Three weeks into living in France, and I finally have internet. It’s a beautiful thing, truly.
As I have read (and read and read) immigrating to France, even for less than a year, is a quagmire of paperwork and more paperwork. I hadn’t had any trouble—the line at the consulate in San Francisco was short, the appointment painless, my school communicated with me well and everyone I spoke to was very helpful.
And then I mailed my OFII paperwork in.
That sounds melodramatic, I realize. Everything is fine, but I’m alarmed by how long it took me to start pretending to be an adult and actually, you know, address the paperwork issue. In my defense, being a grownup is hard. In order to distance myself from my own stupidity, I will recount the following tale in second person. It’s not me, it’s you.
So say you are moving to France to become a language assistant. Your regional French consulate in the United States issues you a visa, valid for seven months, and gives you a very important stamp on a piece of paperwork, which you must fill out and send in to l’Office Francais de l’Immigration et de l’Integration (OFII) as soon as you have secured an address in France. This one tiny piece of paper (literally tiny, because US standard-size paper is smaller than what the rest of the world uses) that you printed out on your parents’ home printer, holds the key to officially validating your visa. The visa that is the one piece of documentation that allows you to legally reside in France. A VERY IMPORTANT tiny piece of paper.
After you get the stamp, you scan the paper. Then when you fill it out, you make a photocopy (this is not the stupid part. This is the look-at-me-thank-God-I’m-so-smart part.)
Then you mail the original of the super duper important document into the OFII office in Rennes. To the address that is clearly written on the paperwork that you printed out from the French consulate’s website. You send it lettre racommendé avec avis de reception, which means certified mail, signature required upon receipt. There is a tracking number. You watch the letter get to Rennes the next day. And then on the website it says that it’s returned to sender because the address no longer exists.
You figure, that’s a bit odd. You’d think a government office wouldn’t move without telling anyone. But that’s fine because you put your return address on the document, right? RIGHT?? You have to have that document or you won’t be able to stay in the country. You wait three days. You go ask at the post office. They say to expect it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
You begin to doubt that you actually put your return address on the envelope. You wrote it on the form you filled out to send the documents by certified mail, but did you write it on the back of the envelope? Return addresses in France go on the back of the envelope, right?
But you wrote it on the form. Oh, on the form you didn’t put second floor, or apartment 2. Surely you wrote that one the envelope. It shouldn’t matter. Your name is on the mailbox and there are only two apartments in the building, anyway. But did you write the address on the envelope? You were filling out something while you were standing in line, but was that the form you mailed in for OFII or the form you mailed in for the internet?
A week later, the documents still haven’t been returned to you. You’ve commiserated with other assistants, and figured out that the OFII office changed their address. That was nice of the French consulate in the US to update all their forms with the new address. Another assistant called the office to confirm.
Ah ha! You think. A telephone call? What a novel idea. But you don’t have your original form. There’s only that one, sad-looking photocopy that is clearly not the original. Why would they ever accept that? You have to track down the original.
You go to the post office one last, desperate time. The woman in front of you in line spends ten minutes yelling at the post office employee over something, but you don’t know what because it’s early and you haven’t had your coffee and it’s all in French.
After the post office employee throws the angry woman out, you sheepishly step up to the counter. In broken, sleepy French, you try to describe what the problem is. That you’ve mailed very very important documents to the wrong address. They have been returned to you. Yet, it’s been a week and they still haven’t arrived back.
She takes the tracking number from you, looks it up, and then loudly and in words that indicate she thinks she’s talking to a simpleton, repeats back to you what you thought you had just said. You explain again. She realizes that, yes, a week is a really long time to wait for a letter to be returned. She doesn’t know why that happened or when you can expect them. She says goodbye.
At home, you decide to be brave and call OFII to find out what to do. Since you can’t send photocopies, obviously, what can you do? Will you be deported? So you nervously call. It will be okay. You are capable of speaking in French. On the telephone. When you can’t see their mouth move and they can’t see your inquisitive looks.
While you wait on hold, you do a Google search for “lost OFII form.” A woman answers the phone. You explain what’s happened, without using appropriate pleasantries because you can’t remember any. You just launch right in. She confirms that yes, the address has changed. But, all you have is a photocopy and the original is lost in the post! She hurriedly tells you that it is fine to send photocopies. She hangs up.
Oh. Okay. You look at the Google search results. The first one says “OFII accepts photocopies.” Good to know.
You mail a photocopy that day for five dollars. The next day, the originals are finally returned. Ah well, such is France.
Lessons to take away from my mistakes: Photocopies are your new best friend. Not all official paperwork is up-to-date. If you have a problem, Google has the answer.
If you are moving to France, here is where you can find all the correct contact information for your local OFII branch. The address for the Rennes branch has been officially and painfully confirmed by me.