samedi 6 septembre 2008

Licensed to drive: the saga continues

Right as I am about to permanently leave France, the French bureaucracy has decided to give me one last gift of a humorous anecdote. Consider it the French state's contribution to this blog: it delays my having to come up with British-related humorous content.

You may recall my driver's license saga from a post on this blog back in April. If not, here is the link.

When I left you last time, I had been sent away to return with a high-school transcript proving that I was a resident of the State of Florida on an arbitrary date that I made up as being the date my first driving license was issued.

Fast forward a couple of months until sometime in June when I take yet another morning off work to go back to the "prefecture" with my transcript and five payslips proving I've been living in France for at least six months. The young lady looked through my documents and says "congratulations, you've been approved for a license but first you must go to a medical examination". She wanted to schedule me for an appointment in October, but I knew I'd have left by then so I come up with some story about how I'm going travelling for business for three months bla, bla, bla. Luckily, she had availability for Thursday the 4th of September (day before yesterday) early in the morning. She told me that as soon as I had the medical "ok" I could come straight back to her office and get my license.

On the 4th, I take the whole day off of work (mind you this was the day before my last day of work) so that I can go take care of this. I go in the morning to the medical office where I'm asked to strip down to my underwear and shoes and then walk into the doctors' office where there are various doctors and nurses of both genders hanging around. Quite intimidating. I get my medical certificate and hightail it back to the Prefecture to make the most of this day. As soon as I arrive at the driving license office I show the receptionist my medical certificate and he asks me : "why did you get a medical certificate? You don't need one of those." I tell him that I had been required to get one last time I was there and he looked puzzled. This was at 10:45 in the morning. He gives me a number and four hours pass before my number is called. In the meantime I strike up a conversation with a couple from Michigan who is there, like me, to exchange their license for a French one under reciprocity laws. It's their first visit. I tell them all my horror stories trying to convince them that they'll be sent home in search of their great-grandfather's death certificate. They seem all chipper and confident; and don't speak a word of French. I'm rubbing my palms together waiting for them to be fed to the sharks, but they get called before me, spend a few minutes at the counter, and walk off with a shiny new French driving license. As they leave, the guy gives me a thumbs up and says "I think they just don't like you here." A sensible conclusion!

But anyway, way past my lunchtime I finally get called to the desk. I see the man start preparing my license, putting it through the printer and attaching my photograph to it. As he's doing this he asks me for my passport. I give him my EU member state passport and he says "don't you have an American passport?" "Oh, no, here it comes!" thinks I. I explain that I do have one but not on me as I only brought the one that proves my legal right to work in France. He tells me that the reciprocity agreement only applies to citizens of the countries in question and he therefore cannot give me a license unless I prove that I am a US citizen. Mind you, at no point during any of my previous three visits did ANYBODY tell me that I had to be a US citizen nor did I ever show them, nor did they ever ask me to show them a US passport. I desperately dig through my documents trying to see what I can come up with. I find a Miami-Dade county voter's registration card. "Look!" I say "You can't vote in America if you aren't a citizen. It's even written in Haitian Creole which is almost like French so you can understand it!" "Sorry, only a passport will do."

At this point, I decide to do away with all the British stiff upper lip that I'd been working on developing and get a little South American on his ass. Roots, yo! My voice raises a few decibels and I start running through the whole sad saga from day one about how many visits I'd already made, how many hours I'd waited and how I didn't understand why nobody had bothered to inform me of this requirement. The man looked frightened. I thought he was about to press a button to call security. Instead he asks "Why are you yelling at me? You're leaving here with your license." "What? I am? So what's the problem, then?" "Oh, there is no problem I assure you, go to desk G and wait until you are called."

By now I'm convinced that this is all a ruse and that desk G is where the goon squad is going to come get me to eject me from the premises. But no, soon enough my name is called and I'm given this:

Success!! That phone call to Mr. Sakho really did pay off, I guess. Mind you, the document is so sloppy and amateurishly done (my details are filled in with a dot-matrix printer of the sort I haven't seen around since 1984) that I could easily have saved myself the trouble and made it at home with my ink jet. The most amusing part is that it states that this license was issued in substitution for Florida driver's license number XXX issued on the 29th of January, 1989. Yup, that's the date I made up off the top of my head.

Lessons to be learned from this:

1) The employees of the French DMV make up the rules as they go along. If you're refused the first time, come back again and speak to somebody else. The requirements will probably be completely different and you might just get lucky.

2) Based on the experience of the couple from Michigan: don't speak French. Ironically, and despite anything you may have heard, being a non-French speaker is actually an asset when dealing with French bureaucrats. I think they just get tired of having to deal with you so they just stamp you right through.

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