We asked for a 7 am wake-up call but, wanting to make sure we weren’t late for our appointment, we set the alarm on the cell phone, too. We were tired, the bed was comfortable and the room was quiet…..we quickly fell into a blissful sleep.
The alarm sounded all too early…..literally, all too early…..it was still dark and we didn’t feel rested. Craig glanced at his watch….it was only 1:00 am! I grabbed the phone, turned off the alarm, verified that it was set for 7 am and puzzled over its mean-spiritedness until I noticed it’s current date and time….. 7:00 am-Feb 2, 2008! Cripes.
So much for a good night’s sleep…..after a series of short naps, we received our real wake-up call and prepared for our meeting with the OFII. We had a light breakfast in the hotel’s veranda…..downing copious amounts of coffee……picked up our paperwork, walked a few short blocks over to the OFII and arrived before the office had opened.
We waited in the foyer with an ever increasing number of young people. Sheesh! We must all have 8:30 appointments! The public entrance to the OFII is through an elevator…..that doesn’t budge until it’s turned on by the OFII…..so periodically, someone in the crowd would enter the elevator and push the first-floor button. If the person returned to the throng, we all knew the office hadn’t yet opened. Finally, after 8:30, two young women entered the elevator and didn’t return. The OFII was ready for business!
A number of us squeezed into the small elevator and were lifted up to the rooms that held our fates. We checked in with the receptionist and were told to wait in an adjoining room. Woo-hoo! We’ve already made progress! More and more people joined us in this room and we all waited. Before long, a woman wearing a white coat appeared at the door and asked for Mssr Vanderkamp. Craig got up and motioned to me. The woman shook her head, “No.” Another man was called and he and Craig left for parts unknown.
Ten minutes later, both men returned…..Craig, holding a large brown envelope, was chatting away with this woman. They stopped at the front desk and called me over. The woman was an x-ray technician who spoke English. She was discussing our “case” with the receptionist…..they had two suggestions: (1) skip today’s appointment (with its associated cost), return to the US for new visas and then reschedule our OFII appointments when we return to France or (2) go to our local Mairie (city hall) to request an extension to our visas. They didn’t know why the prefecture in Carcassonne had denied our request but said that the rules had changed recently and perhaps the prefecture was confused.
Hope! Once again, we have hope!
I was then called in for my chest x-ray…..told to undress from the waist up, led to a small box (like a photo booth…..but with a sliding metal door that locked from the outside). I was told where to stand and, after exhaling so deeply I thought the x-ray might show the wall behind me, the picture was taken and I waited until the x-ray was ready. I returned to the anteroom with my large brown envelope and waited with Craig until another white-coated woman called for us.
This woman…..petite and tom-boyishly athletic with curly, blond hair and chic glasses…..was a nurse who spoke some English. She started with me and asked for my vaccination record (not listed as a requirement on the OFII paperwork, but noted in many expat forums, so we came prepared). We had printed blank forms from the internet and filled them in as best we could…..we knew some of the vaccine dates and guessed at the others. I explained this to the nurse as I handed her the form…..she seemed pleased enough and moved on to the questionaire…..Have you had tuberculosis? Do you cough? Do you cough blood? What drugs do you take? Do you drink Coca-cola? Do you get your blood pressure checked? Have you had blood tests for sugar and cholesterol? And then…..the moment all women hate……time to be weighed. “Do you know how much you weigh?” she asked. “Trop (too much)” I replied. “Oui” she said. Ok, ok, I can take a little abuse if it gets us our OFII stamp. Then, it was Craig’s turn. We must have passed her scrutiny because we were once again directed to the anteroom to await the next hurdle.
It was a short wait…..another white-coated woman soon appeared calling our names. She introduced herself as the doctor and led us to her office. She was petite, brunette and had a very soft, feminine countenance. Her English was very good and conversation came easily. She looked at our x-rays, read the nurse’s report and asked us each a number of questions…..Do you smoke? Do you cough? Do you cough blood? Have you had any surgeries?
She continued with “Do you drink….”
“Du vin…wine” I answered, wanting to be honest but hoping it wouldn’t affect our status. “No,no” she continued…. “Do you drink Coca-cola?”
Wine is no problem…..but watch out for that Coke….it’ll kill you.
As she was taking my blood pressure, she asked how many children I had. “Two,” I replied. Then I asked, “Do you have children?” “Oui” she said. Then she said, “Douze.” “Douze (twelve)” I exclaimed! She laughed when she realized that I had misunderstood…..yes, she had children but twelve was my blood pressure! We all enjoyed a chuckle as the exam continued. Next, she asked me to “Open wide.” I was waiting for her to place a wooden stick on my tongue for a better look at my throat…..but no…..this was only to get a good look at my teeth! With a deeper appreciation for any horse that’s ever been sold, my exam was over and Craig’s began. We both passed with flying colors and were led to a smaller waiting room.
Soon, a very professional, stark-looking, middle-aged woman called us to her office. With her strong, slim body and dark ponytail, she looked more like a ballerina than an office executive. Her English was very limited but we were able to provide her with what she needed. Passports? Medical certificates? Tax stamps? Proof of domicle? All was going well until she started rifling through the mounds of paperwork on her desk. Uh-oh…..maybe the boat title won’t work as proof of residence. We waited while she continued to search. Finally, she looked up and explained she couldn’t find our OFII stamps. She called in the receptionist and they both looked through reams and reams of papers. We knew what the problem was…..the stamps had been prepared for our appointment in October. No one knew where had they been placed after we missed that appointment. Suddenly, an idea! They both left the room and returned with the stamps.
She placed them in our passports and stamped them. Voila! We are now legal residents in France…..until June 26th. She asked if we were going to stay and we explained that the prefecture in Carcassonne had told us we needed to return to the United States for a new visa. “No,” she said firmly. “You do not need to return to California. You must go to the Prefecture and talk to the Director…..and you must do it soon.”
With our passorts in hand and a song in our hearts, we sped back to the cottage and called our friend, Sue (who had offered her services as a translator), to ask her advice. She suggested that we start at the local Mairie and only go to Carcassonne if necessary. The Mairie is open from 8am-noon and from 5pm-7:30pm. This sounds strange to our American sensibilities…..but think about it…..the office is open in the morning for retirees and stay-at-home moms and in the evening for people who have full-time jobs.
We met Sue at the Mairie and a comely young brunette named Emilie listened to our request, took copies of our visas and OFII stamps and said she would contact the prefecture in Carcassonne on our behalf. She seems too young and inexperienced to stand up to the prefecture…..but perhaps her naivety will allow her to not be intimidated by the “powers that be.”
On the way back to the cottage, a vividly bright blue bird sped by along the canal. It was as fast as a hummingbird and as large as a finch……a beautiful creature that we had never seen before. We took this as a hopeful omen. We’ll know more tomorrow.
“Blue skies smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blue skies do I see
Bluebirds singin’ a song
Nothin’ but bluebirds all day long”