We finally got all the items requested in the "convocation" together so yesterday I traipsed down to the Prefecture des Yvelines to pick up my replacement residency card.
At the very last minute, right before leaving the house, I checked all my papers one more time against the list and saw that they wanted me to return the old card. That would have been a bit difficult since it was stolen and is either in a landfill somewhere or was sold to someone. The French police said both were possibilities. So, just in case, I grabbed a copy of the police report. You never know and it is always better to have more documents then too few or the wrong ones.
A préfecture in France, for those of you who've never been, is the administrative center of a Department which, in size, is like a State or County in the U.S. They answer to the Minister of the Interior and they are responsible for delivering driver's licenses, passports, identity cards and papers for foreigners. There are over 100 of them scattered throughout France and each one is managed by a Préfet who is the French government's representative in a Department. This is not an elected position - préfet's are appointed by the President of the Republic. I live in the department called Yvelines which was created in 1968 and the center of which is the city of Versailles.
The convocation says that I am to go to the "Guichet Rapide" Counter 31. I know better than to take anything for granted so when I arrive at the prefecture, I go straight to the nice gentlemen who seems to be responsible for both maintaining order and helping people get oriented. He says that, technically, I must wait in line for the main counter (there are 20 people already there) to get a number but if I could just wait for a moment... He leaves with my papers and comes back with the number and tells me to go directly to wait in front of counter 31.
So far things are going very well. I arrive at the counter and then my heart sinks. My number is 29, the counter is currently serving number 10. I settle in to wait and I am a bit annoyed with myself because I didn't bring a book this time. Strangely enough, this actually turns out to be a good thing.
In the seat next to me is an Algerian woman, a little younger than me, and we start talking. Turns out we have a great deal in common and no end of subjects to talk about: we come from mid-sized regional cities by the sea, we are both long-term residents with 10-year cards, we are married to French citizens, we have children in the French school system and neither of us is a French citizen. We talked a lot about the last and it was a surprisingly frank discussion. To hear an echo of my own internal debate was not only interesting, it made me feel a lot better. I am not the only one struggling with this. She said at one point, "Listen, Madame, I live here but I love my country and I think you love yours too." It was a moment of perfect understanding between a woman from a seaside town in Algeria and a West Coast American.
I am called to the counter and I wish her all the best and "Bon courage." My business takes less than five minutes (yes, he did want to make a copy of the police report) and I left the prefecture with my card. They have changed the format - it is smaller and has a chip. I bet there is a marvelous IT project connected to this. My business done, I walked home and made myself some coffee.
Tomorrow, a trip to the French Social Security office. A woman migrant's work is never done. :-)