13 June, 2006

The Visa (first real France post!)

A couple days ago, back in the Bay Area, I borrowed my mother's car and took myself and my sister (for company) over to the French consulate in San Francisco to get my visa. (I have learned since my first post that you have to go to the consulate near your "permanent residence," rather than the one closest to where you actually happen to be living, to get your visa.) To be completely accurate, I suppose I should say that I wanted my sister to come for company. She wanted to come in the hopes that she would see someone "who committed a crime under American law but not under French law and fled to the consulate for sanctuary." kllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll (The previous is courtesy of Rabbit-cat, who came over to say hello. I shan't take it out as I don't want to offend him.) I did warn her that probably they didn't keep criminals in places where random American citizens could easily get to them, but she decided to come anyway.

I woke up at around seven in order to get together all the documents anyone's ever said an American might need to get a year-long student visa for France. I had neglected to get notarized a form saying that I had enough money to get me through the year I'll be there, so I went over to a UPS store, which has a notary, at eight in the morning. I also made three copies of every single document I had- two for the consulate and one "for my records," not that I have records. When I was done with that I came back and woke up my sister and we headed over to the consulate.

The French consulate in San Francisco is open in the mornings every day, except for the fourth Monday of every month, except when that Monday falls on the seventh day after a blue moon, and in the afternoons Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, unless any of the days it should be open are (a) a holiday of the Roman Catholic Church, (b) a federal holiday in France, (c) a federal holiday in the US, or (d) rainy. (It should be noted that I made all that up. The hours are odd, but not quite that odd.) So it was sort of hard to find a time we could get there, in the four days I'll be in the Bay Area with nothing else already planned and unskippable. But we ended up getting there about an hour after the consulate opened for the morning.

When we got there there was already a crowd in the visa department. We went through the metal detector, which was as always an adventure for me.
"Okay, come through." I come through.
"Okay, put your bag on the table and go back through." I go back through.
"You have to take your cell phone off."
"It's not a cell phone, it's an insulin pump. See? It's attached."
"Oh. Okay, go on in."
"Thank you."
"Hey, wait." He points to my pump. "You have to turn your phone off. You can't use it in there."
"But, it's... Never mind. I'll turn it off."

My sister used the time I spent going back through the metal detector to charm the heck out of the security guard.

I sat down in the line for people getting visas and spent the forty-five minutes I waited reading a page in my book and then frantically shuffling through my papers making sure I hadn't forgotten anything. All my worry (and I am quite the worrier. By the time I got to the head of the line I was shuffling through my papers about fifteen times a minute looking for something or other) was for nothing, though, as when I got to the window the only problem was that it's hard to hear though plexiglass and the girl who was helping me could only hear about one out of every three words I said.

After about half an hour of handing papers back and forth through the little slot in the window I was told that all my documents were in order and I could go sit down and wait for them to process my visa request. I'm planning to stay in France a little longer than the typical student, so I wanted to make sure that my visa would let me do that. I asked the girl who was helping me how long my visa would be good for. She didn't know anything, so she went over and asked the guy sitting next to her. They talked in French for a while, and when they were done he said to me, "It will last for three months." Now, I am planning to spend almost a year in France, and I had been warned that I might have to be very clear that I was going to be there for that long or they would issue me a visa for a shorter stay. The look on my face must have been quite something, because he said, "Don't look at me like that! You can only stay on the visa for three months, but when you get there you apply for a carte de séjour that gives you a year, and you can renew it beyond that." So everything was roses again and I went to sit down and wait for them to give me the visa.

My sister hadn't had breakfast before we left, not being a morning person, so she was getting pretty hungry. I had no idea how long it would be until I got my visa, so I didn't want to leave the room to find her something to eat. But when we'd been sitting there for maybe an hour she was really hungry. It occurred to me then that perhaps she could go by herself to get a pastry at the Starbucks I'd seen on the corner. I gave her money and she went out and came back with some food, having had absolutely no trouble getting in and out of the metal detector due to her admirable foresight vis a vis the security guard.

Maybe an hour after that, just before the consulate closed for the day (or at least for the morning- I couldn't be sure, not having a phases-of-the-moon calendar in my bag), everyone associated with the consulate disappeared from behind the desk, leaving maybe twenty-five people sitting waiting. I got a little nervous, but just as I was really starting to worry I'd been forgotten a man appeared from a door and started handing out visas to all of us. Seems they get all the requests and then process them all and then hand them all out, so there's no real advantage to getting there early.

With visa in hand I left the consulate and spent the rest of the day flashing my passport at everyone I saw and saying, "See? I have a visa for France! I'm really going to France!"


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