Well that was overwhelming.
On Monday night I started penning a piece which was, in part, quite personal, but the overall content was meant for everyone- we’re in this together. Not this blog, but the bigger thing. That big old thing called life.
The response to my last post has been overwhelming and incredibly inspiring and I thank you all from the very bottom of my heart for reading- I have thoroughly enjoyed your feedback and messages, and I will start by saying that I’d wanted to write that piece for a long time – but had been waiting for the right day, the right moment, the right words and most of all, I just wanted to feel ‘right’ about sharing my own trials and Toddulations.
Almost as soon as I’d pressed ‘publish’ on the post, Mum phoned.
‘Darling’ she said, ‘I’m just reading your blog, and I can’t believe the part about TODD!’. I went on to explain that ‘Todd’ is infact entirely fictional, and to all the Todds out there, I’m sorry, I used you to make a point and you have now become something of a talking point.
This morning, a dear friend who is familiar with my problematic tongue being jammed so firmly into my cheek (that I may one day need surgery), wrote and said that perhaps the only Todd I’ll ever sport, are the ones I wear on my feet. (I will also add that she is also a fellow size 42 in les pieds department, and we’ve bonded over this from time to time).
I smiled as I read her message while eyeing off my black patent leather dancing shoes (I think they’re actually mens) who sport the same name and gave them a little nod – ‘you’ll get out soon’ I said, before leaving the apartment and setting off for the day.
On Sunday night I looked through my visa file with a the eye of a hawk. The ‘summons’ part of it was all written entirely in French and PDF’d to the point of absolutely no return, so I had spent a large part of the day with my dictionary making certain that I’d completed everything to perfection.
Passport and a copy of my passport (straightforward), a spare passport photo with an ‘empty head’ (I assumed that meant I wasn’t to wear anything on my head, but I made sure it was also empty for good measure- not hard), a medical certificate from the Office of French Immigration and Integration (I’d left that in a supermarket with my passport only a week or so before following the medical summons, but thanks to a pigeon and its breakfast, the file turned up), and the final part, something about a stamp to cover taxes to the value of 250 Euros.
I had assumed that this stamp would be acquired from the OFII when I paid the aforementioned amount on the day of my appointment, so I’d paid very little notice to this part of the summons, continually tucking that particular page into the back of the file, ready to be stamped upon payment. Late on Sunday night when I re-read the fine print which said something about the Tabac, I entered into only a minor moment of frenzy.
The Tabac just around the corner from my apartment is run by a Chinese French couple who speak French with a Chinese accent. They are two of my favourite people in this city and are always at the ready with an espresso at the bar when I meander past, and they’ve been part of this particular picture since my first winter here. They’re kind, she is often only a little bit surly, and he almost shouts the house down when he greets each and every customer with a huge ‘BONJOUR’ as they walk in off the street.
I love the French Tabacs and they don’t just sell tabacco, they often make the best coffee, serve a cold beer, have licence to the lotto and endless un winnable tickets, they will top up the telephone plan when it runs out of credit, and on Sunday night, I learned that they also have the licence to sell a golden ticket – des timbres fiscaux. When I presented the letter from the visa office to my friend behind the counter, he propped his glasses further up his nose before reaching under the counter, pulling out a plastic folder full of stamps. I began to feel only the slightest bit nervous because I couldn’t work out why the French Government would want me to pay them in what looked like postage stamps, but I paid for 250 Euros worth, and watched in bemusement as he tucked them like golden nuggets into a novelty pouch with ‘Joyeux Noel’ and a reindeer on it.
On Monday morning I lined up diligently outside the OFII with my document pocket under my arm before my turn came to be probed by a wand and sent upstairs for my appointment. I was confident that I had all bases covered, and had only minor sweats about the novelty pouch full of stamps, unable to tame visions of being laughed all the way back to Australia for getting it so wrong.
The French do love a bit of red tape and administration, but one thing I will say, is this particular office always keeps to time and they are almightily efficient. On the dot of 10 am, a bosomy woman called my name and I approached her with as much confidence as you can when your French is limited to the very basics. A file with my name on it appeared from seemingly nowhere (filled with all of my paperwork from Sydney) and she scrolled through the computer muttering ‘hmm, Virginia Affleck’ to which I responded ‘oui’, wondering how on earth she had all my documentation which I’m sure I hadn’t given to her. Had I?
In French as rapid as a fresh flowing river after a monumental storm, she berated me for providing a letter written in English (which was kindly written by my dear friend Amy who owns the apartment, as part of my application in Sydney and I haven’t given it to anyone since), before reminding me that I’m in France now and English isn’t spoken here.
Tempted to say ‘yeah, no it actually is, you should hang out with me more often’ before giving her a big lecture about how much I detest being handed English menus and how it saddens me daily when people speak to me in English when all I want is to speak French, I chose instead (because that is a lecture I’m yet to learn), to nod and just mutter ‘pardon, oui, pardon’.
Madame then smiled and reassured me that this time it was going to be ok – but next time IN FRENCH, and do I have the stamps? I reached into my folder and found the pouch decorated with a reindeer singing Merry Christmas through a frosted speech bubble, looking as though he or she had dropped too many tabs of acid, and nervously handed her des timbres fiscaux.
They were counted, stuck into a file and with that, a little sticker appeared from her folder and she asked me to check it. I’m not sure if I was happier about the postage stamps being the real deal or the carte de séjour that I was about to proof (there are three i’s in Virginia), but either way, she could tell that I was nothing short of chuffed and relieved in that moment and wished me a happy time in France, before reminding me to visit the Police in February to renew my carte if I wished to stay for more than a year in France.
Who knows? Maybe I will, and when I walked past the Tabac this morning my friend leapt out from behind the counter. ‘Vous avez le carte Madame?!’ he shouted through the plastic curtain. I turned back and smiled ‘OUI, OUI, OUI- merci Monsieur,’ which was met with shouts of ‘C’EST TRÈS BON’ as I continued on my way. He knew what he was doing the entire time, its almost as if he’s done it before.
Thank you for reading and I hope you will keep reading. This week has seen amazing growth on pinningmywords and I am very thankful for my little village of readers- I hope to see it continue to grow.
Pictures: a totally French celebratory lunch.