Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fun at the Prefecture

Did I tell you about how much fun I had at the prefecture? No? Oh well then get ready because I had all kinds of fun at the prefecture.

One thing you need to know is that I'm here on an internship visa ("stagiaire"), not a student visa. Part of that situation is that you have to go and get your visa stamped. I was told that this was done at the prefecture. The woman at the CNRS who helped me with my paperwork and finding housing and stuff was nice enough to agree to come with me. My french is probably sufficient for me to have gone by myself, but I really wasn't willing to trust to my own abilities in such a situation. She called ahead to clarify the protocol, and asked what documents would be needed and all that. She also distinctly remembers saying that I was a stagiaire. Remember that; it'll be important later.

From what I had been told, the prefecture sounded a lot like going to the DMV. Hell, and that's on a good day. Having been warned to get there ridiculously early, I arrived at the Prefecture at a quarter to 8, a full hour before they opened. It, uh, it turns out there is a main entrance to the Prefecture for French people, and there's a, uh, back entrance for anyone who is dealing with immigration related stuff. Guess who waited at the wrong entrance for 25 minutes. Oops. To be fair, they're on opposite sides of the building, and the front entrance has a giant sign and the back entrance barely has a label. Don't worry though, you'll know you're in the right place because there will be a giant line of people. In retrospect I wasn't too badly off even considering my "late" arrival. At least I was within the line dividers.

{Side note: in trying to figure out what to call those divider things with the retractable belts I came across a website called Crowd Control Direct which sells them. Their motto? Because lines happen. I don't know what I find this incredibly funny but I do.}

Anyway, people were pushing and literally crowding each other towards the front of the line. One guy tried to cut the line and I thought we were going to have a riot. Finally 8:45 rolled around and the workers came out to start handing out tickets. That's when I heard someone say that they only give out 40 tickets a day. Uh oh. Oh man please do not make me come back and do this again. I don't like crowds or waiting and we're already pushing my limits. They yelled several times for people to stop pushing and back up, but I don't think it really worked. Slowly they began handing out tickets, based on why people were there. There's a separate line for refugees versus the three counters for cartes de sejour. The workers verified with each person that they had a valid reason for being there before giving them a ticket, and some people did get turned away. When I got up to the front we once again explained that I am a stagiaire and that I was there to get my carte de sejour. They gave me a ticket: number 429. The tiny room was already overcrowded with people and small children (running absolutely rampant I may say) and crying babies. It stayed that way too, for the next 2 and a half hours. You can imagine my joy. Oh and did I mention we had to stand the whole time because for the 50 to 60 people in the room there were only maybe 10 seats? Lovely.

Finally, my number is called and we went up to the window. Once again introducing myself as a stagiaire. The worker proceeds to ask for a number of different documents, which I proudly produce from my collection. I fill out a form while she goes to print something. She comes back and says,

"Oh, I'm sorry. We don't handle the cartes de sejour for the stagiaires here."

Excuse me? What do you mean you don't do that here?

"No, you have to go to the OFII office first."

Argh. You mean that I woke up super early, waited for ages, and finally got up to this window, and I'm in the wrong place? And not one of the many people who spoke with us could have mentioned this earlier? Argggh.

Completely exasperated, we went to the OFII office, with every expectation of another horrendous line and more waiting and possibly being told to come back another day.

Nope. I walked in while she looked for a place to park and five minutes later I walked back out. All I had to do was turn a form (one which I had already completed stateside) and hand it to her. They'll send me a thing in the mail letting me know my medical appointment time in 3 to 4 weeks. An entire morning for five minutes.

And the truly agonizing part? All those people who knew I was an intern, knew I was here on a stagiaire visa, and did not point out to us that we were going to the wrong place. Gosh darn it.

On the bright side, we made it back just in time to go to lunch.

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