarlin via Wikipedia
4. Stack, by hobvias sudoneighm via Flickr

About the Contributor

Keith Van Sickle

I am a lifelong traveler who lives part of the year in Provence. I am the author of Are We French Yet and One Sip at a Time, as well as the upcoming An Insider’s Guide to Provence, all available at Amazon. You can follow me on Facebook,  Twitter and keithvansickle.com.

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