Saturday, October 28, 2006

What's French for Gross Incompetence?

I put off writing this post for a few days because I was so seething mad, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to write a profanity-less post, but I think I am up to the challenge now.

I am sure if you look up ineptitude in the dictionary you will find a description of the French bureaucracy. I cannot even begin to explain how absolutely comical these “official” offices are. Well, they would be funny if it didn’t involve me and affect my daily life in France. Nothing is logical, nobody is nice, nothing is efficient and yet everyone accepts this as being totally normal. When French people go to get their birth certificates or driver’s license, they wait all day and this is completely normal to them.

Let me explain my situation so everyone can understand why I am so irritated with French bureaucracy. In order to work in this country, I have to have a carte de sejour. This card is a magical and mysterious card which the French government rewards you only have after you have killed dragons and pulled swords out of stones. If it was only that easy perhaps I wouldn’t be complaining. In reality getting a carte de sejour (a lamenated card with your picture on it, very similar to an American driver’s license in its shape and design, the difference being you get an American driver’s license the very day you apply for it if you pass your test) is a much more time consuming process.

First, you must have a contract with a French company. With this contract and 14 copies of every official document you have ever been issued in your entire life, you go to an office in the far ends of the earth to get an authorization to work. Then you have to take this authorization to the prefecture and get a “recepissee de demande de carte de sejour”.

When you go to get this receipt which says you have officially asked for a carte de sejour, you have to have 4 passport photos which cost 4 euros a set. You have to take off of work the entire day because you will queue for at least 4 hours to get a number then you will queue another 4 hours after that in order to see a real person. Sometimes after you stand in the first line for 4 hours, the people in charge of giving out the numbers will tell you to go home and come back another day when there are less people in line. I can’t tell you the tingles of joy I got the first 3 times I heard this.

After they are satisfied they have made you wait enough time and that you are not going to go away, they will give you the receipt with a date two or three months in the future as an expiration date. The idea (I think, but I really can’t grasp the way the French administration thinks) is that you will have your actual carte de sejour before this receipt expires. The receipt allows you to work, but does not allow you to get your medical card or housing assistance or any of the other good things that you will pay for month after month if you are contracted with a French company. Between the time you get the receipt and the time you get the card, you have to go to the doctor which will also take about 8 hours.

Let me tell you what actually happens and keep in mind this is the second time I have had to endure all of this. I only need a renewal of my original carte de sejour. I got two receipts at the end of August, one in Cergy and one in Paris (8 euros for pictures and 22 hours of queuing time). These receipts expired October 24th. I had an appointment at the Paris prefecture for 1:00 on October 24th to get my new carte de sejour. Although, I had to reschedule a ton of classes and I had to get up at 5 a.m. for two days to teach the rescheduled classes, I was excited because this was the very first appointment I had ever had with an official French office.

I got to the office early and waited in line until 1:45, never mind I had an appointment, I expected nothing less. It was okay though, because a very unattractive man with the worst breath ever decided he would work his French magic on me and make me love him. This consisted of him pushing up on me, winking at me, brushing my hair away from my face and eventually taking my phone number off of my file.

I finally got my number (so I could wait yet some more) and sat next to some really flashy cross dressers. I figured I was safe next to them. However, I was directly behind a couple who thought the prefecture was the perfect place to practice their kissing skills. And just as an aside, I have finally figured out why people who make out in public bother me so much. It is because they remind me of “trailer trash.” For those who aren’t familiar with this term, it is used to describe people who may or may not live in trailers, but who are just trashy and manner less in general. So this was a lot of fun for me for the two hours I waited for my number to be called. Let me take this time to remind everyone, I had a FREAKING appointment.

My number was finally called and I went to the appointed window and was greeted by a gum-chewing, grouchy, fast talking, bitter French woman. She went through all my paper work and told me I couldn’t have my carte de sejour, and that I needed a new recepissee which would expire in the middle of December. Then I could come and wait some more and get my carte de sejour. Running total of wasted money: 12 euros. Number of wasted hours: 25.

Let me clarify why this delay irritates me so much. I do not now have nor have ever had a carte vitale. This is a major important card because it allows me to go to the doctor and get reimbursed for the visit. This is not a free thing. I pay 101.09 euros a month (and have always paid this much) for my health insurance and it is totally wasted. I won’t get my carte vitale until after I have my carte de sejour. I won’t have my carte de sejour until December because the French government can’t laminate a card in less than 4 months which means I can’t even apply for my carte vitale until after December. Not to mention the fact that I cannot apply for housing assistance until after I have my carte de sejour.

Are you starting to understand why I have a problem with this country’s bureaucracy?

10 comments:

Lotus Reads said...

You poor thing, this certainly does sound like a nightmare! I read a couple of expat blogs from time to time and every single one to do with France featured horrible stories regarding French bureaucracy. Guess you're going to need a truckload of patience to deal with these official things whenever they come up. Bon courage! ( I've heard that to say "Bonne chance" is actually bad luck, even though it means good luck!)

D said...

Oh, I hear ya! I never really know what to expect when I have to go to the prefecture (except that it will most likely be an all day event). When I go I do a lot of hoping and praying that I will be able to get whatever I need.

Other expats that have been living in France for 10+ years are surprised that process hasn't improved. Maybe with a new president that all will change? One can only hope!

hellomelissa said...

happy happy joy joy! what fun red tape can be! let's think of a nice game for you to play in all those queues... like... think of 100 ways to maim a french bureaucrat! i hope that getting it all out in written form helps with the frustration, angela. let us know when you get laminated!

cara said...

i found out the day before i was admitted to the hospital that CPAM and CAF had somehow made an error in their paperwork and thought my carte de sejour expired on sept. 30. i did get a letter from them the last week of that month telling me to send in my paperwork when i renewed it. i thought it was kind of bizarre that they sent that to me so early as my card expires on nov. 30th, but i thought they were just reminding me well in advance. obviously they never heard from me and thus, they cancelled my carte vitale etc. nothing like being over 9 months pregnant and finding out i was no longer covered by the medical system. good times in france.

Julie said...

Sounds sort of like taking the worst time you've ever had at the MVA and mutltiplying it by 10. Or maybe 100.

Samantha said...

I suppose now is not the time to tell you that it can take up to 6 months to actually GET your carte vitale after you apply for it....

Rebecca said...

Hi, I managed to get myself a social security account without having a carte de séjour. I basically got the préfecture to write me a little note to say that I had applied for the carte de séjour and ran along to the sécu with it plus all the other documents. You don't really need a carte vitale, you just need a social secu number - the carte just speeds up reimbursements.

Diamond Lil said...

Holy shit. I mean, honestly. I am the most impatient person in the world. I would have gone nuts. You could read War and Peace in the amount of time you have to stand in line. Sheesh!

Jennifer said...

I am SO WITH YOU on this French bureaucracy (aka- incompetence) thing. You would think that I am the only American in history to have ever attempted to get a carte de sejour in Haute Normandie, for all the "help" I'm getting at the prefecture. It remains to be seen whether or not I will actually get one!
Love your blog, by the way. I read over some of your previous posts and often found a sense of deja-vu...

Parisienne Farmgirl said...

Youre killing me with these stories---keep them coming!!!