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.