Thursday, March 25, 2010


We're just back from a successful visit to the Préfecture, happy as can be that they decided to accept all of our documentation.

I think the woman could tell that a. Monsieur J really is French and that b. we really are married. She even changed the name on my temporary paperwork to "Ann Schnell Cliquet" and it says that I'm "married". This really is progress!

She kindly refused my carefully typed out declaration of non-polygamy (that her colleague insisted I absolutely had to fill out on March 1st). Victory! And she even made comments about "when you'll receive your card..." Say what? You mean, I'm going to get a card? Yesssss!

I'll believe it when I see it, but for the moment we're happy to celebrate with some Vietnamese takeout! Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to prove you're really French.

So tomorrow we return to the Préfecture to prove that a. we really are married and that b. Monsieur J really is French. Which brings me to the question, how can you tell if someone is French?

My friend K and I did a lot of thinking about this, we've come up with the following:

1. The fruit test: If Monsieur J and I are both given apples, he will deftly peel, slice and eat the fruit, whereas I am inclined to just bite right in. Being American, I am likely to cut off a finger peeling anything without a vegetable peeler.

2. The driving test: For him, driving is like over-caffeinated bumper cars, honking and insulting are encouraged. I prefer to take my time, letting pedestrians cross the street, etc... to the dismay of all French motorists behind me.

3. The bus test: Waiting at a bus stop is not enough here, you must signal to the driver that you would like for him to stop. The French have a subtle yet effective way of doing this, Monsieur J is a pro. Meanwhile, yours truly always ends up frantically waving to the driver, which is just so not cool, or French.

4. The footwear test: French women can walk for miles in high heeled shoes and somehow they appear graceful and never seem to trip on the cobblestones. I still have blisters from wearing flats a month ago. Guess who's not French?

5. The temperature test: The French dress according to the season, not necessarily according to the daily forecast. This means that if it's an unseasonally warm day in March (75 degrees) the French will still bundle up in sweaters, coats and scarves. This probably explains why I get weird looks for walking around in jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt, silly me.

I guess the only alternative would be to sweat my brains out, which could actually help me pass the smell test around here.

I think I'll pass!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Good deed.

By now you should be able to tell from my descriptions of the Préfecture that this place is worthy of a special place in Dante's inferno.

Nasty bureaucrats, screaming babies, impatient everyone -boredom and frustration reign supreme. Suffice it to say that such conditions don't bring out the best in people. Line fights regularly break out, everyone is generally on edge. Without fail someone decides to change their cellphone ringtone by testing all possible rings for everyone to hear. It really is unbearable.

On March 1st, when Monsieur J and I decided to take a break from the madness by going to a bookstore, he (being new to this) was worried that our number would be called and we would miss our turn. I suggested that he take another ticket, which would give us at least 20 minutes.

Well, after the bookstore outing there were still 38 people ahead of us. So much for that second ticket. Monsieur J went to run some other errands, and I found a seat and did some reading.

I couldn't help but notice the woman sitting next to me and her adorable little boy, who I guessed to be about 4. He wasn't whining, was spinning in circles and playing with a scrap of paper he'd found on the floor. Sometimes he would smile at me and I would smile right back.

I also couldn't help but notice the ticket she clutched in her hand, 50 numbers worse than mine. Ouch. Twelve tickets processed per hour with 88 people in front of you? This was not looking good. And while Junior was keeping it together for the moment, surely he couldn't do this all day.

And that's when it hit me. We had a second ticket, and it would improve her wait by about 4 hours. Now the only question, was how? I didn't want this to result in a line fight. I've seen them before and trust me, you don't want to involve yourself, much less provoke one.

I got up to stretch my legs and stood by the ticket machine. The little boy came up and gave me a shy smile and with that I slipped him the ticket and asked, "tu peux donner ça à ta maman"?

He toddled over and handed it to her, she looked at me questioningly as she unfolded it, and then her eyes looked as if they might bug out of her head. We couldn't say anything to each other without causing a riot, but the looks of gratitude and understanding we exchanged said it all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Laissez-moi vous expliquer.

You know you're in big trouble whenever a French bureaucrat says this to you. This particular form of "let me explain" is not meant to be helpful, but rather to establish who is in charge: them, never anyone else.

On Monday, March 1, Monsieur J and I went to the préfecture together with our passports and our newly delivered livret de famille, a booklet that proves you're married and where your children's names will one day be inscribed. Evidently this was all we'd need to obtain my green card equivalent. Ha!

Now keep in mind that I'd gone to the préfecture several weeks prior to find out what was expected of me given that I would be marrying a French citizen. I asked all the right questions: is there a dossier I need to complete? What documents are required? Do I need to schedule an appointment? Non non non, just come with your husband, your IDs and the livret de famille.

Per usual, I got all of the wrong answers.

When we arrived, there were 50 people ahead of us in line. The last equation I ever understood in math class went something like this: distance equals rate times time. 50 people = 12 people x 60 minutes, or a roughly 4 hour wait. Super. We promptly abandonned ship and found a bookstore nearby where we bought road maps of the Pyrénées, guidebooks and a few postcards to send to my nieces and nephews. Anything to distract. As predicted, in our hour away only 12 names had been called. What can I say? I spend a lot of time here, I know the drill.

When it was our turn to approach the troll at the counter, I had everything ready. We briefly explained the circumstances; she asked for my papers; I forked them over. She then asked Monsieur J for his ID and he slipped his passport across the desk. This is where things got ugly. Then there was a rapid fire exchange between them en français that went something like this:

Troll: This is NOT a valid form of photo identification!

Monsieur J: Is this a joke?

Troll: I do not appreciate your tone of voice!

Monsieur J: No really, I honestly thought you were kidding. It's a passport ma'am...

Troll: And let me remind you that there are fake passports out there!

Monsieur J: umm, ok?

She then proceeded to present us with a dossier to fill out, a laundry list of documents we would need to present in original and photocopied format on the day of our appointment on March 25th. Is it just me, or did I already ask about all of this circa late January only to get a completely different answer? In retrospect, make that a non-answer.

At least now Monsieur J understands why I have to curl up in the fetal position after dealing with these people. I'm not an emotional midget, it's just the rampant incompetence, I promise!

In the meantime, I'm still incredulous that a passport is considered the ultimate form of photo ID in every country except France. Typical.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I'm baaaaack!

After a busy two weeks of wedding celebrations, a trip to the Pyrénées and another trip to Paris, I'm finally back in Toulouse, back to my computer and back to the blog. How good it feels to be home! Where to begin? Since so many of you couldn't be here with us in Toulouse on the 27th, I should probably recap the weekend, and what a weekend it was!

Mom, dad and Betsy arrived late Thursday afternoon and I couldn't have been happier to see them! The fact that they even got here was pretty incredible given the travel circumstances and it was just such a treat that they were able to come. We took the shuttle bus to the bed and breakfast where they were staying and Monsieur J took the car, since golf clubs are more than awkward to lug around on public transportation.

Chez Tatin, we found both sets of Cliquets and had happy introductions followed by a marvelous surprise: beautiful flowers and champagne! How great to know that friends from home were thinking of us! It may or may not have brought tears to a few eyes...

We took advantage of what was left of daylight to do a quick walking tour of Toulouse. The sky was blue and I think the Schnell clan was ready to stretch their legs after hours of being stuck in planes, trains and automobiles.

Dinner that night was at le Barbu, the owner has a beard. We had an earlier reservation for Schnells and Cliquets, followed by a later one for friends and late-arriving out of town guests. All were seated at one long table, which allowed for everyone to meet, greet and eat.

Michel set the tone for the weekend when he arrived, declaring je suis déshydraté! Betsy loved this opportunity to use her French and would continue to announce j'ai soif for the rest of the weekend whenever her glass needed refilling. A match made in heaven, these two!

Saturday morning was cloudy but not too chilly and everyone gathered around 10am for the ceremony at city hall. We took the metro into town dressed to the nines and carrying a bouquet and two centerpieces for the lunch table, quite a sight! I briefly considered wearing Betsy's veil but it made me look like a conehead so I opted for a more natural look instead. We took some pictures downstairs, made the trek upstairs to the infamous salle des illustres and took our places for the ceremony.

I should probably add that I was fully prepared for something dull, super official and lead by a grumpy old Frenchman with the idea being to get all of the couples present married ASAP. It's good to prepare for the worst, as it allows you to be pleasantly surprised and rarely disappointed. The woman who married us, Madame Jardin-Ladam could not have been more personable. She was smiling, eager to meet our families and even allowed me to translate her welcome announcement to the American contingency. She really helped to make it a very memorable ceremony!

We took more pictures afterwards, had coffee at a nearby café before lunch and somehow managed to feast for about 3 hours. I'm sure James still has fanny fatigue!

We met for a champagne toast around 6:30pm at the bed and breakfast before heading to dinner at Bois et Charbon, one of my favorite restaurants in Toulouse. The festivities continued until late into the night!

Whenever I think of the weekend, I think of all of the laughing, smiling and love that surrounded us. I'm just so glad that everyone got to be together in Toulouse for the big day!