What could go wrong? I asked. And of course I had to ask, thus tempting the fates to throw their red tape-wrapped wrench in my plans. Well, let me tell you what can go wrong when one is a foreigner and attempts to open a bank account in France, or tries to obtain the proper documentation to live and work and go about one's life here, or when one tries to do anything whatsoever that involves a government agency here.
Of course the short answer to the question of what could go wrong is, "Haaaaa! You fool! You naive, pitiable amateur! Why don't you return to the States now while you still have most of your sanity, and your precious forehead is still smooth and has not yet known the blunt force trauma that results from bashing it again and again into a hard and particularly sturdy brick wall." The long answer is this:
I went to the bank on Friday, paperwork in hand, only to be told that I would need my carte de séjour in order to open an account. "But, er, that could take months, and I need a bank account to get paid," I said. "In a few weeks." In that case, he said, I would receive a paper from the préfecture stating that I had applied and was waiting for my carte de séjour. I would be able to use that paper to open a bank account. Fair enough, I thought. I needed to go to the préfecture anyway; I just had my order of operations wrong. However, it was already too late to go to the préfecture that day, so I would have to wait until Monday. As banks are closed on Monday, that meant I would have to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday to open an account, which was already putting me dangerously close to the deadline of October 15, the date by which we are supposed to have sent in our account information in order to actually be paid in the beginning of November. But as I didn't have a choice, I passed a pleasant weekend and made plans to go to the préfecture on Monday. Which was today.
Now, I have been trying valiantly to apply for my carte de séjour ever since arriving in France about three weeks ago; it isn't as if I have been slacking or putting it off. I first tried when I was staying temporarily in Meaux. I took a number and waited in line, only to be told that I had to go to Melun. The only thing that you need to know about Melun is that it's far. In fact, were you to mention to anyone, anyone at all, that you were going to Melun, that's what they would tell you: "Ohh...that's far." And then they would tsk and shake their head sympathetically. So, Melun is far, but I hadn't yet started school at this point, and my schedule was fairly open, and so I regrouped, looked up time tables and itineraries, and made plans to go to Melun. Several days later I was at the bus station waiting for the bus to Melun, and thought that maybe I would just call the préfecture at Melun, just to make sure that was really where I needed to go, and that I wouldn't travel two hours out of my way just to be told I needed to go back to Meaux, for example. And good thing I did, because as I was on hold I half-listened to a recording of a laundry list of documents that I was required to bring with me. I quickly snapped to attention. Wow, I thought. I don't have any of those things. I could have gone a long way out of my way for nothing. Good thing I called! I then spent the next two weeks trying to procure the necessary items, namely, a) a place to live, and b) proof that I live there. Well, as we all know, I found a) about a week and a half ago, and so it came down to b), or specifically: (1) letter from Mr. Big stating that I reside chez lui, (1) copy of an electric bill in his name, and (1) copy of his identity card. (All of which I felt like a pain in the ass for asking for, but what can you do). But finally I had it nailed down; check, check, and check. I double and triple-checked my documents, just to make sure nothing could go wrong, that they would have no reason to send me back, empty-handed. But I had it all: arrêté de nomination, procès verbal d'installation, birth certificate, translated, notarized copies of birth certificate, proof of residence, four passport-sized photos. And, oh yeah, my passport. I had it all. I checked train schedules. I got up at 7:30 this morning and got on a 9:00 train. Two hours later, I was in Melun. Half an hour after that, I was at the préfecture. I walked confidently up to the Accueil to get a number, only hoping I wouldn't have to wait in line too long. "Bonjour!" I said to the man breezily. "J'ai besoin d'une carte de séjour."
"One moment," he said, "I'll be right back." And off he scurried to some back office, taking my passport with him. He returned a few minutes later, handed me a piece of paper, and said, "Come back tomorrow at 9 a.m., and bring these documents with you."
"But, excuse me?" I said. "But I have all those documents with me now. Why do I have to come back tomorrow?"
"We can only process a limited number per day," he said, "and today we are all done. Come again at 9 a.m. We are open every day but Wednesday. Goodbye."
My eyes started filling with tears. "But," I sputtered, "but I traveled two hours to get here! You're telling me I traveled two hours for nothing?"
He shrugged. "There is nothing I can do."
Make that four hours, I thought dejectedly as I turned away to leave.
"Thank you! Have a nice day!" he said.
Nice day indeed.
Of course, I can't go back tomorrow morning, or Wednesday morning, or Thursday morning either, since I have to work. Which puts me at Friday, which means I miss my bank account deadline, which means I won't receive a paycheck until roughly somewhere in 2009. Give or take, of course.
Other than that, everything's fine.
So what's been frustrating you lately?