Yesterday we drove to the prefecture in Toulon to change our address on our residence permits. We’ve been here a month. Even though we live in a temporary “vacation” rental, we plan to be here till mid-April.
I felt confident about this trip. This was simply an address change. I knew what to do.
I spent four hours on Saturday making color copies of every document I own. I organized a tidy dossier for each of us. I collected our passports and identity cards. I even got out my collection of passport-style photos.
My husband was certain none of this was necessary.
“They’ll just have St Brieuc send them our dossiers if they need them ,” he said. “It must all be electronic by now.”
But the prefecture in St Brieuc had trained me in the value of being overly-prepared in triplicate for a French file clerk.
They taught me that, even though I’ve never yet had one of my own, a “facture” (utility bill) is an essential French identification document. I’d known to insist on a current utility bill, a hand-written contract with all our names and a copy of both sides of the identity card of the man we rent from.
I felt like a pro at navigating French Bureaucracy.
I’d spent the first four months of my life in France driving an hour each way, over and over, to the prefecture in St Brieuc. One day I made two complete round trips. They demanded original documents and copies, more documents and more copies, photos and different photos. Documents I placed in their hands vanished. I replaced them.
I awaited their invitations by mail for each round of bureaucratic hazing. Three months into the process we drove to another prefecture two hours from home for physical exams and x-rays.
After four months, I was allowed to hand over great gobs of cash in the form of special fiscal stamps purchased from a tobacco store. They handed over cards they’d laminated in the back room.
I was told by a local that our residency cards went very fast and smooth. Her Canadian husband was a citizen with a French passport by the time his resident card was complete.
And before we left the U.S., I spent three months jumping all the same hoops for the French Consulate in San Francisco. I brought them every original and copy they requested. I filled out forms, made photos and had FBI background checks.
When I arrived with our meticulous dossiers in hand, the clerk had me stand aside and re-arrange each pile of paperwork into a mysterious new order. She looked on in disgust at my lack of preparedness. After that, she made me hustle up the street to a copy store to make more copies. The list she’d given me said “bring the originals”. This meant more copies. She looked horrified that I hadn’t known.
Finally, they took new pictures to replace the ones I’d given them. I handed over our passports. Then I was told to await an invitation to return and pick them up. But they forgot. So I called them to schedule a phone appointment so I could call and ask what had happened. Of course they were ready. So I made an appointment to pour piles of cash into French coffers and pick up our visas.
I wasn’t going to be found lacking this time. I would be insanely over-prepared.
French bureaucrats (file clerks) in the paperwork trenches are thin and young or thin and youngish-looking. They greet me like I’m doggy accident. They roll their eyes and growl at every mis-step in their indecipherable dance.
No. There’s no one to ask questions. No. Online information is not accurate. Yes. Any girl file clerk can make an arbitrary decision that will screw-up my French legal life forever. In France, I have to live by my maiden name. This fact even troubles the clerks that made this decision for me.
Perhaps if they were a bit more pleasant about it all. Maybe even just a teensy-bit apologetic about global warming. Polar bears have drowned from the effects of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by my driving back and forth to satisfy the demands of sour-faced girly paper-pushers. They should apologize to the polar bears.
Yesterday in Toulon, we parked in the sticker-weed-back-end of lot number two of the six vast and full customer parking lots which surround the Prefecture.
The “welcome” clerk insisted that we take four separate numbers to change one family’s address.
When the first of these numbers was called, we all four went in together. I thought this would make things simpler. One family. One address change. One clerk. One explanation.
I was scolded and told we must wait for four separate calls to four separate windows to face four separate hench-girls alone. When we didn’t obey, another clerk finally took two of our group together. The girl-dog behind my window growled the whole time because I refused to send my twelve-year-old back out to wait alone for his number to be called.
In the end, the three of us who have residence permits were asked for our phone number and the name of our new town. We were each given a four-page application form and a list of every document copy and original that I had in envelopes with me.
No. She couldn’t take them now. No. She wouldn’t even look.
We were given appointments in one month to bring them back. And I had to plead to be given consecutive appointments so we could all come back in one trip.
No questions allowed. No answers. Bring everything on this list or we’ll send you away. Again.
To change the address on Paul’s travel card, I was given a copy of the same application form we’d used to apply for it originally. Plus she gave me a much longer list of documents. And they want the same fee paid in stamps all over again.
But I don’t have and can’t get every document they require. They don’t exist and can’t be manufactured short of photoshop.
No questions allowed. No answers. Just come back with everything on the list or we’ll send you away. Again.
To update our address, we must start the entire application process over that we just took four months to complete. Only this prefecture’s application form is four times longer. It even includes an affidavit I must sign that states I’ve never been polygamous while living in France.
And if this goes smooth and fast, our address update may be completed by the time we move out of our rental house in mid-April.
And then it will be time to start the annual renewal process. They require I begin two months ahead of the expiration date on the card. If I don’t, I’ll be required to pay them big piles of money as fines in addition to the big piles of money for the annual fees.
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Thanks for reading.