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Monday, April 4, 2011

Not My Weekend?

This Saturday, somewhere between the suburban train station and the RER A line in La Defense, someone unzipped the back pocket of my backpack and took my wallet.  I lost all the usual things:  money, credit cards and, of course, my French residency card.

Like all unfortunate events, there was a silver lining in there somewhere.  If I hadn't had my wallet stolen that day, I would never have:

  • Seen how calm and competent my elder Frenchling can be.  She had the presence of mind to calm her mother down and then grab the first soldier she saw (there are patrols in the station) and ask what to do.
  • Met three very professional and helpful soldiers who took the time to walk us personally up to the nearest police station.
  • Talked with a very nice policewoman at the La Defense police station who gave me the list of all the information I would need and advised me to go to the police station in Versailles.
  • Visited the police station in Versailles where another very charming and quite funny policewoman took down my statement and did her best to make me feel better. (And, yes, I was feeling like the world's biggest imbecile.)
  • Then I went to the Prefecture this morning to report the loss.  Stood in line, talked with other foreigners, read the Declaration of the Rights of Man that was posted on the wall, and when I finally arrived at the window, I  was taken care of with sympathy and efficiency.

Over the weekend I had a lot of time to reflect on what happened and I've decided that the universe is sending me a sign.  I am convinced that the universe does not want me to be a resident of the French Republic, it wants me to become a citizen.

When I was on the train platform staring at the empty space where my wallet had been, I realized that the only thing in it that I really cared about was my residency card - the proof that I live and work and have friends and family here. It was the only official evidence I had that I belong and I feel its loss keenly.

To the above, I add all the help and kindness of strangers over the weekend and my conclusion is this:

It is high time I asked to join this strange tribe.


Jacqui said...

Sorry to hear this Victoria. Last summer we had a weekend in Paris staying near La Defense, as we were leaving the Metro (near Notre Dame) I felt something (thought it was our son getting something out of my bag), thankfully turned around to find some woman with her hand in my bag. I screamed and shouted and she just looked at me blankly. Thankfully she hadn't got to my purse, but it still shook me quite a bit.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Jacqui. That must have been frightening - Paris is pretty safe most of the time but pickpockets are everywhere and you have to wonder how a thief would react being caught red-handed.

Celia said...

Hi Victoria, I found your blog via your comment on my husband blog (Seattle), it is very funny to read your post about my country and the city I lived for 5 years, but I am very surprised that the policemen were nice and helpful...maybe a french habit :)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi Celia,
Isn't it odd to read another person's words about a place you know well? I really enjoyed reading about Seattle on you and your husband's blog and I'd love to post a link to it here if you agree.

I wasn't so surprised that the police were helpful - I was REALLY surprised that she had a good sense of humour :-)

When did you live in Versailles?

Celia said...

Of course you can add a link!

I lived in Paris for 5 years and my husband for 10 years, the we met and move to Seattle... my gosh these 2 cities are so different, I love both of them, we learned how to live w/o stress, no hurry to enter in the bus, a very organic life, I start to do sport!! :)

We were very lucky to discover Seattle!

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thank you so much, Celia.

And I am so pleased that you like Seattle. It's a beautiful city. I feel really blessed to have lived in Paris and now Versailles. Both are great places to have gardens. :-)

susan said...

Oh these precious pieces of paper! I applied for French nationality when I married my husband quite a number of years ago and was living in a very small town in the north of Saudi Arabia. Quite complicated procedure, but apparently easier and quicker than doing it in France. Lots of translations needed of my British documents into Arabic, then into French. (Small anecdote, I 'signed' for my papers using my fingertips dipped in ink....women's status in Saudi Arabia being another story...).
Anyway, today's story is that I lost my French ID card a few years ago whilst living in France. So of course applied for a new one, and was asked to prove that I had French nationality, and to supply my personal documents. It turned out that my birth certificate that had been translated in Saudi from English to Arabic to French had an error on it. My father's name had been copied as Daniel, when in fact his name was David. So of course any applications I was making through Nantes (computer based centre which issues birth certificates etc. ) were being refused....I didn't exist!! After many weeks of trying to find a 'real person' to explain my predicament to I was eventually told that the only solution was to return to the 'town hall' (mairie) where I'd made my original application....oh yes, excuse me but that's in Saudi, and I'm now in France.!!
Now, having been living in France for some years and only travelling in Europe I hadn't renewed my Britsh passport, and found myself literally 'sans papiers'.....and feeling very vulnerable.
I decided to go along to my local 'prefecture' to plead my case. Having arrived there I was redirected to the 'foreigners' waiting room....small door at the back of the building. Here I had a very humbling experience finding myself to be the only European person in the room...amongst seemingly many other 'sans papiers' candidates.
I'm almost ashamed to say that I felt a huge feeling of relief, and jumped at the opportunity when a French lady working in the office walked through the room and looked at me asking what I was doing there (in a tone of 'what's someone like you doing in a place like this?')
She ushered me into her office where I poured out my story (almost in tears...what a whimp!!) and she answered that it was a ridiculous situation and that she would sign the required paperwork for me!!!
What a lesson in life...i now treasure my 'papers' and guard them with my life....I have renewed my British passport (!) and I have great (or greater) sympathy for the unfortunate people in our society that don't have a choice of 'who they are'.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

That is a great story, Susan. I think many of us go through life not ever thinking that one day we might have to prove who we are and what our status is. "Of course, I'm a citizen of X country," and we think no more of it.

One of my grand-fathers was put in this position when he was applying for an American passport a long time ago. He was born in a place that became a part of the U.S. after he was born and he didn't have a birth certificate or anything official to prove he was a U.S. citizen. The only document he could produce was the family Bible. He did get his passport before he died but it was quite the administrative nightmare.