------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Part One: An Intern's Naivity
As you all should know, in order to live in France, you have to have a visa. As Americans, we are allowed a free 90 days of tourist visas, that you can just get stamped in upon arrival at a border. But for long-term stuff, (such as my case) a long séjour visa is needed.
Well, back in June I (on my lunch break of course) went onto the French embassy's website to start my application process for my visa. It was the end of June, almost July to be honest. I read copious amounts of information detailing what I am required to bring to my appointment, what I cannot bring, and how to make one. So I read all this over, twice and decide that since it is Friday I will start to collect all the documents over the weekend and then make an appointment on Monday. (STRIKE ONE---> never leave government appointments until the last minute, which equates to anything under 2 months in advance) Jump to Monday with about 1/2 of needed documents. Make an appointment? Sure! I'm ahead of schedule, so let's just go with it. Riiiight. Reading, reading, clicking, reading, SHIT. Next appointment is the 12th of August. That's the Wednesday before my last day at work and 6 days before I LEAVE DC.
I need my passport number, so I can't even make the appointment. SO little freaked out I get the info and log back on. (STRIKE TWO--->Have your passport number memorized, it is just like your soc. sec. number...which I didn't have memorized either once upon a time and now have french credits from Central Michigan University registered under my name and the person't whose soc. sec. number is one different than mine. But that's a different story.) Now my appointment is on the 13th...(so just minus one day from those figures above.) Can you feel the sweat popping up on your forehead too? Now add 95 degree DC heat with 65% humidity and you're getting to where I was. Ok, so nothing I can do to change anything except get my shiz in order for that day.
13th of August:
I have my documents (originals AND photocopies) all ready in a folder from The Mitchell Group feeling ready to conquer all that is french (STRIKE THREE ---> never be optimistic about dealing with the french. Your demeanor [smile, friendliness, acting happy to be alive, not-smoking, general positive outlook] will piss them off and they will work harder to get you where they are: loathing all that is alive, and some pleasant looking rocks. Go in thinking you'll come out minus one arm or with gonnorhea, then when you actually come out crying and 300 dollars lighter, you'll feel you've gotten off well.) and so looking forward to my stay in their glorious country. I walk through the gate, declare, get signed in, etc etc and head to the visa section.
Part Two: A Nomad's Dilemma
I sit down in the room, waiting for my appointment to be called. I can see that they are a little bit behind (I now know that 20 minutes behind schedule is actually 15 minutes ahead for the french). As I sit there waiting (an-tic-i-payyyy-ting) I am watching a young woman from Trinidad and Tobago trying to get her visa. She is on the Trinidad and Tobago Track and Field team, obviously a legit sort of situation. Well, not for the french. I'm not going into details, but let's just leave it at her walking out crying as the french man tells her he isn't the dentist and she doesn't have to be afraid....amid his sardonic laughter and glowing red eyes. (ok, red eyes are an exggeration) So I'm sitting here thinking, ok Claire; in NO WAY are you to give them any satisfaction of crying, swearing, sweating or anything that isn't your (well-practiced) non-chalant-I-don't-care-if-I-actually-get-this-visa-does-anyone-have-a-cigarette-we-both-hate-our-lives-let's-get-this-over-with face. I VOWED. But I'm nervous. I, of course am from Michigan. Studying in Utah, but living/interning in DC for the summer, which makes it NECESSARY to get my visa from the DC embassy and not the one in San Fran (Utah's district). So I have leeetle time windows that make this work. Addresses had to be changed, mailing arrangements made, and documents pulled from the depths of where ever Peter keeps the secret documents. I walk up to the counter ( my appointment was at 10:30, it is now 11:15) and start the process with a horrible woman who I was silently forcing the universe to having me avoid. The universe is a strong, big thing. I got her, and we work through our process. Well apparently CVS and I weren't on teh same page and I have the wrong pictures. (STRIKE FOUR ----> when getting pictures for documents, don't smile, don't have hair in front of your ears, and do not look human, these will deem them void and unusable for a visa.) Now, you KNOW I cannot F this up. You KNOW that I leave DC the following Tuesday, so I ask this woman if I can go get new pictures for my visa and return. She tells me to be back in an half an hour and the CVS is down the street and on the right I run outside (no exaggerating on the running) Snag a taxi by chance, and haul to the CVS. Get pictures taken that cost 9 dollars (WHAT?) and haul back to teh embassy. Get my clip and rush inside. I look at my pictures, and it appears 7 strands of my hair decided to clump together and fall on my forehead to create a lovely streak of hair just blowing in the slight breeze native to CVS's. Also, I am out of breath and look as if I have a ball of poison in my mouth and can't crush it for risk of dying, all the while trying to not look like a terrorist, any sort of attractive, and tilting my head in 7 different directions after being manhandled by the clerk. 'Cause he knows how to do this *just right, trust him. Gotta have the right angles* yeahhhhh. Grand! This picture is going to follow me around France for the next year, and what a wonderful reminder of this adventure of a day (..we've only just begunnnnn..)
I now have my pictures and ready to be done. There were a few small document snags but nothing that wasn't sorted out with supplementary documents I had thrown in there. They then ask, "so princess (not exaggerating...) when are you going to France. I say that I am first going to Spain and France after. They then ask if I want my passport kept there in case my visa is approved then they can stamp it and send it to me, or if I want it with me and send it back to get stamped in. I want to take it as I am going to Spain and leaving DC (STRIKE FIVE ------> NO BOOKING TICKETS BEFORE A LONG TRIP LIKE THIS. ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ARE JETSETTING AROUND THE COUNTRY AND NOT GOING BACK TO THE CONSULATE.....) So I ask them,
"ok, I am not going to be in the area coming up, is it possible to send my passport in and get teh visa stamped in?"
"Of course pretty lady, as long as you are approved for the visa. We only stamp visas to people that are approved" (DUH! You can tell he thinks I am an idiot)
"Thank you sir, hopefully I'll be approved and sending it back to you, ave a good day"
I write my address (well Grace's) on an envelope and hope to see it again approved.
SLC, UT Grace's House:
I have a letter. I recognise the chicken scratch as my own and get the jitters immediately. But, knowledge is power and I tear open the letter. Congrats! You're approved. Just come by anytime to the French Consulate on Monday-Friday 8:45-10:00 to get your visa stamped in your passport.
This and the coffee I had just drank succeeded completely in a near full-body meltdown. I call Alex in DC, and he just says "ohhhh superstar. Oh Claire Bear, uhh, just don't panic. " SO after putting a lot of energy into NOT panicking, we decide the best (only) course of action is to go to Spain, go to France and then we'll work this out from that side of the Atlantic. Oh, and no panicking.
Part Three: Purgatory en Provence
Skip ahead a few weeks, and Claire is in France. Tiny bathroom, beautiful view, no internet that basically sums up the first week in France. No way to communicate (which then results in my sister calling, wait, hold up, my sister making Joe call the embassy in France to track me down and make sure they didn't need to hire Liam Neeson to come rescue me.) and basically just eating bread, cheese and avacado feeling like Dorothy Jane Torkelson...
(at 00:13 through 00:16)
But, luckily, my program is talking care of me slightly. They have arranged a guy to come and pick the four of us that are enrolled in with ISEP. We were going around and doing things for the rest of our time here. Bank accounts, attestation du résidence, internet, cell phone....basically all things vital to living here and all needs requiring a visa. Zoinks.
Ok, now that I aave spent my existence in France just trying to survive and FINALLY getting internet, I can find the place where I nee to talk to about getting my visa. Bottom line, they said they can't help and I have to send my passport back. Ok, I can work with that, but first let me go to the American Embassy in Marseille, they're on my side right? Robert Langdon and Felix all run to the American Embassy if being chased by crazy popes or henchman looking for James, right?
Ok, I'm in Marseille. The sun is shining, I bought a wonderful tunisienne pastry and headed off to the Embassy. My comrades! Nope. No. Nuh-uh. Think again. I can't even talk to them. I have to have an appointment, to TALK TO THEM. I have to go the bank next door and call them, to see if I can talk to them. Again, it's a no. WHAT? I'm sorry, I have to have an appointment. What if I'm running from the french police? Or just frenchmen in general. "yes, excuse me, I am going to get into a spot of trouble next Wednesday, could we possibly save my ass then? Movies lieeeeeee.
So back to square one. Sending my passport to The Mitchell Group, having it sent to the consulate, then back across the ocean to me. This is what the sous-prefecture (like the mayor's office) AND the American Embassy and the French Embassy in DC have told me. Let's hope for the best right? I proceed to send my passport via the french poste with a tracking number. After I send it, I try to use the tracking number (STRIKE SIX--->Do not expect anything that works in all other situations, countries, parallel universes work in France. It's their thing. To have service and then for it to always be out of order or unexplicably not there. It's like manner and etiquette in France. They have them, and apparently impeccable manners, but there is always something wrong with the situation, or that you've done to warrant their restrain of using them. It's your fault, really.) So, my tracking number doesn't work. It says after four days, to contact la poste to find your package. I wait four days, call the number-apparently that number is forbidden from Skype. I use a friend's phone, la poste just tells me to wait some more. OK, frenchies, this is my PASSPORT. I call Alex at TMG to help me find my package. He makes a few calls (LITERALLY IN 15 minutes) and tells me it arrived in the US 5 days ago, but the french post office didn't know how to send it once it arrived in the US. Come again? What do you mean? They didn't know whether to send it post or by DHL or fed-ex. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't post from different countries get sent ALL THE TIME? And doesn't it just go from La Poste to USPS, seamlessly? I will never understand.
Well, my passport is safe at least, sitting in a box, but safe. François picks it up for me and we're a go. He takes it to the French Embassy to get me out of purgatory. Nadda. Again, are you surprised? They get all pissy with him, saying I have to DELIVER the passport and THEN they can stamp it. "oH and btw" they say, "because you have her passport, she is now deemed illegal in France."
Yes, Claire the illegal one. Fits, non? So, Mr. Mitchell isn't letting this fly so easily, he makes and appointment with the chief there and the other chief (just so you know, everyone is a chief in France. Chief of something. Maybe of bullshit, or of eating cheese, but they are a Godforsaken chief nonetheless!!!!) and continues to have a 2 hour meeting with these people, and he speaks french, so it is all happening in French. Which gives us a few brownie points, well more like they just took away from the huge negative amount of non-brownie points I'd already earned. meeting goes on, and the french just get more bull-headed as you try to speak to them. Honestly, there are books written about how to deal with french customer service (or lackthereof). They run around in circles (probably with a few smoke breaks in between, because, well, that's just unheard to not smoke for 2 hours straight.)
Well, they say ABSOLUTELY no way they will help. "She must return. Yuuu Americans (spit) tink yuu can geet ahwayyy wivv any-ting. Not wiv France! Jamais!"
Yeah yeah Mr. Chief we get the point, we'll start smoking and skipping work, understood.
Bottom Line. Claire is coming back to the U S A. Ta-da.
Part Four: There and Back Again - A Deportee's Tale
I book my flights. I let my professors know (without cursing the french) I will be missing class as I am having problems with my visa. I find out my friend is returning for a wedding (to Canada-she actually lives like 4hours from MP, crazy huh! Can we say visits...) and we have teh same flight from Marseille to London; I split off to DC and she goes to Toronto. So we get to share a cab to the gare routière and then the bus ride to Marseille and then the flight to London. Her bag is full and heavy with presents for those who love her at home. My bag has a pair of jeans, a fleece, running shoes and running clothes. Hello Rock Creek Park! But I also have mine very empty because I have requests for thing from the US. Peanut butter, oreos, Kashi, pretzels, you know. But in Lodon, we have the most AMAZING English breakfast, OMG. I had treacle tart and almost passed out. Only improved my Hadgrid sitting next to me with some tea. Seriously.
Eric picks me up from the Airport, la de da I can speak in English and not get stared at or feel incredibly guilty. La DE DA. He drops me off at the consulate where a friend is letting me crash (coincidentally in 515 wooooot!) and then I do. CRASH. And I crash hard. Wake up at 5, run, shower and off to TMG and the metro!
I get to TMG, Alex and I set off on our adventure to get to the embassy. Of COURSE it is located in Georgetown and on this estate, because it the FRENCH embassy. Duh. I go in there, wait. Wait. Wait. I;m not surprised int eh slightest this time though. Just happy to not being yelled at so far. Resisting the urge to give everyone the finger. I get called...
"Ahh, princess, we have not forgotten about you. Come here Princess."
(I SWEAR IF THAT MAN EVER CALLS ME PRINCESS AGAIN I AM GOING TO MAKE SOME FOIE GRAS OUT OF HIS LIVER)
I get my stamp and au revoir my way out of there...but NO. They say when I return to France, now I must get a carte de sejour IN my visa, because of "all teh problems you caused, it's very confusing, just talk to someone there about it.) (<---- in french though) Hold up. F-you. whatever. I au revoir (this time through my teeth) and get out of there like a bat out of hell. Though this was worse than hell. Because I think there is deodorant in hell. There isn't in France.
I literally run to Alex's car and just revel in the fact I am not in purgatory anymore. YAY! Later during the day, I am at TMG just helping them do some stuff as to repay them for all of their kindness, and Alex says,
A:"oh yeah, superstar, got a funny story to tell you"
A:"So, we didn't tell you this as to freak out, but you know how you were deemed illegal?"
(how could I forget)
CW:"yes, Alex, I do remember that, what of it?"
A:"Oh, well, they reported you to interpol as well. Interpol was coming after you" http://www.interpol.int/public/icpo/default.asp
CW:(three octaves higher) "what????"
A: "yeah they reported you to interpol, but we stopped them from coming after you because you had bought tickets and were coming back.
Funny, right?" Absolutely F-ing HIL-AR-I-OUS. Technically it IS funny because I am safe in my french dorm room with my visa clutched to my heart (am I joking?)
but I am very glad they didn't tell me that before.
Imagine me then. What would I have done? Hide? My friend benji said,
" I would have been like, yes sir, Claire Gorton? I can lead you to her room. I don't know her that well, those Americans you know, always causing trouble. Not like us Brits. right? Sir?"
I think I would have hidden out until my flights. because if they got me I was never getting back. And I would have had all that illegal stuff on my record. Maybe I do now. Yikes. I would have called Maxi.
M: What's poppin' cler?"
CW: "I'm wanted by interpol. Help?"
I really should check my record out, hopefully none of the paperwork went through..... So that's my deportation story. Revel. Chuckle. Gape. Be glad it wasn't you.
Claire Winter Gorton Song: Concerto for Horn and Orchestra third movement by Mozart http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaV1c_sKD8M
"So, was the trip to Spain worth all of this?" WE DON'T THINK ABOUT THOSE THINGS, ERIC.