All of you that are acquainted with Steve and me know that we hardly ever do something that is not perfectly legal or moral. (Well, maybe once or twice.) So it may surprise you to find out that in our 2 ½ months stay in France, we hadn’t actually perfected all of the legalities. Until today! We are now “bona fide”! (à la O Brother, Where Art Thou?)
The process began, of course, in North Carolina. We had to apply for a visa to come to France. That involved a LOT of paperwork – NC State Bureau of Investigation report, FBI report, fingerprinting, attestations from our bank that we had money, proof of health insurance, certified birth certificates, marriage certificate, proof of Steve’s acceptance into school, attestations from me about why I wanted to go to France and that I would not work while in France, and proof of a commitment to a residence in France (rental contract). We needed 3 copies of each item for both of our folders. All of the above also had to be translated into french. (That’s how we met our wonderful new friend, Mirielle Van Dyck!) In addition, there was the Long Stay Visa application form (Demande Pour Un Visa De Long Séjour ) (2 copies) and the OFII form ( Visa de Long Sejour-Demande D’Attestation OFII) top part filled out (2 copies). A lot of trees sacrificed their lives for our trip to, and our stay in, France.
Once we had assembled all that, we made an appointment to go to our regional French Consulate which is in Atlanta. We made this appointment on-line and traveled there for an overnight trip in April. The meeting was not what we expected. I thought we would be invited into a cozy room to meet with a consulate representative to present our paperwork and be interviewed. On the contrary, we arrived and soon discovered that the official Long Stay Visa application form from the French Consulate in Atlanta’s website that we had printed and completed, in “impeccable french” I might add, had just been completely changed the previous week. The new questions didn’t match the previous form. We stood at a counter and worked to fill out the new form on the fly sans un dictionnaire! When the interview process took place, we were standing at a counter with the consulate employee sitting behind glass with a tiny slot through which we had to pass our massive paper pile in stages. The employee would ask us questions (in French) and fail to turn on the microphone – we felt like Wayne Campbell ordering a hamburger and fries. We had to continuously ask him to repeat his question, and to turn on the sound. He swiftly shuffled our papers, picked up the phone a few times to call France and kept looking at Steve suspiciously because he was applying for a student visa. This was the first line of defense those immigrating to France encounter!
We left that day exhausted and made the 7 hour drive home. And waited. Our passports with our visa pasted in were returned to us about a month later in the prepaid FedEx envelopes that we had provided. Another hurdle passed.
Once we entered France via Switzerland, the next step for us was to find a permanent residence. The previous post on All I want is a room somewhere… covers that experience. Once we had an actual address and fixed and mobile phone numbers to put on the Visa De Long Sejour- Demande D’Attestation OFII, we sent it in registered mail on le 04 août. Timing for that was not the best. Most of France is not working in August because ils sont en vacances! We finally received our letters that our OFII form had been received dated le 26 août. We still had to wait to be contacted for our appointments to complete the process. On le 07 septembre we received our letters dated le 01 septembre outlining what we needed to do for an appointment that had been scheduled for Steve on le 16 septembre and for me, le 17 septembre.
We were nearing the finish line! We needed to have a un examen radiographique , un photo tête nue, un examen clinique général and beaucoup d’argent. For the money part, we had to visit the Prefecture (le bureau locale) for le taxe percue a l’occasion de la delivrance du premier titre de sejour. This meant we had to buy des timbres á la caisse de prefecture in advance to cover the fee for the OFII validation. Timbres look like postage stamps and are similar to the stamps purchased when you close on a house. For Steve that amounted to 55€ ($71.75) and for me, 340€ ($443.57) (exchange rate: 17/09/2010). We understand that in the U.S. the amount can be closer to $1,000.00 per person, so we think we got a bargain.
As a student, Steve had to go first go to Centre de Santé which is located near the train station in Grenoble and have a basic physical, then, two days later, he needed to board tram C and head off to the Domain Université Centre de Santé to get a chest x-ray at one of those mobile units set up in a parking lot. A week later he returned to the Centre de Santé near the train station to pick up his certified medical certificate. Finally, he was instructed to go to the OFII office with all his paperwork to complete the process. He was told they take a limited number of applicants each day. Since they don’t make appointments, show up early and try to get in the door – at 6’2″ and 90 kgs he was ready for action. We arrived an hour early, and he was the first one in line. He presented all the pieces to the puzzle, and they pasted the label in the passport and covered it with a film cover. TA-DAH, bona fide!! One down, one to go.
My requirements were a little different. As I am not a student, I was instructed to report to the OFII office at 13h 30 for my x-ray, and my medical exam would be at 14 h. I was pleased. I had an appointment and would escape the running around that Steve had had; it would be “one-stop shopping”. Wrong. I arrived at 13h 25 (the bureau is closed from 12:00 until 1:30 for lunch) and found a long line of people waiting for the opening. I joined the line, and I glanced at the paper the person in front of me held. It looked like mine. Exactly! Same time, etc. We ALL had the SAME appointment time.
The overworked employée at the desk dealt with people speaking many different languages. Some were anxious (like me), and some became belligerent when they were told their dossier was incomplete, and they would have to return with some other required paperwork. After sitting in the too small waiting room for a demi-heure, I was called back for the exams. The x-ray tech showed me to a dressing room and told me to take off my top. I looked around for the usual jacket I always get to put on when I have a mammogram. Nothing. Leave your modesty at the door. That done, I moved on to the infirmière. She weighed me (Steve’s and my weight in kilograms are only in the double digits! And with all the walking and jogging that we have been doing, Steve has lost about 10 lbs., and I have lost about 5!), she stuck me for, as she said, “le sucre” (le diabète), took my blood pressure, and then we moved on to the height and eye charts. If you know the French alphabet pronunciation, you remember that vowels and some consonants are pronounced differently from their english look-alikes. (i is “e”, e is “ai”, g is “jay”, j is “gee.”) We had to remind ourselves of that when responding. We had met an Australian woman the other day who told us of her experience at OFII. She didn’t know any french when she arrived , and when she read the eye chart, she answered using the English (Australian) pronunciation of the letters. The medical people all thought that she was legally blind.
Now that we have arrived at this point, we are looking forward to what our new status will bring us. Before this day, if we had left France, we would not have been allowed to reenter through the borders without returning to the U.S. and reapplying for a new visa. With the OFII stamp and our American passport, we can freely travel throughout Europe. Believe me, I have the map out and am eyeing all the possibilities that are open to us now. Ελλάδα, εδώ ερχόμαστε!
OFII- Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration
sans un dictionnaire: without a dictionary
ils sont en vacances! : they are on vacation!
examen radiographique: xray
un photo tête nue: photo of a head without a covering
un examen clinique général: medical exam
beaucoup d’argent: lots of $$$$
le taxe percue a l’occasion de la delivrance du premier titre de sejour: the charge collected on the occasion of the issuance of the first residence permit
des timbres: stamps
le caisse de prefecture: prefecture cashier
Centre de Santé: Health Center
le sucre (le diabète): sugar, diabetes
Ελλάδα, εδώ ερχόμαστε : Greece, here we come!