5 Lessons Learned from Perseverance at the Prefecture

I’ve been MIA, I know. But before I delve into the roller coaster of emotions/events of the past few months (BIG changes on the horizon), I figured I start with something concrete- life lessons I’ve learned from the prefecture.

‘What the heck is a prefecture?!’, some of you might ask. To which I would respond that it is the hellmouth, the keeper of your future, a cirque du soleilesque mental challenge of your emotional strength, or as some people like to call it ‘the administrative building for visas and other important documents’. And for those of you who know what it is, I’m sorry. Let’s take a minute to hold hands, sigh, and let go of what we cannot control. Life lesson number one.

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For those who need a visual

Which brings me to: 

Five lessons learned from prefecture pain and perseverance:

#1- Learn when to let go of things you cannot control. I’ve learned this the hard way, but when dealing with administration, it’s important to check your desire for controlfreakyness at the door. Once you step through those big wooden frames, you are a mere puppet at the mercy of French hands. Building a bubbling rage over a desire for the line to be shorter, the weather to be less miserable, the French people to be less rude, or the process to be less inefficient, won’t change a thing. It only makes the time painfully slow and your mood increasingly less pleasant. Feel that rage for a moment if you need to, and then breathe it out. The line will move, and you will get to your destination.

#2- Expect the unexpected. Just because you have all the right documents, or you waited the allotted six weeks (or months), does not mean that you will leave with a smile of success. In order to release, or at least aid, that desire for control, you must expect the unexpected. Prepare for a multitude of possibilities so that your emotional armor is strongly in tact when you leave. Don’t assume anything. Because trust me, no one wants to see a frustrated sobbing mess crumpled in defeat just outside the gates. It’s awkward. On the flip side, when you do have that rare moment of prefecture success, it tastes all the more sweet…especially when you weren’t expecting it.

#3- Kindness Kills. Ok, so this is a strange expression, but it never hurts to appeal to a person’s humanity. Don’t over do it- especially with the French. But a simple smile, a polite ‘how are you’, or a preemptive merci can work wonders. This is not to say that you should avoid being firm when needed, but rather don’t come in with guns ablazing and silent rage bubbling. After all, these are the gatekeepers you’re dealing with. Make eye contact, be confident, but most importantly be kind.

#4- Be creative, don’t despair. If things don’t go your way, don’t crumple in awkward panicked defeat. Allowing your first thoughts to be your worst thoughts is not only unproductive, it’s unrealistic. There are always options. Maybe let a few frustrated tears fall if that’s what you need, but then get back to the drawing board! Did you ask all the right questions? What would happen if you went again? What would happen if you talked to someone new? 9 times out of 10, plan B has had a weird way of working out.

#5- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…and with different people. Piggybacking off of the whole being creative thing, is the need for some good ole fashion perseverance. Keep trying. As my grandma loves to say, “Never surrender! Never give up!” (yes, I know that she mixes the order- it just adds to the delightful quirkiness of her shouting it).

My French coworker once said to me, “French administration is a labyrinth. You can get in, but you can’t find a way out.” While it is indeed a mental maze and at times you might find yourself in a pit of despair, a release of control, a creative outlook, a little kindness, and a lot of persistence are excellent tools for navigating that labyrinth.

…and if all else fails, grab a tea or coffee at the nearest cafe with a supportive loved one and prepare for round 2…or 20.

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You Stay Classy, France

Last Sunday I explored the underbelly of French class- via my first wine tasting experience. It was wonderful to savor, taste, and learn about not just French wine- but natural French wine (we’re talking more pure than organic. These people still use horses instead of machines!) However, by the end, I couldn’t help but leave laughing at the contradictions of class that I had just witnessed.

You see, amidst the swirling of glasses and savoring of flavors, was the oh-so-classy spitting into buckets. The wine would dance and swirl in people’s glasses, and then moments later, out of their mouths, the spit sparkling on the rim of the bucket with just a hint of wine color lingering. Tres classe.

I know, I know. If you’re French, or a Francophile, or just a lover of wine, you’re probably getting all puffed up and ready to tell me, “It’s how true wine tasting is done!” You’re there to taste the wine, let the many flavors explore your palate, and then move on to savoring many more. I get it. I just couldn’t help but think about all the good wine that was going to waste. That’s the American in me-waste not. So what if you get tipsy and lose the full range of your wine tasting palate? You’re still drinking good wine! …or maybe that’s just the inculte in me.

As my stomach flopped in disgust (I’ll admit that I have a particular propensity for spit related nausea), I noticed some cheese. At least I could distract myself with some delicious…moldy cheese. Again, I get it- I’m in France, everything at this event is natural, I’m even a lover of strong cheese- but when it came down to it, I opted for the less fuzzy greenish blue ones. And yes, it was earthy and delicious.

When we returned to making our tasting rounds I couldn’t help but become spit fixated. I tried not to, but everywhere I looked people swirled and spit. The buckets glistened and saliva wine mixtures dripped on the tables. Swirl, spit, repeat. As I started to feel like a bucket overwhelmed Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, I witnessed the mother load- a giant spit barrel being wheeled out of the building. So much spit must’ve been swirling around that monstrous container. The thought was enough to make me woozy and take a brief tasting break- or maybe all the wine I had been drinking (and not spitting) was getting to my head.

I thought that maybe I was crazy, until I recounted the day’s events with a friend back home, “Ewww!! Whyy?,” she exclaimed. I started to rattle through the list of reasons- well it’s the real way to savor the wine, and truly taste a wide range, and the French really appreciate and value quality food and drink…but ultimately all that came out was, “I know, right!?”

I guess spit just isn’t for me. But you stay classy, France.

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Sunday Marché: Hello again old friend

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Dear Marché,

It’s been a while. I’ve missed you old friend. You bring back such sweet memories.

Memories of my first time in this foreign land, when I was a child both intimidated and intrigued by things outside of my element. So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same.

The first time my mother wove us through your crowds of interesting people, my nostrils filled with your array of new smells, and my ears submerged in sounds of French. You embraced my family into your welcome arms; you provided that first space where I felt I belonged in this new unknown place.

And as I walked once again among patterned cloths blowing in the wind, as fruits and flowers sprung to life in the sunlight, I thought of you. As smells of strong cheese, old diesel trucks, and rotisserie chickens unleashed memories of my mother’s market cooking, of new-found independence, and youthful exploratory boldness, I smiled. 

With mud on my hands from fresh spinach, winter sun warming my cheeks, and my ears once again wrapped up in sounds of French, I became entranced by the visual feast you displayed. A painters dream unveiled before me in colors, shapes, and patters, both foreign and familiar.

So I wanted to say thank you Marché. For the reminders of my wonderful, fortunate past, and for reminding me that I live in an incredible place- that I live in France. 

Thank you for letting me be in this moment, reminding me to enjoy the simple things in life- like fresh food, and sunlit colors, fond memories, and stopping to feel the moment, in a space that reminds me of, and almost feels like, home.

Always with love,

Anna

On being broke and unemployed in France

When my TAPIF program ended 8 months ago, I looked ahead at my unemployment with wide eyes. I had a bit of savings left, a whole summer in Europe, and the world as my oyster.

…Until that oyster turned on me. A year after submitting my visa paperwork, and 8 months of waiting for the prefecture to grant me the right to work, and I could no longer deny it- Je suis a sec. I’m dry, or as we say in the States, I’m broke.

True, at times, being unemployed had its perks. I had the freedom, and flexibility (and privilege), to paint, to travel, to create my own schedule, to launch my website, take care of random tasks, wander the streets of Grenoble, and catch up on far too many American series. I was lucky to have a savings to fall back on. I lived like retirees- sitting in the park in the middle of the day; enjoying the sun as it warmed my skin, and smiling at the elderly women in their fancy coats. (I sound like an old bachelor). I verged ever so slightly on crazy catladydom as I snuggled up with my soft Sasquatch, and took far too many cat pictures. I read more. I cooked more. I did some yoga and generally failed at inner peace. But I also lived the life of a retiree- at 25– and there was something unsettling about that. Continue reading

Time of Traditions

Happy (belated) Halloween!

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Though Spring takes the lead for my favorite season, I must say that this time of the year brings me immense joy. It’s the time of traditions.

First of all, there’s Halloween (which is then followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years). And while I generally don’t like horror movies, gore and the whole being scared out of your mind thing (I have an overactive imagination ok?), I LOVE Halloween. And what’s not to love? Gore aside, there are friends, fun, decoration, candy, and above all creativity. I’ll take any excuse to exercise creativity, gather with friends, and don a costume

…and binge on succulent sweets (the chocolate addict in me cannot lie).

I usually start brainstorming somewhere around summer, using the following months to piece the costume together, and adding details only an OCD person would notice. I blame my mom with all her infinite creativity. I had a homemade costume almost every year, and by 4th grade, I was making my own. Plus, my neighborhood was THE neighborhood for trick or treating. Haunted sidewalks, spooky backyard mazes, and webbed front porches became the norm during the weeks before Halloween. The bar was set high and I wanted to keep it that way. Continue reading

“We’re deep in Chartreuse now”

I was lost in green. As the green grass whizzed by rolling green hills, I secured the Chartreuse in my lap. Feeling content in the passenger seat of Antoine’s loud campervan, I surveyed the scenery as green turned to grey and we slowly ascended into the mountains. I was pretty sure we were lost, but I didn’t care. As if to read my mind, Antoine smiled at me, “We’re deep in Chartreuse now”.

With past weekends filled with house projects, Ikea runs and general post-week recoveries, we were well overdue for a day trip. And the idea of a small visit to the Chartreuse cave seemed ideal- it would be short and simple…and delicious.

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Deliciousness

We entered into a space covered in Chartreuse (both the color and liqueur). I was surprised to learn that not only was the tour gratuit, but with that lack of ticket payment, you got to survey the distillery, watch a unique 3D film of Chartreuse history, tour the longest liqueur cellar in the world (you heard that right folks!), and sample a Chartreuse flavor of your choosing. Impressionnant, non? Continue reading

The bug

Let's Go Anywhere

Well, it’s official. I’m living in Grenoble!

I finally moved in a couple weeks ago. It’s been a long back and fourth of visiting for visa purposes, wondering if I could even stay in France, finishing my time in Montbeliard, and running around the south of France with the remaining TAPIF assistants. By the end, I was ready for down time. Traveling and trying to move in/establish a new life felt draining. I wanted to invest in one or the other. And I felt it was time to invest in living in France.

But now here I am, officially in Grenoble and I have the itch. The travel bug is gnawing away at me- impatient and greedy. And I don’t know what will satisfy this fat little fucker. I’m living in France! I’ve been traveling on and off for the past 8 months. I just finished booking a trip to Italy with my cousin and sister in July, and another to Spain in August with my friend. But the bug wants more. It wants Thailand and Morocco. Egypt and China. To revisit Greece and Turkey. To backpack, to explore, to volunteer, to teach. And I don’t think it will stop there.  Continue reading

Happy Summer Start!

It’s officially summer and boy do the French know how to kick it off! June 21st marks the end of school, the beginning of summer and of course, the Fete de la Musique- where musicians, performers and music lovers take to the streets for some good ole free concerts.

I first stumbled upon it years ago in Paris, as my friends and I settled in for a picnic at the Sacre Coeur and ended up staying through the night with a full on Parisian party, followed by an enthusiastic concert by the Seine. Ah Paris. What a memorable night.

Paris 2009

Fete de la Musique Paris 2009

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Stumble, Walk…Dance!

I’m awkward in Grenoble. True, I just moved here and am still getting my footing, but like a baby learning to walk, I’ve spent my start in a state of stumbling (whether that be verbally, physically or socially).

Me in Grenoble. (Except that it's actually Jennifer Lawrence)

Me in Grenoble. (Except that it’s actually Jennifer Lawrence. But it’s awkward. )

I blame Montbeliard. It was a lovely little home for what it was, but it created an antisocial cave creature, that burns immediately when exposed to sunlight, and doesn’t know how to communicate to Frenchies who aren’t old or teenagers.

Take my first nightlife outing in Grenoble. Much to our surprise, Maribel (fellow assistant) and I actually dragged ourselves outside and in to the cold rain. Effort #1. In Montbeliard you don’t leave your dwelling if there is rain…which is always…hence the cave creaturedom.

But we trudged through the rain, promising ourselves just one drink and then the reward of antisocial solitude in our shelter back home. We aimed for the more low-key option of the wine bar, but upon seeing the mass of people waiting outside, we became discouraged. Effort #2. In Montbeliard you don’t deal with crowds or lines.There aren’t enough people out and about.

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Lost in nightlife translation

Looking disheveled and confused,we arrived at our second option, the London Pub, where we awkwardly awaited the complicated entrance.

  • Wait for bouncer to come to door.
  • Wait for door #1 to open.
  • Wait inside small chamber with bouncer, friend, and dripping umbrellas, until bouncer decides it’s time to open door #2 and allow you in the bar.

Seconds in to our arrival, we were bombarded by a bartender who asked if we wanted to sit, to which we replied with a relieved “Oui.” However, before we could be granted our table, he asked, “Vous etes d’ou?” (Where are you from?). Or at least that’s what I thought. “Etas-Unis” I replied, wondering what kind of bizarre code we were speaking. We were at London Pub, maybe only English speakers could get a table. Or certain types of English speakers. Should I have said Scottish?! However, my thoughts came to a halt when I saw the smile and head shake as he repeated, “Vous etes deux?” (You’re two?). “Ohhh. Oui. Juste deux.” Cheeks were definitely turning red.

One weird, disappointingly juice heavy cocktail, a surprisingly empty bar, some drying and lots of embarrassment later, Maribel and I considered tossing in the towel. We were out of our element. We’d been hermits for too long. Hermits we would remain. But something within us rebelled and we tried for one more place. We’d trudged though the rain for a night of fun, not fail. After all, you have to stumble before you can learn to walk.

Long story short, getting lost led us to the start, where we gained footing at Le Tord Boyaux (the wine bar from before) and ended our “night” with the birds. We sang ridiculous French songs, watched the bar illuminate in flames, met some awesome people, tried bizarre flavors of wine (mango and apple pour moi), and caught the last tram to an electro dance.

 

At first we feared a fail repeat as the large place lacked people, and the people who were there swayed like repetitive zombies in front of the dj, leaving the dance floor naked and neglected. But sometimes you just need to dance like no one’s watching. Which is exactly what we did. We let go of the awkward moments, the language barriers, and the social constraints. We shed our hermit skin and left it on the dance floor as we twirled and laughed and danced.

And maybe that’s kinda how life is (or my life at least)- stumbling through the start, until you reach a place of solid footing, ultimately realizing that at the end, you just want to let go and dance like nobody’s watching.

Je suis pacsée

Finally! (Isn’t their book cute?)

Enfin! The day has arrived- Antoine and I are officially PACSed!! Most of you understand what a long and grueling process this has been, but for those of you who are like “PACsing?! What the eff?” I’ll elaborate…

First let me start with- I’m trying to stay in France for another year. It’s a dream of mine to become fluent in the language, I’m enjoying my time here too much, oh and then there’s the whole French boyfriend thing…. all are among the many reasons why come April I will not be ready to leave. And hopefully I won’t have to. Which leads me to PACsing…

The PACS began as a way for same sex couples to have similar benefits to married couples, but soon became appealing for heterosexual couples as a way to be legally recognized by the government as a couple, without all of the legal seriousness and complication that comes with marriage. Or in my case, PACS = Better chance of getting a Visa.

However, this is not an easy route. France makes it very difficult for Americans to obtain a long stay visa. In their eyes, they have enough EU immigrants to worry about and don’t want Americans added to their list of concerns. Student visas are probably the easiest to obtain, but unfortunately my French wasn’t quite up to par/I’m not quite ready to be a student again. Which led me to PACSing. Fortunately I have a French boyfriend who helped me immensely through this process. He read the french paperwork, talked to people in the field, researched and downloaded necessary documents and took time out of work to talk one on one at the Grenoble tribunal about exactly what was needed. I cannot stress this enough- whenever possible, go directly to the source. Talking to people is so much easier (and better for your sanity) than sorting through the insane amount of information on the internet. Unfortunately, French bureaucracy is inconsistent and really depends on who you talk to and how they’re feeling that day (something particularly infuriating to an efficiency obsessed American).

What we ultimately needed:

PACS Contract– easiest part, download from the site, fill in your information, and print

Attestation Conjointe- download and print from the site, one that swears that we are not related (why they need to know that??), and one that establishes a common residence

Copies of ID (Passports for Americans)

Copies of Birth Certificates- I needed a birth certificate less than 6 months old (some tribunals will tell you 3), a translation, and I threw in the apostille for good measure

And then there’s the stuff you need as a foreigner:

Certificat de non-PACS/non-engagement- This had to be sent to Paris to prove that I am not PACSed already. (note: only valid for one month)

-And finally the Certificate de coutume and certificate de célibat – to prove that I am of age and not married in the States.

Oh obtaining these documents was fun.

First I had to call the American consulate in Lyon to schedule an appointment. Then I had to take 2 trams, a train (from Grenoble), and 2 metros to arrive at an ambiguous building. Of course the consulate was not well marked and I had to follow a man into the building and guess a floor at random to start with. (Note: French administrative buildings are often not clearly marked. Always have address in hand. If in doubt, check address and ring bell. Don’t be afraid to ask for help). After asking the wrong office where to find the consulate, I traveled up a flight of stairs to find the tiniest sign in the corner of the big wooden door. You have to really want to find the consulate. I buzzed in, waited for roughly 8 locks to be opened, and gave my name through the crack in the door. I gave my name, my passport, and my name again before being allowed in the first chamber. There, I had to empty my purse of my phone, camera, usb, key chain, and umbrella. I had to prove that my water was not poison by sipping it, and then after each bag was individually x-rayed and checked, I was x-rayed and checked… Finally I was allowed entrance through the next set of doors, where I was greeted by a life size cut out of Obama that nearly scared me half to death. The actual paperwork process was easy- filling out forms in French and painfully forking over $100 for two documents with official American consulate stamps. Et voila! The paperwork process is fini!

Antoine and I gathered our folder together last night, woke up early this morning (and amazingly enough avoided the long line), and got PACSed. We had every intention of making an appointment, but the woman informed us that she could do it at that moment, so we happily handed over the folder. The actual PACSing process was quite painless (and more low key than expected). No judge, no separate room, no bizarre declarations, witnesses, or proof of French abilities- just a friendly and quite smiley older French woman who was more than happy to legally unite us.

Step 1 of a very longgg process- Complete! Now onto the ultimate task- obtaining the visa.

But for now, I have one more week of vacation, some celebrating and some snowboarding to take care of!