5 nice Frenchies… 1 Day…. C’est pas possible!

Here it goes. Yes another French administration post. I am sure you all love reading these as much as I love going to these places but hey, its part of the experience. Whenever anyone asks me with that sparkle in their eye about moving to wonderful and romantic Paris, I can’t help but ask if they are ready for the year of impossibilities that lay ahead in trying to get a visa. Don’t get me wrong, my life kicks ass… but I definitely could do without this nonsense. However, today was pleasantly surprising. That’s right boys and girls… something seemed to go well. Shocker.

I had to go the Office of Immigration (OFII) because after your get your visa you have 3 months to have a medical visit and be approved by this office. When you return back to Paris, you send in your paperwork and they give you an appointment. Simple enough, right? Well yes, if you ever get that lovely appointment time. I am 12 days away from being here 3 months after getting my work visa. And I have no appointment.

I did the usual take-matters-in-to-my-own-hands sort of thing and decided to brave yet another journey to OFII. I first went to the office in Paris. It corresponds with where I live so that supposedly is the office. The first time I came here was when my encounter with the CERFA rouge devil happened. Optimistically, I had higher hopes today because I did in fact come equipped with my CERFA rouge!! (Yes, I somehow managed to track down this stupid paper in the labyrinth of French administration. Props to me.)

My hopes stayed on track when I entered the building and after a quick smile (smile! from a French person!) from the security guard, looked up to see the CERFA rouge devil was not working today. Instead, a young man with a pleasant demeanor stood behind the desk giving information that looked to be very helpful for the people in front of me.

When it was my turn, I carefully explained my situation in the best French I had available. I have to say that explaining your legal status of immigration is not the easiest subject matter in a foreign language. However, I got my point across and the young man was more than patient when I had to search my brain for a word. At the time, I thought he was being helpful and after looking at my papers, told me I needed to go to another office located in the outskirts of Paris. I double checked asking him if it was correct that the office associated with my work and not with where I live. He confirmed this, gave me directions, and I was on my merry way.

After a long metro ride, I found myself lost. Of course. I wandered around and wasn’t all too unhappy since the sun actually has shown its face today in Paris. Finally, I decided to ask someone. Luckily that person happened to be unbelievably nice and helpful man who gave very clear directions (even someone like me could figure it out!). As I made the short walk to the next OFII office, I chuckled and though, “3 for 3 on nice French people. Today is a miracle.

Once I entered the office there was a line but at the front of the line was a short, middle-aged woman behind the desk speaking English to the person she was helping. Score! A little weight was lifted off my shoulders. When it was my turn, I carefully explained my situation. She kindly looked up my file and asked me questions to make sure she understood. She then looked up at me and told me I was in the wrong place. I needed to be at the office in Paris.

Well.

I explained to her I just came from there and they had directed me here. Dumbfounded but still polite, she told me to wait for her colleague to help me.

4 for 4 nice French people.

Next up. A nicely dressed man came over to me to discuss my file. I again explained my situation and he was just as confused as me and the path of people I had encountered prior. Eventually he had me follow him to his office. There, he copied my file and sent it electronically to the Paris office. He then tried calling them but of course they didn’t answer. He said even when you work together you can’t get anyone on the phone in France.

I still haven’t decided if I love these comments or hate them. I love it because then I know it’s not just me. I hate them because it is ridiculous that I live in a place that doesn’t believe in operating efficient businesses.

Anyway, he told me I should hear from them within a month for my appointment and if not he gave me his direct number and email. Where has he been my whole struggle through this process? Why can’t this wonderful man work in every single administrative office in Paris? 5 for 5 today! I left the office happy that I am one step closer to getting what I need.

Not a complete success but a step closer. And in Paris, I take that as a win.

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It Doesn’t Get Better

When I was jumping through hoops and going through endless obstacle course to get my work visa last year, I thought that a large part of the problem was my lack of French. Although I knew the French administration was notorious, by expats and natives alike, for being inefficient, difficult, and downright impossible, I did think my lack of the native language had a large part in my difficulties.

After finally receiving my visa in January, I cried with excitement. My year of effort had paid off and I was done. No more unsuccessful visits to the Prefecture or DDTEFP. Or so I thought.

Yesterday I made the journey to two lovely places: one office to receive a temporary Social Security Number in order to start getting my medical benefits and another to be fulfil immigration requirements. I hate to cut to the chase but for those of you who wonder if anything actually worked out in the end—it didn’t. Let me explain.

8h15. I arrive at the Social Security office that opens at 8h30 to already find a line of people: an old, disheveled woman with mismatched clothes and ratty gray hair sitting on the steps, a young woman anxiously pacing back and forth in front of the building, an older African man calmly smoking his cigarette, and a young mother attempting to keep her boisterous children under control. I nibbled on my pain au chocolat observing the scene. The line continued to grow–an old hippie complete with a camo sweatshirt, a small Arabic man uncomfortably shifting from side to side…

Finally the doors open and we rushed in. After getting assigned numbers we were shuffled into a small seating area. I was lucky number 4. Not bad. Soon the loud buzz and sign indicated I was next so I proceeded to the correct window. Trying to keep a pleasant demeanour because I knew this was going to be equivalent to a trip to the DMV, I walked up with a smile and friendly bonjour! The stoic, middle-aged man didn’t look up or respond.

“Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?) I started, not sure if he was ready to begin helping me or not. Although I can get by with my French, I do prefer to naturally do important things in English. So, it’s always worth a shot.

“Non.” He still had yet to look at me. His sternness weakened my confidence but I kept trying.

“Bon, pas de probleme. Je parle un peu française. Je besoin de une sécurité sociale temporaire. ” (Not a problem. I speak a bit of French. I need a temporary Social Security Number.) At this point he didn’t even talk, a gesture of his hand-made me assume he wanted my papers. I began to hand him my birth certificate and its translation, my work contract, my pay slip, and a few other documents. Everything was in order and I had everything that I was told I needed.

Finally he spoke: “RIB” I knew that he needed my account information from my bank so I slipped him the paper. “Est-ce l’original ou une copie?” (Is this the original or a copy?)

“Une copie, monsieur” (A copy, sir) I replied timidly, knowing it was the wrong answer.

“Non, il doit être l’original. Pas une copie. ” (No, it has to be the original. Not a copy.)

And just like that my hope of success was shattered. He stapled the papers I did have attached with a form. On top he scribbled, “RIB original” and then proceeded to highlight the information I needed to fill out. I still managed to keep a calm and agreeable mood when I tried to clarify the next steps. “Merci, monsieur. Je sais que j’ai besoin de la RIB original, mais alors que je peux ramener mon dossier ici?” (Thank yo, sir. I know I need the orginal RIB but then can I bring back my file here?)

“Pas ici.” (Not here.) He attached a pamphlet to my papers, circled an address and shoved the stack my way. I gave him a slight smile, said good-bye and left with my tail between my legs.

I tried not to get too discouraged and went to my next stop. Once you receive your visa, you have to go to OFII, which is the equivalent to the Department of Immigration I suppose, within 3 months of entering France. You need to get a medical exam—basically they x-ray your chest and then awkwardly make you talk with them without your shirt on. Yes, another thing that makes no sense here. Anyways, I have done it before when I was an au pair. It wasn’t difficult. I sent in my papers, got an appointment, and I was good to go.

So, when coming back from Christmas holiday with my shiny new work visa, I did the same. It has been over a month and I have no news from OFII. Usually I wouldn’t care because this is the normal speed the French work at, however, there is a deadline. The fact I will be in Thailand for the next 2 weeks doesn’t help either. I decided to take matters into my own hands and go to the office. Why did I think this would work? I don’t know.

When I found the office there was a good of men smoking outside. No one was speaking French and no one seemed happy. I managed to scoot pass the crowd and enter the building. There was a row of chairs on one side of the room that was filled with people who looked like they had been there for ages. I walked up to the counter and began my story. This time I tried to be less cheerful and more stern.

“Bonjour. J’ai envoyé mon dossier il ya longtemps et ont entendu aucune réponse. J’ai besoin d’obtenir un rendez-vous bientôt parce que je pars en vacances.” (Hello. I sent my file in a long time ago and I haven’t received a response. I need an appointment soon because I am leaving for holiday.)

“Quel dossier ? Quel rendez-vous ?” (Which file? Which appointment?) She said this all without looking at me and waving her hand like she was asking for something. So I proceeded to hand her my papers and try to explain the situation more. At this point, as she shuffled through my papers, began to take people who had begun to line up behind me. She cut off almost every sentence I began and did not explain what she needed. Well, that is until she began to yell, “CERFA rouge. J’ai besoin de votre CERFA rouge. Votre CERFA rouge.” (CERFA red. I need your CERFA red. Your CERFA red.)

She finally looked up and made eye contact. Her angry and impatient eyes examined my confused and apprehensive face. I had no idea what she wanted. I had never heard of this document. I had called the office, checked the website, and looked at the letter they had sent and no where was a CERFA rouge mentioned. “CERFA rouge.” She continued to yell. “J’ai besoin de votre CERFA rouge signé par DDTEFP.” (I need your CERFA red signed by DDTEFP.) I tried to tell her I didn’t understand and I don’t have it. “Je ne sais pas la traduction. CERFA rogue. CERFA rogue” (I don’t know the translation. CERFA red. CERFA red.) I hate when people tell me they don’t know the English word when there isn’t one. The reason I didn’t understand her was not because it was in French, it was because I have no idea what the hell that document is. You could say it in any language and I would still not know. But thank you for making me feel like an incompetent idiot. She then scribbled an address in a small piece of paper, threw my papers I had given her down in front of me and told me to leave with a swift point to the door.

Flabbergasted, I walked out.

I stood there. In front of the building searching the depths of my memory for any recollection of a document called CERFA rogue. I finally managed to vaguely remember the paperwork I filled out last year for my visa. I rushed back to my flat and searched my stack of documents. There it was. I had made a photocopy of the paper before I sent it in to get my work visa. I had seen it again when at the consulate in LA. Problem is, I never had or ever will have that same document with the signature and stamp of the DDTEFP. It is someone in the labyrinth of the French administration never for me to be seen again. It was never leant to be returned to me. And I have no idea how I will ever retrieve it.

So here I am. A full day of French administration and not even a bit closer to what I need to do. I want to be done. I love Paris. I love my job. I love my life. But I am out of energy. No more please.

Finger Crossed

I couldn’t believe it when I heard. Let me illustrate the scene.

A French person. August. 18h45. Works in administration. Calls my boss. Gives her an email of the person working on my file.

For those of you who have never dealt with French admin or visa issues, you have no idea who incredible this is. First of all, no one in France works in August–let alone pass 17h. And someone in French admin!!! And the fact she gave us a contact for my file!! Things are looking up. There maybe some light at the end of the tunnel!!

Apparently this dude that is working on my file comes back from his holiday on August 16 which means I have a month and a half to figure out this visa shit until well, I am full-blown illegal and forced to return to the US.

My first choice is obviously stay here. I love Paris and I still am not done with my experience here. However, I have also finally come to the acceptance that if I do have to go back, it wont be the end of the world. I am letting fate take the reins. I really do believe everything happens for a reason so I am excited to see what’s next.

That being said… cross your fingers for my visa 🙂

 

My Year in Review

Its official. One year ago today I was landing in Paris and running into the arms of the girl who helped me get here. I had no idea what was ahead of me and I definitely had no idea what … Continue reading

If there is a will, there is a way

It has been several months since I started down the path of trying to defeat the evil French administration. Although I would say I havent made great strides, every step (no matter how small), is getting my closer to staying here. It is such a frustrating system to be honest. I know I have gone on and on about it but it truly is just mad. However, that being said, it is now like a game I have to win. If the French administration can play hard ball, so can I. They are just trying to scare me away and tell me I am not good enough to be in their sacred country. Well, the thing is, I love this place just as much as them and they aren’t going to stop me from making my dream happen.

I have come so far and I have no intention on stopping anytime soon. I love my life here. I love opening my window or walking downstairs and realizing I really do live in Paris. Since I have moved, and I am no longer under the chains of being an au pair, I have really started to make this life mine. I am so happy. I don’t want anything to change that.

I came here on an au pair visa which I guess technically is a student visa. Well, on student visas you are allowed to work part-time so if the French administration is so adamant on the fact I have a student visa, I am going to work. I am excited but also had in my mind a month-long vacation. I can’t believe I am already going to be back to the grind so soon. But this is what I want so I am looking forward to it actually working out… one day.

And so it begins….

I did it. I am here. I can’t believe it. My own studio in the center of Paris. I honestly thought I would never see the day. A year ago, when I decided to move to France, this is what I had envisioned. Yeah I knew it wasn’t going to be this magnificent life in the city because I (semi) knew what I was getting into, but this is what I wanted. And now I have made it. I have made my dreams happen.

On my last working night in Vaux, S didn’t even eat dinner with me. Hurtful but expected. Shocking how you can disregard the last 10 months of your life and someone who not only shared living space with you but I also basically raised your kids. I didn’t let it ruin the night however; I grabbed the kids and put Mama Mia on my TV in the room. They sat on my bed playing with their toys and helping me belt out “Dancing Queen.” They were my 10 months and I love them so much. Yes, there were times I wanted to kill them but I truly am going to miss them. Today was the first day I didn’t have to think about going to home to get my little monkey or worry about cleaning up all the morning dishes that weren’t mine. I woke up to the sound of a fountain, busy people rushing to work, and the view of Sacre Coeur from my window. A little different.

The move went quite well. I have so.much.stuff. I have no idea how I accumulated so much stuff in the last (almost) year. I moved to France with two giant suitcases. I moved to Paris with car load. Luckily, my friend Pierre was nice enough to offer his car and help. He showed up in a petite French car of course and all of us were terrified my stuff wasn’t going to fit… and there was no way I wanted to head back to Vaux again. Somehow, with Pierre’s sweet packing skills, we filled his car to the brim. Everything fit… well besides Aggie and a suitcase. She was kind enough to take the train with the last suitcase and meet us in the city. Pierre and I ventured into the city with my feet in my pocket and bags on my lap. I have to point out, to make this even more interesting, that Pierre doesn’t speak really any English and my French is still very limited. Hour car ride into Paris and somehow we managed to talk about our families, work, our future plans… its incredible what you can do with a little amount of language in common and some effort.

Once we got into the city, Pierre managed to park right in front of place (although it’s for pedestrians only—c’est la France, right?). Now, to explain the situation a bit better… I live off a square and my front door is through a café. My front door leads to a foyer where there is another door that leads to a massive amount of stairs I have to climb to get to my place. Because Pierre could not keep his car in the convenient spot for long, Aggie and I decided the best solution was to cram all my things into the foyer. Picture two girls pulling thousands of bags out of a Frenchman’s illegally parked car, walking through people casually enjoying their lunch, and stuffing it all into a little foyer. Quite humorous.

After we managed the pack the foyer to its capacity, we started the long journey up the stairs a few bags at a time. Aggie and I switched off between guarding my stuff and making the trek. Later on, some of my other close friends came and helped me tackle unpacking. It was such an amazing night. Wine, good friends, and organizing all my stuff… what more could you ask for?

After celebrating into the wee hours, I cant explain how great it was to be able to walk just a couple of minutes and be home.

It is still unreal. I live in Paris.

Closing a Chapter

I came to France with the idea I would be here just one year. I wanted to learn a new language, experience a different culture, and most importantly grow. I have to say, that on my last day of au pairing, I can look back and say I have done pretty well. The past 10 months have been filled with up and downs. Most of the time I was sitting here wondering why I am so lucky, but there were also days I wondered why I ever chose to do this. Although my French is still completely rubbish, I really feel like I have gotten the most from this experience so far.

I never thought that today would be like this. I thought I would be filled with sadness to leave a family I cared so deeply about. Sad to say though, although I will miss the kids dearly, today is nothing what I imagined. With the feeling that I can’t go fast enough from the parents, it really makes me upset about all the time and effort spent. I understand that they are mad I am leaving but I do wish this could have ended on a better note.

On the other side, I cannot believe I am moving tomorrow into the center of Paris into my very own place. I havent even wrapped my head around it yet I don’t think. I have never lived alone, let alone in PARIS. Ahhhh. I can’t wait. I am really looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I have faith that everything will work out. And hey, if it doesn’t it was an experience, right?