So this week I jumped through my final bureaucratic [woohoo! starting to be able to spell that!] hoop by going to the OFII office to register for my long stay visa.
I won’t go into all the complex details, but basically, to stay longer than 3 months you need to register, have an interview, a medical exam, and a chest x-ray. Since I am also the spouse of a French national, this was couched in the context of permanent citizenship and life in France. There was a 340 euro fee, but in return I would be offered free French classes, counseling for employment, etc.
Eleanor Beardsley, an NPR reporter in Paris, recently did a piece about how she had to go through a similar process. Her take on it was really pretty positive: "Despite the recent uproar over the treatment of Roma, France remains a beacon for immigrants and a nation built on immigration. France accepts the highest number of asylum-seekers after the U.S., and a quarter of French citizens have a foreign-born parent or grandparent, just like President Sarkozy." I was happy to read her positive spin on this bureaucracy. The benefits I would be offered would be nice if I were [that’s the subjunctive, I think!] planning to stay. But I didn’t want to spend 340 euros just for the next three weeks that we are here. But I also didn’t want to mess up any opportunity I might have of becoming a French citizen down the road either.
My original appointment had been scheduled for October, but coincidentally it was during our one “holiday” here, so I called to change it, and it was rescheduled for December. I thought of postponing it one more time, just leave it hanging…but didn’t.
So, there is this medical exam part to the immigration process. And I guess that makes some sense. For me it is not a big hurdle, but it still felt very strange.
For example, in France, they have different rules of decorum and at the doctor’s office they don’t see any reason to leave the room while you undress. Fair enough (and luckily I had been forewarned about this, so it wasn’t as awkward as it could have been, like the first few times you encounter the French cheek kiss…). But I don’t know about you, I kind of have to psych myself up to maintain dignity when undressing in front of strangers. Does the saying "give someone a dressing down" exist in French? I don’t think this is an issue for them at all.
Thank goodness I am not from an even more restrictive culture. For many women this could be a very traumatic, even violating experience. You’re being inspected. And since this was about immigration, it was easy to feel that the main requirement for getting to stay in France was a test that involved being able to take off your clothes in front of strangers. Odd but true. It comes across as yet another example of the French enforcing their code of immodesty (other examples in this vein include: you can’t wear a Burka, middle school boys have to wear speedos…etc.). And when you’re not clothed, it creates a situation ripe for feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, especially when these strangers (who are clothed) speak a language you don’t understand and vice versa.
I would say 5 out of the 6 officials I interacted with were very kind and considerate. The one nurse who weighed and measured me seemed to have a bit of a sadistic streak---for her I only had to take off my shoes, but boy did she bark at me about that---but overall, everyone was very courteous and professional.
And, after all that, in the end, it was unnecessary. When I'd made it through the medical evaluation, I finally had my interview and the chance to explain that I would be leaving in a few weeks. The woman interviewing me agreed that it would be silly to pay the fee and sign the contract for citizenship, take French classes, etc. If and when I returned to France for a longer stay, I could complete that part of the process. They really did listen. I was not just pigeon holed and rubber stamped.
So I left feeling somewhat poked and prodded, but also triumphant, with a free check up, a clean bill of health ("Remplit les conditions sanitaires pour être autorisée à résider en France"), and a souvenir chest X-ray.