Right now, I am sitting in the offices of the Caisse d’Allocation Familial. These are the folks who give out subsidies to families with children, and help students pay their rent. We’re a motley lot; foreigners, people with handicaps and single moms. The woman at the ‘welcome’ desk is yelling at everyone as they come through the door, putting all her energy into turning us away. I am one of the fortunate ones; well educated, a proper breakfast in my stomach, and two kids safe at school. With decent prospects, I have plenty of confidence for the arguing and bullying required. Being very persistent, I am given a deli ticket. It is not golden, but it gives me the right to wait my turn and speak with someone who may actually be able to help.

At most of the places I visited this week: the tax authority, city hall and social security, there is a very similar UNwelcome desk, where a ‘host’ does everything possible to convince you that you are in the wrong place, missing certain essential documents and would be doing everyone a favor if you’d just leave. It is one of the most frustrating aspects to living in France.

I used to take it personally: it was my fault and I had to arrive better prepared. I was very relieved last spring when the über cool, totally French Ioudgine blogged about the 146 days she wasted unsuccessfully trying to get the local tax authorities to correct their own computer error so that she could actually PAY her taxes.

Its not as easy as it sounds. For example, you almost always need a phone, gas, or electricity bill that is less than 3 months old and has your name spelled correctly with an address that is the exact same as the one where you claim to live. But I no longer have a land line and our building is gas-free. This leaves the electric company, which has misspelled both of our names, and has the address they use to access our building, not the mailing address I need to use for administrative purposes. With an annual plan, I only receive a bill once a year, anyway.

So I wait patiently at the CAF, caressing my worry beads to the mantra, “thank god for Photoshop” and I breath. My number is called, the visit is brief and I leave the office with a pre-printed list of additional documents they require. This list is different from the one they mailed to my home that had me coming to the office to begin with and I am only here because they want to “regularize” my situation. Which, actually, does not involve them because they don’t give me anything and I have asked for nothing. Urgh….

The bright side to all of this is that I am convinced its the reason the French invented champagne and perfected chocolate. We need it!!

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