Just before the end of last year, I wrote what was supposed to be “the last chapter” of je parle américain as you know it, because I planned to transform the blog into something entirely new. As it turns out, I haven’t made any progress with that, so je parle américain has been quiet of late, just “sitting on the shelf” collecting dust — to stay with the literary theme. Sometimes, though, events transpire that simply demand you pick up the pen again — or return to the keyboard as the case may be — and actually finish the story …

Afterword Continue reading Afterword


Closing the Loop

I did it again. I let weeks and weeks go by without writing anything for the blog. I’m sorry about that. I’ve had some news to share with you, but I’ve been (1) busy with the new job, (2) chronically sick with a tenacious springtime head cold and, most recently, and (3) on vacation in the States. Since today marks the one-month anniversary of my last visit to the prefecture, though, I made some time today to share that story with you before it becomes really old news.

Now, if you haven’t read about my visit to the prefecture back in February, you should read it here. It’s too unbelievably good to skip. Go ahead; I’ll wait … Continue reading Closing the Loop

If you can’t say anything nice …

Hey everybody! Guess what? I have my new family visa residency permit! I picked it up this morning at the sub-prefecture in Saint-Denis — the little satellite office of the main prefecture in Bobigny. You’re surely thinking that I must be on cloud nine, right?

Well, read on … Continue reading If you can’t say anything nice …


You’ve probably seen yesterday’s post about my fifteenth visit to the prefecture. It was one of my most widely read posts in a while. If you’re not friends with me on Facebook, though, you’re probably wondering how it all went and whether you can uncross your fingers now. Well, without further ado, here’s the dénouement you’ve been waiting for … Continue reading Dénouement

Fifteenth time’s the charm!

Tomorrow, I’m heading back to the Prefecture. I’ll be submitting an application to renew my residency permit — this time with a change in status from “student” to “private and family life.” Thanks to the Taubira Law that gave us marriage equality in France and the paper-pushing magic of the French embassy in Washington, Michel and I were officially recognized as a family on September 17. We got our family register and a French transcription of our 2010 marriage certificate a few weeks later. Should be pretty simple, then, to get that family visa. Right? We should just have to show them the family register. Right? You know — the document from the French government that PROVES we’re married to each other? Well, if you think that, then you’ve obviously never dealt with the bureaucracy here … Continue reading Fifteenth time’s the charm!

A Watched Pot Never Boils

Believe it or not, it’s back to the prefecture tomorrow. If it seems to you like I’m there four or five times a year, it’s because I am! That said, I can’t complain too much this year considering the wonderful birthday present the French government gave me during my last visit. (Let’s just hope that relatively pleasant experience wasn’t a complete fluke, shall we?) In any case, I’ll be trying something completely new tomorrow, so cross your fingers for me. You see, I may have been here on a student visa for the last three years, but this year, I’m going to ask for a family visaContinue reading A Watched Pot Never Boils

Happy Birthday! Love, the Prefecture

Before we get started, here are a few things to know by way of background:

Today’s my birthday.

Yesterday, I was at the prefecture (the government office where they manage immigration).

My “visa year” runs from August 16 of one year to August 15 of the following year. That means I have to start the process of renewing my residency permit every May (three months in advance of expiration). After you submit a renewal application, the prefecture gives you a récépissé (a “receipt”) , which proves your file is being processed and that you’re legally in France even if your residency permit has already expired. The problem is that, while récépissés are good for three months at a time, I’ve never known my prefecture to do its job that quickly. That means you have go back every few months to ask for a new récépissé until they issue your new permit.

Got it? Alright. Here we go …

So, yeah, I was back at the prefecture yesterday — the day before my birthday. Nice timing, huh? Anyway, I was there to renew my récépissé one again because, well, 9 months is apparently not long enough to process my application and give me my residency permit for the 2012-2013 visa year. Believe it or not, after 5 visits and 4 récépissés, I was still waiting for it. Amazing, but true. So, given that track record, it was obviously with lowered expectations that I ventured back there yesterday morning. Continue reading Happy Birthday! Love, the Prefecture

The Anatomy of a Visa Renewal

I took some of my Facebook friends by surprise yesterday morning when I posted that I was back at the prefecture. Why are you there AGAIN?! was one very legitimate reaction. After all, wasn’t I just at the prefecture two months ago? And two months before that? And two months bef … well, you get the picture.

Lately, I have been frequenting the prefecture like someone who’s stalking an immigration agent. As a matter of fact, yesterday’s visit was my fifth to the prefecture since last May. (No wonder I have the dubious honor of being FourSquare “mayor” of the Préfecture de Seine-Saint-Denis.) I’ve also written quite a lot about these interminable and sometimes surreal visits over the last several months. That makes for a lot of words to sift through if you’re new to my story or if you’re — <gulp> — searching for advice about your own visit. “Why not break it down visually into a couple of nice flowcharts?” I thought. “Not a bad idea,” I decided. So, after a few hours last night finding just the right text boxes and arrows, I present to you …

The Anatomy of a Visa Renewal:
A graphic depiction of the visa renewal process,
with just enough humor to make you chuckle …
and just enough reality to make you anxious. Continue reading The Anatomy of a Visa Renewal

It’s not me … it’s YOU.

Today, we have two French expressions du jour:

bouche bée : agape, open-mouthed (like when your jaw drops from hearing something unbelievable)

vous vous foutez de ma gueule : “you’re kidding me” or “you’re screwing with me” (It’s a fairly vulgar expression, so don’t use it lightly.)

Keep an eye out for them in today’s post …

So, I went back to the prefecture today for the fourth time this year in the tediously unending process to renew my residency permit. You can read about the last few visits here and here but, in a nutshell, every time I set foot in that place, something goes awry. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal … until the plumbing breaks. Continue reading It’s not me … it’s YOU.

I ♥ the Prefecture!

Photo: My Carte de Séjour … valid through August 15, 2012 © 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

Actually, that’s a bald-faced lie. But I figure, if I repeat it enough, I might eventually believe it and living the immigrant dream in France will suddenly become more bearable. “So, what happened?” you ask. Pour yourself a drink and sit back …

You might recall that I went to the prefecture in Bobigny back in July to renew my French residency permit. I’m still here on a student visa, so among the required documents was proof that I was registered for fall classes. Unfortunately, I was blindsided by the discovery during that visit that a pre-registration certificate wouldn’t suffice — I had to come back with a final registration certificate when I had one. To make a long story short (you can read the unabridged version here), final registration was yesterday, so I headed back to Bobigny this morning to complete my file.

Now, if you’ve followed the saga of my immigration story here, you know that a trip to the prefecture threatens to be an all-day affair, usually starting in the pre-dawn hours and often finishing just before they close shop. So, even though I had been given permission back in July to proceed directly to “Guichet H” — the service window where you get a numbered ticket (like at the DMV) to drop off documents — I was anxious about the prospect of a day-long wait, so I headed off to Bobigny bright and early. I showed up at 6:45 am and queued up outside the building with the rest of the huddled masses, waiting for the doors to open. As usual, Michel arrived a bit later with hot coffee and moral support. Continue reading I ♥ the Prefecture!