Why is it that, just when you think you know the system,
they throw something new at you?
Yesterday, I trudged back to the prefecture at Bobigny to submit an application to renew my residency permit. (You’ll recall my 10-1/2 surreal ordeal back in May just to schedule this meeting, I’m sure.) Well, this is my second time jumping through this particular hoop, and drawing on my experience from last summer, I looked ahead to yesterday’s appointment with a lot less anxiety than the first time around. This was going to be the easy part: I’d arrive about half an hour early for my 11am appointment, wait about half an hour more for my turn with an immigration agent, submit all my paperwork, and get my récépissé. (The récépissé is the little document that’s valid for three months, shows I’ve submitted a renewal application, and proves I’m here legally even after my residency permit expires in August.) I just knew exactly how it would go this time, and there was no reason to suspect that anything might go awry.
Now, despite my current neo-Bohemian “fly by the seat of your pants” lifestyle, I’m still a bit obsessed with organization. (The former-lawyer, Type-A personality never really goes dormant.) Days before my appointment, I had compiled all the required documents (with two photocopies of everything), very neatly filed away in a little binder, organized in the order in which they’d ask for them at the prefecture:
- Completed paperwork (including two different-colored forms asking for essentially the same information)
- Current residency permit
- Attestation from Michel and rent receipt less than 3 months old proving we live where we say we do
- Preregistration certificate from my program at the Sorbonne
- Diplomas from last year’s studies
- Bank statements showing I have enough money in France to support me without going on the dole here
What could possibly be missing?
As usual, Michel came along for the ride and we walked up to “Porte 2” (“Door 2”) about 40 minutes ahead of my appointment, as instructed back in May. After waiting for a few minutes in a long line that wasn’t moving, I seemed to recall that I should go directly to “Guichet H” (“Window H”) when I arrived. Some folks in line confirmed that, we spotted an exit off to our left, and we ambled right through the open door into the waiting room. We walked up to a window marked “H” with a sign noting that this was the right spot for people with appointments that day. This is where we were to pick up the infamous “you will be called under number X” ticket. Oddly, there was no one sitting at the desk behind the window … and unfortunately, there was no way to reach under the window and “self-serve” a ticket. Apparently, the agent staffing Guichet H had gone off to investigate a question posed by a woman already waiting at the window, so we patiently waited for the agent’s return … and waited … and waited … and helped an elderly gentlemen in line with us fill out his paperwork … and waited … and grumbled … and waited.
Forty minutes later …
No, I am not exaggerating — FOURTY minutes later — someone Michel had flagged down finally came over to hand out the tickets.
“You will be called under the number 0162 … there are 47 persons ahead of you.”
I glanced up at the “now serving” panel and saw that it was already lit up with “0127.” “Not too bad,” I thought. “That means there are only 35 people ahead of me now … 35 people, 4 windows. This ought to move quickly.”
What is it they say about the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results? Uh huh. I really should have known better.
Some folks ahead of me in the queue were inexplicably taking 20 or 30 minutes to complete their business. And then, of course, the lunch hour arrived. Wait, did I say lunch “hour”? I meant to say, lunch “hours.” Between noon and 1pm, windows E and G were open. Between 1 pm and 2 pm (well, 2:15 really), it was windows D and F. The wait dragged on … and on … and on. “Did it really only take half an hour to do this last summer?” I wondered. “Had I misremembered something? Had I become delusional?” The answers to my questions: no, yes, and probably.
At about 1pm, after having waited 2-1/2 hours, I quipped on Facebook:
I’ve decided that they shouldn’t say how many people are ahead of you; they should tell you how many minutes. “There are 47 people ahead of you” really means “You’ve got four and a half hours ahead of you.”
I didn’t realize at the time how accurate my estimates were going to be.
Finally, just before 3pm, “0162” flashed on the panel overhead and I hurried over with my file to Guichet D, where I was greeted by … well … not the most pleasant person I’d ever encountered. I gradually handed over the documents she needed as she stared at me impatiently. Come to think of it, she might have been tapping her fingernails on the desk. What nerve! She was looking at me impatiently? And then, I heard it: my file wasn’t complete. Apparently, she needed a final registration certificate for my fall course.
“But registration isn’t until September.”
“Well, we will hold your file until then. You need to bring the registration certificate before it can be processed.”
“But last year, you didn’t need a final registration certificate.” Michel interjected.
“I’m not making things up. I’ve worked here for two years, and it’s always been this way.”
<sound of a deflating balloon>
So, there I was, submitting my carefully-prepared, beautifully organized, but apparently insufficient file, receiving a récépissé valid through October 10, and realizing that I’d have to come back again in two months to drop off something I couldn’t even have had that day. It was only after I’d walked out of the building clutching my récépissé that I realized that even the September visit to the prefecture (the third this year) wouldn’t be the last one of 2012. Allow me to explain …
Residency Permit expires on August 15 = 10-1/2 hours at the prefecture on May 16 asking for an appointment to renew it.
Appointment to submit renewal application on July 11 = 4-1/2 hours at the prefecture submitting an incomplete file because a required document won’t exist before mid-September, but you have to do it anyway so you won’t become an undocumented alien on August 16.
Final registration at the Sorbonne on September 19 = another trip to the prefecture on September 20 to complete the file = another 4-1/2 hours? Likely.
Récépissé expires October 10 = there’s no way the residency permit will be ready 20 days later = back to the prefecture on October 11 to ask for a new récépissé = 6-1/2 hours, provided you can even get a ticket the first time you show up. Worse things have been known to happen.
And then I’ll have to go to the sub-prefecture in Saint-Denis to pick up the new residency permit when it’s ready in … December? January?!
So, after making that prognosis, all I can say is:
Come on, France. There has got to be a better way to do this.
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved