mercredi 30 avril 2008

Bush, the French DMV,my grades in high school and how all these things are connected

I graduated high school in 1990. I remember needing my high school transcript to gain admission into college that same year, but to the best of my recollection, that is the last time I ever needed it. Well, skip forward 18 years and I’ve needed it once again: this time to be allowed to drive in France. Logically, we wouldn’t want to have any high school dropouts on the roads over here: it’s well known that dumbasses cause accidents, after all.

I should start off by saying that I don’t really need a driver’s license over here since I don’t own a car. On the rare occasions when I rent one, my US license will do. But ever since I found out that Florida and France have a license reciprocity scheme, I figured I might as well get one, knowing that European drivers’ licenses are notoriously difficult and expensive to obtain. Getting a drivers license here involves paying many hundreds of euros for many hours of drivers’ training, and I’ve met many a foreigner who has been driving in their own country for ages who has failed the driving test over here. The testers here apparently get an almost sexual thrill from flunking foreigners. According to a friend of mine, it’s all a racket to feed more business to the “auto-ècoles”.

So the idea that I could just trade my Florida license (which a properly trained pomeranian could probably obtain without too much difficulty) for one of these precious and pricey items instinctively seemed like a good deal.

The adventure begins when I go down to the “prefecture” (same place we go to for our immigration papers: this is a highly centralized country), wait for a while in line and explain my situation to the clerk. This was back in February. He then gives me an appointment to come back in April and gives me a list of all the papers I will need to bring with me. This list includes all the usual “attestations”, including, of course, my electric bill. That’s all standard stuff. The more complicated part was that I needed: a certified translation of my US license as well as an “attestation” stating when I obtained my first license in the state of Florida. (the date my current license was issued is irrelevant). The man told me I could get this “attestation” from the US embassy. I tried to explain to him that the US embassy, a part of the federal US government, was unlikely to be able to certify licenses issued by the government of the state of Florida, which is, for all intents and purposes, just as administratively “foreign” as the Kingdom of Tonga. Here in France, of course, everything is centralized so the gummint is the gummint is the gummint.

So I call the US embassy to see what kind of stamped, official-looking document I can get from them. I’m of the theory that any document that looks official and has lots of stamps on it will do the trick with the French bureaucrats. The US embassy tells me the best they can do is have me write a sworn affidavit and notarize it for me. Good enough, thinks I, so I take a morning off of work and go stand in line with all the Haitian visa seekers, empty my pockets, hand over my cellphone to the biggest, meanest looking Filipino I’ve seen in my life, go through metal detectors, assure everybody that I’m not Osama bin Laden and I don’t have a bomb so I can then sit in a room with a third-world dictatorship-esque picture of El Presidente Bush staring down at me from the wall. It wouldn’t be so creepy if there wasn’t another one of Cheney right next to it. His eyes follow you around the room just like the Mona Lisa’s.

It turns out that the US embassy actually has a special form for this purpose (wish they had told me that on the phone). Basically I get to translate my own drivers license into French and the kind State Department officials will put a little stamp with an eagle on it, all for the low, low price of 30 euros (note to self: nice gig if you can get it). Among the fields to fill on the form is: date of issue of initial license. Now like I said, I don’t know the date of issue of my first license and it doesn’t say it anywhere on my current license, but oh well, I assume it was sometime near my 16th birthday, so I pick a random date in 1989. Voila, the date I just pulled out of my backside is officially Bushisized and I’ve got my translation and my attestation all in one shot.

I take another late morning from work to go to my appointment at the prefecture. I hand over all my prized documents and the lady shakes her head and says “non, non, non”. In a World War II movie, this is the bit where I would hear “Ihre Sokumenten sind nicht in Ordnung” and I’d be dragged away by goons. “How can you prove that you’ve actually been in the country for more than six months?” she queried. I point to my six month old electric bill. “Yes, but that only proves that you’ve had an apartment here, not that you’ve been living here. You could just be keeping an apartment here while living elsewhere.” Of course: doesn’t everybody summer in Paris and winter in Mustique? And then the rather more curious “how can you prove that you were living in Florida on the date that you obtained your first license?” (yes, remember? The date I made up) I didn’t dare ask what relevance this has to anything. Maybe I just popped by the Florida DMV during a layover between Mustique and St. Tropez. The conclusion is that I need to come back with: six months’ worth of payslips proving that I’ve been working in France and proof that I was a resident of the state of Florida on February 2, 1989 in the form of a high school transcript. Kafka would be having a field day right about now. You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.

Since I’ve only been at my job for two months, this means I’ll have to wait four months until my next visit. On the plus side, I called up my high school and had an official transcript in my mailbox three days later. Thank you Gulliver Prep and the United States Postal Service. Maki decided to get her transcript, too, just in case, but she went to (gasp!) public school so she had to mail them a dollar bill (I’m 100% serious) and still hasn’t heard anything back. My parents will be glad to know that they got their money’s worth sending me to the Junior Colombian Cartel Country Club.

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