Friday, June 10, 2011

A Very Boring Post about Multiple Trips to Government Offices, a.k.a. A Journey into French Bureaucracy

To stay in France for more than three months, foreigners must obtain a Carte de Séjour. Each Carte de Séjour is good for exactly one year, and can be renewed annually. Our first Carte de Séjour expires on June 20, 2011. We began the renewal process in April.

David, who is attentive to details, scoured every possible Internet site to determine what we needed to do to renew our Carte de Séjour. He talked to teachers and co-workers. He meticulously assembled heaping piles of paper work. He printed off an official list of places that we could go to submit our application. The top two locations on the list were the Préfecture in Evry and the Sous-Préfecture in Paliseau. On May 3rd we started our adventure.

The following is a true story:

Attempt #1: Tuesday, May 3, 2 p.m.-We arrived at the Préfecture in Evry. The receptionist told us that we had to come in the morning to submit an application for renewal. We asked what time we should arrive and we were told, "We open at 9 a.m." We left.

Attempt #2: Monday, May 9, 2 p.m.-Since we have classes in the morning, we decided to see if the Sous-Préfecture in Paliseau accepted applications in the afternoon. We stood in line for 2 hours. We did not move one inch. We left because it was time to pick up our boys from school.

Attempt #3: Thursday, May 16, 8:50 a.m.-We returned to the Préfecture in Evry. Since we arrived ten minutes before opening, we assumed we would be two of the first people in line. We could not have been more wrong! Piles of people were already in the queue, and David noticed that some people had numbered tickets in their hands. At 9 a.m. they opened a gate and started calling numbers. People with numbers were let in, and then the gate was shut again and all officials disappeared. Hundreds of foreigners were left standing outside, and they were very angry.We went to nearby police officer (many were standing around, obviously there to "keep the peace") and asked about what had just happened. He told us that the Préfecture only lets in 150 people per day, and that only those with numbers get in. We asked when the numbers were distributed and he said, "They start handing out numbers at 7 a.m."

The following Monday David had to go to a Church Planter Training Seminar in Switzerland for two weeks. We had hoped to have our Carte de Séjour renewed BEFORE he left, but alas, it was not to be. It became priority 1 the minute David returned to France.

Attempt #4: Monday, June 6, 6:30 a.m.-We arrived at the Préfecture at Evry and joined about 10 other people who were already gathered outside the main entrance. It seemed like we were well positioned to get one of the 150 available entry tickets. At 6:45 a.m. some policemen came by and told us that the line for those who needed to renew their cartes de séjour was around the back. We casually walked around to the back of the building, only to find that the line stretched for 75 meters and had over 250 people in it. UGH! We got in the line to see how it all played out. We met Todd, a fellow American. We asked people towards the front of the line what time they had arrived at the Préfecture. We learned that those who were poised to get tickets had been standing in line since 2 p.m. THE PREVIOUS DAY. Todd and David came to the conclusion that they were going to have to spend a night in line if we were ever going to get tickets. They exchanged phone numbers and decided to do the overnighter together.

We talked our colleagues, Bill and Kristie, who were also needing to renew their cartes de séjour, and we formulated a plan. David, Bill, and Todd would spend Tuesday night together in line, and Kristie and I would join them on Wednesday morning, since husbands and wives can get in on the same ticket.

Attempt #5: Tuesday, June 7, 8 p.m.- David, Bill, and Todd met outside the Préfecture. A group was already gathered and an unofficial sign-up list was being passed around because the police would not permit anyone to line up until 9 p.m. At 9 p.m. the guys got in to the queue. David was grateful for the conversation and camaraderie. He was also thankful for the local Kebab owner who dropped by at 5 a.m. and handed out free sandwiches to everyone in line.

Wednesday, June 8, 6:30 a.m.-Kristie and I make a run for café and croissants before joining the men. At 7:00 numbers were handed out, and our group of guys received numbers 42, 43, and 44. It was a cool morning, and the crowded line offered some insulation against the weather. Finally, at 9 a.m., they started calling numbers. Once we were "in" we were told to wait in the Pre-Accueil for our numbers to be called. Thirty minutes later, David and I were at the window. A woman looked over our documents, gave us new numbers: 718 and 719, and directed us to another waiting room. There were 6 windows, but only 2 were opened. At 11:30, one of the windows closed. At 11:45, Bill and Kristie's numbers were called. We were next. After a few minutes, Bill and Kristie were waving us over. They were still seated at the window, and they were being told that they could not renew their cartes de séjour at this Préfecture. They were being told that they had to go to the Sous-Préfecture in Paliseau. And that the same was true for us. We protested. We told them that THEIR website said we could come here. They informed us that the website had not been updated, but as of May 1 of this year, people who live in our villages must go to the Sous-Préfecture in Paliseau. Why didn't the woman at the first window tell us this? Who knows. Then they handed us a piece of paper with the NEW rules on it. They stamped it, signed it, and told us to take it to the director at Paliseau. (Todd's application was accepted.)

Attempt #6: Wednesday, June 8, 12:00 p.m.-We went to the Sous-Préfecture in Paliseau. There was no line because the Sous-Préfecture does not do Cartes de Séjour renewals on Wednesdays. The receptionists told us this in no uncertain terms. Then we showed her our piece of paper with the stamp from the Préfecture and she called her boss. He was at lunch, but she told us we could come back in two hours.

Attempt #7: Wednesday, June 8, 2:00 p.m.-We returned to the Préfecture in Paliseau. The director was in. He listened to our tale, looked at our stamped piece of paper, and told us to come back on Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. He told us to get in line and to take a ticket, but that would just be a ruse to keep up appearances for all the other who would be waiting. He promised that he would come and find us and take us in first thing. He said to make sure that all of our documents were in order. David asked the director if he would look over our dossier to be sure that we had everything that we needed. He looked. Yes, he assured us it was in order, save one thing: Photocopies of David's pay stubs needed to be in my dossier as well as in his. We thanked him, and then went straight home to make the copies for my dossier. David, who had been awake for thirty-some hours, went to bed early.

Attempt #8: Thursday, June 9, 8:30 a.m.- When we arrived at the Sous-Préfecture there were already over 100 people in line. At 9 a.m. they opened the gate, we were poised to get numbers 114 and 115, when the director appeared and waved us around the crowd. He sent us to the back of the waiting room and discreetly handed us numbers 1 and 2. Bill and Kristie got 3 and 4. Within a few minutes he called David back. While David was with the director, two or three different people approached me, asking for information about the process at the Sous-Préfecture. I apparently looked like I knew something. I knew nothing. Ten minutes later, David came back out, shaking his head. One of the required documents for our dossier is proof of address. The instructions say that you can use an electric bill for this. David printed off three months worth of paid electric bills, but apparently they would not accept on-line billing. The director said that we needed something more official. Like receipts for our rent. He told us to get them and to come back tomorrow, same time. He promised to meet us at the gate again. (Bill and Kristie had their application accepted!)

Attempt #9: Friday, June 10, 8:30 a.m.-David and I lined up once again in front of the Sous-Préfecture with another 100+ people in search of a carte de séjour. We had brought our rent receipts, and made all the necessary photocopies for our dossiers. As promised, the director was there to meet us at the gate. The place was a total madhouse. He took both our dossiers, and asked us to be patient. He came back at 9:30 and asked if we had had our Marriage Certificate translated into French. David assured him that we did, and that there were copies of the official translation in both of our dossiers. He nodded and left again. At 10:00 he came back again and asked us if we had a bank account in France. David said yes, and asked if wanted proof--which David had brought along. But the director did not want our proof. He asked how our money got from our US account to our French account. David explained. The official seemed satisfied. He asked us to wait a few more minutes. At 10:15 he took David back to his desk. David signed a few things.He called me back next and I did the same. The director assured us that our application was complete. He took our phone number in case they needed anything else. He explained that we would receive notices when our cartes de séjours were ready to be picked up. Next, since out current cartes de séjours expire in ten days, he gave us documents that will serve as our official papers until our actual cartes de séjours are received. By 10:30, it was finished.

And it only took 30 hours of standing in lines.


  1. I was in the US Army in 1954 to 1956. Basic Training is really about learning to stand in line. After 8 weeks of this, they begin training you to be a soldier. First things first, they always said!
    CONGRATULATIONS. Praise God for the unique capability to stand.