Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Immigrating is Fun

A few weeks ago I completed another step in my French immigration process with an appointment at the Agence Nationale de L’Accueil des Etrangers et des Migrations (ANAEM).

I arrived at 8:30 a.m. and was the last in line of about 40 immigrants. We filed in the main door where our appointment letters were reviewed by the receptionist before being shuttled upstairs to wait in another line where our passports were analyzed and our identities confirmed. After we were led to a large conference room and awaited the unknown.

A charismatic young Frenchman who seemed genuinely happy that we were invading his country (each year 100,000 foreigners move to France) offered a brief presentation. I seemed to be the only American, definitely one of the few English speakers. I knew because reading materials were distributed in French and English and only a handful of us requested the English version. We then watched a 15 minute film about La France and her people. (I used to wonder why Fred referred to objects in English as “her” or “him” as opposed to “it”. He was translating/transferring the “la” or “le” article from French. Another thing, which I’m sure is obvious to many of you, but I realized only a few weeks ago is Notre Dame = Our Lady. With all the Our Ladies of Guadalupe around California you’d think I’d have figured it out earlier, but I think that I’m expecting things to be different so the obvious is sometimes lost on me. Sorry for the digression).

After the film, we were rotated through a three step process. Mine went in the following order:

Step One: Administrative interview. The agent confirmed my paper work was in order (checked my temporary carte de séjour) and presented me with an integration contract (“Contract d’accueil et d’intégration”). In signing the contract, I agreed to (a) attend a full day of civic training on French culture, customs, politics, etc.; and (b) complete free French language courses. I didn’t have to sign the contract. I was told that it is looked upon favorably during the immigration process. In my case it probably wouldn’t have made a difference because I'm married to a French citizen. However, I definitely wanted the free language classes, and I figured if I signed a contract then I might actually complete them! According to E!, that’s how Oprah lost all the weight. She signed a contract with herself. (Don't laugh Melinda).

I’m working towards a permanent carte de séjour, similar to a green card. During my interview, it was explained to me that I can apply for French citizenship in one year. From what I understood, the requirements are (1) marriage to a French citizen for at least 2 years; and (2) hold a permanent carte de séjour for a minimum of 1 year. I believe the requirements can be satisfied in 2 years if the second year of marriage and the 1 year carte de séjour ownership run concurrently if any of you are relying on this information for your marriage of convenience. Caveat emptor: The information was explained to me in Franglish and I’m not licensed to practice law in France. [*Please see comments because law has changed.]

Step Two: Language Exam. I was provided with a written exam to assess my French language skills to determine how many course hours I'd be assigned. The options were 200, 400, and 600 hours. I tried to get the most hours because I’m greedy, plus I desperately need them. I speak like a Hopi Indian. Only in one verb tense. If something happened yesterday or is going on tomorrow, you won’t hear about it from me. Plus, Phillippa already went through the process and learned that if you get assigned a full-time schedule that the French government will pay you while you attend classes if you can produce recent pay stubs. [Correction: Please refer to Phillippa's comment. It's getting bad. Now I don't even understand things when they are explained to me in English!]

Armed with this inside information, I was ready to take advantage of the French system that I’d heard was so vulnerable to abuse. Apparently, it’s a talent with which the French are born. Not something that a foolish American could acquire in a few months. I was assigned 200 hours, part-time. I practically begged for more, but she said that I was a “false beginner” – at the top of the beginner tier. I guess that’s good, I’d hate to think that a semester of French at San Francisco Community College, some immersion courses at Alliance Française, 2 months of classes at Lutece Langue, 6 weeks of private lessons, and 5 years of dating/marriage to a Frenchman were all for nothing. It’s nice to know that this all paid off and I’m the top dog of beginners. It’s official: I’m slowwww! Anyway, she said that the free courses only go to intermediate so by the time I’m finished with my 200 hours, I’ll have “peaked out” in the public program and could go back to paying for lessons.

Step Three: Nudity. You know the French, they just can’t help themselves. Just kidding. This is a serious matter. I had my lungs checked. I had to go in a closet, strip from the waist up (just like old times at the Lusty Lady), go into the x-ray room, have my womanhood smashed against an ice cold x-ray machine, in the presence of two ice cold technicians. Thereafter, I met with a nice doctor who reviewed my x-ray, asked if I smoked, I told her not intentionally, only passively while eating in restaurants or walking down the street.

I also had my eyes checked. I stood on the mark and read the first line as instructed. The problem is I tried to do it in French. The second letter on the first line was a “U” (“ew”), which I mistakenly pronounced as an “E” (“eh”). The doctor appeared concerned and stopped me. He thought I was nearly blind (especially since I had on my far-sighted glasses to aid my performance). I explained the confusion and defaulted to English. I wanted him to write me a prescription to bring back to the language room: “Dear Language Exam Administrator: The half-wit standing before you cannot say the alphabet in French. Not even one letter. Please assign her the maximum 600 hours. Paid.”

I was finished by lunch time. Just as everything is in France. In all seriousness though, I think the process is fairly straight forward and for all that is said about French bureaucracy, it seems to be much easier to become permanent here than it is in the U.S. Just ask my maid back in Orange County.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Vive La France!

The night started with a serenade to Les Blues at Hôtel de Ville before we headed off in search of a bar to watch the final World Cup match between France and Italy.

*click photos to enlarge

We settled down at a brasserie on rue des Écoles, just down the street from the Sorbonne. I didn't realize until after we got home and looked at the pictures that establishing the fan zone in front of the "Trattoria Italiana" probably wasn't the best location.

There were highs. Like when Zinédine Zidane ("Zizou") scored the final goal of his career 7 minutes into the game, giving France the lead!

There were lows. Like when Zizou acted like a Zizi and inexplicably head-butted an Italian player, for which he received a red card and was expelled from the game. The final game of his career.

And in the end . . .

They lost. And broke the hearts of French children everywhere. Bastards.

Just kidding. C'est la vie! Our American friend consoled Fred with the saying often used in American sports: "There's always, next year". In this case, it's four years. But Fred got the idea.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Happy 6th of July (Sorry I'm Late)!

Allez Les Bleus! Allez Les Bleus! Let’s Go Blues! I realized that if I’m exposed to the same sentence over and over again everywhere I go for hours on end, I actually can learn French.

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As many of you know, France has made it to the final round of the World Cup championship. And this Sunday Les Bleus face the Italians in the final match. Fred and I watched France v. Portugal in the semi-final game last night at a bar on Boulevard Saint-Germain. We were joined by a couple who were visiting from San Francisco (friends of friends, who we now consider friends after some serious bonding went down as we walked to the Champs Élysées chugging a bottle of wine that they had purchased the day before on a Burgundy wine tour). I had always wondered what it would be like to travel to Europe as a care-free college student. Last night was probably the closest I’ll ever come to knowing.

At around 2:00 a.m. Fred and I found ourselves on Place de la Concorde, the metro had stopped running and we didn't realize buses were an option until we were nearly home. We would have had better luck hailing a cab on New Year’s Eve in the rain. Thus we started the long walk home and 2 hours later, after a few failed hitch-hiking attempts, we reached our apartment. We did manage to secure a ride for our friends. A 20-something couple kindly offered us a ride, we let the tourists take it as there was only room for two (plus the driver looked a little sketchy and I couldn’t stomach the thought of Bilbo being orphaned).

I really was having a great time. Soaking it all in. Before me a sea of people engulfing the Arc de Triomphe, next to me cars bursting with jubilant teens waving the French flag, the makings of a stage for the Bastille Day ceremonies partially erected on the Concorde, my euphoric French husband holding my hand. But, there was a part of me that was sad.

Sad because the 4th of July holiday had passed without a barbeque, without my friends or family, without my country (I made some deviled eggs and popcorn for lunch that day – the combination of which made me nauseous). Sad because I realized that if Fred and I decide to have children, they won’t have the same traditions and memories as me. It’s highly unlikely that our kids will smell lighter fluid and think of an old black Weber charcoal grill, play Paul Revere in a school play, or know the Pledge of Allegiance. Sad because in all the festivities of France’s victory, I realized that our kids likely will prefer le football over baseball (that's Fred up there on the far right, by the way). I love warm days, big beers, hot dogs, and the crack of the bat. It’s much more than watching a baseball game, it’s the feeling that comes with it. That little bit of Americana.

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I’ve also thought about the possibility that our kid could have an accent while speaking English (Fred believes this is inevitable). I don’t like the idea of that. I want my kid to speak like me (except for all the "likes" and "you knows" and "ums"), especially if I’m the one doing the heavy-lifting to get the kid here. I guess I could home school the child. We’d start every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance and he or she would be awarded the lead role in all theater productions. Our social studies class would take an annual trip to Washington D.C. I’d even offer French as a language elective (but only to appease Fred, and he'd have to teach it). I feel much better now. It’s late and I'm going to bed. Thanks for listening!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Joke's on me, again!

We watched the France v. Brazil match with a group of Fred's college buddies. Our friends' three year-old has the funniest habit. He loves to clean. His mom swears that she has no idea how or why it started, but it was hilarious and prompted me to offer free babysitting anytime. He was walking around the apartment with his napkin (which ironically was slightly dirty as he'd been wiping his mouth with it while he gnawed on some saucisson) and rubbing the sofa, the carpet, and the chairs, all the while repeating "C'est sale" - It's dirty. I had to laugh, especially since I could tell that the hostess spent a good deal of time cleaning the place before her guests arrived. Just as I had spent a good deal of time shaving my legs just hours before so I could wear a skirt. While the little guy rested from his cleaning spree, he brushed against my leg and exclaimed: "Ça pique" - That's prickly. I told his mom that I had just shaved, something I was proud of as it had been awhile. She tried to convince her son that my legs were "doux" - soft. But he was adamant and repeated it a few more times to make sure the entire party heard. I revoked my babysitting offer.