Friday, March 10, 2006

Three Days at the Prefecture

My carte de séjour (something like a French green card) expires on Saturday. Hmm, in fact, that's not true--the proof that I have applied for a carte de séjour expires on Saturday, because they haven't made the actual carte de séjour in the six months after I applied for it. (I've already had to renew it once before, and it was very quick--a trip to the Prefecture, and they stamped the back of my receipt for 3 more valid months.) I woke up early on Wednesday and drove in to the Prefecture and waited in line for about a half an hour before a worker announced that they weren't giving any more tickets out and that we should all go home. A bit disappointed, I went to work and set my alarm clock earlier for the next day.

Thursday morning I woke up and drove to the Prefecture--again. I waited in line--again. But this time I waited for two hours before the same worker announced that she wasn't giving out any more tickets. I decided to try my chances at the front desk, even though I knew I wouldn't receive a ticket--but then, I thought that I didn't need a ticket, because the last time they had renewed it with the crunch of a stamp. However, the woman behind the desk (the same one who had told us all to go home) told me that I would have to come back on Monday with all of my papers and they would make me a new receipt. ("But last time you just stamped it," I said. "I don't do that anymore," she answered.) After two and a half hours on my feet, surrounded by screaming babies, line cutters, and innumerable foreign languages, I had accomplished nothing, and I no longer had the right to work. I made it to the car before I started bawling.

When I say I bawled, I want you to know that I didn't cry. I cry a lot. The first question my mother asked me when I wore contact lenses for the first time was whether they hurt when I cried. I once cried in front of the family because Jube read me a local newspaper article about a little dog who had been poisoned by some mean hoodlum. I even cried when I first came to Nice and realized that it's not the same city as Montpellier. I say this because the tears that came out of my body on Thursday were not the same as my normal drizzle. I sobbed and screamed and had to use lots of tissues before I could leave the parking lot at the Prefecture.

Now that I read my depiction of the Prefecture, my breakdown doesn't seem very merited. You have to understand--the section for the "foreigners" is all the way at the back, like a cave, filled with red metal chairs and a long, long, never-ending line that starts at a desk set in the back of the cave with a door behind it. Postulants from the line go up to the desk, and the Women (I don't know why the workers are primarily women, but they are) receive each immigrant like he is a 3-year old child who has some unreasonable request that is basically impossible to fulfill, but maybe, just maybe, if he has all of the required papers, She can give him a ticket and he can go sit in a red metal chair and wait for another hour before another Woman looks at his papers again and gives him another paper in exchange--and suddenly, he can work. While you're in line, you have to stand as close as possible to the person in front of you, or someone will try to cut (I've seen it happen). Everyone smells bad after about a half an hour because of the close conditions, and because the cave is kept at a very high temperature. Since no one knows how long the process will take, most immigrant women come with their children, who scream and cry and run around the cave. Sometimes the Women disappear behind their door for fifteen minutes at a time. The line moves around while we talk to each other, wondering if the Woman will come back, or if she's preparing to tell us all to leave.

I went back to the Prefecture today, with Jube, hoping that we could figure out exactly why my request was refused. Basically, there are now new laws concerning immigrants, one of which concerns the stamping of the receipts. This is now verboten, and so everyone whose papers take a long time--that means everyone--needs to come back and have a new receipt printed off for them. For that, we need a ticket. To get a ticket, we need to arrive (at the latest) at 8:00am, an hour before the Prefecture opens. And that's why I cried.

The most touching moment at the Prefecture: An old Moroccan man interrupts me while I'm reading a book. "Mademoiselle, would you mind filling in this paper for me?" I don't understand why he's asking me, exactly, but I explain that the paper is really easy--he just needs to write his name, date of birth, and nationality and then sign it. "But Mademoiselle," he says to me with a little smile, "I don't know how to write." I fill in the short form and show him where to sign. He thanks me profusely and heads off to another part of the Prefecture. The young man behind me catches my eye, and we smile together--a brief smile before we are sucked back into the stress of waiting.

The most bizarre moment at the Prefecture: While I'm sitting on a red metal chair and gazing blankly in front of me, a young man pushes past me and approaches Jube. I can't hear what they're saying to each other, but I notice that the seat of the young man's blue jeans are
full of fashionable holes. I look up at Jube's face in time to hear him say, "Oui, j'ai compris"--"Yes, I understand." The young man scowls and then stalks to the back of the line. "What was that?" I ask Jube. "He told me that if I didn't let his girlfriend go in front of us, he would give me a knuckle sandwich!" he responded incredulously.

17 comments:

Robyn said...

Oh Gem! I think I would have bawled too. Take care.

Helene said...

Did you get your ticket while Jube was with you?

Karina said...

i feel your pain... icky prefecture! i once lined up at 7:15am to get one of those golden tickts!!!
glad things seem to now be in order!

Samantha said...

oh no, no more préfecture horror stories! i just happened to look at my passport today and noticed that my cds expires april 4th, meaning i need to get started on the renewal process again, including getting 5 français to write "attestations" saying fab and i still live together. that part is so ridiculous, they have no legal right to ask for those damn attestations - why are my phone bill, electricity bill, paychecks, avis d'impôt, etc, all with the same address for the past three years not enough? they just do what they can to make everyone's life more difficult. they know they have so much power in deciding whether or not you stay, so what can you do but give them anything they ask for?

ps. mine are women too, and evil ones at that. biatch!

cara said...

oh wow, do i feel your pain. only i had to line up at 5:25 AM to be one of the magical 30. the line cutters really piss me off. i was the only girl in the line, let alone the only non-moroccan so it was a little difficult for me to tell the line-cutters to step off. but boy is it ever a relief to get the darn thing! i think i did a little dance for joy and didn't care who was watching.

Doc said...

I so don't miss those trips to the prefecture. Our Local Moron (who has since been transfered thank the good lord amen!) refused to accept a certified copy of my divorce papers even though the letter sent by his office demanding said papers asked for a regular non-certified copy. He wanted the original--the one that stays at the courthouse in the states.
I have seven years left on my carte and I am so dreading the day it has to be renewed. Makes applying for citizenship seems like a good idea indeed...oh, but that's going to be another nightmare, isn't it?

Jube said...

The Americans who go to France only to realize that is it not like America, and who spend their time blogging about how crappy France is, and and how things are sooo much better in America, really make me laugh.
However, I can only sympathize with those who complain about the prefecture. The way people are treated there is a real shame. The employees do their best to make it as hard as possible for immigrants to get the right papers. And they excel in that. The service, the ridiculous number of employees (one, maybe two when lucky, compared to the hundreds of applicants every day) as well as their condescening attitude (not to say insulting), the incoherences of their answers, the organization of space, the opening hours, everthing is designed to generate tension, frustration, and anger. All of this sure does not make me proud of my country. I feel deeply sorry for all the foreigners who have experienced this kinf of ordeal.

I remember going to the prefecture once to get a new carte grise, after buying a new car. Surprisingly, the people were nice and understanding, and I didn't wait for too long before I could talk to someone. Oh, did I mention I am French, and I was giving them a lot of money for this paper? Thank you prefecture .....JERKS!

Karina said...

things are def not better in america, esp for foreigners!!! i don't envy the french who want to work in america, they have it a lot harder than we do here.
i think the thing that pisses off americans is the inconsistancy with paperwork, i do have to say that that is the one thing that is better in america. a lot less inconsistance when dealing with admin stuff.
otherwise vive la france why else would i be here for 3 years if i didn't love it???? :D

Gem said...

No, it's not totally worked out yet. I still have to go in on Tuesday morning (before work) and hopefully they will renew it then. I'm still working on Monday, which is illegal, and my boss could go to jail if the company is inspected on that exact Monday. Thanks for your encouragement. I have so much respect for immigrants in the US now!

Samantha said...

Good lord, Jube, do you honestly think that the majority of French people who live in the US don't bitch about life there? Because if you do, you're sorely mistaken...for two years, I had to listen to every single one of Fab's friends complain about how terrible the US was and how perfect France was (according to one, even the eggs were better! ha!). Some things really are better in the US (customer service happens to be one of them), just as some really are better in France - it goes both ways.

Jube said...

Well, there are morons everywhere...I see you're trying to defend some ...you're not one of them, are you?

Samantha said...

That's a bit harsh, isn't it? I'll just chalk that up to being a language problem, and not an actual insult. And besides, does anyone actually think THEY'RE a moron? I doubt it.

My point was that it's perfectly normal for people living in a foreign country to complain about things that frustrate them - that doesn't mean they are stupid or "morons". Hell, there's plenty of blogs out there written by French people complaining about their OWN country. Expats do the same worldwide - though maybe it doesn't seem that way to you if you spend a lot of time only reading blogs written by Americans who complain about France.

Jube said...

I maintain, the Americans who constantly blog about how France is crappy and how things work way better in America are morons. Or idiots. Maybe even racists. You mentioned that not only Americans do that, and that there are plenty of French people who do the same, and I agree. They're all morons. Where's the problem? For most complaints are not objective and based on the underlying belief that the speaker's country is better. You say the complaints made by expats are perfectly normal, but when someone says something like "the French stink" or "Americans are superficial," I call that prejudice. I guess that's perfectly normal.
By the way, I don't know if you noticed, but my comment was rather supportive originally...

Robyn said...

I remember a certain someone being very upset over a few incidents with fire drills while studying at a particular college in Springfield. I believe the phrase was "Fucking Americans and their fucking american fire drills!"

:)

Jube said...

well I never blogged about it! And I was drunk! And it was late! And...and...man, it's a conspiracy!

Jube said...

Oh, I forgot...And it was raining like CRAZY!

Anonymous said...

HA. Man. Rain and firedrills. Those were good times, man. Good times.

- N