So, today I signed my "Integration Contract" with the French government. It went much more smoothly than I expected, but unlike my friends who live mere meters from me in Paris proper, I didn't get my actual carte de sejour handed over to me when it was all said and done. I'll still need to wait to receive a convocation from the prefecture to pick up my card once I've completed the obligations of my contract.
It was pretty much like any immigration "welcome day" would be. My appointment was at 8AM, which required a sleepy me to get get up two hours earlier than usual, but I made the most of it and picked up some warm, freshly-baked choquettes at the boulangerie on my way there. I arrived at the ANAEM office about fifteen minutes early, and had to stand in the foyer with about 20 other early-birds before the clock struck 8:00. Everyone seemed to be moody and pushy, and when the guy finally opened the doors for us to trickle in, it turned into a stampede of sorts. Each of us presented our convocation letters and were sent to separate rooms named after musical composers - I got Verdi, and ended up in a room of mostly couples, a few very young looking guys, one blond woman and a couple who apparently thought they were the only ones in the room when they decided to start talking and laughing like they were in their living room at home. After an introduction about how the day would pan out for us, we were shown a short video about the integration process in France (during which someone had to tell the noisy couple to shut the hell up because the death-stares coming from everyone else weren't working). Everyone working at the place (save the dude who was sorting us into rooms and yelling "putain, ça suffit!" at his co-worker) was really helpful and surprisingly pleasant. No one seemed to hate their job, and things went smoother than I expected during the three-and-a-half hours I was there. They even had fresh brewed coffee, which was a first in my experiences with French administrative offices.
After the video, we were called individually to meet with someone for an personal assessment of our "Frenchness." I sat down across a desk from a girl who looked about my age; she asked me to verify my name, nationality, marital status, address, languages spoken and education level. I didn't realize it then, but she was assessing my language skills to determine if I'd need French classes. She handed me a paper that had a place to fill out my name and contact info, and five fill-in-the-blank questions with a word bank of five words that included petit déjeuner, marché and reçoivent. Below that question was a question asking me to describe what my favorite meal is using at least five words. If I could write my name and address, I received 10 points, 30 points for the fill-in-the blanks, 30 for my favorite meal, and 30 for my ability to speak French. It was such a joke. I asked her if this was the only assessment that would determine if I'd be offered language lessons, and she told me that I speak fine, and don't need any classes since I'm not a debutante (i.e. total idiot who doesn't know how to spell my name or address). But, I realize I'm lucky to be able to "afford" language classes on my own, so I let the idea of getting free French lessons die, and I asked her about getting help to find a job. I think it surprises people to hear that I've had trouble finding a job. I'm not sure that it's really easy for people to understand how I can speak English perfectly and French at an intermediate level yet still not land a paying position. It's true, that just like living in the States, I could probably find someone to hire me to do something, but until recently, my French was barely passable for an interview. Even after giving me a funny look, the nice government employee told me that I should sign up with ANPE (the unemployment agency that works as an employment agency) and see if I could find a suitable job with my level of French, and if it didn't work out, they'd redirect me to ANAEM for further assessment. I was satisfied with that, knowing that I would be more serious about my job search after finishing my French classes, so I signed on the dotted line to bind my contract with France.
Then, I was escorted down to the medical room where I was ushered through the weight and measuring station (I've lost three pounds), the eye-test station (20/20, baby - with contacts), and then asked to strip from the waist up in a fitting room until someone emerged from the back door to take my chest x-ray. I was happy that they provided a blue, gauzy smock that kept me mostly covered, and overall it was pretty painless. After redressing, I was called in to see a doctor who asked me to once again take off my top, but let me keep my bra on. He took my blood pressure, did his stethoscope routine while I got dizzy from inhaling and exhaling deeply, and then asked me to redress so we could chat about my health. He asked me if I had my vaccines - "uh, yeah, I think so." I really can't remember the last time I had a vaccine or who gave it to me, so I wouldn't even know where to ask. He gave me a short lecture on making sure I get the appropriate tetanus vaccine every ten years and suggested I get my vaccination history during Christmas. He asked if I had any health problems, take any drugs or smoke. He asked if I did sports - to which I may have answered too quickly with a "no." I wanted to take it back and tell him that I've never walked so much before in my life, but it was too late and he was already giving me a lecture about needing to get proper exercise. So, I promised him I'd get back into Bikram Yoga [after the holidays, duh]. We chatted a bit about getting a job and about speaking French, and then I was done. On the way out, I was tempted to grab a female condom out of the jar at the check-out desk because I've seriously never seen one before, but I decided to Google it when I got home instead.
What I forgot to mention about my binding agreement with France is that I'm now required to sit in on two full-day (9 to 5) classes - one on French culture and one on French administration. What sucks about this, is that they're both next week, and not only do I have a phonetics exam and tons of new stuff going on in my grammar class, but it's Thanksgiving week! I planned to get so much done during the few days before the big day in preparation for Thursday, but instead of cooking cornbread and prepping veggies, I'm going to be stuck in a class learning about how the prefecture works. That really sucks! It just bothers me that going next week doesn't even guarantee that I'll have my carte de sejour before my recépisse expires AGAIN, meaning there's another dreaded trip to the prefecture in my near future. The way I see it, the only possible way these mandatory classes will be worth it is if they can offer insider tips on how to avoid French administration...or at least now to get what you need in less time.