Paper chase

posted 8 April 2005

Remember the quest for the our "cartes de séjour," the residency cards we need to be legal residents of France? At last report, I think we had arrived at the point where we believed several of our original documents (birth certificates, marriage certificate) to be in the hands of the Prefecture in Nice and where the LOV administration had at last secured an appointment for our medical check-up, at which we would receive the health certificates needed to get residency cards. The good news was that our original documents were actually still at the LOV and have been returned to us. The bad news was that we were to show up for the medical exam armed with our life-time immunization records, life-time hospitalization records, and recent chest x-rays (!), and on March 24, the day when we would be on the train to Paris!

Drats all around, and the long-suffering LOV administrators set about trying to get the appointment changed. They seemed to remember some previous visitor who didn't have all those medical records and still got a carte de séjour, though he wasn't American . . . . We figured the worst that could happen would be that they'd send us away to gather the records and ask us to appear again later (preferably in July, when we'll be back in the U.S.). The old-fashioned process of showing up unannounced and waiting in line all day at the Prefecture began to seem attractive.

We got back from Paris to find that we indeed had a new medical appointment, for this last Tuesday at quite a convenient location in Nice (not the Prefecture). It was at 2:45 p.m., so we drove into Nice early, located the place, then went out for lunch before showing up to be examined. Step 1: They directed us next door for chest x-rays—a hassle-free five-minute process. Apparently they do realize that most people in western countries don't have a recent set on file. Step 2: The interview. We were prepared to explain at length that the "carnet de vaccinations" (the little booklet of permanent vaccination records that French people carry from doctor to doctor all their lives) doesn't exist in the U.S. and that documenting our childhood and pre-school immunizations would be difficult, but they just asked us if we'd been vaccinated for "all the usual stuff" and hepatitis and let it go at that. They also took our word for our recent hospitalizations and surgeries. The only difficulty arose when they noticed that the letter granting us the appointment was addressed to David only, but we talked our way on through that—from the start, we've been treated as an administrative unit, and we only got one letter asking both of us to show up for the original appointment— and convinced them to certify both of us. Step 3: The actual exam. Pretty short and cursory, although the doctor asked me several times whether I had thyroid problems. When asked why, she said it was because of my "regard très fixe," my very fixed regard. I never did figure out what she meant by that. That I had a fixed stare? That my face wasn't mobile enough? I'll have to ask Dr. Kelch at my next physical.

So, in the end, they certified us healthy and gave us documents to present at the Prefecture (plus our shiny new chest x-rays, suitable for framing). At no time was payment so much as mentioned—we begin to see why the fee for long-stay visas is so high. We are now awaiting an appointment there—the smart money is on next Tuesday. Hope so, since we're leaving for Poland a week from Sunday and returning to Villefranche for only a day and a half before we move to Brest. When asked about the possibility of having the whole application process transferred to a different prefecture, the LOV administrators only roll their eyes. It would apparently be easier to make a trip back here to complete the process.

But, lest life be too uncomplicated, we got home this evening to find two letters from the Prefecture addreseed to me at the résidence rather than the lab. (In French bureaucrat-ese, I am "Mrs. BURNHAM wife THISTLE ANNE.") One asks why I didn't show up for my medical exam on March 24, and the other asks me to show up for it next Tuesday. I'll keep you posted.

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