Fiddlesticks- a term used when its ruder cousin rhyming with duck is deemed too rude, and it is a term I use fairly regularly through gritted teeth while doing lunges around the apartment as I try and sort out things by telephone, like international telephone contracts and parcels apparently so undeliverable that DHL send them back to Australia with no warning.
This really did happen, and perhaps I might have muttered more than fiddlesticks when I first learned off this annoyance, but today, a miracle occurred. I took myself to an address in the 3rd arrondissement and picked up the final parcel of two sent from Australia, almost as many months ago. I'm now home now after lugging a box containing my winter wardrobe across two arrondissements, and I type this triumphantly to the beat of Frida from ABBA who sings some of her most upbeat classics in French. I'm wearing a pair of sparkly socks because it's actually a sock kind of day and I've got a new habit which doesn't require gritted teeth and lunges – it is shezaming music in shops. Yesterday, I found Frida blasting in a store way too cool for me and my other pair of sparkly socks (I have ten pairs, speaking of habits). Once successfully shezamed, my phone decided to not only play the album (very loudly) that it had kindly downloaded for me, but it also wouldn't let me turn it off, as Frida had disappeared somewhere deep into the phone that is called a smart phone for good reason. With hair flopping across my face as I tried to look cool while madly trying to turn the phone down, my eyes darted around the store in a guilty sort of docile manner reserved for those moments when busted on Facebook at work.
Anyway, I'm my own boss for now, but the awkward moments are still in abundance.
Each day I arrive home with my basket flung over my shoulder, its leather straps just long enough to make my new life as a pack horse comfortable enough. I head triumphantly to my mailbox and unlock it, licking my lips with excitement at the thought of mail falling at my feet. Each day, another card with a little magnet on the back (perfect for the fridge and listing all the numbers needed in an emergency), falls out of the postbox and there is a continued absence of exciting things like letters from the Office of French Immigration and Integration (OFII).
This morning, as I enjoyed my coffee in the window admiring a blue sky showing promise of no rain (it has rained all week in Paris), I decided to phone the Bureau again as it has been more than six weeks since I completed and posted the final documentation required for my visa. I've spent upwards of twenty minutes a day on hold to the office all week with no sign of an answer, and with today being no different. Reaching for my file I blurted a big 'fiddlesticks,' sending my English house guest Harriet almost across the room. 'OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD,' I half laughed half shouted, 'I've sent my original STAMPED paperwork from the French Consulate in Sydney to an address in BLOODY CERGY PONTOISE.' Harriet, very politely, asked what that even meant and I advised that I had no idea, but it certainly wasn't the 75012 address quite clearly listed for 'résidents de Paris.'
Thankfully, I had made a copy of this lottery ticket and it was stapled into my file with the importance of a $1,000,000,000 cheque, along with copies of everything else required to prove that I am legally here, alive and legitimately breathing the precious air that that fills the Parisian atmosphere. Had I not done this, I would have been in all sorts of deep fromage et jambon, as I highly doubt the file sent to Cergy Pontoise (Google maps tells me this place is 50 minutes by car from Paris), will ever see the light of day ever again. 'We have to get to the Paris OFII by midday,' I said breathily, squeezing past Harriet's air bed and into the kitchen. With that, we set off on foot to Rue de la Roquette (with rockets in our socks), past Bastille, and deep into the 12th arrondissement.
We were met at the door of the OFII by a very bossy man who stood no taller than 5 feet and whose jacket had a little iron on patch neatly ironed onto his left shoulder reading 'sécurité.' It was 11.15 which meant I had at least 45 minutes before the office closed for 'déjeuner,' and I was going to get past this man, even if I had to move heaven and earth. Explaining that I had 'an issue' with my visa, he turned to his colleague who proceeded to wand me from head to toe before rifling through my handbag. 'Oui,' he nodded and sent me to a spectacled lady who played gate keeper at the front desk. I mumbled that I am a bit of a twit and that I sent my original paperwork to another office, pointing at the mail receipt from the post office- clearly stamped with 26/6 as proof that it did happen. I was really hoping that I hadn't called her a twit, but was reassured when she smiled, told me to make copies of my passport and visa and get back to her 'tout de suite.'
I raced out the door telling the security guard that I'd see him soon, in a way, I'm pretty sure, that you would tell someone you'll 'see them soon' for lunch next week perhaps, or at Christmas time, but I said it with complete conviction, before power walking up and down the street madly searching for the copy shop. Returning to the guard ten minutes later and with fiddlesticks coming out of my ears and beads of sweat forming on my upper lip, I asked him very politely where exactly the copy shop was. He pointed down the street and told me it was on the left. 'On the left, on the left, on the left,' I chanted in my head 'à gauche, à gauche, à gauche.' There was nothing even remotely like a photocopier anywhere in sight and just as I was about to give up, throw my passport down a grill leading deep beneath Paris and onto the metro tracks, when I saw a tiny little note stuck on the door of the Tabac, just across the road from the OFII, 'photocopie ici,' it read (photocopy here).
The woman who made copies of my passport, visa and any other documents I thought necessary to support this process that has consumed (seemingly) most of my life, looked at me in a state of perplexion as I managed to dig up more and more documents out of a file that was performing the same magic as Mary Poppins' bag. A nice man in hi-viz handed me my passport after I managed to drop it on the floor, and I raced back across the road with just ten minutes to spare.
The guard opened the door with a smile, and the woman at the desk took the copies of just my passport, visa and the golden ticket before telling me they'll be in touch soon for my long awaited appointment. I thanked her profusely, apologising for being so silly and sending the original to Cergy Pontoise, and she laughed, adding that it is certainly not a problem. With that, I turned on my heel and managed to tip the contents of my handbag across the foyer.
Harriet met me outside and we both agreed that it was definitely time for a coffee- she had definitely managed to maintain humour in the moment and I'm grateful for having had a sidekick. After months of preparation for getting this tiny little sticker in my passport, I will now feel a greater sense of purpose as I make the daily pilgrimage to the mailbox on my way home, eagerly awaiting a letter from the OFII.
One thing I have learnt this week, is that life is so much easier if I don't cheat and if I actually commit to solving problems in French. On Monday, when I phoned DHL for the thousandth time and muttered fiddlesticks under my breath when they put me on hold for the twentythousanth time, the woman on the other line replied 'non' when I asked if she spoke English, reminding me, quite politely and in French, that I will just have to speak in French.
This is as true as Fridas love for Fernando, which she declares (in French) as I finish typing.
Pictured: Place des Vosges for lunch today.