Monday, May 15, 2006

Wine bureaucracy

As a wine producer I am obliged to pay duty on each bottle that I sell. Thankfully in France this tax is a very reasonable 0.02 euros/bottle. Thus, for my entire 2004 harvest I will owe the government the grand sum of 17€. I would gladly write a check right now, but that is not how the system works…

No, the tax on each bottle is due at the instant that said bottle leaves my cellar. Now the wise folk down at the customs office appreciate that it is not very practical for me to drive 10km and pay 0.02€ on each occasion that I sell a bottle of wine. Instead I must keep a full account of all transactions and then visit the customs office before the 10th of each month to pay the total tax due. Still seems like a slightly cumbersome system to me, but I guess I’ll just have to live with it.

But wait there’s a problem here… I mean what would happen if I shipped some wine and then went bankrupt before paying my 0.02€… well the customs office would be out of pocket and they don’t like that at all. So before granting me the right to sell wine they require a guarantee from my bank that it will cover an unlimited amount of unpaid tax. Obtaining this guarantee involves completing an unbelievably complex form provided by the customs office and then having this completed form stamped by my bank. Of course the keeper of the stamp is a very important man who works in very, very tall building in Paris. So he takes 2 months and 86€ to stamp my form…

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I posted my freshly stamped form to the head customs office in Paris, secure in the knowledge that they would soon grant me the right to sell my wine. And today I receive a letter that reads…

Dear Sir,

In box 23.4a on page 12 of our very complex and unnecessary form you entered a tick when in fact you should have written the letter “C” as this guarantee pertains to wine. Please obtain, from us, a new form and start the whole darn process again.

They didn’t even enclose a new form! The letter does however have one of those very polite formal French endings where they pledge eternal devotion to the exalted recipient.

Please, please just let me write a check for 17€….


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