June 8, 2008

Did you just say French bureaucracy is absurd?

Posted in Daily life, Les français tagged , , , , , , , at 12:03 am by Lauren

Thursday I had a rendez-vous at the prefecture for my carte de sejour, or residence card. I’ve been looking forward to this appointment since February.

I wasn’t really sure how it would go. I knew that I was supposed to show up at the prefecture at 4 pm, or possibly earlier because sometimes there is a long line outside the building. I was to bring many, many proofs that I was myself and that I should live in France and indeed that I did live in France, plus strictly regulated pictures of myself. And photocopies. I was also to bring Allen, in the flesh, as well as proof that he is himself, that he is my husband, and that our marriage is not a sham (harder to find proof of this than you might suspect). I might or might not need a doctor’s visit, I might or might not get my actual carte de sejour pasted in my passport that day, or maybe I was really applying for the first time since the woman at the February appointment hadn’t taken any paperwork from me. What’s more, I might have to pay up to 275 euros, possibly in cash. Big on paperwork and red tape, not so big on actual information sharing.

I suppose all that is to say, I had no idea what to expect. And I was scared. (I like to refer to this as “an appropriate fear of French bureaucracy” as I think the French actual foster this sense of uncertainty on purpose.)

Allen and I set a meeting time of 3:15 and promptly cemented two very different meeting spots into our mental calendars. At 3:40, Allen called me from the house, breathless from having run back there. “Where are you?” Then he ran back again, we met, gave each other a look, and got on with it. There was no line, so we breezed through the metal detectors. In the Europe-America-Middle East room (really?), we presented ourselves at the desk and got a number. (The woman at the desk said they were going to cut people off for the day because it was getting late, and there were a lot of people waiting. It was only 3:50.) Then we sat. (Sitting for a long time increases the appropriate fear of French bureaucracy, you see.)

When our number was called, only a few other couples remained in the waiting area. We presented my dossier to the desk agent, who flipped through it. She determined immediately that this would be a ten year application, meaning my residence card would be good for ten years without renewal. Happy third anniversary to us!

(Easiest immigration story ever. Ever. Okay, here’s what you do. Be American. Marry a French citizen. Be married three years. Then move to France and apply for residence. The end.)

But it wasn’t quite that simple. We didn’t have enough proof that our marriage wasn’t a sham. In fact, we had hardly any. It’s all home in the States. We don’t have a proper lease here, we don’t get utilities in our names, we don’t have any official French correspondence, we didn’t apply for health coverage, and we don’t have a bank account. We don’t exist (and neither does our marriage – nevermind that we weren’t officially married in the eyes of the French until December). So friendly French bureaucrat says we need to come back with more proof, in a few months.

Uh oh. We explained the part where we return to the States at the end of the month and don’t know when we’re coming back.

“Wait,” she says. “Are you living here or there?”

“We’ve been living here for a year, so I did what I’m legally supposed to do and applied for residence. But at the end of the month, we’re going back to the United States, and we’ll be living there.” I kept repeating something like, “I just did what I was supposed to, legally.”

“Applying for residence when you’re leaving in a month is absurd!” Our bureaucrat furrowed her brows. I agreed. (So very Parisian, the righteous indignation. So very French. Except usually it’s not on my side!)

“The Americans, they just come and go as they please!” The bureaucrat in the next booth chimed in, seeming surprised that I had bothered to follow the legal route. (Can I cite that as a legal French policy next time I move here?)

The two bureaucrats put their heads together and came up with a solution. I’d get a new recipisse, good for three more months. Along with that would be a document asking me to request an appointment with the prefecture to continue my application. I could request that appointment whenever I returned to the country – or not.

“Moins de boulot pour moi,” our bureaucrat muttered, “Less work for me.”

That worked just fine for Allen and me too. We didn’t really want to pay for the carte de sejour (275 euros, over $400, remember?) with just 25 more days to go in the country. And if we do move back to France, we can prepare a ream of documentation (plus photocopies!) to prove our marriage isn’t a sham – in advance.

We left the prefecture in high spirits and went straight for a Berthillon ice cream. Ah, to be an American in Paris.


1 Comment »

  1. BJ said,

    I can see you as you walked out of the building…you probably reacted as the AFLAC duck does following an encounter with Yogi Berra. Sounds like a good ending however.

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