samedi, décembre 10, 2005

05.12.09: Visa, et nous ne faisons pas américain express

Subtitle: Kafka does Isle-de-France

Remember that character in the Drew Carey Show, the incredibly large woman with the massive blue eye shadow and the bubbly personality? Well, she dyed her hair red, lost any redeeming qualities she might have had with her personality, and she lives in France now. She is in charge of the visa status of hundreds of non-French citizens on a daily basis.

And she is reeeaaalllly unhappy about the whole situation.

Oooh, j'exagères! Not! I really wanted to take her picture just so you would know that I am not exaggerating this time, but I figured that would be the end of my France vacation for sure.

Okay, so here's the story. We need to officially change our visas to long term stay, and the process has multiple steps, beginning about 6 months ago, and culminating in a visit to our local préfecture this week.

Thursday, 8-Dec
07:45 - Arrive at the préfecture. Cold, rainy. We are about the 100th persons in line.
09:00 - Stated opening time of the préfecture. No activity at the front gate.
09:15 - The gate opens, and the town crier announces multiple categories of people, none of which seem to apply to us, so we remain in the default line.
09:45 - We are now 6th in line outside the big gate; there are about another 50 people behind us. Gate closes. Town crier announces that is all that will be admitted today.
09:45:15 - Bedlam, melée, teeth gnashing, paper waving. Noone else passes through the portals of french freedom this day.

Friday, 9-Dec
07:20 - Arrive at the préfecture. Thankfully it is not raining on Friday. Unthankfully, the temperature has dropped a few more degreees, so it is just above freezing. We are about the 75th persons in line. We also have with us an appointment letter faxed to us from the préfecture yesterday, for an appointment at 8:00. We are not overburdened with confidence.
07:30 - I wanted to do a little photo shoot, you know, give me your tired, your poor, etc. We were in that kind of a line. I took one photograph. It was, of course, still dark out. The flash, of course, fired on the camera. I was immediatley verbally abused by about half a dozen young men.

I found out later I was standing in the line of people seeking asylum. No photos please.
So, anyway, my career in photo journalism ended early this morning by a desire to stay in line long enough to at least have the opportunity to be turned down again by the French gouvernement for a visa.

08:00 - Check my watch, check my appointment letter. No activity at the front gate.
08:30 - French army nurse Mimi struts out of the gate. Barks orders, checks papers. We get assigned to line number 3. Behind the Bulgarians, but ahead of the dread-locks.
09:15 - We, along with the refugees, are in the building. We are now warmer while we get verbally abused by this frightful woman.

Let's imagine that this very large, unhappy woman is really here to help us. Let's imagine that we have an obsession for fondling paperwork (originals + 1 photocopy, please) and verifying that we can distingiush between the original and the photocopy. (See that small stamp of blue ink in the corner .... it must be the original, a photocopy would be all black print, of course). Let's imagine we need to ponder for 10 minutes why immigration did not stamp my passport on my most recent entry to France. Let's imagine that it is significant if I entered France on October the 12th or the 13th, given the fact that I am standing right here in fricking front of you! Let's imagine that it is important that I have one piece of paper that verifies that I have the second piece of paper, and that both of them are here with me today. Let's imagine that all of these are incredibly important details that determine if I (and my lovely wife) will, in fact, be legally or illegally in this country after Monday.

Let's imagine I'm a white guy, with resources available to me from one of the largest corporations on earth, and this is how I got treated.

Let's imagine that I'm not so fortunate, not so white, not so wealthy, and don't get through this process after 2 days of standing in the cold and rain. And imagine this is only one of many ongoing encounters with the fonctionnaires. Could lead you to want to burn a car or two (thousand). Or who knows, we could all get lucky, and the next to go could be a certain préfecture.

11:15 - Exit the building with new fancy stickers in our passports. We assume we are now legal. After all the shouting and arguing to get them, we are in fact just happy to leave the building.
11:16 - Still not content that I didn't get to complete my photojournalism task for the day, I snap a photograph of a protester outside the gate on our way out. He is standing next to a policeman. Bad move on my part, I guess. The policeman starts yelling at me, then yells at his compadre to call the chef de la sécurité. They have a long discussion on the phone. They tell me to leave. I'm not sure if they mean France or just the area in front of the building. I choose the latter, for now.

Am I ranting? Ah, tomorrow I will go to some 10th century architecure marvel, and truly be humbled and amazed. But the stench of the Créteil Préfecture is not likely to wear off for some time. And, rumours to the contrary, I guess all French women ain't all that skinny, and Lady Liberty was parked in the Seine this week, with no reach to the unfriendly confines of Créteil.

Irony of the day:
The french word for a little label is étiquette.
Go figure, encore.