Excusez-moi, this post is several hours late. That is because today, I was out dealing with the French administration, which, after a few hours, helps one understand Sartre’s inspiration for “No Exit”.
The adventure began several months ago when Em mentioned that she’s like an official ID. This is a handy thing to have for art exhibitions, movie tickets and encounters with the RATP. Being someone who loves having all her paper work in order, I gave an enthusiastic OUI! and suggested we plan to go the first week of her holidays. That was in June.
Having done this before, I wen to the official site, printed out the list of required documents and the forms to fill out. We headed out the door, confident that everything was in order. Arriving at the Mairie of the 6th arrondisement, we were told that official documents were now being handled in the 7th arrondissement. Which struck my funny bone, because when we lived in the 7th I’d had to come here for our passports. We traipsed off to the 7th.
The office was virtually empty. 4 civil servants were in the room, 3 behind their desks, a fourth standing there with his hands behind his back. There were two citizens being helped at the desks and a woman waiting with her child. After several minutes the standing man asked her if she had an appointment. She nodded her head, showing him the postcard she had received telling her to come by and pick up her son’s passport. The man shrugged and refused to help her. He returned to his post, but several minutes later he must have gotten bored because he stepped back up to Madame, took her card and went to get the passport. Then he turned to me, asking if I had an appointment. I did not.
“You must have an appointment,” he informed me, pointing to a sign that confirmed appointments have been required since Jan.
“That really sucks,” I told him, “I was on your website and there was nothing saying they were now required.”
“You went on the wrong site.”
“I went on the official government site.”
“Aha! I knew it. That is the wrong site. We are not the government, we are the police.” he exclaimed triomphantly.
I didn’t know how to respond to this. If he remembered me he could prevent me from ever getting the documents I required. But I could not resist, sneering something that sounded like this, “I may be an immigrant, but I am smart enough to know that you work for the government. You may want to go back to elementary school and learn something.”
I went home and sure enough, the official police site is a government site and it did NOT mention appointments were now mandatory. But it DID provided the link to make one. So I did. The next available one being today. We had to wait five weeks to see someone in an office in which only 1/2 of its staff was occupied. No wonder France is in trouble!
We arrived and I was confident that all our papers were in order. Ha, ha, ha…. I was actually curious to find out what problems they’d create. Again, two people were busy, two were not. I had my appointment and its reference number. They didn’t check either, it was enough to say yes, I had an appointment. Remember that when its your turn folks!
First problem, the photo looked too small. The fonctionnaire wasn’t sure, but she thought it was too small. She went to check with her boss. He wasn’t sure either, but it must have been a rather funny, engrossing debate. It took 8 minutes and involved lots of laughter.She agreed to send the photo, warning us it may be returned.
Second problem, the I had not photocopied the back of my ID card, only the front. I brought out the list. They do not require a photocopy of the back. She wanted one anyway.
The photocopy machine in the room was broken. I had to cross the courtyard and run upstairs. BUT, she warned me, the machine only takes 10 centimes pieces. I only had a 50 centimes piece. I run across the street to the post office, where, she has told me, they have a change machine. The post office is on summer hours and closed until 13h30. The Prefecture is on bureaucrat hours and will not see the public after 13h30. I see a tabac up the street and enter apologizing, explaining my plight to the woman at the bar, who is shaking her head.
“I really want to help you, but the post office just started their summer hours and people have been asking me for 10 pieces all morning. I’ve got nothing left.”
A kind gentleman at the bar offers me a 20 centimes coin. I re-explain my plight. The emaciated man next to him, with tired eyes and drawn skin eyes me wearily. He has a 10 centimes coin on the change tray in front of him, but I can sense these 10 cents are important to him. He has been debating whether or not to help for the past three minutes. He offers me his ten cents. I grab it thankfully, handing him my 50 centimes in exchange. His face lights up. I return the 20 centimes to my gallant prince and head out the door, clutching the coin tightly, petrified I am going to drop it as I stumble across the incredibly uneven, 3 century old paving stones. I make it into the Mairie, head upstairs and find the photocopier. It is being used by a man needing many, many copies. I am so happy to have the right change that I do not huff, or puff my impatience. I stand their happily and he invites me to make my copy, explaining he has many. I go to put my coin in the machine. Which is when I see that it takes all kinds of coins. It does not make change, but it would have happily taken my 50 centimes coin.
I make my copy, complete my dossier and flounce off, totally thrilled that my extra 40 cents went to someone who really appreciated it.
ah, now, that’s the spirit!
Yes, they’re going to really regret my 40 centimes!!!
This, of course, brings many traumatic visits to French government (and police!) offices. And just in case this could save someone angst some day, I’m going to mention the requirement in France that birth certificates be less than 3 months old. Now, this is because all information concerning civil status (birth, death, marriage, divorce) is recorded in the civil register and on birth extracts. If that is not the case in your country (and Australia is one of them), you do not require a recent extract. If you have your extract/certificate translated, ask for several copies (at a slight extra charge) which you can then keep using all your life. OK, so you have to convince the government official to take it, but it has never failed me and I have been married twice, divorced once, obtained French nationality and got a French passport and French. Just be firm …
What a great strategy, Rosemary! I’ve surrendered and order mine on the civil status website… that mysterious place in Nantes. Takes three days to arrive, but its free and I’m clearly not great at being firm. I bet you would have been seen on your first visit, without RDV!
You actually made that sound fun…and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t!! 🙂
It actually was kind of fun. I feel like I’m playing some form of real life boatd game and I know that eventually, I’ll win!
Mon Dieu! And were you sweating profusely by the time you got your copy made???
Now imagine trying to accomplish that small task if you only speak a modicum of French? And pity me.
I can’t imagine, Kate. Chapeaux to you!
What a nightmare bureaucracy seems to be in France! I’ve been reading blogs for a while and there are too many horror stories about it.
I thought I had seen it all when I lived in Mexico but France may top it.
I’m not one known for patience and as I was reading your ordeal I was imagining all the fights I’d be getting into with these sarcastic characters who seem to enjoy a little too much their little power trips! Arrrggghhh
I’ve never dealt with Mexican bureaucracy, but my friend who moved to China had a much easier time of it there, than I did here! I can’t take it personally, after carefully observation, my 5 year old (at the time) realized they’re even like that with the “real” French people who don’t have Mommy’s embarrassing accent.
You are a brave lady for talking back to a civil servent. Shhhhhh! They have your life in their hands!