Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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Usually I spend my days collecting stories and ideas to write about as I walk, run and metro through the city. These are a few little life in Paris anecdotes that I couldn’t quite stretch into full stories on their own.

Autobus, ligne 39
Last Monday, Ella and I had been waiting at the Richelieu-Quatre Septembre bus stop for about 20 minutes before we saw the notice taped to the glass wall of the stop. Thanks to yet another protest, the bus line we take to the Académie for her dance class each Monday would once again be interrupted. From 18h to 20h that evening, there would be no busses running between Richelieu and Gare du Nord.

As it was only 17h20, we were a little confused about why there was no bus. After mulling it over for a few minutes, we decided our best bet was to hike down the few blocks to Palais Royal, where we could catch the bus at an uninterrupted stop, just in case the line had already been disrupted.

After about a block and a half, I looked back to see none other than autobus 39 heading down the street behind us. We stopped and stared – the driver stared back at us for a moment, and then we broke into a run, sprinting toward Palais Royal as fast as we could run with school and dance bags bouncing at our sides. Thanks to the narrow trafficky streets of the Paris centre and an aptly-timed red light, we made it to the bus stop sweaty and panting, but with a few moments to spare.

When the bus pulled up, the driver – young, male, and oh-so-cute – could barely sit up straight he was laughing so hard. Embarrassed, we boarded the bus and I gave him a sheepish and wheezy grin. “Eh,” he said, “ça va?” (Hey, are you okay?). I nodded, and started to follow Ella toward the back of the bus. “J’aurais vous attendu,” (I would have waited for you) he called after me, and when I looked back, he winked.

I think I have a crush. Is it horribly girly and teenyboppy that I hoped we’d have the same driver today? Sadly, “I would have waited” was nowhere to be seen, but I have five more months of rides on autobus 39 before I head home to Washington.

Greasy picnics in the park
When the sun comes out in Paris, so does the smog, the tourists and the picnickers. As there is a severely limited amount of grass that you’re actually allowed to set foot on in this city, there are a few locations that become nearly impassable on nice days like today. One of these is Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge connecting the cour carré of the Louvre to the rive gauche, and a favorite wine and cheese picnic spot in any weather. When it’s really sunny, it’s best to go here with a picnic in mind or not at all, as picking your way around lunchers, musicians and amateur artists is definitely not the most efficient way to cross the river.

Another popular picnic spot is a little patch of courtyard smack between the jardin des Tuileries and the courtyard of the Louvre. Since this is technically not a part of Tuileries, its grass is fair game, and the two medium-sized squares of it fill up early on nice days, with dogs and their owners, sunbathers and picnickers. It’s quite a nice lunching option if you’d like to park yourself on a rare bit of grass and don’t mind the bold peddlers of sunglasses, hats and knock-off Dolce & Gabbana belts.

Being next to the musée du Louvre and a block from the tourism office of Paris, this is one of those weird parts of the city that is frequented by tourists and natives alike. Usually the city is quite segregated, and while tourists might spend a great deal of energy searching for “real Parisians,” real Parisians spend even more energy avoiding them. To pick out the tourists from the authentic Frenchies, you have to know where you are and what you’re looking for.

If you hit up this particular spot during lunch, look for groups of people sitting on the grass with wine, cheese and baguettes – these are 100 percent tourists. The “real Parisians” are the ones crowded around overstuffed greasy bags of MacDonalds takeaway. It’s disturbing, but true. Sure Parisians eat baguette sandwiches and paninis too, but not here. Americans and the like think they’re being chic and French by eating French bread near the Louvre, but what they don’t realize is that the McDo on rue de Rivoli has designated their picnic spot as the unofficial outdoor dining area for the McDonalds that is so beloved to seemingly everyone in France.

Counterfeit euros
Last night after nannying, I made a quick stop at Monoprix for a few groceries. All I needed was milk and olive oil, but as I was shopping before dinner, I also ended up with several varieties of cookies and some disgustingly delicious Chokella cereal.

Monoprix is always filled with people around 21h because it’s the only grocery store around that is open until 22h on weeknights. Waiting in a line that wound through the store, I felt awkward enough with my basket of unhealthiness. The cashier rang up my groceries and as I bagged them I handed her a 50-euro bill (rather than pay with a credit card) to speed up the process so I could get out of the store and home to eat dinner.

The woman manning the register took my bill and started hmmm-ing and muttering to herself. She held it up to the light to inspect the watermarks, and scratched at the center of it with a fingernail. “C’est bizarre, ça,” (that’s weird) she kept saying, and eventually passed it to another checker, who gave it to a manager to inspect in a special machine. Meanwhile, I was standing at the end of the register with my bags of groceries and line that just kept growing behind me, while everyone in the store was craning their necks to see the criminal who was trying to pay with counterfeit money.

All I could think was, how the heck was I going to get my 50 euro back? It’s not my fault if I got fake money out of the ATM! Could I find my receipt and go back to Crédit Lyonnais and complain? Would they believe me? I spent about 10 minutes like this, while everybody waiting in line, glad to have a distraction from boredom, focused their attention on me.

Eventually somebody pronounced my money legitimate, and as the checker handed me my change she grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes – “You understand that we weren’t accusing you – it could happen to anyone,” she assured me in French. I thanked her, grabbed my cookies and ran before they could change their minds.

And lastly…
Did I ever mention that I finally got my carte de séjour?


On my way to the 11ème this morning, I had the wild idea in my head that I might just walk away from my visite médicale with my carte de séjour in hand. Had I not spent the past two weeks in the United States, I might have remembered that France isn’t exactly a country in which it’s easy to get things done. Assertiveness, sharp negotiation skills and even outright pushiness will get you nowhere here. Efficiency is not a trait I would attribute to any institution in France – be it Sciences Po, the government or the RATP (the organization of the metro, buses and trains within Île de France).

The carte de séjour is a residency permit you are obligated to apply for if you will be living in France for longer than three months. You can be eligible for residency for a number of reasons – marrying a citizen, being recruited for work by a French country, going to work as an au pair for a pre-arranged family, or studying at a school in France. You can’t just up and move to France to find a job or whatnot – you have to have a plan and designated entry and exit dates.

The difficulty in getting a carte de séjour is that you have to apply for it once you’re actually in France. You can apply for a long-term visa (three months, maximum) from the U.S., but it’s supposedly only good for one entry into the country (although I never had a problem returning from trips), and you have to apply for your carte de séjour immediately upon arrival.

The problem with France is that to get anything important done, you usually need to deal with about three different people in three different locations – and they don’t usually have any idea what their counterparts are doing or saying. For example, the Préfecture de police provided Sciences Po with a list of required documents for the carte de séjour, which they then mailed out to us. An officially translated birth certificate, for example, which was not only expensive, but also turned out to be quite an adventure to obtain.

When R and I went to the Préfecture de Police, they informed us that the site had moved and sent us to an address in the 15ème arondissement. When we arrived there, however, we found that we could not apply until we had permanent addresses and bill receipts – our letters and receipts from our hotel were not valid (although we had been told that they would be). When we returned a second time, we found out that Sciences Po has a special office for processing the cartes de séjour, and we were supposed to turn everything in there.

The woman at Sciences Po was incredibly helpful and got everything sent off for us – at which point there was nothing to deal with until we received our dates for our visites médicales.

January 10th at 10h30 was both Rachael and my appointed time, so we arrived early at the Délégation with shot records, medical histories, our birth certificates and stamps (yes, like postage stamps) that served as proof that we’d paid our 55 euro residency taxes.

After checking in, we were ushered to a full waiting room, where we were called one at a time to go wait in another waiting room. From there, we were called one by one into a third room, where we were weighed, measured and had to read eye charts. We were then asked if we were pregnant, and if not, formed a line into a hallway with four doors. One led back out to the waiting room and the remaining three were dressing rooms. We entered the dressing rooms individually, stripped to the waist and were called into an x-ray room that connected to the other end of the changing rooms.

We were then x-rayed (chests only) by a male and female doctor and sent back out to the waiting room. There we waited again, this time to be called on by individual doctors. Mine was more interested in my iPod and practicing his English on me than in doing any kind of actual exam – he ended up just taking my blood pressure, asking about any medications I’m on, giving me my lung x-ray (“It’s a present, for Christmas!”) and sending me on my way.

R and I were then sent to an office of the Préfecture de Police housed in the same building, where we found out that we should be able to get our cartes, but surprise surprise, the machine is broken. We have to return on February 16th to finally obtain our residency permits (just six months after arriving in France), which is a good thing because my visa expired in mid-November – I guess I’m an illegal resident.

I’m not going to get my hopes up though – if you expect to be able to accomplish things, you’ll only be disappointed.