Monday, December 17, 2007

My Beautiful Préfecture

I may seem like a law-abiding person, but it’s all a facade. For two years I have been toting around a carte de séjour (the French version of a Green Card) that—gasp—sports an incorrect address. Yes, despite the fact that the small print on the card informs the holder that you have only eight days to report your new address to the Préfecture when you move, I defiantly neglected to do so for two years. I have my reasons, the primary one being, as anyone who has ever had anything to do with the immigration service here can tell you, it is a royal pain in the clavicle to have anything to do with the immigration service. A secondary reason was that it didn’t seem like such a big deal. That was, until I tried to get an international drivers license. A usually simple procedure, my attempt was foiled the moment the kind and caring fonctionnaire (civil servant) at the Préfecture, for whom I had waited for two hours to see, noticed my administrative crime.

It took me a few months to gather the courage to stand in line again, but I finally decided the time had come. After a two hour wait, I was informed that if I wanted to change my address on my card, I needed to make an appointment. I was then handed a sheet with the long list of documents I would need to bring and a rendezvous for a date two months later.

Today was the day. I rustled up all my documents and put them in a folder. Yesterday, I dashed into one of those photo booths at the supermarket and got four identity photos that made me look like an escaped convict. The regulations for identity photos were recently revised and now it is actually forbidden to smile in your photo. Thus, it is next to impossible to look anything other than uncomfortable and unpleasant in your photo, i.e., like a criminal. After my husband attached a sticky to my photos with WANTED $500,000 REWARD on it, I decided to redo them in the booth at the Préfecture before my appointment. I went upstairs, and before too long, I was at the window— always a tense moment. Would I succeed in fulfilling the desires of the angry goddess on the other side of the glass? Had I forgotten some essential element of my dossier, even though I went over the list 900 times? She slowly looked over my paperwork. I failed to please her. I didn’t Xerox the back of my old carte de séjour, just the front. But there was worse to come. She sighed. The photo. You couldn't see my ears in the photo. It seems that ears are essential to one's national identity. I would have to get the photos redone. I stormed downstairs, steam pouring out of the offending orifices. Again, I wrangled with the photo booth. In my furry, I pushed the wrong button and paid four euros for a set of photos that made me look like I was half asleep. Certain she’d never be happy with eyes that weren’t sufficiently open, so I paid four more euros and managed to come up with a photo with fully exposed eyes and ears.

When I ran back upstairs, my kind and caring fonctionnaire was drawing the shades to her window. I tapped hard and she informed me that she was leaving for lunch. I protested that I had just some photos and copies to give her. She gave me a long, all-suffering look. “A person has to have their lunch, after all!” My exposed eyes must have scared her, because she relented and finished up my paperwork. I suppose I should feel triumphant, but all I can think about is that I forgot to give her my self-addressed stamped envelope. What new crime have I just committed?

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