Saturday, May 15, 2010

Their mistake, my life.

Monsieur J and I came back from a lovely weekend in Royan on Saturday afternoon. But the weekend really proved to be a good one when he returned from the mailbox with a very important letter: a convocation from the Préfecture to pick up my new carte de séjour. It's finally ready!

Monday morning I scurried down to the Préfecture bright and early. I waited outside with the masses until the doors opened at 9:00. Nothing could have prepared me for the pushing and shoving that ensued. The hoardes had managed to break the ticket machine within 3 minutes.

This should have been an omen. I should have done an about face and returned home, tempting my chances another day. Instead I waited in the amoeba like blob of a non-line for almost 3 hours. Periodically the woman behind the glass window would emerge to distribute tickets by hand, risking life and limb while everyone fought to be "first". Incivility is an understatement.

The only ray of sunshine was that there was another American who I'd met back in August before my paperwork woes had been discovered. We had a good time commiserating and watching the international circus unfold before our very eyes. She confided that she no longer puts on makeup when she comes here because she inevitably ends up in tears. What is it with this place?

When it was my turn, I approached the counter nervously, my heart racing. I made sure to use my nicest Bonjour, Madame and hoped for the best. I delicately slid the letter I'd received, my passport, the expired carte de séjour and the still valid récépissé de demande de carte de séjour under the window. Within a few minutes she returned my passport, retained the letter and all other expired paperwork and had me sign to receive the new carte de séjour, the treasured green card equivalent.

Incredulous that this was finally happening after 10 months of seemingly endless waiting, I simply slipped the card in my pocket with the intention of exiting this hell hole as soon as humanly possible. However, an idea popped into my head: maybe you should check the card before you leave?

Check it I did, and to my dismay it was the wrong card, a mere duplicate of the same one I had before bearing no indication that I had married a French citizen. I think this is when I started visibly shaking. The other American, sensing my distress came over and started rubbing my back. True solidarity.

I returned to the counter and explained my dilemna to the employee. She took it upon herself to look up my file on her computer and actually admitted that her colleague had made a mistake, which is highly unusual. The French are almost always convinced that they're right, even when they're wrong; to do otherwise would be to admit defeat.

She explained that a new card would have to be made. Logically my next question was, "how long do you expect that to take"? One month. REALLY!?! Their administrative mistake, my time. Go figure.

Monsieur J came home for lunch to console me and devise a plan of attack. It's time to get to the bottom of this, even if it means lighting a fire under somebody's fanny.

His parents were livid and have since been an immense help in our letter writing campaign. His sister listened while I recounted my disastrous morning via skype. My family continues to be supportive as always. We are immensely thankful for family and friends.

Yesterday afternoon I channeled the spirit of a lawyer as I sat down to write a well-argued letter in my most perfect French to, get this, the ministre de l’immigration, de l’intégration, de l’identité nationale et du développement solidaire. Is that really all one title? For one person?

With the help of some of my favorite native speakers my work of art was ready to mail by mid-day; it will be interesting to see what, if anything, this yields.

In spite of the absurdity of it all, I enjoyed getting to use expressions like disfonctionnement, manque de professionalisme and conséquences désastreuses. And while it did pain me ever so slightly to edit out the phrase incompétence flagrante, it was probably for the best.


  1. Can I just say that I really enjoy the fact that this post falls under the label "howling and gnashing of teeth"! Oh so true!

    I am always happy to listen and ready to bash the system with you, my friend!

  2. ann, you are the best!! i hate all you are dealing with but love your sense of humor and wonderful ability to share it with all of us!! you write beautifully, maybe need to think of a new profession!!! xoxo, lindsay