Things have been pretty light and cheery around this blog for the last few days, but lest you mistakenly believe that life around here is all pastries and rewarding moments in teaching, I thought I would bring us all back to earth with The Hassles of Living in France: an Update.
On Friday I left my house at 6:30 a.m. and stumbled my way onto a bus, and then another bus, to arrive in the town of Melun by 8:15. I made a quick stop at a café for a coffee and directions to the préfecture, and arrived there at 8:55, only to find that roughly 150 fellow foreigners had found their way there ahead of me. I joined the back of what could perhaps be loosely described as a line, although it would probably be more accurate to call it a mob. After the doors opened several minutes after 9:00, 150 people ever so slowly trickled into the building, in order to wait in another line in order to take a number that would allow them access to, that's right, yet another line. My number was 143, and at that time they were on the one hundred and some-teens. I took a seat and read a book, and waited my turn as the minutes slowly ticked by. At 11:00, I was up. This was the first checkpoint, to make sure I had all the required paperwork and necessary photocopies. I approached the window nervously; after the last time, I knew how tenuous my presence here was, and I trembled at the thought of going home empty-handed once again. But this time I passed. I was handed back a plastic sheath with my documents inside it, and yet another number that would allow me entrance into the hallowed back room. I couldn't see much from my spot in the waiting area, but I could see that this room had cubicles instead of windows, and the numbers on this counter ticked by much more slowly, advancing once only every ten minutes or so. I took a seat once again, finished my book, and sat idly, tapping my foot and trying to ignore the hunger gnawing in my stomach and the pressure increasing in my bladder. And finally, an hour and a half later, my number was called. I took a seat, passed my documents across the desk, and hoped for the best. The woman leafed idly through my papers and typed something into her computer. "Ah," she said, "you actually applied once before, in Grenoble in 2002."
"Oh, yes, that's right, I did," I said. Crap, I thought, I didn't even think about that. I said this was my première demande, and now she's probably going to tell me that I have to come back again and apply for a deuxième demande, or she'll tell me there's a whole different office for people who have already applied before. But she continued typing without seeming too concerned, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
She flipped through my paperwork, landing on an electric bill Big had given me to prove my residence chez lui. "You don't have anything more recent?" she asked.
"Um..." I said.
"Because this is from March," she said. Toast. I was toast. Goodbye and so long, carte de séjour.
"Oh," I said, "I don't know, that's what my roommate gave me. I think he had trouble finding recent ones."
"Hm," she said, and kept typing. I allowed myself the tiniest glimmer of hope. And finally, half an hour later, I walked out of that building victorious, and if I didn't have my actual carte de séjour, I had an official piece of paper stating that I had applied for one, and for the moment, that was good enough.
Or I thought it was, in any case.
I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, as apparently my body has now become incapable of sleeping past 7:45 a.m., even on a weekend. As soon as I was showered and dressed (and after a quick run for milk for the roommate's kids staying for the weekend, and croissants for everyone), I headed straight to the Crédit Lyonnais to finally get an account so I would be able to be paid in a few weeks. The same guy was sitting at the front desk. "I was here before..." I started, but he remembered me.
"Do you have the paper now?" he asked.
"I have the paper now," I said, and I handed it to him, along with my passport.
"Let me just go talk to my supervisor," he said. He returned several minutes later. "I'm sorry," he said, "but with just the récipissé we cannot open an account."
"But," I said, stunned, but for some reason not all that surprised, "but last time you said that you could. You told me that just a few days ago."
"Yes," he said, "but actually we can't. Because you're a worker, and not a student..." He trailed off and left to the imagination the endless possibilities and perks one might enjoy, if one were only a student.
"But," I said, "I had an account here, at this bank, six years ago, and I was doing exactly the same thing."
"Yes, I can see that," he said. "In Grenoble." And then he shrugged. "I'm sorry, it's not up to me."
"Ok then," I said. "I will take my business elsewhere."
"No bank will open an account for you with just the récipissé," he mentioned, not so helpfully. "Perhaps just the post office."
"It is truly difficult here," I muttered through clenched teeth as I turned away, the simplicity of the statement belying the depth of emotion I invested in it.
Of all the things that frustrate me to no end about living in this country, this is what disgusts me perhaps the most: they are constantly changing the rules in the middle of the game. They tell you that the préfecture is open from 9:00 to 4:30, but show up at 11:30 a.m. and it's, "Actually, you're too late. Please come back at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow." They tell you that in order to open an account you need a piece of paper from the préfecture, and then when you bring it, they say, "Ha! Just kidding! Actually we're still not going to open an account for you. Please take your money and your American passport and never come back." Perhaps here this is just bureaucracy, but where I come from it's called lying.
I headed to the post office next (which is also a bank in France), not because I believed that no other bank would give me an account, but because it was nearby and I thought that maybe they would be more relaxed in their procedures. As I waited in the crazy long post office line, I realized that perhaps a downside to having an account at the post office would be that every time you wished to perform a financial transaction, you would have to wait in a crazy long post office line, a thought that pleased me not at all. I finally reached a window and indicated that I wished to open a bank account. "I will have to take down your information and have someone call you," the woman said.
"Oh, I can't do it right now?" I asked.
"No, the person in charge of that is not available now. She will call you, if not today, then on Monday." Since the post office and nearly all banks are closed on Mondays, I had my sincere doubts as to that, but I filled out the form anyway, and then left to find another bank, as I really didn't have another day to lose. I entered the CIC Bank and repeated my query, indicating that I had my récipissé.
"Oh," she said, "I'm not sure we can do it with just the récipissé."
I hung my head. "Ah," I said, "I was afraid of that."
But then she caught sight of my passport. "Oh!" she brightened. "You have your passport, too? We can do it with your passport, yes."
"Oh!" I said. "That's great!"
"Let me just see if someone is available," she said. She came back several minutes later. "You will have to arrange a rendez-vous," she said, "as no one is available right now. Can you do Tuesday?"
"Oh," I said. "No, I can't. I can't do it until Friday, and I'm afraid that will be too late. I really need to open an account as soon as possible."
"Oh," she said. "Well let me check again." She again left her desk, and came back several minutes later. "I'm sorry," she said. "It is not possible."
"Thank you anyway," I said, and left, and made my way to the next bank I saw. I entered the Crédit Agricole and performed the same routine: wait in line, repeat query. Again, she checked to see if someone was available, and when there wasn't, again she wanted me to schedule a rendez-vous for next week. "I will just have to go somewhere else," I said sadly. "I really need to open an account right away."
"Well let me just go check one more time," she said. When she returned: "Someone will see you now," she pronounced.
Well, I thought. Now we're getting somewhere.
In the end, I left 50€ lighter in the pocket, and with a heavy packet full of information and the all important RIB (account number). It appears that from now on, Crédit Agricole will be enjoying my 8€ a month Highway Robbery Fee, so how do you like them apples, Crédit Lyonnais?