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.