Chapter One: make an appointment at the French Embassy in Washington, DC, submit to the paper-laden process and receive our long stay/long séjour visas for France.
Chapter Two: arrive in Paris. As far as we were concerned, this was going to be the end of our visa saga. Our passports appeared totally official with our silver-stamped visas, and even though no border control agents looked at them, we were good to stay for a year, right? Wrong! There’s a second step to this long séjour visa thing that had we read the fine print on our paperwork, we would have understood. As Joe so concisely put it in one of his daily updates he sends our kids:
Our cartes de long séjour (for which we completed multiple forms) require that within days of arriving in France, we submit brand new forms along with copies of the old forms plus copies of copies of said forms in triplicate so that they can all be paired up with the copies of the (almost) same forms we had previously submitted to the French Embassy in Washington in order to get our original visas. Once gathered, this assembly of forms then has to be mailed to some nondescript office of officialdom in Paris to be scrutinized and then filed away until at some indeterminate, and necessarily inconvenient, time in the future we will be summoned without delay for an audience with a Parisian functionary so that s/he can demand that a medical exam be performed by a French doctor to determine that we are healthy enough to stay in France. Excuse me? Might we have contracted TB on our trip across the Atlantic? (If consumption is their concern, they may want to check on the-woman-who-coughs living upstairs.) Unfortunately, when the time for our bloody interview comes up, we’ll likely be in Sicily or Sevilla or Marrakesh and thus our hard-earned visas will be summarily revoked, INTERPOL will have us on their most-wanted list and the current leaders of Al Qaeda will be after our heads.
But even this grim possibility doesn’t deter us from being dutiful citizen expats and going through the motions of completing and filing our papers. So, we head off for the Hôtel Pullman Tour Eiffel, just around the corner and a few blocks from our studio. Like all good travelers, we know that such modern, charmless hotels are good for two things: hailing a cab and providing a business office. So, a few euros later, we have all our required copies in an oversized envelope and we’re off to La Poste to mail our dossier. We cross our fingers as we drop the packet in the yellow boîte aux lettres and continue with our day. We’ve followed the rules, done what we’re supposed to and now it’s up to them to track us down.
We know that cutting through the inevitable red tape (la paperasserie) that precedes getting something from officious French civil servants is infuriating. We wonder, however, how persistent they’ll be about getting what they want from us. How hard will they work to contact us and lasso us in for our “mandatory” visa hearing? We’ll be leaving France in early November, will return for a week in April for the marathon and then won’t be back until June. They can’t deport us if they can’t find us, isn’t that right? In the meantime, we’ll carry on with our trip, not worry about visas and read the financial pages as we selfishly watch as the euro continues to fall.
Financial note: France is still a long way from cheap, but everything costs a bit less as the European debt crisis persists. The euro has gone down .10 points since we arrived such that the one-euro baguette that cost us $1.45 when we arrived three weeks ago is now down to $1.34. It’s anyone’s guess how long this will continue and who knows what will happen if the euro (and Greece) fall off a cliff? Perhaps the French won’t worry about dragging in expats for health inspections if the entire government is focused on bailing out their euro partners.