Standing topless in a room with someone I cannot fully communicate with is not my idea of a good time. Yet, this is exactly the situation I found myself in this afternoon.
Today we had our much-anticipated rendez-vous at OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration). Part of the deal for securing a long-stay visa in France is that you must present yourself, and a series of documents, to the immigration office within the first few months of entering the country. For us, this involved a general physical and a quick (assuming you have the necessary documents) meeting with a person who gives you a second sticker for your passport that validates the first sticker we got in Chicago. Why it all works this way — and can’t just be handled in the U.S. before even setting foot on French soil — is beyond me. But I’ve quickly learned that convenience and efficiency are not virtues here.
The physical was pretty straightforward in the beginning. Your name is called and you go into a room where you are weighed, measured and asked to perform basic vision tests. Easy enough, even with the language barrier. Then, you go back to the waiting room. Eventually, your name is called again, and you are told to enter one of four doors. When you enter the door, it becomes clear that it is a passageway to another room. The person who assigned you a door tells you to go inside, lock the door, read the instructions, do as they say and wait again for your name to be called before walking through the second door. The instructions: Put your hair in a high ponytail and remove all clothing from the waist up. Great.
I do as it says and stand awkwardly in my cubbyhole until my name is called. I open the second door to a smiling middle-aged woman who ushers me over to an X-ray machine. She pushes me against the screen and tells me to inhale forcefully and hold it. Chest X-ray complete. “Est-ce que vous fumez?” she asks. I say no and am allowed to put my clothes back on.
Finally, we meet with another doctor who reads our X-rays, takes our blood pressure, listens to our heartbeat and assures us that he knows this process is stupid for people who are only going to be in France for one year. He signs some official papers saying we’re healthy enough to live in France and sends us on our way.
The last portion of the appointment ended up being the most stressful for me. We each had to present a passport photo, proof of residence and a receipt that showed we had paid our 241-euro tax (a different fee from the $250 one we paid to the French consulate in Chicago). The proof of residence ended up causing a bit of an issue because we are renting from relatives and therefore do not have our names on any official bills. As a replacement, my aunt wrote us an official-sounding letter explaining the situation and attached copies of her resident card. This worked just fine in Chicago, but for some reason the woman I was talking to did not like it. She was forcefully telling me (in French) why it was wrong and what I needed instead, but she was speaking so quickly, that the only words I caught were “gas” and “electricity.” I knew what she was getting at but wasn’t really sure what to say back. I apologized and said my French isn’t very good, so I didn’t understand much of what she said. She rolled her eyes and let out an irritated “oh la la.” Luckily, the guy who was helping Andy next door came in and assured her it was fine. She stamped my documents, added the coveted validation sticker to my passport, explained that we must go to another office three months before we leave France (at which point I almost let out an “oh la la” back at her), and let me go.
With the completion of this appointment, we are officially done with the administrative aspects of getting established in Paris. We have a French bank account, working debit cards, a cellphone and a validated visa. Now to celebrate with some wine and risotto.