Tuesday, August 20, 2013

... it's only a matter of perspective...

We recently heard a wonderful story over dinner with ex-pat friends.

la porte des portes ~ rue Rapp

After landing in France, our friend accidentally let his drivers license lapse.  Not that he needed one.  Being car-free in Paris is actually very easy and highly recommended.  For ourselves, jetison-ing a car before quitting America and using only our feet, the Metro, the RER, and TGV has tightened muscles and caused pants to sag.  I'm down two belt notches in less than a year and a half and am on my way to my old late-30's sized clothes.

The French drivers license system is like any other around the world.  They want to make sure you know how to drive and, we found this hilarious, the French want you to prove a history of driving.  So in the case of our friend, the officials looked at his US drivers license and noted it was issued just a few years previously and wanted prior licenses.

With wrinkled brow, our friend explained that prior licenses were confiscated.  What? la fonctionnaire asked.  C'est impossible!  No.  That's just how things are done in America.  Well, don't you realize your insurance rates will be high since you can't prove you've ever driven?  I'll take that chance, said our friend.

As a last step in the long process of joining the ranks of Cut Throat Full Red Blooded Latin Drivers, our friend needed to take all his paperwork to the office and... wait...

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

He took a number and quickly calculated that the currently served ticket was, well, several hours ahead of his.  Ugh, he thought.  This is a nightmare.

Watching the process, he noted that first you went to this station, returned to sit down, and then waited a second time to approach a second station.  It was this station that people seemed to leave with smiles on their faces and French licenses in hand.

There was one exception.  One gentleman approached the second station and did what everyone else did, but...  the man came back and sat down.

Our friend was confused.  Why would anyone come back to sit down a third time?

The answer was quick in coming.

The man pulled out his new French drivers license.  He looked long and hard at it.  He brought it to his lips.  He kissed it.

la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013

Our dinner guest told us that seeing the man kiss his new license and then slowly rise to walk out of the office completely changed our guest's view of the entire process.  He knew he could sit there as long as it took to work through the process.  It was just.  It was complete.  It provided opportunities to people who could only dream of such things before.

A week later, my wife and I walked the final steps in our own carte de sejour visitors visa process.  We remembered our friend's story.  It helped us be patient and remain calm, if not a little excited.

After a short wait, we were ushered to the desk.  Papers shuffled.  Clips were clipped.  Photos were verified.  Passports reviewed.  Brand new carte de sejour, complete with our digitized mugs and all the official trimmings, were issued.

We walked out of la prefecture de police feeling happy and grateful.

We are now card carrying American ex-pats who are free to roam wherever we please, and to come and go as we want.  Scary, isn't it?  [smiles]

Dog Days ~ la traversee de Paris estivale ~ 2013