Monday, September 12, 2011

The Prefecture


There is no better way to start off a cloudy Monday morning than waiting in line at La Préfecture...

Actually, I began by hunting in earnest for something more than the 20 centimes I had in change for parking. But at least that bought me about 15 minutes of time to get down the street to a Tabac (coffee, drinks, cigarettes and lottery tickets) where I was able to get a variety of coins. And to learn that <dang> parking was free on Mondays. The machine had happily accepted my 20 cents anyway.

There was a handful of people cueing when I arrived at 8:30 for the 9 a.m. start, and the atmosphere was like a funeral. Dead silence. I imagined everyone was rehearsing their lines (or at least the foreigners like me) so I broke the ice by asking directions for my next stop. Then I found them to be quite alive, so I asked the next question too, "Are they going to open on time?" Well, that started a firestorm of conversation. The first woman (of foreign descent like me, so I learned later) said, "Yes, right on the dot," which brought comments of "at least five minutes late" to "Once they opened at 20 minutes after when I was here... It's still their weekend, you know!"

Then a few of them launched into what clerk to avoid if you could. "The blond lady with the hair cut like this..." <The girl motions to her shoulders.> The guy next to her then pipes in, "Yeah they want to ???? you right away." I didn't understand the word, but it was something like déguster, but since that means to savor or enjoy, I knew I was off, and asked him...

"No, not déguster but dégouter," he explained, which means more like to put off or make you outraged in one sense of the word. Then they all agreed that démoraliser was the right word for it all. To discourage you, make you lose your morale. French administration does not have the best reputation, even among the French.

Now I know after all these years that I should just always expect to go at least twice for whatever administrative hoop I'm trying to jump through (change of address, new health card, yadayadayada). This time my need was the former, but in fact I have to do the health card first. And no, I didn't need my Livret de Famille (family record book), but rather my passport again and a bunch of other papers to prove my very existence.

So tomorrow, I get to do this all over again. But at least now I know where the office is, to avoid that blond lady if I can, and I can at least hope I've got the right papers because I've got a paper to show them, "But this is what the person yesterday told me to bring."

And I'll have change for the parking. Because tomorrow, it's not free.

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