Monday, October 14, 2013
bureaucrazy: (n) the ridiculous number of administrative hoops one must navigate in order to legally reside in a new country; the gladiator games of paperwork
they say patience is a virtue. here in france, it’s more of a condescending expectation. if you think anything is going to happen here with any sense of urgency… you’re wrong. however, if you think that anyone else is going to get your paperwork done for you… you’re even more wrong. i’ve been trying so hard to maintain a healthy combination of persistence and patience since i’ve gotten to france, because it takes both to come out of the soul-sucking, nerve-frying, catch-22-riddled machine that is french bureaucracy with any modicum of sanity intact. i’ve been dancing an exasperating tango with the bureaucrazy here – one step forward, two steps back, side-step, complete spin, forward, back…. it honestly feels like i’ve made no progress at all, and it’s starting to get overwhelming. there is always some form missing from the application packet or some mysterious bank god that needs to approve some other form before the payment can go through or another step to complete before you can get that stamp on your visa… the list goes on.
it’s exceptionally challenging for me, since i’m someone that likes to be prepared. france has thoroughly unarmed, frustrated, and humbled me in this respect. i suppose i shouldn’t be surprised – the only reason i’m here at all is because i had the rug pulled out from under all my carefully-laid plans last year, which prompted me to apply for this grant. so, i probably could have looked at that experience as an indicator for how this adventure was going to be. when little things add up, i sometimes have the tendency to let it get to me; i’m a pretty on-the-ball kind of girl, and i do well taking care of myself and what i need to get done. but if i get too far behind, or if the inefficiency of a process is too glaringly insurmountable, i can feel the panic start to settle into the pit of my stomach. i hate when things don’t work well and i can’t make it right. but, over the last few weeks, i have had a crash course in patience, humility, and just being able to let frustration slide off of me. with the way things are here, sometimes there really is just nothing to be done but wait. ugh.
if each governmental system in the world were to be represented by a famous architectural icon, france would be the coliseum. it’s renowned for the unbelievable detail and complexity of its structure; it’s run by a network of state officials that all take great pride in acting completely unconcerned with the needs of the plebeians they serve; it looks nice and pretty and organized from the outside, and the inside is a vicious labyrinth of dead-end websites, incomprehensible hours of operation, enough forms and paperwork to redecorate versailles, and a few man-eating beasts (probably). you can only do so much to be prepared – you can have every single form listed on the website (multiple copies), your passport, extra passport photos (the french need a passport photo for everything), your work contract, your lease, your bank account identification information, your second grade report cards, your dog’s immunization records….. it doesn’t matter. they’re going to need something you don’t have on the first visit. and then, once you do have everything they need, you have to mail it to them. and then they mail you something back saying they received it. and then, later, they mail you another form which tells you when your next appointment will be. and then, after that appointment, you get a stamp which allows you to move onto the next step. my point is, the process is literally never-ending. sometimes, i use that word as emphasis (and not in its original sense) – but this time, i mean that i’m pretty sure this process has no endpoint. there will always be something else. always. (i’ve had this confirmed by french friends, so i’m confident. and thoroughly disheartened at the thought.)
when i take a mental step back and look at the last few weeks, i can see that i’ve definitely have made some progress. i opened my bank account and received my card. i submitted all my forms for the immigration office and my dossier for my insurance. i’m on my way to having all my accommodation paperwork done (damn you, electric company) and my paychecks are set up for direct deposit. so, yay! i keep reminding myself that i am not the first person to ever go through this process – it can be done, it just takes time. and, ironically, time is what i have the most of here. today was the first day that i really felt the downswing of expatriation – the part of the process where the nice, shiny veneer of novelty is wearing off, and everything is just kind of wrong and annoying. but, those feelings are all part of the game, and having them means that i’m doing it right. so, instead of crying to the woman in the post office (who saw me three separate times today) like i wanted to do this evening, i just ate half a pan of apple cake and watched french game shows. that’s productive, right?