Friday, January 30, 2009

Metro Moments - Part III

People say that the French are very romantic. This may be due to their affinity for public affection. They also have a reputation for being a very intellectual people. I believe this theory was formed due to the high frequency of public reading.

The Metro is packed full of people reading! Pocket novels, essays, poetry, tabloids, newspapers, some trashy, some classy but all nourishing for the mind. Just one more reason to vote for public transportation funding in the US, if you ask me. I am sure there is a direct correlation between a population's IQ and the availability of well lit public transportation.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I am legal!!

Despite my use of bold letters, when I received the news that I was indeed a legal resident of France I wasn't that excited. I was feeling so beaten down by the negativity and the weight of bureaucracy I could hardly breathe, let alone boldly celebrate.

We had our appointment at the Prefecture de Police and showed up on time. We pulled a number from the machine and waited our turn. We walked up to the counter and sat face to face with a sour looking woman in her mid-fifties. Smiling, we chirped in unison, "Bonjour Madame!". The already prominent frown lines around her mouth deepened as she grunted, "passport.". Didn't she know this was my special day?

She then asked for a series of documents which were on the list and a few which were not on the list. We had come prepared and pulled out page after page from our fat file. She tried to stump us by throwing a few curve balls our way, like asking for originals in addition to photocopies, but we hit each one out of the park.

Then she started to smile. I hoped this was a welcome to France smile. My gut told me it was not. As it turns out this was a I just found an error in your file and now I don't have to deal with you two anymore smile. In addition to our wedding certificate, the official translation of that certificate, the livret de famille, a recent gas bill proving we are currently living together and a rent check from last year showing that we have been living together for sometime now, according to her we had not proved that we share a life together. A shared life is demonstrated by showing bank statements from a joint bank account or claims from a shared an insurance policy. Ironically joint French bank accounts and insurance policies are not available to illegal residents like moi so we didn't have any of those. I tried to point out that we have been married for one and a half years and living together in the States for three years prior to moving to France so of course we share a life, how can something like that be quantified or proved? Should we have brought our wedding album? Should we have starting kissing and holding hands in front of her?

A lecture ensued. A mean spirited, condescending, lecture that included jabs like "don't you know how to read?" and "why did you bother coming today if you weren't prepared?". Near tears, I turned to Greg who was looking rather pale himself. We sat there in silence and let her rant, we didn't know what else to do. After threatening to give us an appointment three months from now, which according to her would give us enough time to sort our selves out, she let us slide and said if we could bring in a copy of our joint American bank account that same day she would consider approving my application.

She scribbled on our entry pass that we had permission to reenter the police station later that morning. Grégoire asked if we need to speak with her when we return, she snaped, "I just wrote that on this piece of paper" which is Greg's defense she had not yet handed to us.

We ran home, grabbed our American files, and dashed back to the Prefecture de Police. We went back through security, entered our assigned room and waited for our lady to call us back up. As we waited we saw her deal with another applicant. She was a woman in her forties from Russia who already lived in France and wanted her elderly mother to join her. The Russian women had failed to prove that her mother had her own health insurance. The lady from the Prefecture gave her a lecture then paused to lean over to her co-worker and say that she thought the Russian was doing this on purpose and that she was too cheap to buy insurance for her mother....horrified I wanted to shout, "Hello?! She is standing right there, she speaks fairly good French and probably just understood what you said....what is the matter with you?!".

However, since this lady held my future in the palm of her hands I said nothing. The Russians left, defeated, and we were called up. We presented our paperwork and apparently she was satisfied because she sent us away with another form to bulding F, desk 14, to make an appointment for my Journée d'Accueil, the Day of Welcome. Relieved to be leaving this women's presence we moved on to building F. There we are met with a nicer looking lady. We told her that we needed an appointment for my Day of Welcome and before I could finish the word Welcome she said, "Did you verify that all the information on your form is correct?". I though that was an odd question given that the form only had two lines of information on it, one being my name and the other that I was asking for a visa because I was married to a French person. I examined the page again and told her, "yes". Her eyes tightened as she said, "Paper has two sides". This was not said in a nice or informative tone, like gee ma'am as it turns out this form is two sided so you might want to check the back side too. Oh no, it was said to me like I was some kind of illiterate monkey who didn't know that paper had two sides. Greg's mouth dropped open and I stuttered, "uh uh ok, well let me look then.". Blinded by frustration I could hardly read the trembling page. I handed it in and said, "Yep, looks good.". "March 16th, one o'clock" she barked, this was obviously not up for discussion so I marked it in my agenda and we walked back to building E to turn in our appointment time. They made a photo copy of my appointment time and told us good bye.

On our way out we read the note which was crudely stapled to my temporary cart de séjour. It said that I was now a legal resident of France and that I would receive my French ID card on March 16th after my Journée d'Accueil. There. I was legal. There were no fireworks, no trumpets, no smiling, not even a simple welcome to France madame.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Flood

There has been a flood of activity here in Paris and I can't wait to tell you all about it. Legality is within my grasp and job interviews abound. More stories are on the way! I'm so excited. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

La Bise

For all the time I spend dwelling on how unfrench I feel, being back in the States for a few weeks showed me that I might be a little more French than I thought. As I greeted friends and family I hadn't seen in a while I found myself leaning in for la bise or the French cheek kiss.

In America we have very loose rules about how we greet each other. Sometimes we shake hands, sometimes we hug, sometimes we kiss one cheek, sometimes we kiss on the lips, sometimes we wave and sometimes we do nothing at all. This is all very difficult for French visitors and immigrants to deal with. In France the method for greeting people is clearly defined and uniformly applied.

Men who are greeting men shake hands. Men who are greeting men who are good friends or family kiss. Men who are greeting women in a professional context shake hands. Men who are meeting women in a social context kiss.

Women who are greeting other women in a social context kiss. Women who are greeting men in a social context kiss. Women who are greeting either men or women in a professional context shake hands.

Now, allow me to explain how one properly performs la bise. 

Close your eyes and turn your head to the left. The number if kisses depends on the region. Two is the most common but it can range anywhere from one to four kisses. I just keep my eyes closed and let the other person lead. The kissing sound in critical. It needs to be nice and loud. You really can't over do it. 

The cheeks must actually touch. Air kisses only happen in the movies and in LA. When the cheeks meet, it should be all cheek. If you adjust the cheek to lip ratio, as in part of your lips touch the other persons cheek or your kiss lands fairly close to the other persons lips, do so with caution! A strong message of intimacy or hope of future intimacy can be communicated by a single lippy kiss. Believe me, sweet young exchange students who unintentionally give far too lippy kisses find themselves very popular with the boys very quickly.

La bise, is performed at hello and goodbye. This amount of kissing can make Americans uncomfortable, we consider kissing to be a very intimate act. We much prefer hugging, be it of the full on, sideways or back patting variety. Interestingly, the French have quite the opposite opinion. Hugging can make them very uncomfortable while kissing is viewed as far more casual. I suppose if you consider the body parts touching while hugging (arms, chest, neck, back, hips, hair) and the parts touching when you kiss (cheeks) they do have a point. When I first met my sister in law (who is now a dear friend and accustom to my crazy American ways) I would tackle her with a giant hello hug. As I wrapped her up in my arms I could feel her back stiffen and her shoulders tense. I unknowingly moved too quickly from kissing to hugging. This same thing occurred with many other in-laws and French friends. I have since toned down the hugging and turned up the kissing. There is just so much to learn.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Entry

On January 1st I had my Visa de Long Séjour  in hand and felt proud to be entering Europe legally for the first time in months. Grégoire and I flew to Paris via Copenhagen on SAS. At the check-in desk we were, for no apparent reason, bumped up to business class! What a dream! 

There are various theories as to why we were upgraded. Greg believes that it was thanks to his vintage coat and traditional briefcase, his chic outfit oozed business class and the lady behind the counter simply wanted to reunite him with his people. I believe we were upgraded because there weren't any seats together in coach and she saw how in love we were and didn't want to separate us. 

Whatever the reason we were thrilled. Grégoire and I were giddy as we waited to board the plane, I turned to Greg and told him, "Ok. Let's not get too excited sweetheart. I mean it's going to be nice but it's not like the seat is going to fold out in to a bed and vibrate.". Well, mon coeur, I stand corrected.  Our seats not only folded in to beds they also came with soft pillows, duvets, all the booze you could drink and a remote control to regulate the desired strength of vibration. 

During the flight I reviewed the instructions attached to my visa, they clearly state that upon arrival in France I must have the visa inside my passport stamped by the officers at passport control. We stopped in Copenhagen en-route for Paris. When we landed in Denmark we walked through the passport control there. As per usual, the guy behind the counter looked at the photo-page of my passport, smiles at me and welcomes me to Europe. No stamp, no scan, no questions, no form to fill out, no flipping through the pages to see if I had any visa and  thus  in need of further examination. I thought, great, well that was easy. Then, as we boarded the flight from Denmark to France (both members of the European Union) I realized that that was the ONLY passport control we were going to see, since inter-european flights are treated as domestic flights and thus do not go through passport control a second time in France! Merde! I had no stamp. 

When we landed in Paris we went to baggage claim and then looked for some kind of official to ask where I can find the passport people in order to get my visa stamped. "Oh no madame, you are in the domestic arrivals area. You cannot go back in to the international portion of the airport unless you have a boarding pass." I explained, " Listen, I just took a quick trip to the other side of the world to get this stupid sticker in my passport and it says I need a stamp from the French passport people and you, monsieur, are not going to ruin this for me. So can you please tell me where I should go?". The group of men shrugged and sent me to the information desk. There we found an obviously discontented worker whose only response was, "Yes, well, you should have got your passport stamped in Copenhagen since that was your first point of entry.". "Well fabulous! Would you like me to fly back there today and get it stamped? Or can you some how figure out how to connect me with a person who has the ink and the stamp in THIS airport since we are here!?". Folding her arms she leaned back and continued to scold us for not getting it stamped in Copenhagen like we should have. 

It was tempting for me to direct my anger to this unhelpful airport employee but really, if we want to point fingers, it was the guy at the passport control in Copenhagen. Maybe it was my innocent looking face, maybe it was the color of my American passport, whatever the reason that worker should have scrutinized my passport and not just smiled at me and waved me through. That Danish worker, 750 miles from Paris, was charged with policing the French boarder. Since France is almost completely encircled by EU member states they are often dependent on their fellow European nations to decided who does and does not enter their territory. Maybe I should have pointed out my visa to him but is that really my responsibility? Maybe the language in the visa instructions need to be updated and tell you to get the visa stamped by the first EU passport control you see? Maybe the Prefecture de Police won't care? We'll see next week. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Almost Legal

It has been a long and bumpy road to legality but I am finally on the right path and nearing the finish line. Over the past three weeks I have gone from illegal to almost legal to temporarily legal, several huge steps. Let me fill you in!

During my last rendez-vous with the Préfecture de Police Cité I learned that I needed a Visa D long séjour pour famille ou conjoint Français before I could apply for a Carte de Séjour. Period. This visa can only be obtained at your local French Consulate. The trouble was, of course, that my local consulate is in San Francisco!

Since I was heading back to Seattle (There, see? I used the proper name instead of home. Progress.) for the holidays, I incorporated a side trip to San Francisco. After much debate about how long this little meeting was going to take and if I needed to spend the night for not, I decided to hope for the best and buy a flight that went down and back in the same day.

As it turns out, one of my new friends, who is has also married a frenchman, had an appointment that very same day! I flew in and met Dominique for lunch. Clutching her visa in her hand she told me all about her successful appointment over a bowl of wonton soup. Encouraged by her story,  I marched in to the office feeling confident. I was told to sit on one of the blue chairs and wait for my name to be called. I was surrounded by a lineup of doe-eyed college students who were applying for student visas. In their oh so french slouchy boots, trench coats and barrets they looked postcard perfect before they even touched the ground in Paris. As I waited to be called up to the front, one of these little darlings leaned over to ask where I was going to study? I smiled and said, "Oh no sweetheart. I have moved on to the next level: Marrying a Frenchman." The girl's mouth fell open a little and the other girls leaned to overhear my story. It was a priceless. 

Moments later, my name was called, my file reviewed and my passport stamped. I was then the proud owner of a Visa which meant that I then had the right to enter France and ask permission to stay, a small but important step. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

There is Dirt in my Food

I really don't have much to say about this other than stating the facts. In 26 years of living in the States I have found dirt in my food two, maybe three, times tops. In nine months of living in France I have bitten down on a bug, found a piece of sand or other earthy matter in my food five times. Five.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beauty Secrets

As we strive to be a more beautiful and fabulous version of ourselves in 2009, I thought I would share two of my favorite beauty tips that I have received from my European counterparts.

Hair Removal: My dear aunt Annie, sister of my French host mother, taught me a valuable, albeit harsh, lesson about leg hair. In the fall of 1999 Odile and I were visiting Paris for a Jewish holiday. Annie arrived fashionably late, as she often did, and floated elegantly around the apartment kissing all the guests. She spotted a pair of big black Doc Martins on the floor. Her face lit up as she inquired if any young men were invited to dinner this evening. Annie, a beautiful woman in her late forties, loved young men. She was sorely disappointed to learn the shoes were mine and genuinely confused as to why I would be wearing men's shoes. At 16 I admittedly had a mixed bag of fashionable and less fashionable items in my wardrobe. 

The evening rolled on and soon it was time for bed. Annie and I were sharing the fold out couch. I let Annie use the bathroom first. A few minutes later she came rushing back in to the living room with my razor in hand shouting "Qu'est que c'est ça?! What is this? Whose is it?". "Uhhh..mine?" I reply, knowing that was going to be the wrong answer. Annie shook her hair in disbelief, "and what do you do with it?". Unsure as to where this was going I thought it best to answer honestly, "Shave my legs?". "Quoi?! Do you want to have thighs like the cheek of a man? Women should only ever wax their legs!". She gave me a sad, poor you, look wondering who failed to teach me this essential life lesson. She turned away and went back to the bathroom. I heard her rummaging through the rest of my toiletries but they apparently past muster since she then switched off the light and went to bed. Annie, thank you for the advice. I have been waxing my legs ever since, I swear. May you rest in peace.

Peeing to the Marseillaise: This advice is more recent and was passed on to me with equal conviction and enthusiasm. I was on tour this summer with a sassy and beautiful Belgian coworker who was boasting about how long she can go on road trips without having to pee. This conversation meandered and finished by her looking me square in the eye and saying, "Mary, chérie, it is important for a number of reasons to keep that area taut and fit [wink and a smile]. All women should be able to pee while keeping time to the Marseillaise.". The Marseillaise is the French national anthem and when she told me this I practically peed my pants with laughter. Later that evening I put this exercise in to practice and have been reaping the benefits ever since. Les enfants HOLD de la patrie RELEASE la jour de gloire HOLD est arrivée RELEASE.....