“Non, non,” the Immigration Overlord warned, eyes widening as I began to stack up folders of paperwork in front of her.
Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap. One pile for each member of the family.
“Non, non, non, non, non.”
Her palms flew up and her head shook from side to side as she took in the volume of work I was dumping on her desk.
“Oh là là! What is all this? It’s for a carte de sejour renewal? But it’s too many papers!”
She prodded my impeccably collated, impossibly complicated application documents as if they were coated in anthrax.
This was not starting well.
I tried to explain that we were providing exactly what her colleague (20 years younger and quite a lot nicer) had last month told us to bring in.
I may as well have been a fart.
Her features sucked into her face and she rolled her eyes at her wisecracking colleague: “I don’t know what she’s talking about – can you believe all this?”
Mr Wisecrack snorted and made another of his priceless comments that made no one but himself laugh, while she started going through the papers, groaning: “N’importe quoi. N’importe quoi. N’importe quoi.”
[N’importe quoi can mean quite a few things including “whatever”, but in this context perhaps: “What is all this crap?”]
She started firing papers back under the glass towards me.
“I don’t need this.”
First came the letter of means from our accountant. Next was the tenancy agreement. Then the photocopy of Sabbatical Man’s $NZ100 original, full-colour, officially translated, New Zealand Government-certified birth certificate. Next were the photocopies of our French Government-issued medical certificates.
Back came the originals of the bank statements.
“Why are the originals in here? We don’t need these!” she snapped.
(“Take originals of everything,” other survivors of French immigration ordeals had warned. “Leave nothing to chance.”)
The ghost of a perfectly good tree sighed and looked heavenward as the rejected papers continued to slide back under the glass.
“N’importe quoi. N’importe quoi,” she kept saying as she ripped the staples from my carefully arranged subsets of paperwork.
My hackles started to rise.
“Madame, we are simply bringing exactly what we were-“ but Sabbatical Man shushed me and doffed his hat.
“Yessim,” he said, grinning like a fool. “Our mistake. Our mistake. Very well. Ha, ha, ha.”
What the hell happened to his back bone?
Still, when I thought about it, forbearance was in order because my visa is about to run out and I have a trip to New York planned at the end of this month. Without the cooperation of the Prefecture, I won’t be allowed back into France.
I bit my tongue.
“All the applications are the same as this one?” the woman asked, poking the other folders.
My tongue was bleeding now, so it was up to Sabbatical Man to smile apologetically. “Why yes, Madame, silly old us – what idiots we are.”
“N’importe quoi,” she said again, but I noticed that her glance towards Monsieur le Groveller was a little warmer than before. And he is devilishly handsome – even in the same shirt he has been wearing five days a week for the last year.
Sabbatical Man and I got busy removing staples and gathering up rejected papers for recycling.
Ten minutes later the Overlord delivered her verdict.
Everything was in order – we just needed two extra photocopies of our passports for the kids’ applications, an extra copy of our proof of residence and all would be complete.
I explained that we would be travelling later in the month – not mentioning that I would also be making a trip on my own, because the way she was eyeing up my husband made me think this might be too much information.
“Well, you’ll need your Récépissé de Demande de Renouvellement form as soon as possible,” she said. “I will make a note and we will send it out to you next week.”
Now that almost sounded like efficiency.
She and Sabbatical Man smiled pleasantly at each other and I remembered the advice of our French friend and teacher: “If the officer is a woman, let Sabbatical Man do the talking. Other way around if it’s a man.”
The woman handed back Small and Large’s folder, which required two extra pieces of paper and tucked Medium’s into an envelope.
“Ça, c’est impec [This one here is perfect]. I’ll keep it here and when you bring the others back with the extra photocopies we’ll have everything we need.”
And that was it – job was done by 10 am.
It will now take 45 days to process the forms.
As we walked away, scarcely believing that we might have had our application accepted in just two visits, my phone buzzed.
A very knowledgeable lawyer friend who has lived in France for years had just read yesterday’s blog.
“Remember, always look humble, say that you probably don’t have all the documents and that she’ll have to tell you [what is required]…At some point they’ll decide you’ve suffered enough and that the file is complete. Courage!”
I looked over at Sabbatical Man and doffed my cap. His back bone appeared to be back in place.
On the way home, we detoured through the market and discovered a stall we had never noticed, selling the most delicious dehydrated vegetable snacks.
We picked up a brochure for the festival celebrating the work of the Japanese film director Miyazaki and the Studio Ghibli – all our family’s favourite films will be shown on the big screen at the Institut de l’Image in Aix-en-Provence this month.
In the process we discovered a great library that we didn’t know existed and picked up a bunch of books for the boys.
As always in France, the fantastic bits outshine the annoying bits by a very long way indeed.