Monday, October 4, 2010

Hooray for the wait!

You go to the prefecture, enter the door marked “foreigners,” and tell them you want to apply for a “titre de séjour.”

That’s what my friend told me as instructions. I do not remember hearing the part about standing in line for 2 hours (that’s exact... it was 120 minutes). A line that moved a total of about 15 feet. I came prepared though, brought a book. Learned that trick in Africa. Don’t go anywhere, ever, without a book. Outside of the US, that is. In the US you can always find a TV with sports or news, magazines, or you simply don’t have to wait. So I had my book, but I had to stand in line. And then this young couple behind me, she French and he an American-English speaker starting making fireworks. He became incredibly irritated that they had to wait forever in a barely moving line to pick up a single sheet of paper which they would then mail in for his continued stay visa. So he tried to go up to the window and ask for the paper, to which he was promptly chewed out in French. Then he tried to sneak back into the private area and ask for the form. Again chewed out. Finally he stormed out, and back in, and out again. Luckily for him, his French wife knew the drill and quietly stayed in line. I was silently thankful when in his loud rants and complaints to his wife of these “ignorant” French people he also outed himself as Canadian, talking about “back home in Canada.” Whoo-hoo! At least that guy didn’t get attributed to the US.

So I waited, and I waited. Realizing everyone around me was as bored as I, I thought I might as well do some French practice, and struck up a conversation. The fellow behind me in line was French, and he was there for paperwork for his Tunisian wife. Once he interpreted my blank stares and clearly wrong responses, he slowed down his speech a bit and we had a good conversation. I had an interesting cultural insight by one of his responses. I had talked some about my background: that I’d lived in Tanzania before coming to France, that my son was born in Africa. When I mentioned that my wife was currently pregnant, he immediately assumed that she was Tanzanian, and back in Tanzania. Clearly in France, as in most of Europe, inter-cultural marriages are much more common. So much so that they are almost the norm. So much so, that the idea of me having an American wife who had traveled the world with me never came to my new friend.

I was also really pleased today that during our two-hour conversation he switched from the formal ‘vous’ pronoun to the informal ‘tu’ pronoun, signifying comfort, friendship, informality. It may have meant nothing. But it made me smile.

After two hours, I reached the window. I turned to my new friend and said “I’ll try to be fast, but no promises!”

Turns out that when I told the lady what I was there for, she handed me a piece of paper, told me to fill it out and include the documents requested, then mail it back in. I too, was waiting for a single piece of paper!

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