“Paperwork is sacred! Without paperwork, you can’t do anything!”

I had to renew my French Passport.

Insert anything else after renew and it’s not such an ordeal. “my membership” “my marriage vows” “my liver” “committment to my work”. In this case it really felt more like “I have to renew my desire to actually want to be French enough to go through this crap.”

I’ve been trying to gather the documents I need for this for months now. I called a few times to get the details of what it is I needed and the lady with the raspy voice (I could smell the cigarette from the receiver) said:

-An original birth certificate of mine

-my old passport

-a copy of my mother’s birth certificate

-a copy of my mother’s “family booklet” including where it mentions she was born in France of French parents, where she married my father and the event of my birth

-326.10 NIS in cash and exact change

-six photos (“Absolutely no head covering allowed scarves or hats, after this 9/11 business and also, on a white background, please.”

Mom initially fed-exed this stuff to me for an arm and a leg from Congo but it never got here. So two weeks later I was talking to the guy in Jerusalem who denied the Israeli Post Office’s responsibility for tracking packages from Congo. He said that responsibility lay with the French post office. I should have known.

So she gathered her end of the papers and sent them to me with friends who were visiting. I went to get photos taken, with digital, it’s great because you can see your face and change fate, as opposed to living with a crappy photo for six to ten years. I tired a bunch of different stuff before settling for a half-smile, Mona Lisa like, which was infinitely more flattering than a teeth-bearing grin. I was quite happy with the result, actually. First time in my life, with ID photos.

So I went to the Consulate at 8 am this morning and was in the passport-renewal-guy’s office thirty seconds later. He looked at everything and then said: where’s your long-term visa for Israel? I ran up 257 steps back to my home, got the info, and came back down. I’m sitting in front of him again, hopeful. And he says, sorry. This is the wrong kind of visa, you’ll have to wait for the Vice Consul.

Half an hour passes. Vice Consul arrives with gym bag, shakes the hand of every person in the Consulate, and takes me up to his office where I sit in a very large black leather chair facing him accross a huge black glass-covered desk. He is sitting in an even bigger black leather chair. He tells me that I need an official letter stating how long I’ve been here, why I have the wrong visa. Etc.

After three phone calls (to clarify what they might need, what they want, and then what that means) to an angelic person who faxes that statement to the Consulate, the passport-renewal-guy is now entering all the data in the computer, one finger at a time. He said a few things about some of my certificates being out of date, but he would be nice and accept them, then asked why some of them which didn’t need to be notarized were notarized, stating the guy who notarized them was a real idiot…At this point I complained about paperwork, and he offered me the gem that I decided to title this post with.

Finally he gets me to stamp my left index finger on one of the forms, sign in three different places and tells me they’ll call me in two and a half months.

I am two centimeters shorter in my passport than I am in real life. And to get shorter on paper took two and a half hours of my morning and three months of getting the papers here, but only in two and a half months will I be able to prove my shortness to the French authorities.

In moments like this, particularly last year when I had to pay cash for a return ticket out of Israel before they would let me enter it, or when I think of people who are stuck in airports for ten years how international travel and personal documentation are going to change in the next decades. What will all this look like in fifty years?

I think it will be pretty much the same.


5 thoughts on ““Paperwork is sacred! Without paperwork, you can’t do anything!”

  1. So, the idea is that the French invented bureaucracy, which I believe.

    I also believe that once they invented it, THEY NEVER EVOLVED!!! Gah!! I once spent half a day trying to prove I was eligible to work in France going back and forth between the Prefecture and the Ministry of Work – each time it was a rather lengthy bus ride, because they each would say to me “You tell them…”. Now sorry, but… HAVE THEY EVER USED A PHONE!?!?!?!?!

    It was the one time after my marriage that I sought out a cigarette.


  2. OMG. The woman across from me the whole time was smoking a cigarette and all I wanted to do was to leap over her desk and slap that cigarette out of her hand and smoke it myself. The French and paperwork just make me want to start smoking again. I think it has to do with a way to funnel anger. You think?

  3. Smoking gives them the ability to deliver everything they say with a completely straight face.

    I have found that appearing the helpless victim – and them my savior – makes them more cooperative.

    Sickening, yes. But I’ll do anything to shorten the time spent in those places…

  4. The one time I’ve seen Mara, who is legendary for her backbone of steel, even NEAR tears, is when the French embassy screwed her over on her visa.

    It is amazing to me that the French manage to participate in the world economy at all. Their bureacratic approach is shocking. Try starting a new business in France (the fee alone is €7500; in the U.S. it is $180, in the U.K. it is £400).

    It is no wonder to me that there is such animosity between the French and the British. A trip to the outdoor bathrooms at T in the Park shows the difference: instinctively, the British organized themselves into queues. Not just any queues, though, but queues where each line shared four Port-a-Loos to spread the risk of someone who needed to take their time and dump a serious load. There were maybe TEN THOUSAND Port-a-Loos shared out this way in 2500 queues. There were no incidents, although you might get a roaring cheer if you took a really long time and the person behind you recoiled in horror at the smell of what you’d left behind (well, they cheered me, anyway).

    In France, they piss in the street.

    And when I visited Mara, we went to the Louvre. They had stainless steel ropes to keep the crowd in a queue, and there was still just a massive press of people. In Britain, they have an outdoor concert and people try to line themselves up with the people in front of them and move so that the shorter people can get to the front.

  5. Got to tell you. . . even the French (on this side of the desk, anyway) hate, deplore and loathe the French attitude towards the Sacred Paperwork. My mother used to lament about it. And strikes.
    Madame Maman

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