With our hopes high, we pulled together all the information that the OFII requires and set off on the hour and a half journey to their office in Montpellier.
The drive took us past rolling vineyards bursting with green foliage and occasional glimpses of the aqua blue waters of the nearby Mediterranean. The time passed quickly and before we knew it, we were leaving the péage and heading into the maze that is Montpellier. We made a few wrong turns but finally found our destination, parked the car and entered an unkempt building.
A small elevator at the end of a dark, narrow corridor took us up to the OFII office. We entered a small waiting room. A tall, curved reception desk at the far end was empty so we joined the other people patiently awaiting the receptionist’s return.
The wait was short…..a slim, middle-aged blond woman soon appeared and motioned for a group of three students to join her at the desk….its curved lines of light wood a friendly but firm reminder that you are still “out” of the system. The students quietly explained their situation. Since we couldn’t understand a word they were saying, we knew their French was way better than ours. We looked at each other nervously. There was some problem with the students’ paperwork. The more questions these young people asked, the more annoyed Ms Receptionist seemed….and the louder and faster she talked. She motioned for them to return to their seats.
OH MY GOD! WHAT WERE WE THINKING?? We can’t go head to head with the OFII! We’ll be eaten up alive!
But before we could slink out and quietly leave, the finger of Ms Receptionist was pointing our way…..it was our turn. We gathered our paperwork and approached the desk, feigning more confidence than we had. Hopefully, we started our conversation with “Parlez-vous Anglais?”
“Non” was the sharp response.
I don’t know where it came from but I heard myself say, “Nous devon avoir un nouveau rende-vous” (“We need a new appointment”).
“D’accord” (“Okay”) answered Ms R.
So far, so good.
But then Ms R started asking rapid-fire questions…..AAAIIIEEE! We couldn’t understand one word of what she was saying.
Quickly, I turned around…..there were even more people in the waiting room now. “Does anyone speak English?” I pleaded. One of the young students sadly reported, “I speak English, but I don’t speak French.” OH NO! We thought they could speak French. If they were chewed up and spit out, what would happen to us?
But then…..a glimmer of hope as a scruffy, shaggy-haired young man came forward. “I speak English” he quietly said. He listened to the receptionist and tried to tell us what she was saying but even he, French born and bred, couldn’t help us. This woman didn’t speak French…..she spoke OFII!
We were on our own…..us against Ms R. I really don’t know how I divined what was being requested…..perhaps it was years of working in an office or perhaps it was just plain, old common-sense…..but somehow I knew what she wanted.
I pulled out our copies of the Consulate’s paperwork (wishing I knew enough French to tell her that the originals should be somewhere in her office…..where we sent them back in August).
She looked at the copies and smiled. She was happy!
But her happiness was short-lived…..she wanted something else. Our young translator couldn’t decipher her request……ahh, but once again, I knew. I gave her the letters we had received from the OFII.
She smiled again and sat down at the computer……oh, happy day! We just might pull this off!
But no! She frowned and stood up.
Things had been going so well…..what had changed? Without her saying a word, I knew what the problem was. She had seen the date on the letter. I knew what she was thinking….. “October? What cretins come here seven months late? I can’t be bothered with this.”
Quickly, before another word was uttered, I whipped out our letter of explanation…..with the return receipt attached. She read it…..and sat down again. “D’accord” was her quiet response and she motioned for us to return to our seats.
Whew! That was a close one. We waited while others were called up. The young students were sent to a conference room with a handful of papers…..they asked our scruffy friend for assistance in translating the documents (good luck with that one). A young family was sent to rooms deep within the office…..they had made it past the desk! A nicely dressed gentleman arrived with a young woman….. he appears to be her lawyer. They asked and answered questions and left with no paperwork in hand. And then….two women appeared from the elusive, but sought after, back rooms and we were once again called up.
Ms R had softened her tone. “Il n’est pas possible aujourd’hui. Pouvez-vous revenir mercredi prochain?” Our brains took in the couple of words we understood.
Can it be? Is it true? We have an appointment for next Wednesday? Yes! Ms R then pointed to a calendar and asked “Matin ou après-midi?”
“Morning or afternoon?” There is a God! We quickly took the first appointment….8:30 am next Wednesday!
We soon found out why the other women had joined us at the desk. Ms R had rounded up anyone who could speak a little English. Sadly, their English wasn’t much better than our French, but we appreciated their efforts.
Ms R went through the list of things we need to bring to our appointment and was visibly pleased to see that we already had most of them with us. But when she pointed to “Proof of residence” I said, “C’est possibe un probleme…..It is posssibly a problem.”
All three women looked up in shock…..a problem? But everything was going so well! They seemed just as desirous as we were to get us successfully registered in France.
What was the problem? Proof of residence is verified by a signed lease or electric and water bills….none of which are in our name so we’re using the boat as our official residence. This met with the Consulate’s approval…..would the OFII agree?
As I pulled out another piece of paper, I said “Nous reston sur notre bateau…..we are staying on our boat.” Then I showed them a copy of the boat’s title. They looked at it….then they looked at each other. “Un bateau?” one of them asked. “Porquoi pas?” (“Why not?”) said another. Then they laughed and said they would see us next week.
I think we’ll be ok.
“But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes”