Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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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.