I arrived early to my appointment and found the very same crowd at the door that I saw on google map's street view, I suspect their door is permanently surrounded with people. I stood with a group of 40 or so immigrants outside the agency, which was closed for lunch. Everyone had the same appointment time, one o'clock, and everyone had to stay for the entire half day session so I found it baffling that everyone was banging on the door and pushing and shoving their way in. I was seriously concerned about being crushed so I stepped back, watched and waited for the craziess to subside. It occurred to me that maybe these people were emigrating from countries where you have to push and shout and shove to get your way.
The video focused on the importance of learning the French language and embracing French cultural values. The film featured loads of long beautiful shots of French châteaux, vineyards and the eiffel tower. The image that was presented of France, was of a unified and clearly defined monoculture. The message was clear, we are welcome to join the French in being French if we like but that subsitutions, modifications or additions to this culture are not encouraged or appreciated.
After the video we were called up one by one for an individual interview. I met with an immigration adviser who was pleasant and efficient. We chitchatted about my work and why I moved France. As we talked she was evaluating my French and after filling out a quick vocabulary test (ie. matching the word stamps to the sentence saying "At the post office you buy BLANK to mail your letters") she gave me a waver for the state run language lessons and since I already have a job she also gave me a waver for the day of learning how to get a job in France. The only day that I did not get out of is the day of civic rights and obligations. This is a full 8 hour session which includes a free lunch, where all of my new freedoms and duties will be explained to me. From how to sign my future children up for school to how to get medical help should I break my arm. I actually think it sounds pretty interesting.
Then it was on to the medical portion of my Day of Welcome. I stood in a cattle call type line up and was weighed and measured. Then I was escorted into a small booth with two doors. The woman said to lock the door behind me and get fully undressed from the waist up. I glanced around the phone-booth sized room, there was no paper gown, no robe, just a hook to hang my top and bra on and large poster explaining in several languages that you should get undressed.
A few minutes later a doctor in is late sixties calls my name and asks me to follow him. He has my x-ray in hand. We go in to a more traditional looking doctors office and he puts my x-ray on the light board. "Ooooh! Is that me?!" I say. He looks at my seriously and says, "Non". I can plainly see my name at the bottom on the x-ray and in seeing my confused face he takes my hand and says, "This (my hand) is you. This is just a distant image of you. This. This is you.". He looked like a cooky old philosophy professor so I smile and nod and try my best to humor him.
He says that my x-ray looks good. Although he can see that there are some gas bubbles in my upper intestinal track. He asks my nationality, I say American. He nods knowingly and says, "I imagine you drink lots of soda then? Coke probably?" "No, no I don't" I say, turns out I don't like the stuff. "Oh, do you drink a lot of alcohol then?" he says, "Alcohol? Oui" I say. "The gas must be caused by all the beer you drink then" he concludes. I assured him that I am more of a red wine kind of gal and he just shakes his head and shrugs in an I am not sure why you (an American who doesn't love beer and soda) has gas then. I paused here to make a mental note to write a separate blog entry about the French and their affinity for discussing and analyzing bodily functions.... which has since been written here.
I was tuberculosis free so all he needed to do was take my blood pressure and listen to my heart. I had put my shirt back on so he asked me to pull it up and he tucked his stethoscope AND his hand inside my bra....not sure if everyone gets this kind of warm welcome...and then sits down and tells me he thinks I am beautiful. He says, "I know that your country and my country don't always agree but I want you to know that I know how to differentiate between a beautiful young American like you and the choices that her government makes. After Obama got elected all I want to do is give the Americans I see a hug and thank them for having the courage to make such a bold decision." At that point I was fairly sure he was coming in for a hug so I pulled my shirt back down, stood up and said, "Great, are we done here then?". He escorted me back to the waiting room without hugging me.
Medical visit done, language test complete and video screened. I was ready to pick up my visa. I am called up and they pull my file and ask for my temporary visa and 300 euros in fiscal stamps. "Excusez-moi? What €300 are we talking about here? And what is a fiscal stamp?". I was sure that this whole process was free. No one during this whole ordeal ever mentioned anything about any kind of fees. I had twenty euros in my pocket, a 300 US Dollar daily limit on my American ATM card and no French checkbook or card because you need a Visa in order to have one of those. Grégoire was in NYC on a business trip and he is the only person that can withdrawal from our checking account (side note the bank is happy to put my pay checks IN I am just not allowed to take any money OUT unless Greg is there) so I tell the guy that I don't have the money. He says it is no problem and that I can just come back later. Later. Ugh.
Greg returned from New York on Wednesday and with €300 in hand we walked down to the local Tabac (shops that sell cigarettes, magazines, lottery tickets and fiscal stamps) to buy our stamps. I am still trying to wrap my mind around the concept of fiscal stamps, they look like postage stamps and are sold in varying amounts (€5, €15, €35 and €55) and used to pay for parking tickets, license renewals and visas. They are like money orders for government fees. Why they are sold at privately owed cigarette shops? I don't know. We went back to the immigration offices, handed over the stamps and in turn was handed my carte de séjour!!