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.

14 comments:

phillippa said...

hi. you're supposed to get paid regardless of paycheck stubs for attending full time. you get paid more/less depending on your situation, including whether you worked previously (either overseas or here in France). to help them assess how much (more) to pay you, they ask for pay stubs and/or a letter from your previous employer stating contract terms (date started, date ended, salary). no proof means less pay (than if you can prove that you worked). sorry so lengthy; wanted to be clear.

Mary said...

Amy, I am so proud that you made it through that without offending anyone! My baby is growing up, ha ha. I am glad to hear that your golf-carting incident did not prevent you from staying in the country. Maybe the French prefer a woman with a sordid past?!

Fred said...

I have the regret to inform Phillippa and my wife that the X-ray machine is a decoy; it is just a regular camera. The pictures are posted on www.foreigntits.fr (France has to find a way to make money).
The X-ray that they shown you is the same one that they show to everybody, it belongs to a certain Mrs Malboro, I don't really know what happened to her.

ps: Did you really think that France has X-ray technology?
ps2: for those who actually tried the above link...pervert :)

Anonymous said...

I was laughing when I finished reading Amy's blog. But I actually had tears in my eyes after I finished laughing at Fred's comments. Ya just don't see it coming when it comes from him. I'm so glad you two found each other!! :-) Miss you both!
Love, P

Anonymous said...

That was an interesting experience. Can you have duel citizenship?? That part about your eye exam was hilarious, only topped by Fred's comments., Mom

Cynthia Rae said...

This was a very interesting post! I couldn't help but wonder why I wasn't striped naked while being giving language course (hehehehehe)! I also found it interesting that you had to take a class on french culture and customs. I would have LOVED to have done this in Italy!

All I had to do was fill out a million forms and get my finger prints. Of course this took several months and many trips to the town hall, police station and where ever else the Italian government thought I should go.

So are you going to become a French citizen? I have been wondering what the benifits would be should I get my Italian citizenship.

Best wishes and good luck with all of this!
Cyn

sfgirl said...

i wonder if that camera had zoom....

Expat Traveler said...

Very interesting. Here in Canada its so different. You can marry but it doesnt mean you can live here or work here. You have to apply either inside our outside and basically it's a quota system that they say doesn't exist. You wait like a year with no income at all and then one day it just happens... You walk in, get asked 4 questions and your a landed immigrant... But you do have that aweful docs exam even before applying...

so interesting that its easier than the carte de sejour...

I took lessons in Basel/France/St.Louis border and it was a good class. I loved it. It was actually requested from the government but I had to paay for it...

Laura said...

Phil and Amy, you haven't been to the best integration course yet - the step by step how to scam the French government class. They try to dissuade all the 'mericans from attending, but whoa am I glad I went. You two MUST sign up! They also teach you all the Frenchy social services acronymns......and boy are there about 3 billion! But the quid pro quo for this class - they x-ray yer nether regions..............

Jennifer said...

I've recently gone through all of this myself (just had the civics class this week). Yours sounds more in-depth than my experience and like you, I was the only American in the class (and have been, at every step of this process).
Good times, huh?

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy,

I would like to know if you have done depend of the newer French immigration that the new French gouvernement is intoring or it is the old one.
I wonder about this.

Anonymous said...

Learn French if you want to work in France, one day or an another.

Sinon...

J'ai vu au dessus la date decembre 2005 donc je paries qu'il s'agit des anciennes lois d'immigration.
Je me demandes comment cela va tourner.
Le nouveau parle de revoir les lois d'immigration concernant le marriage.
Reste sur les gardes.

If you don't get the French Ask, your husband to translate for you and ask about Sarko or the other facho Le Pen to get your answer.
But French Immigration are gonna change, so for the others readers.
The way thing are explain by Amy will may be over in few months.
If you plain to go to France, wish you get as much right French get when they come in the US.

Anonymous said...

BTW...
C'est la merde....

funny title.

take care!!! people !!! take care !!!

avec amy said...

Addendum: As the commenter above pointed out (thank you!) requirements for gaining French citizenship through marriage have changed. France now requires (a) 4 years of marriage to a French citizen if the couple has lived in France without interruption during their marriage; or (b) 5 years of marriage to a French citizen, 3 years of which must be spent living in France without interruption. To my knowledge, there is no grandfather clause. The new law will apply to those couples applying after the enactment of the new law regardless of the date of marriage. For those wanting additional or official information, please refer to this website: http://vosdroits.service-public.fr/particuliers/F2726.xhtml