Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Navigating the French Administration.

Just out of curiosity, to remind myself what it was like at the time during previous paperwork episodes, I looked this up in my journal:

Well, it's September (2000), and that means it's time to renew all my paperwork. I have a new contract with the University of Auvergne, and my visa needs to be renewed. Previously it wasn't a big deal to renew my papers. This year I throw moving into the works. Not a long move, just across town, but what a complication!
It's been a very busy month at work. I've written a major paper (major to me. fingers crossed, fingers crossed), then I spent a week in the UK with my brother, and I wrote a grant. Grant-writing always takes much longer than anticipated, but I've done the visa thing in a single day before. So I figured, no problem. The grant is due the 25th, my visa expires the 26th. I'll just get the grant out the door and take the next day off to do my paperwork. I won't be late. Last-minute, yeah, but not late.
September 14. I have everything I need to start my new contract except for a valid Work Authorization. Normal: they only grant an authorization for the duration of a contract. New contract, new blue card. So it's off to the Bureau of Labor.
The woman there recognizes me. She's happy with my new contract, but I have to renew my visa first.
OK. Off to the Prefecture.
Take a number. You can't get even the simplest question answered without waiting in a long queue. I bet they won't even tell you where the toilet is. And what I'm waiting for really is for my number to come up to get to the window where they will give me a new number to take up to the third floor to wait in a different office. Take a ticket to wait to take a ticket.
It isn't too long a wait, and at the window I'm issued the usual list of items I'll need (this list, you think you could just keep it from one year to the next, but just when you do that they'll change something. So you need the current list, and you have to wait in line to get it.), and I notice that if I have changed my address I'll need a form from the Commissariat of Police saying so. The police want to know I've moved?
So I take the bus to the Commissariat. Which isn't the police office down the street, but some office tucked away at the edge of our local military installation. Approaching, I'm sure I'm in the wrong place, but no, it's here.
The guy at the reception desk gives me a whole list of stuff to present to get my official change of address. And I thought notifying the post office was enough! Luckily, I happen to have it all with me because of my preparations for the Prefecture. This way I get my new visa with my new address. Okay.
Just when I think I can get this all in order, the receptionist for the person I actually have to talk to tells me that there's nobody in. Still on vacation. Back Thursday.
Thursday at 1 I have a train to catch to finally take my summer vacation with my brother. I have a ton of things to do that morning, and I figure I'll have time when I get back to take care of my papers, so I blow off Thursday morning at the police.
Back from vacation the grant is becoming a crisis. My French friend Olivier is not available to help me with the language. I work and I work and I figure I can do the rounds of various bureaus after I send it off. No grant, no money to work, after all.
The 26th the grant is out, and I get to the police offices at 9:30, half an hour before they open. In typical French bureaucratic fashion, it's an hour before I make it up to the right office, but things are finished quickly and I leave with a nice receipt.
On to the Prefecture!
Take a number.
Just before noon I get to the window. I've got everything on their list. Umm. Hmmm.
The woman at the preliminary window wants to see my work contract. This contract has not been signed by the Dean of the University because he needs my Work Authorization first, and the Work lady needs a visa valid for the duration first. I'm here to get that.
The preliminary clerk considers this. She asks to see my other papers. I volunteer three or four, and we get to my change of address.
I can't take this. It isn't any good.
But at the Police Commissariat that's what they gave me.
Makes no difference. They had no business doing it. You have to get your address changed in your new community. Chamalières, not Clermont-Ferrand.
I think - you'd think they'd be aware of that over at the office I just got this from. It's their job to know that stuff. But two strikes against me I can see there's no way that this stern, forbidding woman will give me a ticket to the third floor.
All government offices are closed from 12 to 2, so I go to work. My colleagues laugh when they find I'm trying to regulate my papers in a single day. Hey, I actually started on this weeks ago. Things were closed. I was away. I'm working on it.
So where is this Commissariat of Police in Chamalières? Nobody knows. Stephane lives there, and he has no idea. Real French people don't need to notify the police when they move.
The phone book says 15 Place Sully. Place Sully? Nobody's heard of it, either.
Alright, I will just go to Chamalières and find it. It isn't that big a town.
So I go. And the Commissariat is right behind the central shopping plaza, next to the church. And I'm lucky - they're open. Clermont-Ferrand is big enough to have an office dedicated to foreigners, but small enough so that office is only open two hours a day. Small town Chamalières just up the road deals with the occassional foreigner as they happen by.
I tell them I want to change the address on my visa.
I want to renew my visa?
Yes. You can do that here?
Sure, and they give me a list of documents to present. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've got all that, only they want black and white photographs, not color. Sheesh, another errand. Why can't they all want the same things? And what's this one "Fichier Familiale d'Etat Civil"?
It's a fichier familiale d'état civil. A form describing the familial civil state.
Of course.
You can get it at the mayor's office.
Alright, city hall is only a few hundred yards away.
Once at city hall, a "Fichier Familiale" is a bizarre thing for me to want, evidently. Am I married? No. Do I have children? No. The girl thinks about what family is meant to go into this form, so she asks if my parents are married. Yes. Well, then she needs their marriage certificate.
Are you kidding me???
France can't seriously want me to call up my parents and have them fax me a copy of their marriage certificate. They're likely to be spending the next few odd weeks on the road in their camper, anyway. And if I had the chance to get ahold of them right away, what are the odds they'd have this 39-year-old document at hand?
Well, maybe she doesn't need it after all. My birth certificate will do for a Fichier Individuelle d'Etat Civil. That will have to do.
Thank goodness!
There's a document I can get my hands on. I have a translated copy in my desk, so it's back to the lab.
And since all government offices in small-town France close at 4 pm, that's it for the day.
In the morning I have:
- a photocopy of my translated birth certificate
- a copy of my lease and my receipt for the first month's rent
- my latest pay stub, photocopied
- a copy of my electric bill
- copies of several pages of my passport
- copies of my new (though unsigned by the dean) work contract
- four ID photos in color - damn! forgot to get b&w's made!
City hall first. A different clerk is fine with my request, but she wants the original translation of my birth certificate.
Who knows why. Off to the lab. I knew I should have brought every paper ever associated with me. Sometimes they want to keep a copy, sometimes they just want to glance at the original. I stop to get my picture taken again and while I'm at it tear through my apartment for the original original birth certificate (actually, my second replacement) from the great state of North Carolina. In English. You never know.
Later I am armed with a Fichier Individuelle d'Etat Civil. All it is is half the information from my birth certificate copied down again, the box marked "single" checked, signed and dated. (Looking at this, I congratulate myself for never admitting to being divorced. They'd want my marriage certificate, four teeny photographs of my ex, and the divorce papers, none of which I can come up with, all to say I'm currently single!) Well. I'm glad my civil state has been sorted out.
The police guys, the same ones from yesterday, gather up all the right forms, and the older one says he'll send it on to the prefecture.
Send it on? How long will that take?
Two, three weeks.
Two three weeks! Will it be faster if I just go there in person?
No, not at all.
I consider this. What's a few more days? The mail is fast, but it's still a day each way. I'm already a day late. And I hate waiting around for hours at the prefecture. Personnel at the Center will already be paying me retroactively next month anyway. I'll explain to the nice office ladies in my broken French that this infernal bureaucracy is holding things up. They will nod and understand. I just really really don't want to spend the afternoon at the prefecture. At 10:30, it's already too late to get into the morning group.
So I say, ok, send it on. They take my phone number. They'll call me when they get my visa.
I get home at 8pm, and I have a message on my answering machine. Call the police guys.
What now?
Since my French is useless on the phone, bright and early I present myself at the police office again. With all my collected documents in hand, just in case.
It turns out that they have noticed that I have changed my address.
!! no kidding !!!
They need to fill out another form for that. And they need a copy of my electric bill. Or the phone bill. Whichever.
I happen to have my latest electric bill in my packet of forms. Do they have a copier?
No, there's one at the newsagents.
Yeah, ok. So I do that and they fill out the form that I had originally come in asking for. They give me a copy and tell me to keep it with me at all times, along with my passport and visa. (even sunbathing at the municipal pool??)(really: I am meant to carry at all times a slip of paper declaring that the cops know I live in the neighborhood.)
Eight days later I'm told to come get my visa, and I see it's only the temporary 3-month kind. The full-year one is coming. I take my official paper to the Labor office. Madame is not in; come back tomorrow. Tomorrow Madame is happy to see me, and gives me 3 months work authorization. Enough to get me my paycheck at the end of the month.
And that's almost it for this time. The 3-month bit is for my papers to go to Lyon, come back requesting a chest x-ray and medical exam, back to Lyon, and finally the pretty little paper is mine. For a while.

1 comment:

Si's blog said...

It's all Napoleon's fault. He set up the system, didn't he?

I was sort of surprised to hear the respect and awe the French have for Nappy. Always felt he cost Europe and especially France so many lives and so much trauma. But he did establish so much of the system France uses today. Is this another example of the trauma he brought about?