Last week, I had to make a trip up to Metz to pay OFII (L’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration, the French Bureau of Immigration and Integration) a visit in order to finalize my visa. But of course, since this is France and they love bureaucracy here, it wasn't just as simple as that.
When you apply for a French visa, you have to begin the process of registering with OFII as well - you fill out a form with all your passport & visa info and then bring it with you to France. After you arrive in France, you need to fill out the second part of the form which lists your French address, and then you mail it in to the authorities. Whenever they get around to it, the government will schedule you a medical visit at the nearest OFII office, and then it's up to you to drop everything and show up when they say so. Sometimes it happens that the OFII visits get scheduled when you have to work, or when you're visiting a foreign land on vacation - but that doesn't matter to the government, because if you fail to show up for your appointments, you essentially become an illegal resident of France.
Thankfully, my appointment got scheduled on a Wednesday (one of my days off!), which alleviated a lot of stress for me - no need to rearrange my schedule! But still, getting to Metz for my 8:30am appointment meant hopping on a train at 6:35am and making the hour-long trek up to Metz, arriving only to learn that the one bus I needed to catch had just pulled away from the station...
The immigration visit has two parts: first, you go to the radiology suite at a hospital to get a chest x-ray, and then you go to the OFII office for the rest of your medical exam. My x-ray was scheduled for 8:30am, meaning that I only had one shot to catch the bus to the hospital before I'd have to walk all the way there. And as finding the one bus stop I needed among the rush-hour crowds gathered around the 10 other tramway/bus stops that arrive in front of the train station took longer than anticipated...I watched the C11 bus roll right past me - not a great way to start my already stressful morning!
Thankfully, I had planned ahead and printed out a map and some Google directions in case I got stuck walking to the hospital. They sure came in handy when I found myself running down the sidewalk next to the bus, hoping I'd be able to keep up with it until it came to the next stop...and of course I had no such luck! Out came my map, and I began an arduous 3 kilometer speed-walk to the hospital. Did I mention it was raining? And I now only had 35 minutes to make it there on time?
With cramped up legs, toting my messenger bag filled with all sorts of visa paperwork, sweaty and holding an umbrella, I must have been quite the hot mess when I bumbled into the radiology clinic at 8:25am - with 5 minutes to spare, no less! I was pleasantly surprised to find 9 other English teaching assistants there as well, so we were able to chat about our anxieties together.
I had heard horror stories about the x-ray portion of the day: the general idea was that you're led into an exam room, told to strip from the waist up, given nothing to cover yourself up with (i.e. hospital gown) and then led topless down a long hallway filled with various passersby to the room where the x-ray machines are - not quite my idea of a good time! Thankfully, this was false information; you were brought into a little dressing room, removed your clothes and then quickly stepped into an adjoining room with no one else but a nurse to have the x-ray done. So much less stressful than anticipated! X-ray in hand, I left the hospital with one of the other teaching assistants and we took the bus back downtown for our next appointment, scheduled for 10:00.
I relished the 12 minute bus ride back to the train station, grateful that I didn't have to trudge through the rain again! We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so we had time to grab a hot chocolate and a delicious pastry at a cute little salon de thé before heading across the street to the OFII building. The OFII visit was comprised of 3 different interviews: one with a doctor who checks your chest x-ray for TB, asks if you smoke and listens to your heart; the next with a nurse who takes your height and weight and checks your eyesight, and the third with someone who prints your carte de séjour (French residency permit) and affixes it in your passport. My visa alone is only good for 3 months without the carte de séjour, so in order to stay in France for the length of my 8-month contract, the OFII visit is mandatory.
Short of mailing in my Social Security paperwork in order to obtain a French social security number and be able take advantage of the country's wonderful socialist health care system, I'm pretty much finished with French bureaucratic matters (I hope!). It only took 2 months and 72 Euro ($98) to get my birth certificate translated...ugh. The hoops you have to jump through here to get anything accomplished are ridiculous, but I'm hoping that from here on out I'm home free!
|Centre Pompidou - Metz|
My day in Metz wasn't a complete headache, though. I got to check out the Centre Pompidou - Metz, a branch of the Pompidou museum of modern art in Paris, for free since I'm under 26 (why can't the US give amazing benefits to its young citizens as well?!), and then I met up with my roommate for a day of shopping in the city. And to top it all off, I now have an awesome chest x-ray to add to my collection of random souvenirs acquired in Europe...
|Marcel Duchamp's "Bicycle Wheel" (1913)|