Back home I applied and receive my visa to travel to France. This visa was not the ultimate goal. Having the visa allows me to apply for a temporary carte de sejour.
This document allows me to stay in France for the year where as non-EU members must leave after 3 months. Getting the visa was a bear, countless documents, copies and translations of all the documents notaries etc, etc.
The carte de sejour must be applied for within your first week of arriving which I was already 3 weeks late so I figured I’d better get on it. This would be my first encounter with French Bureaucracy. I’ve heard about it, read books and blogs discussing the endless red tape involved with bureaucrats who can never be fired and feed off the weak. I’ve been told that you should assume you will have to go back at least 3 times because you wont have the proper documents or the correct photographs ( good example, you aren’t allowed to smile in your picture). Lines can be as long as 4 to 5 hours so bring a book because no one will talk to you in line. I‘ve heard the horror stories but I, for some reason, am not concerned and have opted to do this myself. I’m flying solo without a net.
I’ve got Jacque Brel “Alive and Well and Living in Paris” stuck in my head and the songs wont go away.
I took the metro to the 17th arrondisement to the Prefecture De Police. They send you to the police station for your initial interview how is that for intimidating. At this point I should probably remind you that I don’t speak French. I know I took classes but really nothing was retained. But again I’m not concerned because I memorized two phrases, which I practiced over and over again on the train.
1. Je voudre un carte de sejour- I would like a carte de sejour
2. Je ne comprends pas - I don’t understand
Like an unsuspecting lamb to the slaughter I skip to the Police station singing Jacque Brel to myself (the English version, of course).
“It was the time when Brussels could sing.
It was the time of the silent movies.”
I suspect there might be a problem after I go through the metal detector and say to the cop “Je voudre un carte de sejour” he responds by rattling off something which I can only assume to be French. After several minutes it is clear that I’m being directed to the second floor. The spring has left my step as I climb the stairs. I sing sadly.
“No love you’re not alone
It’s alright if you cry
If things don’t work out right
All we can do I try”
I walk into an unattractive room, take a number and sit toward the back- the place you go if you don’t want to get called on. There is a Japanese guy with his translator at the front desk having a run in with the receptionist. The translator is doing all the talking but the receptionist stares at the Japanese guy, she never takes his eyes off him. It is only after he shifts his gaze to his feet does she take the papers that the translator has been apparently begging her to take. They want to be permitted to go to one of the back offices where the carte de sejour are approved. I sink lower in my chair. He has a translator and they were both unmercifully beaten. What chance do I have? I’m just a small town boy with a big dream … well not really.
The receptionist cries “Next”
“Naked as sin, an army towel
Covering my belly
Some of us blush somehow
Knees turn into jelly
“NEXT!” she screams Oh shit that’s me. I jump from my chair and take the long walk to the front desk. I’m hoping that the beast has been satiated by the Japanese meal before me but she still looks hungry.
I was still just a kid
There were a hundred like me
I followed the naked body
And naked body followed me”
“Bonjour” I quiver.
“Je voudrais un carte de sejour”
It does not sound like it did on the metro- it’s become more of a question rather than a statement of fact. The last 3 words tapered off into the realm of inaudibility. Simply put, if we were in prison I would be her bitch. (I think I’d have my hair corn rowed too but that’s neither here nor there) She says nothing- her hand has been held out for documents which I didn’t notice. I hand them off like a baton, slapping her hand too hard. The smack has unnerved her, her eyes shift off me for a second. She is unsure but only for a moment. She glances quickly through the documents, pffting and tsking. She looks me in the eye for a moment too long before speaking in French. She talks and she talks and she talks. I think she is angry and then utterly surprised then filled with contempt. She seems to be discussing the pile of papers she is looking at. She is quiet and waits for a response.
“Je ne comprends pas” I say
Her eyes got bigger, she asked another question.
“Je ne comprends pas” I repeat.
She continues to talk and I continue to shrug my shoulders and say I don’t understand.
It is quiet. She is annoyed but can’t verbally express this to me. Her weapons are her words and they don’t work against me. They mean nothing to me. She looks at the papers one last time. Slaps them on the counter before me and points me to the back room.
“Merci” I say cheerfully
“It was the time when Brussels could sing
It was the time of the silent movies”