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Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's no fun being a "legal" alien

Did you hear Phil Collins?  Okay, I changed a word, but still......

 Recently, I had to undergo the lovely process of (1) getting my French driver's license and (2) renewing my Carte de Sejour (residence card).

First, the driver's license.  Patrick and I had the foresight to exchange our North Carolina driver's licenses for Florida ones before we left the States because Florida has a reciprocal agreement with France.  This means that you should essentially be able to exchange your Florida license and obtain a French one without having to endure L’Ecole de Conduite Francaise (french driving school) for which we have heard NOTHING positive.  In fact, since we live on one of the steepest hills in Saint Cloud, we are treated daily to driver's ed cars being stopped mid-hill by instructors from the Marquis de Sade Driving School (not the real name!) and then forced to try to get up the remaining slope.  It seems that in addition to having to take lessons, you must take them in a stick shift car.  While I have heard this is probably the best way to learn to drive (the thought being because then you can drive any car) I did not learn this way and still to this day cannot drive a stick shift!

We had one year to get this task accomplished, so as usual, we waited until we had a 3 month window left in which to accomplish this.  We contacted the agency Schneider provides to help with these things and were told the first thing we would need would have to come from the U.S. Embassy in Paris.  Okay, Patrick takes a day off work, we go, we get.....done.  Oh nay, nay....  Now you need about 3 reams of other papers (power bill, passports, proof of employment, etc, etc), all of which need to be translated into French (thankfully handled by the assisting agent) and at least 4 passport size pictures of yourself and make sure you are NOT smiling.....there will be NO smiling!  

Okay, done.  We are to meet the agent at the Prefecture (city hall) who will then talk to the powers that be and "present" our file.  Patrick takes the morning off work and we arrive on what has to be one of the coldest and windiest days to a building that looks like it belongs in a tenement.  No one is allowed inside the building until the magic opening time of 9:00 a.m.  Everyone is huddled in the corners of the building try to keep from freezing which is hard because the building is along the banks of the Seine so the wind is coming off the river with force.  

Once inside, we proceed upstairs with our number (which is like #1 since we are the first in) and wait for the worker behind the window to arrange her coffee, hang up her sweater, check her make-up, exchange cheek kisses with her co-workers.......you get the picture.....  She is the only one working this area.  The paperwork is passed through the safety glass (yep, safety glass) and she shuffles it around and passes it back through!  WTF!  There is a back and forth exchange with our agent and we are to discover we are missing proof that our U.S. licenses are real.  Are REAL! You have got be kidding me!  Isn't that what the Embassy paperwork was for.  Our agent is equally shocked as she has never heard of this mysterious paper and has never been asked for it before.

So now, we have to request our "driving records" from Florida and North Carolina.  The Prefecture here needs to know when we got our initial driver's licenses and since we both became licensed driver's in North Carolina, we need to obtain them from there.  But alas, since we are surrendering Florida licenses we must also show paperwork from Florida as well.  And then, it must all be translated into French.  Thankfully, something that would pass for what the lady wanted was able to obtained and ordered online, so we quickly sent for these.  We had them all sent to Patrick's mom (Thanks, Margrid!!) who then express mailed them to us.

Okay....back to the Prefecture...Patrick off work for the morning.....meet agent.......  Low and behold, it's our same favorite worker behind the window.  Again after the morning ritual (coffee, check; make up, check; kiss everyone in the office, check) she recognizes our agent and processes our paperwork fairly quickly for French standards!

And this is what you get for your troubles.....

Inside of license
Nice picture huh?  Tried to look as unfriendly as I could!

back of license

Talk about "is it real".  It is a partially laminated piece of paper with a picture on it.  Hmmmm, so much more real than my U.S. license which is encased in plastic, embossed, bar coded, and sealed by the State.....  The other interesting thing is according to this license, I am legally allowed to drive a motorcycle as long as it is under 125 cc's.  Okay.......  Nice to know, but I have never been "street legal" on a motorcycle in MY life, but France says "ppfft, is okay, ze paperwork, she says you can"!  Well that's enlightening.  Maybe that's why so many motorcycle riders here seem to have no idea what they are doing when riding here.
Vroom Vroom!  France says I can have one!

Next, because of all this paperwork shuffling, I noticed that my Carte de Sejour was about to expire.  I had to show it to get the driver's license and I noticed that I had about 2 months to get this handled.  You would think that since we have Visas valid for three years that my Carte de Sejour would be the same length of time, but no.  Patrick's is for three years, but he is the one working so I guess that makes some kind of sense....? Patrick informed the department that is in place at his office to deal with these things, and they put us in touch with same agency that helped us last year and in fact, the same lady who helped us obtain the infamous driver's licenses!  

So she sent me an email telling me she would need the following things:

  • Work contract CERFA (which you obtained after the medical check-in at the OFII)
  • Medical certificates of both of you (which you obtained after the medical check-in at the OFII)
  • Marieanne’s birth certificate + official French translation
  • Marriage certificate + official French translation
  • Last electricity or Gaz or rent bill dated from less than 3 months on Marieanne’s name (copy)
  • Patrick’s 3 last payslips (copy)
  • Attestation d’employeur (attestation from Schneider saying that you are currently employed (original)
  • Social security attestation (I suppose that it should be an agreement between USA and France)
  • Last income tax
  • 4 ID photos (3,5 cm x 4,5 cm, light background, without smiling; see attached format)see they actually give you the instruction NOT to smile!
  • Attached attestation signed by Patrick (original)
  • Application form CERFA signed by Marieanne

I was thinking "okay, not as bad as it looks", right, since a lot of the things on this list are the same things we needed last time and after all, it is the same agency handling it this time as the last time......wrong!  I received a reply from the agent the next day saying she needed all of these things as she didn't handle the case last year, so she had none of the papers.  Wait, wait wait......now I don't expect everyone to have electronic records, but surely there was at least a filing cabinet somewhere in that office with our file it...  Um, no, it would seem there wasn't.  Side note:  When you purchase anything here they will hand you no less than TWO receipts every time.  Their love of paperwork is epic, so you think they would have an efficient way to keep it handy.  Not so much.

Thankfully Patrick's work does have a filing system in place and they had the majority of these documents and forwarded them to the agent.  I only had to meet her for about 3 minutes one day to sign a form and take her my non-smiley pictures.  

After all this gathering of paperwork, you would like that it would be mandatory for me to present myself and give them one of my internal organs or something, but you would be wrong.  After all this, they mailed me a temporary Carte and will mail my, better laminated than my damn driver's license, "permanent" card in about three months (about 9 months before it expires and I have to do this all over again!).

So, alas, it might actually be easier to be an illegal alien.

On a lighter side - this has become the new breakfast must have for the kids!
"Home made" pain au chocolat
These come in the "tube" we all know and love like Pillsbury, but what's inside is oh so different.  This is actually a buttery dough and you wrap the little chocolate sticks up in the dough and bake.  When they come out of the oven, you have this super yummy fluffy pastry with melted chocolate inside.  Not as good as what you might find in the local patisserie, but nice because you get to eat them while they are still warm and gooey.