I’m about to surprise you.

A good deal of my story on je parle américain has been a rolling account of how terrible the immigration system is in France. I’ve related stories about waiting for 6-1/2 hours just to pick up an application form and schedule a “rendez-vous” to drop it back off, trying to check on the status of my visa renewal only to find that the phone number they’d given me didn’t even work, and waiting in the cold of the pre-dawn hours just to be told after 4-1/2 hours on my feet that I’d have to come back and do it all again the next day because … well, there was simply no more availability that day.

The last time I wrote about my immigration travails was when I told you how I had finally received a convocation to pick up my residency permit on November 16. Well, today’s the 17th, so I know you’re all champing at the bit to hear what happened yesterday.

It went … well … very well!

I should preface this story by saying that I am, by nature, a chronic worrier. You could even call me a serial pessimist about how things will go. I think I’ve always managed my expectations by lowering them, at least a little, so that if anything went badly, I could just shrug and say, “Well, that’s how I thought it would go.” But if things went even moderately better than my lowered expectations, I could be pleasantly surprised, or even ecstatic if they went really well. All that is to say that, based on my nature and on prior experience, I was certain that something would go wrong with my residency permit. The line would be too long and I’d have to come back the next day. Or, my fiscal stamps (the things you have to buy in a government tax office to pay for things in other government offices) wouldn’t be the right ones and I’d have to straighten all of that out. Or, assuming all of that was fine, my permit would only be valid until February (since I’m only registered for one semester this year) and I’d have to go through this renewal process all over again … and right away because, well you know, it takes a long time here.

Well, nothing of the sort happened.

How charming is this little subprefecture? © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

My appointment was at 10:30 am, but knowing that the international departures rule applies at a French prefecture, Michel and I arrived at 8:30 am. Right away, I knew it would be a different kind of day than the ones I’d suffered through at the prefecture in Bobigny. The line was relatively short (there were maybe twenty or thirty people ahead of me) and the building was small, almost charming, in comparison to the bureaucratic monstrosity at Bobigny. I quickly realized that my early arrival hadn’t been necessary at all; there was a guy behind me in the line who had a 9 am appointment. Suddenly, my most immediate worry was that I’d be turned away at the door because I was there too early and we’d have to find a café nearby where we could kill an hour or two. As it turned out, though, even that concern was unfounded.

When the doors opened at 9 am, we were quickly sorted by an agent (not a very pleasant one, by the way, but I’ll let that slide) into one line for people who had convocations to pick up residency permits and another for everyone else. When our little line eventually filed into the lobby, there were only a few people ahead of me, and within 10 or 15 minutes, we had already reached the window.

Hello, I’m here to pick up my residency permit. Here is my convocation, and here is the old permit in my passport.

Do you have the fiscal stamps?

Yes, I do. Here they are.

The agent looked at my old residency permit affixed to a page in my passport, handed it back to me, and started searching through her stack of dossiers … past the folks with 9 am appointments … past the ones with 9:30 am appointments … past the ones with 10 am appointments … until she finally found me. She took my fiscal stamps and affixed them to a form, gave it to me to sign, and then handed me a card: a real, plastic carte de séjour, not just some yellow sticker in my passport.

That’s all?

That’s all.

Thank you! Have a good day.

I turned to leave, almost giddy that I had accomplished this mission in less than 30 minutes. We looked at the card. “Wow,” I thought. “A real, plastic carte de séjour, with a smart chip in it and everything!” I felt so much more … official. I searched for the expiration date, afraid of seeing “February 15” and what that would mean for me, and then I saw it …

Valable jusqu’au 15/08/2012

Valid until 08/15/2012

… and I smiled.

Pretty, huh? But why does it have a bull on it, right above my head? © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

Yes, yesterday was a good day, dear readers. Yesterday was a really good day. And this serial pessimist is ecstatic … at least until I have to renew again.

© 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved


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