Monday, February 8, 2010

French Red Tape

It's Monday! Which means a story from this same time...last year. But after a year here, I know things would happen exactly the same way if it were today.

Charles Dickens called it, oh so eloquently and precisely, the Circumlocution Office.

“…the Circumlocution Office went on mechanically, every day, 
keeping this wonderful, all-sufficient wheel of statesmanship, How 
not to do it, in motion.  Because the Circumlocution Office was 
down upon any ill-advised public servant who was going to do it, or 
who appeared to be by any surprising accident in remote danger of 
doing it…”

I’m not sure if there’s a direct translation for circumlocution in French but with or without an actual word, it is most definitely here!

Today began with a visit from my landlord, Lilane.  The plan was to go to the bank so I could get a certified check in order to pay my rent. We went to the bank, where after a good, healthy Provencal line-stand, I was told I could not get a certified check without an actual account. Even though I had cold, hard Euros to give them. The women suggested we go to the Post Office where they would be happy to do it. We set out for La Poste, where after another queue, a lovely gentleman who spoke some English, explained that I could not get a bank check from anywhere without proof of a local bank account. How do you say in French, “Hey Buddy, I’ve got cash here. Who cares?”

I gave Liliane the cash I had and told her I would get a bank account that afternoon and send her a check for the security deposit. She accepted that offer and high-tailed it out of there. Methinks she is fully aware of the translation for circumlocution!

Then, map in hand, I was off to find the Prefecture. My long-term visa states that even though I’m entitled to stay a full year, I must register at the local Prefecture within five days of arrival at which point I will receive my Carte de Sejour (residency card). Personally, I was thinking the visa should have been enough, considering I practically signed away my firstborn child (in duplicate in English and triplicate in French) and that this is a little redundant but, hey…when in France.

The courtyard of the Prefecture was packed with people. I thought perhaps an event was going on. There was an event.... it’s called La Grande Wait! There were 39 people ahead of me in line. Okay, it was not a line; it was an international herd of elephants, all as thirsty as the next and all just waiting to get to the watering hole. Anyway, there were too many elephants for the waiting room to hold so I calmly took my number, removed myself to the courtyard, and sat...and sat...and.....

My time arrived (this is sort of like going to the DMV), and when I got to my window and tried to explain what I needed, the gentleman told me I needed a lease agreement in order to get my Carte de Sejour. At least I think that's what he said. He did not speak English. Of course, I didn’t have said document because I hadn’t given Lilliane the security deposit yet.

It’s looking to me, at this point, that a bank account is in order. Pronto! So I walked to the bank to open an account. The nice, young gentleman at the bank informed me that in order to get an account I need a Carte de Sejour!

 Okay.... I’m calm. I promptly went and joined a gym! Of course, they too said I needed a bank account but would be happy to give me a temporary pass until I got the mess squared away.

 Most certainly this is the chicken and the egg of France.

The following day, I returned to the Prefecture with the needed document that Lillian was kind enough to email me. I was then told that I could not get my Carte de Sejour at this office; I had to make an appointment to go to Marseille. I did not bother to ask him why he hadn’t told me that yesterday.
I was certain I could see the hint of an evil smile behind his bored, government office, elephant-serving, 35-hour-per-week-and-no-more face and did not want to give him any reason to decide to send me to Paris for this little piece of paper!
He gave me a list of all the things I was going to need to take to my appointment (now it’s my second born son plus a medical certificate from a local doctor…that should be fun to attempt) and calmly told me my appointment was in…. 4 ½ months!

 What? Oui, Madam. But ees no problem. I geeve joo thees yellow piece of paper and eef you are stopped, dees yellow appointment slip and your passport should be enough.

 Why in the world would anybody stop me, that’s what I want to know! Again, I didn’t ask. The evil glow in his eyes was beginning to blind me.

Back to the bank. After all, I have my yellow slip.

Of course you can open an account. We’ll get right on that. You want both a cash card and checks? Yes please. It was all very simple until I tried to put money in the account. Oh, we can’t handle cash here. You’ll have to find somewhere else to do that. I took another of my continuous deep breaths (in fact, I’m beginning to get light headed) and hoofed it to the bank branch on Le Cour Mirabeau.

To make a long story only a little shorter, I was able to put money in my account but my checks never arrived. When I returned to the bank to find out why, they informed me that I can’t actually have possession of my checks or my bankcard until I have the actual Carte de Sejour!

My only solution to this whole mess is:
  1. Keep my head down and stay out of trouble so nobody “stops me”.
  2. Keep my American Visa card close to my heart and always remember my PIN number.
  3. Find a nice French doctor…and marry him!

Maybe we’ll nix the last point, but I am feeling just a wee bit desperate. And a doctor might possibly know the translation for circumlocution…. and marrying the doctor would put all my papers in order automatically Cand…obviously all these deep breathes are causing a bit of “circumlocution of the brain”!

This article originally published in the Wittenberg Enterprise, February 2009


  1. This is hysterical! I loved reading it! I beleive you've got someting going on here. Go rent or see the movie, Julie and Julia (About a blog regarding daily cooking of Julia Child recipes)

  2. I realize I misspelled "believe" and "something". I don't want your readers to lower their expectations of the educational level of your respondents from Minneapolis!

  3. eh... yous obveeasly got a problum. But its okay. yur frum Minn...Mineaplis. And by the way Doug, check out the post about Blogging and lunacy. You'll see that I'm one step ahead of you! Thanks for reading. You know how we love an audience!


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