After a restless night fraught with worry, we rose early and prepared for our 10 a.m. visa appointment.
Papers in order? Check, double-check and triple-check.
What to wear? Business casual…..freshly pressed (with a requisite scarf for me).
Transportation? BART could take an hour or more so, after checking traffic reports, we decided to drive in.
We left around 8:30 a.m. Traffic was heavy….the drive was slow but steady and we arrived at the parking garage near the consulate at 9:15. It was too early for our appointment so we walked down to Café de la Presse to steel our nerves with a café crème and croissant.
As the designated hour approached, we left the café and made our way to the consulate….we opened it’s non-descript door and entered a small vestibule. A petite woman in a crisp black uniform stood guard…..we were now in French territory. She asked for our passports and our appointment letters. These being in order, she then asked if we had all of our paperwork. We said we sure hoped we did…..she smiled and buzzed us into the inner sanctum……a small area a few steps down from the vestibule. A long, glass-enclosed counter lined the back wall…..only two of its many secure “windows” were being manned. To our left was an open area with 12-16 chairs arranged in rows facing a large screen. We sat down in a nearby bank of chairs that faced the counter. A small group of people was watching an instructional film…..I tried to follow along but the movie was in French and I was preoccupied with our imminent appointment. I watched the hopeful expats at the windows ahead of us as they answered questions and passed paperwork through the recessed tray….trying to glean any information that would make our appointment go more smoothly.
Soon, we were called up. A tall, handsome young man with a disarming smile greeted us. What was it about that smile? Ah, yes…..it was French flirting at its innocent best. Regardless of age, flirting is mandated. A smile, a joke, a toss of the head, a twinkle in the eye…..these are just as intrinsic to the French language as verbs and nouns. As I smiled back, I had no fear that this “rendezvous” wouldn’t be successful.
He perfuctorily went down the checklist…..asking a question here, making a comment there…..as we passed him copies of the documents he requested. Although we were instructed to bring two copies of each document, one copy was sufficient for his file (this was true last year, too). As we rummaged through the stacks of documents we had duly copied, we knew we’d be taking most of this “required” paperwork back home with us….I truly believe that it’s a test to make sure you read through all of the requirements (“Only one copy? Je suis désolé. You must make another appointment and return with the proper documents.”).
As we were working with our handsome visa assistant, a woman next to us was arguing with another consulate official. Her pleading went nowhere…..”I am sorry, Madam, but you overstayed your visa…..there is nothing I can do to help you.” Whew! Thank goodness we followed the rules!
Since we requested a six-month visa, we were asked to provide proof that we intended to return to the United States. Uncertain of when (or whether) we’d receive the visas, we hadn’t yet booked our return flights….so we were asked to fax a copy of our airline tickets to the consulate at our earliest convenience. We left feeling confident that we’d have our visas by our planned departure date of July 10th. We returned to the hotel, booked our flights, faxed a copy of the e-ticket to the consulate and sat back to wait.
The weekend brought fun times with friends and family…..and Craig’s first Father’s Day as a grandpa!
Much to our surprise and delight, we received our visas on Tuesday morning….we’re officially cleared to return to France!
“France, and the whole of Europe have a great culture and an
amazing history. Most important thing though is that people there know how to
live! In America they’ve forgotten all about it. I’m afraid that the American
culture is a disaster.”………Johnny Depp