In order to live in France, you have to participate in many immigration-type processes. What are these processes? Great question. I had no idea, but I was told that we were going to have to get a chest x-ray to find out if we were bringing TB into the country – except that they scheduled our x-rays for 2 months after we arrived. Although I’m no doctor, I think that if we were bringing TB into the country, it is likely that we would have been infecting a lot of people in our first 2 months in country. But what do I know?
We finally got a letter that we needed to show up in Paris at the Immigration Office to be checked out and get our health documents put in our passports. In the letter we were given a time to show up and I thought we would just show up for our appointment, walk in to the office, have a physical exam and be on our way. The first clue to the contrary should have been that the other IBM couple living in our town was given the exact same appointment time. Hmmmmm. So, they must employ lots of doctors at the Immigration Office……………right?
When we arrived at the Immigration Office on our assigned day about a half hour early, it was a literal mob scene. We immediately saw the other IBMers in the crowd, standing in what we might loosely call a line in the US. I was advocating that we go to the back of the line to be respectful of the other people waiting, but Tim jumped right in with the IBMers who were not too far away from the entrance. As I stood and chatted with our friends, I felt slightly self-conscious, being a line jumper and all. Who exactly did I think I was, cutting all these people?
Within moments, the reality of this situation dawned on me. WE ALL HAD THE SAME APPOINTMENT TIME. When I turned to tell Tim my realization, he said, “What did you think was going to happen?” Another great question. Did I mention that we had the kids along with us too since they were currently on a TWO WEEK vacation from school and we didn’t have anywhere to put them?
Soon after that the boys started to dope-slap each other in the giant mob/line and I had a sinking feeling we were in for a long day. No amount of candy could save this situation. The best that I could hope for was a speedy process once we got in to the office.
Shortly after that, a small-ish Frenchman in a cheap suit (shocking in France) and a greasy comb-over showed up at the door to start admitting people for their appointments. Once he opened the door to let a few people in, it was like we were at a New Zealand rugby match – the crowd from behind us ran around to the front of the scrum and we we left stunned as everyone behind us was soon ahead of us. I have read about the (lack of) line culture in France, however I had never seen anything quite like it. So much for feeling bad about being a line-cutter – at this point, it was about survival.
Tim managed to muscle our group to the front of the group as the next elevator became available to take us up to the offices. Once we finally got upstairs, there were a series of people and desks, stamping some documents and sending us on to the next desk. Eventually we were send into a room with about 75 other people, told to sit down and handed some English-language literature about moving to France. We had gotten separated from the other IBMers at some point along the way and when I didn’t see them in this room, I just assumed that they were in another large room with a bunch of other people. A woman came into the room and started a movie about moving to France. Although it was all in French, the basic gist of it was: if you’re going to move to France, you need to be a contributing member of society which means learning the language and getting a job. Once that message was delivered, it was delivered again. And again. No deadbeats allowed. Message received. However, there was a part of me that began to wonder if we were in the right place, since I am not allowed to work here for the first year. Hmmmm again.
When the movie finally ended, we were called out of the room in groups to get the physical exam. When they called me by my husband’s last name, I was slightly unresponsive (since that’s not my name), but I just figured that they assumed it was my name because they had Tim’s file and mine together (note: this is a clue to future trouble). When the woman looked at my file as I was walking toward her, she realized that we had been put in with the wrong group of people. Since we are temporary residents, we shouldn’t have received the film about becoming French deadbeats.
From there we were moved into a large waiting room with about 50 other people to wait for the chest x-rays. I was wondering how they were going to x-ray us and do it in an orderly fashion, when they called my name. There were 4 little rooms opening into the waiting room (like changing rooms at a store) with another door out the back side of it. The woman put me in there and told me to take off my shirt and bra and wait. As I was getting undressed, I looked up on the wall to see the visual version of what I was supposed to do. One picture was of a hot guy standing shirtless in the room waiting patiently and the other picture was of a supermodel (with a belly-button ring) standing there shirtless in a sexy pose with her hands covering her chest. How odd. Because I know you’re wondering, there are no johnnys, robes, towels or any other type of medical covering in sight.
So I began to wonder:
- Am I supposed to take my shirt off and just stand there?
- Or am I supposed to take my shirt off and stand there (in a sexy pose) with my hands covering my chest?
- Do I seem very American if I try to cover myself up, or should I try to be French and happily strut around with no shirt on?
- What about the many women in the waiting room who are wearing many more clothes (headscarves, robes, etc) than I am? What are they doing right now? What are the religious implications for them of standing nearly naked in a room waiting for a chest x-ray?
- WHO THE HELL IS GOING TO OPEN THIS DOOR?
Just then, as I was contemplating what to do and how to stand, a short, French, male doctor opened the door. I did what any stunned American woman would do, I strutted confidently (and shirtless) in to the room and awkwardly pressed myself against the x-ray machine – sweating bullets the whole time.
Once that was over, I thought surely that we were on the downhill slide of painful things to do at the Immigration Office. Not so. When we sat down to get our passports stamped with our medical information, the woman looked at my passport and my health application and realized that my name was different on each. Since we have this relocation company from IBM helping with much of the EXTENSIVE paperwork, they typed my last name as Tim’s. When we saw it on the form, it didn’t register as wrong to us because his name was listed on the line that said, “nom d’espouse” which I thought meant spouse’s name, but really means “married name.” Ooops.
Next we had to endure a full-length lecture in French from the Immigration Officer about the confusion that we were causing by having the incorrect documents. I repeated my only response, “Je suis désolé, Madame, ” over and over again, but in my mind I was thinking, “PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME COME BACK HERE AGAIN! I AM BEGGING YOU!” Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I could hear the boys in the hallway (where they were made to sit) having a mayhem melt-down. I think the woman finally registered the desperation on my face and finally stuck the incorrect document into my passport. We finally emerged from the office 4 hours later.
The upside of the day? I found out I don’t have TB. Also, in case you were wondering, the other IBMers were in and out in 1/2 hour.