There are two ultimate truths about my experience in Paris: I love Paris. I hate Paris. Any expat you talk to that is past the honeymoon stage of living in Paris usually has the same experience. They are in … Continue reading
For all of you who know me well, you know that I change my mind weekly, if not daily, about staying or leaving Europe. Well, I had basically decided this was my final year and that I would make the journey back to the states this winter. However, I have switched again. But now I have the same problem you will find in my post earlier this year. Continue reading
Every year I anxiously anticipated summer. Freedom. Sunshine. Fun.
This year? Summer just brings good-byes, no time off and loads of good-byes. Not the childhood memory I was so fond of.
It’s the end of June and we have yet to see summer weather. July marks the end of several people’s time here in Paris. And don’t even get me started on how insane work is. It is times like this that I wonder why I took lazy, sunny San Diego days for granted. Honestly, I just want to plop my butt in the sand and soak in summer. Yet for some reason this summer I am exceptionally stressed out and frustrated.
I don’t know what I want. I love Paris. But I also hate it. Truth be told. I talked about my serious relationship with this city awhile back but now it has turned slightly abusive and I can’t break away. Work is honestly eating my soul and I keep having to prepare myself for goodbyes. No consistency, no control. I am spontaneous and go with the flow but I am not going to lie… I am a bit of a control freak like the rest of my family and lately I feel like I have no control.
Thinking about moving back stateside gives me serious anxiety. This has been my life for 2 years. And I see what happens to some of the expats that return–they just want to figure a way to come back. I know I could come back if I wanted to but moving back seems like an even bigger decision than the one I took to move to France. I don’t know why.
Maybe it’s because I know I have changed or the people I knew so well changed, or both. Or maybe it’s because I have I don’t think I will really fit back stateside. Or maybe it’s just my weird obsession with Paris.
I know going back to California would not be the end of the world. In fact, I am sure it would be good. There are days I can’t think of anything else besides moving home but then it seems like something in this city all draws me back in. I am so proud of my experience here. It was honestly the best decision I made. It seems weird to end it all. But I know one day I probably will. As much as I love it here, I am not convinced this is the city for the rest of my life. I’m a mover… I think I will experience several cities before finding my home.
Until then, I would really like if Paris could get its butt in gear and give me some summer!!!
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.
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.
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.
It is time that I got it out. It has been long enough that I have let this boil inside of me and now it needs to be put out there for all to see.
The closest metro exit to me happens to be an elevator. I rarely take it because, well, the following story you are about to read and because I don’t like being lazy all the time. There are the rare occurrences that I find myself in the long line of people who seem to have a brain but end up proving me otherwise–I have something heavy like a suitcase, I am sore, or yep… just plain lazy.
The concept is simple really. There is a weight limit and once that limit is reached, the elevator refuses to work. Now, to make it even easier, there is a big red light the illuminates when this weight limit is breached. However, it shocks me every time how many human beings not only cannot grasp this concept, but also have a struggle understanding when it is explained and illustrated for them.
“Monsieur, c’est trop lourd. Ça ne marchera pas. Vous avez besoin pour sortir,” (Of course while pointing at the illuminated red beacon of “get the f#$% out of the elevator”)
What follows? The parade of looks of bewilderment and sighs of confusion. I am still searching for simpler terms to explain this phenomenon of a weight limit. All suggestions are welcome. Until then the elevator will be avoided at all costs.
I needed to go to the doctor. Because the French has something terribly against working, the hours of operations of things are never convenient. I mean why would a doctor’s office be open on the weekend? No one would ever imagine to get sick on the weekend… Anyways, I decided to wake up early and try to squeeze a visit in before work. I knew this was overly optimistic but I thought since I had no other choice I would give it a try. I went exactly where I needed to go and stared at this large building with a sign in front for the Cabinet Medical. It was there. There was a sign. After careful examination of the outside of the building, I finally figured out how to get it. Once in the building, I was led into a huge open courtyard. No doors unlocked. No signs. Not a human being in sight. How very French. I finally found stairs and walked up to the 1er etage. Now I was in a place that resembled an apartment building. Reluctantly I gave up. There truly was no other ideas I could pull from my hat. After having searched for doctors online, I remembered seeing another place a few streets away. I proceeded to go to that one. I managed to get in, but same issue–all locked doors, no humans, no signs. So I went back to the front of the building (can i just add in that it is pouring rain at this point?) and called the number listed for the doctor. I called and did my utmost to speak in the best French I could master at that point. The dialogue went something like this:
Me: Bonjour, le cabinet est ouverte? Hello, is the office open?
Awful witch on the other line: Oui, vous avons un rendez-vous? Yes, do you have an appointment?
Me: No, je n’ai pas un rendez-vous, mais je suis ici maintenant. Je ne peux voir un docteur maintenant? No, I do not have an appointment but I am here now. Can I not see a doctor now?
AW: Vous devez un rendez-vous. You need an appointment.
Me: D’accord. Quelle heure? Ok. What time?
AW: (She then continues in rapid speed French to word vomit out a ton of times)
Me: (I managed to hear a few and chose the one closest to the time it was.) Excusez moi, je suis tres desolee parce que je parle un peu francais. 9h20? Excuse me, I am very sorry because I speak a little French. 9h20?
AW: (Screaming at the top of her lungs now in a voice similar to what I think Satan would sound like) MADAME. 9h20. VOUS DEVEZ UN RENDEZ-VOUS. 9H20. (then inaudible angry french.) MADAME. 9h20. YOU NEED AN APPOINTMENT. 9h20.
Me: Desolee. Je ne comprend pas. 9h20 est correcte? C’est bon pour moi. I’m sorry. I do not understand. Is 9h20 correct? It is good for me.
AW: (yelling. screaming. anger.)
Me: (hung up.)
At this point, there was truly nothing I could do. She was clearly upset and I could not understand why or what else I could do to express I wanted the appointment at 9h20. As I am pulling the tears back from the frustrating conversation that was unsuccessful, I get a call from an unknown number.
AW: pourquoi voulez-vous raccrocher? qui est si impoli. pourquoi voulez-vous raccrocher maintenant? (yelling.screaming.anger.hang up.) Why did you hang up? That is not polite. Why did you hang up??
The tears poured in. A Frenchwoman had the nerve to call me back just to yell at me. Really? Confused, upset, and defeated I got on the metro and went to work.
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When I got into work, I told my French colleague (and good friend) the story. Not only was she sympathetic, but she also managed to get me an appointment on Monday at an office close to our work within about 2 seconds. She printed a map for me, highlighting the directions and wrote down all the information needed. Why is there not more Estelles in this country??
Lesson of the story/ongoing theme of my life: I hate the french. I love the french.
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