The process to get to where I am today (an au pair in France) was pretty stressful. After making the decision to come and before buying my ticket I had one hell of a time checking off the list of official “to do’s.” The red-tape items included getting original paperwork from France (signed by me, the Duband family AND some big whigs in France), getting an acceptance letter from the school I was to attend in France, getting a background check, a physical (didnt end up needing the last two), accumulating a collection of little passport photos, signing up online for an appointment at the French Embassy, going to the French Embassy in D.C., waiting for the visa to be approved and sent to me (I was told 4 weeks for this and it ended up being 2 days!)….. I basically thought my head was going to fall off with the amount of stress I felt. I also thought that all these official things would be over when I stepped onto the French soil.
Not the case.
Last week I received a letter from the OFII (Office Francais de l’Immigration et de l’Integration) asking me to come to Dijon for l’examen clinique général and l’examen radiologique. Since I am staying here for a long period of time and I have a long stay visa I need to be counted as a resident and put into the larger system of people in France–or something like that.
So I had David help me translate what I needed to bring. Of course there was a list of documents needed and I learned from my trip to the Embassy–always bring everything and more than you need to these appointments. I got a letter signed by David saying he knew who I was and a copy of a house bill to prove the residency. Then I needed a picture of my face and a special 55 Euro stamp. Unfortunately my little collection of beautiful, non-smiling photos had run dry and I only found out about the stamp thing the night before, soooooo I had to get these things in the morning.
So at 7:30am I leave Chevannes and head into Dijon. I pulled into a space on the road next to my destination and put 2 euros into the parking machine. This meant I had a little less than 2 hours (8:20-10:15)–seemed perfect to me because you never know how long something like this could take but I couldn’t imagine being there longer than 2 hours (spoiler alert: it took longer!!!)
Reach the gated entrance. I have no idea how to work the intercom system to get in. Ask a man smoking a cigarette outside. We manage to phone the office–5 times. Doesn’t seem to be working. Then someone speaks: “we don’t open until 8:30. wait.” Waited 10 minutes (chatted a little with the helpful man who was here for an OFII visit too). Got to the office, waited in a long line to check in. I am sorry but to me an “appointment” means a specific time given to a specific person. But contrary to my thoughts it seemed that the OFII gave each person the same “appointment”: the time the office opened. Not a big deal yet, things went smoothly and I sat down in the waiting room with my French Glamour magazine and waited…..for 1 1/2 hours! (remember I have a parking spot for 2 hours) As I watched the hands on my watch go round for the second time I was a little nervous that I was going to get a ticket on my car AND not have time to get back to Chevannes for Célénie at 11:50am. Patience is a virtue though, and I am learning a lot about that here in France! People tend to move at their own speed (all happen to be a version of slow) and the doctors were no exception. After each person they examined they would stop. Chat a bit. Change a lightbulb in the hallway (no lie). Have a coffee (in America you do this while working but in France coffee is like a sacred ritual where you stop and enjoy. I really like this idea and have become a firm follower of it since I have been here, but seriously!? Not when we are all here waiting to see you.) In defense of my frustration I think this was about the time my watch hit the one hour mark and I was practicing taking deep, steady, calm breaths.
In retrospect this was a nice little experiment for me because all I could do was wait patiently. And that I did.
Once it was my turn things moved smoothly (although it was already 10:10). Did an eye exam, blood pressure, x-ray (that was interesting because I had to undress my top in front of a strange French woman. Oh my life–I just laugh sometimes), and then back to the lobby to get the paperwork signed and my passport marked with yet another visa-like sticker. This was also when I needed the photo and special stamp, so I dipped out of the office quickly and searched for un Tabac. Ended up having more luck finding a photo shop so I did that (another successful ugly, non-smiling picture to restart my collection) and then asked the photographer to point me in the direction of a Tabac. Found it. Bought my 55 Euro little stamp and headed back to OFII. I was tempted to put more money in for the car, but decided it was already 11:20, I’ll live on the wild side 🙂 Glad I did too because when I finally returned to the car at 12:00 I had NO ticket! Successful morning if I do say so myself: practiced patience, spoke only French to the doctors and people I encountered today during my adventure, no ticket, and I now have a cool x-ray in my possession.
Only problem is that on my way out of Dijon I was feeling so on-top-of-the-world happy that I turned right onto a one-way street! Can’t always get everything right…