Photo: “You will be called under the number 0117” © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved
In my last post, You are Number 1189, I recounted the arduous process to date of renewing my residency permit—the sticker in my passport that lets me remain in France legally. If you haven’t read that one, it’s worth the time. I guarantee you’ll be entertained. I won’t recount the story here, but suffice it to say that—based on prior experience—when I headed off to the prefecture at Bobigny yesterday for the next step through this inextricable bureaucratic quagmire, I was less than optimistic that things would go smoothly.
You see, yesterday was my third visit to Bobigny, the first two being less than pleasant experiences. In the end, though—a little bit like the story of Goldilocks—I seem to have ended up finding the sweet spot: the first visit in April was far too early, the second visit in May was far too long, and the third visit was … just right?
Like my visit in May, I brought Michel along yesterday to act as both unofficial translator in the case of incomprehension and moral support in the case of frustration. My appointment was at 10 a.m., but based on past experience, I thought it best to arrive very early. When we got in line around 8 a.m., the queue was already distressingly long outside Doors 2 and 3 (the former for those with the previously mysterious green convocation notices—that would be me—and the latter for those seeking political asylum—that would not be me … yet … but I’ve got an eye on Michele Bachmann). As usual, the guys selling coffee from giant thermoses were already at work, as were the amateur conmen trying to sell spots farther ahead in the queue. It was a bit nerve-wracking for a serial worrier like me to not know how this would proceed: Would I even be able to get in before 10 a.m.? Would I miss my appointment and have to reschedule? Are we absolutely sure this is the right line? “Wow. I hope all these people are asylum seekers,” I said to myself in a moment of particularly thoughtless self-interest.
Finally, a little after 9 a.m., the queue started to advance, and I felt better … until we got to the spot in the line covered with spread-out cardboard boxes marking—as I explained in my last post—the previous night’s campsite for those willing to sleep outside to ensure a good spot at the head of the line. It was hard to ignore the odor of urine that permeated the area.
To my surprise, we reached Door 2 relatively quickly. It was around 9:45 a.m. when we entered the waiting room (a miniature version of the DMV-style waiting area described in my last post), my little white ticket in hand.
“Vous serez appelé sous le numéro 0117 … Il y a 17 personne(s) devant vous.”
“You will be called under number 0117 … There are 17 persons ahead of you.”
What? Is that possible? Number 0117? I looked at the LED display showing the current client being assisted: Number 0112! “Wow … I am not going to be here for 6-1/2 hours like last time!” What a coup! After a few minutes, my number was called, and we approached the window. “Oh good. She seems nice.” I thought.
“Hello. I’m here to renew my residency permit, but I have a few questions about the forms.”
I asked how I should list my two diplomas from the Cours de Civilisation Française where I had been studying French for the past year, and while I filled out that section of my form, Michel proceeded to pose the next pressing question: how do I denote my familial status?
“We’re married, but in the United States,” he explained. “France doesn’t recognize the marriage.”
“Ah, yes. Let me ask about that.”
After a minute or so, our agent came back with the good news: we were, indeed, married … in America. I was told that I needed to check the “marié” (“married”) box and scribble “en Amérique” (“in America”) beside it. As amusing as that was at the time, it later struck me as a symbolic, if inconsequential, victory. Even if it doesn’t mean anything for us from a legal perspective, at least somewhere in my file the French government has acknowledged that Michel and I are, in fact, married to each other. And that’s something.
After a few more questions and after having handed over all of my forms and supporting documents, I received (at 10:10 a.m., no less) a “récépissé de demande de carte de séjour.” It’s a paper I have to carry with my passport that attests to the fact that, having submitted a demand for a residency permit, I am a legal resident of France even after the expiration of my visa on August 16. The less good news is that this isn’t the residency permit itself. As I suspected, I will have to go to the sub-prefecture in Saint Denis to pick up the new permit when it’s ready. The only concern now is whether it will be ready before our September 24 departure for the U.S. to visit my family and friends.
“Meh, I won’t worry about that unless and until it becomes a problem.” (I’m working hard on developing the French character trait of insouciance.)
Yeah, right. If you know me, you know that’s easier said than done. So, come on sub-prefecture … get a move on. I don’t want an airline change fee or an ulcer, okay?
© 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved