Well, it had to happen eventually. Weeks of not checking my bank account online because I was too scared of what I might find, weeks of planting my head firmly in the sand, ostrich-like, have finally caught up with me, with the result that for the past nine days I have been spending money I don't actually have. I finally broke down and checked today, and after the initial shock and tight, squeezy feeling in my throat, I chose to look at the bright side. Exactly $0 dollars! I thought. Not overdrawn! What are the odds that I spent my account down to the penny without overdrawing, without even realizing it? Except that, no. Due to my bank's overdraft policy and my accompanying line of credit with them, it seems that every time I made a purchase, my bank ever so generously deposited the exact amount necessary to cover the charges. The result of which is that I have now spent over $400 that is not actually mine to spend.
Now, I am not the kind of person who overdraws her account. I am the type of person who, in an increasingly fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants society, actually balances her checkbook (two years of being a bookkeeper dies hard). I have one credit card, and I pay the balance off every month. So why this oversight, you ask? How could this have happened?
Well, since you asked...
I arrived in France at the end of September and commenced working for French National Education on October 1st. I, along with my language assistant colleagues were informed that it would not be possible to be paid at the end of October for the first month of our service, however, if we turned all our documents in on time, we would be eligible for an "advance" at the beginning of November. This "advance" would not be the full amount for October, but 70% of the amount, and then at the end of November we would receive the following 130%. Here I have to take issue with the term "advance," which typically indicates that monies rendered are given before the normal term of payment, but I guess calling it a "retard" doesn't quite have the same reassuring effect. I have already mentioned my difficulty opening a bank account here, but once I did that, I submitted the information to the secretary at my school, signed the accompanying forms, and breathed a sigh of relief, glad that the responsibility was out of my hands, and sure that my worries were finally over. (Ha! Ha ha!!!! Although, on the plus side, the callous I've developed from banging my head against the wall covers the forehead wrinkles nicely). My first indication that everything was not hunky-dory was when what could reasonably be called "the beginning" of November merged into the middle of November, and no money arrived in my account. After some asking around, it seemed that my colleagues had, in fact, been paid, and so I tracked down a phone number for the Rectorat and called to inquire. I described my situation, and after typing my name into her computer, "No, you have not been paid," the woman informed me.
"Er...yes, I know..." I said. She then went off to look for my dossier, leaving me on hold for an agonizingly long time, during which I could practically hear the ching-ching of centimes going down the drain on my highly expensive French cell phone. She finally returned. "Yes, we do not have it," she informed me brusquely.
Bwahhh? "But it was sent before the vacances," I managed to sputter.
"Perhaps it is in the mail?" she suggested, her tone of voice indicating that she had far more pressing issues to attend to, like filing her nails.
"But that was over three weeks ago," I said.
She shrugged. I couldn't see her, mind you, but I know she did. She apparently couldn't give two shits about my situation, and so I told her I would have the secretary at my school call her. Because while I am quite capable of speaking French under normal circumstances, the combined difficulty of speaking on the phone and being fairly stressed out left me incapable of impressing on this woman the magnitude of situation, as it resulted in me not being paid for the forseeable future. And, as I've learned, the only way to fight a catty French woman is with another catty French woman. So, I'll throw another one in the ring. Let them duke it out, I thought. It seemed to work, although unfortunately it didn't result in any better news for me. "Yes, she says she didn't receive your documents," said the secretary. "But I told her this is ridiculous, since I sent them weeks ago. I sent them the same day you filled them out, you remember?" I did. "I faxed her your documents again but she says she needs an original copy of your bank account information. She says you will not be paid until December."
"December?" I squeaked. "But...that's serious!"
"I know, that is what I told her. She is...not easy. I was very angry with her."
So, to make a long story short (too late), after a very long and out-of-my-way journey to the Rectorat on Wednesday to hand deliver a document that the difficult French woman already had a copy of, I was assured that I would be paid by the end of November. Or maybe the beginning of December. However, it would not be the full amount. It would be an "advance." I had to bite my tongue to keep from shouting "When it's two months late, IT'S. NOT. AN. ADVANCE!!!" But I decided to take what I could get. The end of November was better than January, after all (another date that had been tossed around for a while before I talked her down to November/December). And as for the next two weeks, my dwindling bank account, and the fact that I hadn't received a paycheck since July? Well, I couldn't think about that at the moment. Hence my head in the sand, and my sudden and totally uncharacteristic fiscal irresponsibility. It is unlike me to spend money I don't have, but at this moment I have no other choice. Unfortunately, like all good things, my line of credit too will very soon come to an end, and then...I can't really think about that now. Head in sand, la la la!
In other, less depressing news, I am now marginally closer to becoming a temporarily legal non-citizen of this country, as I had my state-mandated medical appointment at the ANAEM today. I received an x-ray featuring my perfectly healthy lungs (and a prominent curve in my spine, which the doctor was kind enough not to mention, as I sat before him discussing French literature in jeans and a bra). Contrary to what I was told at the préfecture, I did not actually receive my coveted carte de séjour today, however. Instead, I was given a piece of paper and told that I had to take it back to the préfecture in Melun (oh my god, no), and then wait for another convocation to return to the ANAEM to then receive my carte de séjour. Ok, so maybe this is not less depressing news, after all. Although, in my manila envelope, along with my chest x-rays and informational pamphlets on AIDS and the health benefits of regular exercise, the doctor quietly slipped in two condoms, each discretely contained in its own floral cardboard box, like two small, gift-wrapped presents. They're only good until December 2011, so let's hope for the best. Knock on wood, folks. (Although, one might say that lack of wood is sort of the problem here. (Sorry! You know I had to go there)).