Topless at the Immigration Office

It is official! I am official!

Yep, as of 10am yesterday the French Government declared me healthy and said I am allowed to stay here to continue eating baguettes, wandering the Rues of Paris and spending Euro…they emphasized the spending Euro part J.

The visa process here in France has been two fold.  First I had to trek to San Francisco from Seattle to apply for my year long visitor visa at the only French consulate on the western side of the USA that issues visas (I believe the only other one is in NYC).  Second I had to register my “permanent” address with the OFII (Office Francias de l’Immigration et de l’Integration) and wait for a letter back from them with a time for me to come in for a medical check-up.  True of governments around the world, both steps involved an appointment at a sterile government office in an obscure location and a tax.

Here she is…the lovely OFII office in central Paris.

My original appointment with the OFII was August 24 at 9am.  The letter detailed where to go and what I must bring…including a 340 Euro timbre (stamp) that I could purchase online.  Shocking! And an important detail that the French Consulate of San Francisco’s website seemed to leave out.  Looks like I won’t be eating as much fromage this month.  That was trauma #1.  Trauma #2 was that the appointment fell during my trip to St. Tropez (which I am on the train heading towards RIGHT NOW!).  “Uh, where is the website or instructions to change the appointment time?” I kept repeating to myself as I scoured the 5 page letter, “Surely they can’t expect everyone to make appointments assigned without regard to schedule or availability.”  There were no instructions, no website…but there was a phone #. Trouble.  I knew enough from trying to contact the consulate in the USA that getting a French bureaucrat on the phone was akin to finding a French person who likes their first lady, Carla Bruni.  Near impossible. True to form NO ONE EVER answered the phone for 2 weeks.  I even had some French friends calling on my behalf but no luck…for none of us.  So with 2 business days left before my trip and definitively missing my appointment, I walked to the OFII office near the Bastille in the 11 arrondisement.

When I got there the office was open! Perfect!  However I noticed the receptionist being incredibly unsympathetic to the man in front of me.  I don’t know what he was asking for, but he got the classic French shoulder shrug paired with the raised eyebrows and the corners of the lips turned down…the one that always means, “Nothing I can do about it.”   Great.  My turn.  I started in French, but she got impatient and started speaking English.  Better for me.

“Why!?” was the only thing she asked when I told her I would like to change my appointment time.  Heart beating, I explained that I had a trip planned and I had received the letter after…blah, blah, blah.  She abruptly took my letter with the appointment time and picked up the phone.  The next words out of her mouth were, “Can you come Monday at 9am?” Oui, Oui, Oui!! 

Yesterday morning I was greeted by the same receptionist. Well, greeted may not be the right description.  I walked in and she looked up at me and told me to go up one floor and turn left.  I did, and found myself at another receptionist’s desk. This one was much more patient with me and my French.  She confirmed I had all the proper documents including the 340 Euro stamp, and then escorted me to medical check-up waiting room.  I had read on some websites that people had waited for 2 – 3 hours in this room…I decided to get comfortable. However, after a few minutes I heard, “Madame Jedda, Jennifer.”

At the first stop I learned I weigh 52 kilos and am 67 centimeters high.  The nurse learned I have perfect eyesight as I read the smallest letters on the eye chart while wondering if I should really be saying the letters in French.  However, I did get to practice my French reading skills when she continued the eye exam by asking me to read French text  while covering one eye.  Good thing the French government doesn’t deny visas based on pronunciation skills J.  After I assured her I had health insurance from my home country, she escorted me into a little closet with a bench and mirror and told me to get undressed for my xray.  Uh, okay…all the way undressed??

No, No,” she said, “Just top off and bra.”

Oh…got it. Thirty seconds later I was topless in my little closet looking around for the nice open backed hospital robe that I fully expected to find since I am now vulnerably naked in a cold, concrete, public service building.  Nope, no matter how many times I turn the 360 degrees on my heels in the one meter squared space, no robe appeared.  Clearly I don’t come from a culture where topless bathing is as common as baguettes at meal times.  I took a big breath and looked in the mirror. “Not a big deal, Jen.  You can do this…and you look pretty good naked. J

After the pep talk, I got the knock on the door.  The opposite side of the closet opened up to a big, blue room with a large x-ray machine at the opposite side.  A heavier nurse completely covered from neck to ankles in a white robe greeted me with a warm smile and directed me and all my nakedness to the furthest part of the room.  I pressed my body up against a white screen, breathed in, held it and waited for the click of the button indicating my chest x-ray was complete.  I strutted my stuff back to the closet and slid my top back on. That wasn’t SO bad. I survived! And it was good practice for beach time in Saint Tropez, I guess. J

My appointment ended with a final stop with another nurse who looked at my x-ray and took my blood pressure.  No problems. Then I and my chest x-ray were walked to a little glassed in office. The upstairs receptionist who spoke French with me was sitting behind a computer.  Almost done!  I got to practice my French a bit more by asking if I was eligible for the French government to send me to French classes…nope, not with a visitor visa… for that I would have to apply for the “carte sejour.” L  But I did learn that if I want to extend my visa it will be entirely possible!  I will just have to meet with the Prefecture about 3 months prior to the expiration of my current visa.  I let out a little squeal of excitement.  She then took my passport and adhered my OFFICIAL OFFICIAL visa stamp (apparently the one that SF consulate used a page for was just official)…I am going to have to get more pages for my passport.

This is the new visa stamp in my passport…and I am quite proud of it.

I used the metro ticket to cover my address…don’t need a stalker 🙂

I walked out of the OFII office with a certificate of my health, a new stamp in my passport, and an x-ray of my chest.  However, I didn’t walk out with any new found confidence that I would be doing anything topless anytime soon.  I guess I am not that French yet.  Perhaps I will need to extend my visa.

Walking home, I got a text from a French friend of mine that read, “It is my pleasure to welcome you to France.”  Ah, it is nice to be welcomed, and I am still loving every second I spend here.

NOW the pool at my St. Tropez hotel and the clubs brimming with beautiful people await….gotta maximize this visa now that I have it!

The pool at our hotel in St. Tropez…actually I am posting this blog as I sit next to it.

The sun is perfect...J’adore France!