Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flophouse Adventure: Getting my Residency Card Replaced

A few months ago a pickpocket stole my wallet in the train station in La Defense.  In addition to taking (and using) my credit cards, they also took my recently renewed 10-year French Residency Card.

This all happened back in April and I wrote about it here.  Since then it has been quite an adventure getting it replaced.  As of today, I still don't have it, though I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The theft occurred on a Saturday when I was taking my daughter to Nanterre to pass an English exam.  I was in line at the Prefecture that Monday to report the loss and to start the procedure to get the card replaced.  This was absolutely my top priority - if I am asked for my papers by the police and can't produce them, well, that puts me in an "irregular situation" - a big problem when you are a migrant.  I also cannot apply for a job since one of the first things a prospective employer wants to know is: Am I here legally and do I have the right to work?

All procedures relating to my status here start with a trip to the Prefecture. There is always a line for migrants, so I always get there early. Some people arrive even earlier than me -  5 or 6 in the morning just to be sure.  The line is for the main "guichet" (counter).  You must stand in line until it is your turn and then you are oriented to the right area depending on what you need.  I always bring a book because the wait is usually 1-2 hours.  The last few times I've gone,  there is a nice gentleman who walks up and down the line and asks people what they need and tries to (if at all possible) expedite things.  My case is not considered a priority (which I completely understand) so I wait.

I arrive at the main counter.  I explain.  I am routed to a second counter with a number indicating in what order my case will be managed.  After about 45 minutes I am called to the counter where I show the police report and explain what happened.  The woman is sympathetic and helpful. I am given a form and a list of documents to bring for the next step, an interview where my documents will be examined and the Prefecture will determine if I indeed have the right to the Card.  She apologizes but the earliest date they can see me is July 22 - four months away.

The bright spot in all of this is that I had recently renewed the card so I had pretty much everything I needed on hand at home:  passport, birth certificate, my spouse's birth certificate, my children's birth certificates and so on.  I did have a little trouble with two documents.  The first was the "quittance de loyer" which I had to ask my landlord to send to me proving that:  1.  I do indeed live here in Versailles at the address indicated and that 2. I am up-to-date with my rent.  Naturally, doing this for me is not my landlord's first priority.  We have to ask twice before we finally receive it.  The second is some sort of bill that also proves that I am living here.  Usually you provide a "facture EDF' that is no older than 3 months.  Surprise!  EDF now issues bills only once or twice a year and the one we have is too old.  Another letter yields a note from the electricity company that says that indeed I live here and have paid my electricity bill.

Armed with all this (and a host of other papers I can think of that might be useful) I show up at the Prefecture  on July 22.  I wait for a little over an hour and then I am called to the counter.  I present my papers and they are checked by a young man who is both very new at his job and very polite. Everything seems OK so he asks me to sit down and wait while they examine my dossier.

Going to the Prefecture and mingling with my fellow migrants always bring out the amateur anthropologist in me since there is human drama and culture clashes everywhere you look:
  • A young professional of North African descent is conducting his business at the counter with exquisite courtesy toward the staff.  I am not surprised that everything goes smoothly for him and he leaves smiling.  
  • Another man is very irritated - this is his third or fourth visit and he still doesn't know if he will be allowed to stay.  He speaks very poor French with a heavy accent and has trouble understanding the staff.  The staff struggles to remain calm and polite but you can tell they are getting frustrated.  He takes all this very badly indeed but the Prefecture staff is firm - he must go home and wait.  He leaves visibly angry.  
  • Finally, at another window is a Portuguese women in a fury.  She has provided a birth certificate that the staff cannot accept because it is over a year old (the rules say it must be dated within 6 months).  She thinks this is stupid and they should take it anyway.  We (just about everyone in the Prefecture) know this because she is very loud and very very angry.  The conversation goes round and round with the staff saying they can't take it and until she provides a new one they cannot continue the process.  On her side, she argues and argues that the rule is ridiculous and couldn't they make an exception for her?  They don't, she gives up, and all of us in the room breathe a sigh of relief as she leaves with her family.
I am called back to the counter.  "My" civil servant smiles at me and says that everything is fine -  I will get my new card in 3 to 5 weeks and I will receive a "convocation" when it is ready.  I leave, happy and relieved.

As promised, when I come back from vacation, there it is with the rest of my mail.  It says that I am to come to the Prefecture as soon as possible to pick up the card.  I need to bring my passport, the convocation and two tax stamps which are available at the Public Treasury office or at tobacco stores.  I have never been able to figure out how the "tabacs" here got this job, but I'm not complaining because these stores are everywhere.

Alas, this turns out to be more complicated than I anticipated.  When I inquire, the tobacco store confirms that they do indeed sell tax stamps, but they don't sell them in the denominations that the Prefecture is requesting in the convocation.  The Prefecture wants one 19 Euro tax stamp and a second 155 Euro OMI stamp.   According to the tobacco store these stamps do not exist in those denominations - I or the Prefecture must have made a mistake.  They tell me to go back to the Prefecture and inform them that they are wrong.  I dissolve in peals of laughter as I try to imagine the reaction of the Prefecture staff to my telling them this. :-)

This is not a major problem, just a minor inconvenience.  The Public Treasury is not far and I can stop by when I am doing my shopping tomorrow.  Then I will go straight to the Prefecture and get my precious card so I can start feeling less precarious and much more "at home" again.

Almost there.  Wish me luck.

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