Mornings at the Préfecture 

This is a lot harder to do when I actually have a job.

Two years ago, I had time to waste an entire day sitting in various chairs, waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn.  This year, I’m writing this post from outside the préfecture, where I’ve been waiting for about an hour.

Let us discuss the scene.

I arrived at 7:45, an hour and fifteen minutes before the préfecture usually opens. Already there were about a dozen people milling around. Someone had created a sign-up sheet, and as I write, I’m betting people will just make a run for it at the door. Fake sign up sheets are popular at various fixtures around Paris. My “favourite” example is a cartel of old people who claim that there’s a sign up sheet for rush tickets to the Opera.

I’m betting that this sign up sheet us useless, just like the Opera “line”…. But I still signed up. Number 20. Not a good number.

Here’s how I imagine this will go.

The security guard will arrive after 9, and unlock the single person gate. Multiple people will attempt to rush the gate, and we will all proceed to run, like cattle, undignified, up the ramp to the préfecture’s doors. The people who are sitting here with canes will certainly be left behind, only to arrive after the line has formed. Someone will attempt to enforce the sign up sheet, and seethe with anger when the security guard does not care even a little bit.

I had hoped to be able to deposit my dossier on Friday morning and go on to work afterward. Depending on how things go this morning, I imagine that I will not be able to do that. Instead, I’ll probably have to sit for another 6.5 hours in this nightmare building, for the privilege of dropping off some papers.

Depending on if I can actually get a relatively decent spot in the line today, and depending on how the security guard treats the sign up sheet, I could conceivably arrive at 6am, to hopefully see a bureaucrat by 10am. Four hours, for the sake of then turning around and going to work… I may as well arrive at 9, like I did two years ago, take the number, and work remotely.

Hours later, here’s how this actually went.

People kept arriving and writing their name on the list. By the time 9am rolled around, there were 50 people on the list. An administrator actually opened the gate for us, and we hurried to the front of the building. No one actually ran, which was heartening.

There was a great kerfuffle at the door. Many people who arrived after 8am were crowded up at the front, and the administrator did not care at all about the list. She literally said, “we do not manage the line, you need to manage yourselves” and went to open the separate door for the people picking up their licenses. The crowd began to argue, before accepting the list.

I was near the front of the door, and a man insisting that I had arrived after him (as though I had not, in fact, put my name on the list well before he rode up on his bicycle) and that I would go to the back of the line for “civility.”

I will not be giving up my place in line, which I received because I arrived before him, for civility.

The person who was number 9 began reading out the names, and handed it off to number 21. This enraged the “civility” man, but guess what? I’m still number 20, and I’m still in the line. He kept bothering me before number 18 said, “She arrived just after me, she sat next to me, this is her place in the line.”

They bring people in 10 at at time, so I was admitted in the second wave with numbers 11-20. I ended up receiving waiting slip number 21, as the crowd admitted a man with a broken ankle in before his number was called. Civility isn’t hard, y’all!

I was texting one of my brothers during the experience, so I have a reasonable account of the situation. By 9:14, they had seen 10 people at the two windows. Several confused French people looking for their driver’s licenses asked some of us what numbers we were holding, and whether or not they could go up to the window before us…

Oh sweet summer children, to have never known the sting of the French bureaucratic process for foreigners! First of all, that’s not even your window, second of all, there are two giant screens announcing the numbers and respective windows for each service. Listen to the context clues!!

By 9:22, I was up at the window, face to face with the guy who actually processed my dossier two years ago. This was also the man who told me in May of 2015 (after my third panicked visit to the préfecture) that I must not come back until two months before my visa will expire.

I explained my situation to him: I’m still not sure if I’m renewing my student visa or if I will switch to a temporary work visa. I asked for the paperwork, and as he reached to get it, I pressed my 2015 translation of my birth certificate through the glass. “Can you confirm that I need to bring this exact copy when I submit my file?”

He glanced at it, and then back to my residence card, before quickly replying, “No, you don’t need your birth certificate again because you already hold the card.”

WHEN I TELL YOU THAT THE HEAVENS SANG!! I literally put my hands into the air and told him, “You are my angel!” because he saved me from overcomplicating my dossier with a 2015 copy of my birth certificate, and from spending 100 euro at the translator to get the 2017 stamp on the same information.

As I thanked him for the information sheet, he looked at my card again, “Don’t come back until July, OK? And remember, we don’t take appointments.”

I was walking down the ramp of the préfecture by 9:30, and on the train to work shortly thereafter. I’ll post the list he gave me this weekend, and on Monday I will be (hopefully!) back at the préfecture before the crack of dawn to hand in my paperwork for my fourth year in France.


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