Thursday, August 30, 2012


My apologies for disappearing from the blog-o-sphere with nary a word of explanation, though perhaps you were able to figure out that since August is national vacation month in France, we were in fact en vacances for most of the month. 

We're back in Paris now, just in time for the rentree, which literally means return.  La rentree signifies both an end to the holiday season (holiday as in British for vacation - lots of British-isms around here given that the majority of English-speakers seem to be British) and the back-to-school season. 

On Tuesday, our first full day back in Paris, I was convinced that Baby Oil was a linguistic genius when he said, "Bonjour" to the check-out guy in the grocery store - "Bonjour", and not "Hi", as he had been saying in the US.  Yet the next day, at his first day back in halte garderie (nursery school, kinda), they told me that it was quite clear that he had been in an English-only environment all month and he found the French a bit overwhelming. 

On the other hand, I accidentally taught him a really useful phrase when he bumped one of the wall heating units in our apartment, and in my panic while trying to stop it from falling on him, I yelled, "Oh sh*t!"  Last night at dinner, he started exclaiming, "Oh sh*t! Oh sh*t!"  Mr. Oil looked at me with a look that said, "Is he saying what I think he's saying?"  Yup, that's right.  Linguistic genius, right here. 

Each time we have gone back to the US since we moved, I harbor a secret hope/unrealistic belief that the flight will suddenly be much easier.  Instead it seems that it gets incrementally more difficult.  Our flight to the US - which was just Baby Oil and myself - was nine hours in a cramped coach seat with my 27-pound toddler sitting on my lap.  In theory he would watch a movie, but we managed to get the one entertainment system with no sound, and due to turbulence, the seat belt sign was on for much of the flight, which curtailed our primary activity of walking up and down the aisle.  I felt my sanity slowly waning over the hours of the flight, and am just fortunate that it turns out my sanity reserves exceed nine hours.

On the flight home to Paris, Mr. Oil had the joy and privilege of joining us (I've made five transatlantic flights with Baby Oil by myself, for the record - this was Mr. Oil's first since our original flight to Paris in July 2011).  We lucked out and managed to snag the one extra seat on the plane for Baby Oil, but no matter how you cut it, the overnight flight is just fairly miserable.  Baby Oil watched the first 30 minutes of Lady and the Tramp about four times, threw a fit when we wanted to turn the TV off for night-night, and much preferred opening and closing the window shade to actually sleeping.  I'm just glad he hadn't yet learned to say "oh sh*t" because that would likely not have endeared us to the other passengers.  Though you should try not laughing when your 19 month old uses profanity in the same adorable tone in which he says, "moon", "cheese", and "monkey". 

I'm slogging my way through this jet-lagged-filled week, remembering how to speak French and feeling relieved that I remember the pin code to my French ATM card.  As we get settled back in our Parisian home, we also are trying to figure out how to live up to our resolutions that we made regarding this second year in France.   Which mostly boils down to one resolution - be more French.  Well, what better way to experience another country's culture and life than pregnancy and childbirth?  We're thrilled to announce that we are expecting a little bundle of French joy in early February.  I promise, it's not just so I have more to blog about, even though my experiences with French prenatal care will certainly be getting some attention here. 

Happy rentree!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Dossier

One important thing you need to understand and appreciate in order to successfully live in France is the dossier.  The dossier is the compilation of the infinite number of forms and documents required for completing any bureaucratic process.  You will end up purchasing folders specifically for the purpose of maintaining your dossiers.  You must anticipate that in addition to any requirements listed, there will be other materials almost certainly requested, so your dossier must be prepared for all eventualities.

This week, we were determined to acquire French driver's licenses.  We had gone to the OECD about this months ago, and had been told that the OECD is no longer "involved" in this process.  Which, understandably, we took to mean that we had to figure it out on our own.  You have one year from the date of your Titre de Sejour (official residence card) to exchange a foreign driver's license for a French license.  I wasn't even convinced why we needed French driver's licenses, but I do love to follow the rules.  So we began to work on our dossier.

Through my expat moms' network, I learned that the first form we needed was a form from the U.S. Embassy in Paris called "Translation of U.S. Driver's License."  Not surprisingly, this form is in French, and is simply a notarized form in which you fill out all the information from your driver's license.  In order to get this form, we had to schedule an appointment and spent over an hour at the US Embassy, which most closely resembles your average DMV.

Then, because the French really are the kings of bureaucracy, we had to take the form in French from the embassy and get it officially translated. Into French.  That's right - we had to have the French form translated into French.  It's not even worth trying to understand the logic here, I promise.

The rest of dossier included our driving records from Virginia and DC, an electrical bill to prove our residence here in Paris, driver's license application, passport-style photographs, and assorted other required materials.  Dossier in hand, we trekked up to the far reaches of the 18th arrondissement to the Prefecture de Police.

When we found the large and soulless room where one obtains a driver's license, there was quite a line.  We asked if we had to wait in the line in order to exchange licenses, and then duly waited in the line.  Actually, one of us waited in line while the other chased Baby Oil around the room.  Finally we reached the front of the line, over an hour later.  The man took one look at our Titre de Sejours and said, "But you have special Titre de Sejours. You should not be in this line. You must go over there and ask for a meeting."

Strike one.

We headed "over there" and were eventually told that because of our special Titre de Sejours (basically, because of Mr. Oil's position at the OECD, we have a pseudo-diplomatic status) we should have called to schedule a meeting.  And they could not possibly conduct the meeting today.  However, we already knew that the answer to all questions in any French place of business is always "no" - at first.   After explaining that we could not possibly come back, and that we had our dossier all ready, they took pity on us, and led us into a separate office where a woman began to review our dossier.

Everything was fine until she looked at the electricity bill and pointed out that the bill was only in Mr. Oil's name, not mine.  How are they supposed to believe that I live there too?  Did not Mr. Oil know that he should have had the bill addressed to "Monsieur XXXX et famille"?

Strike two.

I had to bite my tongue not to point out that in fact that would still not prove that I live there.  We did explain that my Titre de Sejour states officially that I am married to Mr. Oil, and that's why I am allowed to live in France (we can discuss how being legally relegated only to the status of "wife" affects the psyche at a later point).

Unmoved, she fell back on a classic French bureacratic phrase - "C'est obligatoire!"  We finally convinced her that we could fax her a copy of our marriage license that day, which would prove that we are married.  Exhausted, we were ushered back into the soulless waiting room as she discussed with her supervisor whether this would be acceptable.

Twenty minutes later, she beckoned Mr. Oil back to her office.  Upon discussing our case with her supervisor, they determined that in fact, due to our special Titre de Sejour, it was not required for us to obtain a French driver's license at all.  We can just continue driving legally with our Virginia driver's licenses.

Strike three.

Two hours at the embassy + two hours at the prefecture + several hours filling out forms + about $100 in forms =  WE NEVER HAD TO DO ANY OF THIS TO BEGIN WITH.   Which, we now believe, is what the OECD meant by no longer being "involved."  On the other hand, we can put together a darn good dossier.