Thursday, October 18, 2012

Almost Halloween...

In the spirit of all things spooky and evil (yes it is October) I thought I should start out today's post with my visit to the préfecture this past week. If you're an expat living in France (or French, for that matter) you know that the word préfecture should probably be officially moved to the four letter word dictionary and in reality, never seen nor pronounced again. Here is the Préfecture de Nanterre, probably the world's ugliest building--please don't be taken in by the photo-shopped artificially blue sky... Imagine a thunderstorm just above and a building 5 times uglier than this in person and you've got the right idea. 

A préfecture in France is a regional building designed to handle the come and go of a lot of official documents. And France likes official documents. Very. Much. There's a reason why the word bureaucracy originally comes from the French language. If you're a foreigner living in France, you will get to know the préfecture very well. 
In my early years I was absolutely terrified of the préfecture. I spoke little to no French, was all alone, and even the simplest exchange caused confusion and shaky legs. You're given a date and a time to be there or else (although no one ever tells you what will happen if you are late--of course no one ever dares to find out) and the worst of it all is that the minute you step onto their hallowed ground, your life is in their hands. As in, you can wait. for. hours. They don't care. I've sat waiting for what seemed like an eternity watching the "working" personnel in the booth chat about what they did over the weekend or how lame the job is, etc. I've been given an appointment time on what turned out to be an official French holiday and then subsequently blamed for it. I've had to go in person to the préfecture to make an appointment because they don't allow you to do that by phone or email...the wait was four hours. Over the years, I learned some very important prefecture rules:
  1. Bring good reading material...try to relax. 
  2. It's over when it's over.
  3. A no is not always a no...lots of sweet smiling and insistence can accomplish a lot. 
  4. Your file will be wrong no matter what you do--even if you have everything perfectly in order, they will find something "lacking/incorrect" at the last second.
  5. Every single personnel will tell you something different, therefore:
  6. Bring your entire portable filing folder with you to have on hand for when they dislike the papers in your file.
  7. Never, ever, throw any "official" french paper away no matter how old it is.
  8. Eat a croissant when your done and remember why you're here. 
Thankfully, over the years my French has gotten better and with the addition of Matt it's been an easier  experience (I'd hope so, with the around 20 trips I/we've had to make there!). This last trip, however was in some ways a special one (special in both senses of the word!). When you marry a French person, it suddenly becomes very easy to live and work in France. You just have to put up with the prefecture crud a few times a year and you're good to go (trust me--that's actually way easier than what my unmarried non-EUer friends have to go through). For three years, you have a temporary residency card that you renew every year. And on your fourth year, you can request a 10 year card. On your fifth, you can request citizenship. Five years ago I naively decided to teach English to middle schoolers in France. I came here knowing hardly any French, one person through email, and no clue about the wild ride I was in for. This last week I requested my 10 year card and next year I'll request citizenship (yes, I can still keep my American nationality). For me, this is a huge milestone in my life here and it's gotten me thinking about living in France, what I like, dislike, what I want to accomplish here, don't be surprised if my next few entries take up where my thoughts here today have left off...

Happy almost Friday :)


1 comment:

Kelsey said...

yay!! that's awesome tal! i renew mine for the first time next month. we're already dreading it. i don't even get an appointment for this one. and we still haven't heard about a social security number or card. i'll have lots of croissants when i've conquered both for sure!