Silly Grins

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Three Punches to the Face: Immigration en France

 "Three Punches to the Face in Rapid Succession"

That's what was scrawled on the CD in red marker, a compilation burned especially for me, as a gift.

"Gee... thanks."

And for some odd reason, the only two songs I can fondly recall are the following two numbers, the first by Vicky Leandros and the last by Miss Kittin. Why the 'fondness' I am not quite sure. Maybe Vicky's voice is good at mocking the 'cute' in a way that suggests a lot of other things she must have learned while in France...


And here's a song by a woman from the land
where the  'L'amour est bleu' single
was written and produced...

Frank Sinatra

The whole CD was very disturbing, but also made me think about a few things...mainly about being in Japan... and a sense of being annoyed with the French. I'm sure it does not matter.

Just when I was starting to become irritated with something that really didn't matter in the big scheme of things, the smartass 'acquaintance' who had put together the compilation of sorts sent one of those out of  'le grand blue' kind of emails.

Perspective. Perspective. Perspective.

Immigration en France 

The following is postscript taken from an actual email with the subject:

"kid. if you crumple up my worksheet again."

And now, for some uncut/unfiltered excitement in rapid succession, here it is:

for your enjoyment i'll attach my account of trying to get a long-term residency permit in france, i think this made my dad afraid to come visit me:
THEN there's my visa.  Don't worry, I finally got something "visa-like" (this is france, it will take like two months to get the actual resident permit, and which point i'll have like what two weeks left of my job or something ridiculous like that probably), but let me tell you how i got it:  succumbing to a sort of surrealist panic at the idea that i have been working illegally for the french government for three weeks now, i take a heads up from a friend and go to this mysterious administrative building for academic affairs in Rouen, which no one has bothered to tell me about up to now, in order to ask "is this as fucked up as i think it is?"  It turns out, it is:  they haven't even received my papers nor the papers of this other girl i work with in order to get the visa process going for us, meaning either the shithead guy i work for in val de reuil forgot to send them because he was too busy going on vacation or masturbating in his office bathroom, OR just as likely that he did send them and the people at this mysterious bureaucratic academic office thing tossed them in one of the fifty piles of paper on their desk, because at the moment they received the papers, it was time for morning break avec un cafe et un croissant chaud (conjecture but there's not telling how true it could be).  I relay these brilliant facts to Shelley, the girl I work with, and we hatch a desperate plan to take the matter into our own hands and go to the prefectural office, the most insane labyrinth of satanic immigration rituals and clandestine municipal government operations between here and Paris.  I can't even begin to explain this place. Every morning there are people sleeping in front of it waiting for it to open, hoping to be the first person to try and convince the government officials in there to give them visas, it's very international, they're from everywhere, nigeria, morocco, tunisia, and occasionally the u.s. even haha.  So....i've heard through the grapevine that the only way to get in and convince anyone of anything there is go there ass-crack early and do the immigrant waiting dance.  i get there at 7:20 a.m., shelley a little later, and we wait until 9 a.m. when the place opens, standing out in the cold and rainy morning, luckily under some decently dry stone church eaves.  It turns out 7 a.m. is way too damn late to get there.  Some of the nice African guys have created an unofficial "list" of the first 15 people to show up at the prefecture gate, starting from 11 p.m. the night before when the first crazy (but wise) motherfucker got there, and these 15 band together to push others back from the gate when the police open it up and assure they are the first ones in -- if you think about it, it's a pretty fair system, i mean if you're willing to freeze your ass off for eight or ten hours sitting on stone steps you must want a visa pretty badly, plus you rely on the brotherhood of your fellow humankind -- that said this list has nothing to do with the immigration office itself and the police officers working there will even deny its existence if you ask about it.  Of course a fight breaks out between an African guy and a Middle Eastern guy, the Middle Eastern guy flips his shit and flails his girth all around, pushing his way through the crowd (i don't think he was one of the blessed 15 even) and running inside to the front desk screeching all the while.  Shelley and I are standing there in line being crushed by this human wave going "no way.  no way. no way." but me kind of enjoying it in a cinematographic sense.  The police look amused inside the gate, they see this shit every morning and do nothing to break it up.  We eventually get in only to be told there's no way we'll get an appointment to see someone about residence permits until the end of march.  we argue.  they tell us more information the more we argue.  important things come up that they would have totally omitted if we hadn't asked specifically.  We leave in a disappointed huff, go back to our mysterious academic bureau, and do some more annoying question-asking.  this gets us nowhere though the ladies are nice.  i decide that i will spend the next night in front of the prefecture to be "one of the 15", shelley unfortunately has a french class the next morning she doesn't want to miss, so i go home, desperately scour the internet for apartments for about five or six hours while listening to the inane conversation between julie and her insta-boyfriend as they argue i mean discuss their way deeper and deeper into love.  i fall asleep at 10 p.m. and decide eventually that i will go easy on myself and get up at 4 a.m. to go the prefecture, thinking the whole time that even 4 a.m. might be too late.  Rouen at 4 a.m. is amazing, no noisy traffic, i can hear the birds musing to themselves in the trees, the architecture is beautiful and lonely in the night.  i get there and sure enough there are about 5 people waiting already, i ask about and find out this nigerian guy has THE LIST.  i sign my name to become number 11.  he notes that i am the only white guy there and asks me if i'm english, he speaks decent english so we start up a conversation about france, holland, nigeria, reggae, what constitutes a good life, and oh yeah crazy iranian dictators who will kill us all.  it's pretty cool, literally downright fucking freezing actually, he was smart to have brought a sleeping bag, which he had spread out over the pavement.  i realize at one point that homeless people spread cardboard on the sidewalk not so much for padding as to keep themselves away from the cold stone, which seeps the heat out of your body at remarkable speed. eventually our conversation died off and we pretended to sleep, huddled against the same stone church i'd taken shelter from the rain under before.  it starts to rain again at about 5 a.m. and keeps raining.  i listen to some woody guthrie and leadbelly to remind myself that people deal with situations shittier than this all the time.  i wake with a start to realize i'm so cold i can't sit and wait there anymore, it's about 7 a.m., so i take a quick walk around the monster bureaucrat building, annoyingly smug and unfathomable in the pre-dawn darkness.  i get back and nod in and out until about 8:30 when people start getting in strategic position to rush the gate at 9.  8:50 or so the African boys break out their list and we line up, i have a feeling things are going to be more orderly because there are some big guys among them. Despite all this women who have brought their babies for effect and old ladies who silently, intently push in from the side try to shamelessly usurp a place, the nerve! they've only been there since, you now 6 a.m. or so...of course there are other men who come streaming in from the side and try to push.  people starting yell "STOP IT! THERE'S A LIST!" like they must have yelled every morning for several decades, ever since immigration to France picked up due to all their old colonial holdings in Africa and the Middle East. Miraculously, while i'm standing in the 15 line, the lady from the mysterious academic office calls me and tells me they found my papers.  i smirk because i've got all my papers on me, despite being stupid enough to trust that they would get this done for me, luckily i wasn't stupid enough to hand over all my papers to them without copies last month!  she can't exactly tell me where they were, but shuffling off a chance to get pissed yet again, i quickly interject that i'm in line at the prefecture about to go inside, she tells me the random name of a lady to ask about at the front desk and gives me an office number, which i instantly recognize as a possible gold ticket -- most of these people are coming here without any names of people to talk to, nor even necessarily an idea of exactly what they need to do to get a visa because no one ever tells you anything here unless you ask repeatedly.  I front this information immediately at the desk and the lady looks really surprised (the day before she had been turned us down with relish), directing me up the stairs and down some random hallways...i get inside this building i've tried to get into so many times before and it's amazing, besides the crazy waiting rooms, it's all silence and naturally lit corridors with huge old french windows.  i go down the hall and find this lady's office.  she's not there but she arrives soon, she's really beautiful, tastefully dressed in dark greens and browns, and speaks french like a machine gun.  i nod a lot and nod some more and say "oui" a couple times and pass her many pieces of paper with hands still numb from the cold, and in ten minutes, with a little highlighting here and there on the documents, she hands me some receipt thing that makes me legal again until the middle of april -- not my residency permit, but something that entitles me to be in the country while i wait for them to make it.  supposedly this permit card will be finished by mid-march, we'll see how that all goes hahahaha.

While immigration in Japan may be a bit more challenging for some, I read this every once in a while to remind myself that, yeah, it could always be much worse. 

Thank god I'm not in France.



  1. Interesting post and certainly puts things in perspective. Not having to deal with these things in your country of birth generally means that you have nothing to compare it to when you need to do it somewhere else.

    I have had a couple of times where I have had to go to the immigration office quite a few times, but it was mainly due to having circumstances that were unique and therefore the need for various pieces of paperwork seems to pop up throughout the process. I live not in a big city, so I have always found the people at the office there quite friendly and courteous. When I was in a big city, they were a bit cold; but I saw some people being pretty damn rude and also explaining things over and over again would be tiring I suppose.

    Great story nonetheless. Fingers crossed it all goes well and they get their visa without too much hassle. Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. "Thank god I'm not in France."

    Just give Paris to the Germans. They seem to take it whenever they want anyway.

    Thank God I'm not in France too!

  3. Momotaro: I imagine working for immigration can be a thankless job at times...but I wouldn't really know. One of the requirements for working as a public servant in any metropolis setting must be having that special attitude that goes along with the various shades of indifference they do so well.

    Visas were gotten...but it gets better.

    Have been given the 'go-ahead' to publish the next few bits at will, so am going to follow through over the next week or so.

    I just wish I could write like that...but that would require abandoning a fairly mundane life.


  4. Chris: Funny enough, not too long after doing France, the fellow who sent the missive ended up spending some time in that spot in Europe formerly known as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik.