Things happen slower here, they just do. And I have learned to be ok with that, I really have. But every now and then, I encounter especially inefficient French systems, ones that rekindle my indignation and annoyance. To work in France requires approximately two hundred photocopies. Ok, so that might be an exaggeration, but not by much. You send these photocopies to lots of offices, where they inevitable get lost, so then you eventually resend them, and the cycle continues. Why have a computer do the work when you could have a massive network of offices, agencies, and paper handlers to employ one fourth of the population?
Back in October, I sent in a pile of paperwork to the OFII, the office that handles the long stay visas. In theory, I should have received a summons within 4 weeks – 2 months maximum – to come for a medical examination. I understand this idea, really I do. Before giving me rights to one of the largest healthcare systems in the world, they want to know what they are getting in to. So I sent my paperwork, and I even received the paper saying that they got it. And then I waited.
And emailed everyone I could think of who might be able to help.
And emailed everyone again.
And finally, I went down to the office to see if perhaps there was a problem. Realize, this is now eight months after I should have been summoned. The office is a madhouse. There is a Romanian young man, insisting that the woman with him is his wife and thus should get immigration benefits too. This woman was at least sixty years older than himself. The security guard is refusing and the man (who speaks no French) keeps on yelling that he wants to see the “Woman upstairs!!”. There isn’t in fact, “a” woman upstairs. This is a government office building. There are many women upstairs, each as unwilling to help the screaming young man who doesn’t have any photocopies with him. But I am ready. I have a copy of every document I can even imagine being needed. Which is good, because they have no record of my paperwork in the system. I sit down to fill out all of the same documents, and am assured that I will receive a summons within 2 days.
So I wait.
Finally, 2 weeks later, I am called for a medical examination. I realize that it isn’t really that important now, as I will leave in another month, but I am an American. We are rule followers. And I got to take a day off work to go in. This morning I show up, with the third set of identical photocopies, which they have requested. They take them, photocopy them, and keep them. This means that they now have, theoretically, FOUR copies of my documents. Then I sit and wait. Finally, I am called to do the routine physical. Basically, to decide if I can work in France, they check my eyes, height and blood pressure. Then they x-ray my lungs. Now, if you are a medical person, correct me if I am wrong, but I am pretty sure that an x-ray machine can see through fabric — at least a hospital gown or something. I mean, it can look through our skin. Not in France. They continually remind you to be completely topless when you go in the exam room, where two ladies casually chatting will slowly take your x-rays. Then as I am standing against the machine, one lady tells me that she will tell me when to breath in. I am expecting the typical “Breathe in, exhale” thing but all the sudden, the lady starts shouting “Breath!! Inhale! More, more, more – breathe!!”. In case I didn’t understand, she helped by making loud gulping noises. And so I stand there topless gulping away at the air like my life depends it.
Eventually, after handing my stack of photocopies around from one desk to the other, I was finally given my long stay visa stamp. This is a victory, but the really exciting thing is that they let you keep the x-ray.