On Monday B and I went to the Préfecture du Police in an attempt to renew our paperwork so that we can continue legally living and working in France. Because, uh, it’s kind of unclear as to whether or not we are currently legal, a state of affairs that is strikingly reminiscent of the first three hazy months I spent in France. It was a dark time. I didn’t have hot water or internet or a bank account with money in it or real friends just yet, so I spent most of my time eating falafel and shivering next to my radiator. I had been told that renewing my contract and my visa would be a snap compared to last year. I should have seen this headache coming, but somehow in the halcyon days of summer it didn’t seem like anything could possibly go wrong.
Somehow, however, papers managed to not get filed by my employer to reauthorize me to work in France. I’m not blaming anyone, though I do suspect that the bug-eyed woman at my university who is supposed to be handling our affairs with the office of immigration might have slacked off a bit this summer. This woman has made an art form out of plaintively blinking and stammering. She’s an expert in this peculiarly French office-drone trick of passing the buck, usually down the hall to her unsuspecting colleagues. I guess that person exists in every office, in every corner of the world, but somehow it never makes you feel any better to know that when someone drops the ball and suddenly phrases like “You’re not getting paid!” and “You might be deported!” start getting tossed about. So I’m waiting, nervously, for a renewal of my “authorisation du travail” (work visa), so that my “carte de sejour” (life visa?) might also be renewed, so nobody can use my name and “deported” in the same sentence for a while.
“Visa” is a problematic term here, as is “carte de sejour,” “titre de sejour,” and “authorisation du travail.” I apparently have anywhere between one and all four of those, though I don’t actually have in my possession anything that is actually titled as such. So it’s difficult to say what paperwork needs to be filled out for renewal. I have no idea what that paperwork is actually called, and neither do the French people. There were some reforms made sometime recently, reforms that were supposed to make the process easier for people like us. You know, people who are only here for a limited period of time and make the equivalent of six sesame seeds in wages ever month. Apparently not everyone in the Kafkaesque bureaucracy that deals with foreigners has been alerted to these reforms, however, so the process that one goes through for renewal is decidedly unclear.
There are many of expat blogs devoted to bitching about French bureaucracy, which is admittedly Byzantine. If I could write a novel about it and make a million bucks I totally would, but I think that has already been done six hundred times or so. It hasn’t been that bad, not by a long shot, and I feel guilty when I bitch about the number of hours I’ve logged at various offices around town and seemingly millions of copies I’ve made for various applications that seem to go nowhere. Obviously, most foreigners that find themselves trying to work in countries like France and the United States have a much more difficult time than I do, which is why you shouldn’t be interested in my kvetching (and also why you should give Stephen Colbert a big giant round of applause for his recent testimony before Congress, the final moments of which we watch on a near-hourly basis).
So anyway, we went to the Préfecture on Monday with everything from our electric bill to x-rays of our lungs, all in triplicate, so that we might have the opportunity to continue teaching the youth of France outdated American idioms for another year. Oh, yeah, and so that I can also continue going to restaurants and taking pictures of things I eat and sharing them with you here. Let me tell you what, going to the Préfecture sucks. It’s the place where Marie Antoinette crashed the night before she hit the guillotine, people. To say that it has a lousy vibe would be the understatement of the year. After being nearly strip-searched at the entrance, you go into the special area for renewals. The smell of nervous foreigner body odor hits you like a wall when you walk in. You take a number, hope for a chair, and then wait for what feels like sixteen years, only so you can be told that you don’t have all the paperwork you need (even though you’ve brought everything on all seven different lists from four different websites that you’ve managed to get your hands on). They’ll give you what’s called a “recipisse,” which is basically a document with a stamp on it that certifies that you are indeed jumping through all the hoops that are being set in front of you, and this is apparently enough to keep working and living in France, that is, until you get your mother’s cousin’s birth certificate and your dead dog’s immunization records and return for another round in two months. It’s awful.
Despite having strictly-worded appointment times, B and I had to wait three hours to speak with our immigration officer. B, his usual cool-as-a-cucumber self, quietly read poetry and examined the maps on the walls. I sweated through my shirt, agonized about how I had filled out my forms, tapped my foot, and picked the cuticles on my thumbs until they bled. I had to pee about an hour in to the wait, but I was terrified that my number would be called if I went to the bathroom and they would deport me for my transgression. After another hour of fantasizing that I would actually wet myself when I sat down with my application, I finally decided it was worth the risk and went to the ladies room.
The bathrooms were horribly bleak, with no toilet seats and crusty door locks. The sink was a long, trough-like apparatus, with cold water and soap that smelled of ammonia. As I was washing my hands, I glanced down at the drain and saw a trail of blood that led to a cream-colored object. Horrified, I examined it more closely and discovered that someone had left a bloody tooth in the sink at the Préfecture. And not just a baby tooth or a little chip of a filling either – a huge, ghastly-looking molar with long bloody roots still attached. I gasped and redirected the steam of water so that I could turn it over and get a better look at it. I was so aghast that I almost went to get B so that he could see it.
What the hell happened there? I could just imagine some poor woman pulling out her own tooth, abandoning it, and then returning to the waiting room so she wouldn’t be deported, perhaps with a wad of toilet paper stuffed in the oozing socket. Can I admit something to you? I have to say that tooth kind of made me feel better about my day. I mean, no matter how bad things got for me from that moment forward, I wasn’t having the worst day possible. Not even close. Not by a long shot. I was practically relieved when I was told by the immigration official that my file was incomplete and that I would have to return again in two months. Paperwork! Paperwork is easy compared to extracting your own tooth in a dirty public restroom!
Anyway, I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to write about lately, but I knew I’d have to tell you about that tooth. Man, I wish I’d had my camera, though there were enough complaints about the cyst-popping video thing that I suppose that the really abject stuff isn’t what you really go for, dear reader. On the off chance that you are the one person reading this blog that really does go for the gross stuff, I’d love to direct you to my newest obsession: ear-wax extraction videos. There are lots of different kinds, but I like the medical ones where you actually go inside the person’s ear canal with some kind of amazing little camera and watch as whole giant slabs of crud are pulled out with tweezers, revealing the shiny clean eardrum beneath. The best part is when the person with the earwax clod goes “OH WOW!” because they can suddenly hear for the first time in like six years. They do it every time. There’s something comforting about that.