On previous visits to France, I had been a little bit frustrated (and even a little confused in this age of plastic) to get stuck behind people in shops as they carefully completed a cheque for a €4 purchase. A French friend explained some of the reasons; it is a crime to write a cheque if you do not have enough cash to cover it (which is a little different to some countries, like the UK where students write checks to make it to the end of the month and sort it out with their bank later). Many shops will happily print your check and they show no sign of disappearing in the near future.
Personal banking has survived very well in France and don’t get shocked as you are taken to one side or even to a private office to talk to an assigned manager when you walk in to open an account. A good tip is to get a referral from some one as this could improve the welcome even more.
Having a personal contact at the bank does mean you have someone to complain to when they prove to be completely incapable of getting anything right (something French banks have in common with others in many countries). Cards that don’t work, mysterious debits and mail that never arrives are far too common. The manager will also be able to explain to you the seemingly endless charges that will hit your account – I haven’t been charged entry at the branch yet, but have a feeling it may come soon. Persistent questioning may succeed in getting some of them knocked off, but don’t depend on it.
The downside to the approach is you may be asked to provide details of your financial status that make your eyes water. Live with it – French banking is about them working out how to load you with as many fees and financial products as your wealth can bear.