Monday, October 20, 2008

French food and more blunders

Well, today I went to the Prefecture (pictured here, doesn't it look like a nice place to wait?) to do the next step in my application for a long-stay visa (kind of like a green card in the US). We need this card not only to stay here for the planned 2 years, but also to recieve many benefits that the French take for granted - like health care, familial assistance programs and other goodies. There's a lot of paperwork they need, including proof of current address, passports of both me and my spouse, birth records, etc. This should be easy, except for a few details:

Since I took my wife's name when we got married, everyone's always confused that my current name doesn't match the one on my birth certificate. So I always bring along my marriage certificate when they want the acte de naissance. Today the clerk helping me kept laughing at how rigolo that was--just think, in America the man can take the woman's name (or at least in Pennsylvania, where they passed the ERA decades ago).

  • I had two coworkers check the paperwork I had assembled (thanks Olivier and Genevieve!), and they found a few missing things, like a stamped envelope and the original of my marriage certificate (probably because I keep taking it out to show people--everyone in France seems to need my act de naissance, from bankers to insurance companies--oh, did I mention how we need insurance for the kids in case they get hurt when they're at school? Or insurance for our bank card / ATM card in case it gets stolen? There's insurance for everything here!) Well, on Friday I attempted to complete my paperwork for Monday's trip to the prefecture, but I forgot about the birth certificate until around 9am this morning, which is when my bus was coming--which should give me about 15 minutes wiggle room in case of any mistakes for my 9:40am appointment. Around here, I figure 15 minutes is usually enough because if I have a problem with a bus or something I can usually take another route and get close enough I can walk/run the rest of the way. Well, since I remembered that I needed the marriage certificate I dug through my bag looking for it, and as the bus approached I decided I had to go back to the apartment to try to find it. So, I missed the bus. Luckily, the next came in 15 minutes, so I got to the prefecture just about 5 minutes before my appointment... whew. Then I had to wait for 40 minutes for someone to actually call me in to do the paperwork. That went smoothly, as I now had all the paperwork necessary. The clerk concluded with, that's all for today--you should get your carte de séjour in about a month. "But our health insurance", I protest, "is being held up by this"--she responded that now that I have completed the application process, I could go apply for the sécurité sociale, which would give me insurance we needed. Now, in France, everybody has health insurance, as long as they're legal residents--so it's not like if there was an emergency we wouldn't be insured right now--but, we're in this grey area where we're not officially insured, either. We've already all been to the doctor a few times and nobody knows exactly how to bill us... and at work they don't know what to do to complete the rest of my employer-sponsored health insurance paperwork either--so, we're supposed to pay out-of-pocket for now until we can be re-imbursed. Oh, they do have co-pays here, and free selection of family docs etc. But co-pays are only 1€ for visits, and about 1-2€ for meds!
  • The long-stay visa application must be started within two months of arrival in France, but it can't be completed until we have finished the Medical Exam Certificate, we have proof of residence, e.g., a utility bill, a paycheck from our current employer in France... etc. So that means it can't really be done until someone's been here for about 6 weeks, though as I understand it now I may have avoided a few visits to various offices if I did some of this paperwork in parallel... but it's hard to know how to do all this since so many people only know part of the process.

  • Rebecca needs a carte de séjour of type visiteur, but that is contingent upon my application, so now we basically have 2 weeks left to apply for hers, but still no carte de sejour from me. This paperwork is so complicated!
Oh, so the food. When I think of French food, I think of baguettes, fromage, et les pâtisseries. But that's not french food. A nice French meal starts with an appetizer, followed by fish, meat, cheese, and dessert. Nowhere in that list do I see a guaranteed spot for bread. Oh, at the lunch time meal where we pay with pre-taxed euros there aren't really 5 courses, but there's always a slice of baguette, a side dish, and the meat. Again, notice the lack of emphasis on bread. I'm a simple carbohydrates kind of person. I want lots and lots of bread, and would be perfectly happy if I never saw meat again. But no. Every serious french meal has meat. Then again, at home we eat a whole buelle or baguette in a sitting. We love those 80-cent baguettes! Pictured at left is a brie-like cheese with packaging that (I believe) would never go over well in the US -- it's too irreverent -- translated literally, "whim of the Gods", and "Godde, how good it is!". Then at our chinese dinner--definitely tinged with french influences in the way that every dish came with meat--we learned that chopsticks are "baguettes". Now that's taking it too far--why is my baguette made of plastic?

Biggest blunder of the day--I was home for lunch, but was really tired, so I decided to set an alarm for a 15 minute nap. That should give me about 10 minutes to get to the bus so I don't have to walk 20 minutes to work (it's a 5 minute ride). I got up on time, but missed the bus anyway because I had the time memorized wrong--I normally catch that bus next to Callie and Griffin's school after dropping them off. So I decided to try my new, 5€, thrift store roller blades so I can get to work on time. I haven't tested them yet--I imagined I'd play out front with the kids to refamiliarize myself with these things... but hey, just before we moved here I bladed over to pick up Callie and Griffin from tot lot one day, and that was fine, so off I went. Well, one of the brakes was missing, which I thought wouldn't be a problem (and I tried it on a little hill first)--but then I hit a really steep hill. I always brake with my right foot, and attempting to do so with the left for the first time on a steep hill wasn't going so well. So I started thinking about a bail-out plan. The bottom of the hill is an intersection with grass across the street--assuming there would be no traffic when I got there (pictured, right).


Speeding up... lots of cars to my left, and this is a narrow sidewalk... no u-turns.

Going kinda fast...maybe I can do that drag my foot sideways kind of braking... no, not confident in these new blades

This is getting kinda scary... must stop... how about dragging my foot against the base of the wall? nah, that didn't seem like it would do anything but whip me head-first into the stone..
hmmm.... I reached for a corner on the wall, and whoomph, my body just kept going, my legs kept going, my feet swung up as high as my head, but I did't let go... and then I swung back down, landed on my feet, and was at a full stop. I wonder why Indiana Jones never gets scuffed hands when he does that kind of stunt? My right hand was stinging and torn. I gingerly took off my blades, put on my sneakers again, and walked (wounded) the rest of wayto work. Oh well.

The worst part of the story? First thing people do when they arrive in the office, even if it's in the afternoon, is they walk around to shake hands or fais la bise. But that wasn't going to work with a blood-drenched hand... and even after band-aids there was no avoiding having to explain why I couldn't shake hands... and embarrass myself with this story of really really bad judgement.

Aaah, but Dr. Snyder said I need lots and lots of opportunities to feel helpless, so le-voilà. Blundering in Besançon again, despite all attempts to seem confident, punctual, and in control.
Tonight, thanks to Olivier, we have a refridgerator again. He was going to drive me out to the store to help me pick up another one, but when he found out that we hadn't yet purchased one, he suggested he take a look. He was able to troubleshoot it in about half an hour, and now we have ice again!

1 comment:

HarvieFamily said...

Wow- what a roller blading story! Mark needs to read this- Its great your boss is so helpful and nice to you!

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