Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is it a gift?

Another of today's errands was to buy a birthday present for one of my nieces.  Right by the mobile phone store, I knew there was a shop with funky clothes and jewelry, and I was pretty sure that I could find something that would appeal to her taste.  Not only did I find some things I think she'll like, but I got to answer in the affirmative to the question: "Is is a gift?"

You see, even when it's not a gift, even when it's just something for me, I'm always tempted to say that it is a gift.  Why?  Because one of my favorite things about French shops is the way that they wrap gifts.  They take paper and cellophane and maybe a little bit of string and a staple or two.  They twist it and fold it and: voilà!  A perfectly lovely cadeau.

You'll have to take my word for it, but inside this sack is another sack and a small package, each with their own ribbon and decoration, each one folded just so.

And since almost every American is probably wondering:  no, they don't charge extra for that.  It's just part of the service when you buy from a neighborhood store.

Business, Lyon-style

In Lyon, stores tend to be closed Sunday and Monday.  That means that Tuesday marks the first day of business after a couple of days off -- and more businesses take days off here than in the United States, especially during school holidays.  So, come Tuesday, the market at Croix Rousse is extra busy (and has extra vendors), stores have longer lines, and everyone has more business to conduct.   Like everyone else, I'd saved up a number of errands for today. 

My first stop was the mobile phone store.  There was one guy working the store when I arrived, and there were already three people in line.  Rather than get impatient, I just made a good mental note of who seemed to be last -- and who was already there, so I knew my place in line -- and settled in for a wait.  Soon after I walked in, another woman came in.  Then soon after, another man, and another woman.  The man serving customers had made it through one person, so the queue was getting quite long.  Eventually, he walked to the back of the store and called for some additional support -- but not with any real urgency.  By then, I was the next person due to be helped.  When the woman came out and asked me what I needed and I told her (a mobile phone with minutes, as I'm getting an extra one to have on hand for when my husband/kids arrive), she shrugged and looked at the line of people and said, "Does anyone in line have anything quick?"  She then gave a few examples of "quick" business (things that didn't involve starting a new line!), but no one took her up on it.  Once she was satisfied that it was actually my turn, she gave me her full attention.

At that point, I'd probably already been waiting about 20 minutes.  If someone had stepped forward, it wouldn't have been a problem for me, but I can imagine how frustated someone in the US might be if, at the open of business, a line of 8 people was piling up and the store didn't have enough service people on hand to deal with them quickly or skipped across the line of people!

Friday, July 27, 2012

More on Lyon

What with all my posts about bureaucracy, one could almost forget that I'm spending the rest of the year in an incredible city, a city that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  And of course, there is bureaucracy, but there is a human face to all of this and people have been generous and kind. 

That goes for the bureaucrats, too!  Yesterday at the Mairie, the woman helping me was very apologetic about not being able to do what I needed her to do, and that was after the woman at the desk complimented my French pronunciation.  (I have an obvious American accent when I speak.  If someone compliments my pronunciation, she is likely being kind!)

Later in the day, I went with friends to the Resistance/Holocaust memorial of the prison of Montluc.  It was overwhelming, and as I was standing, thinking about the victims deported to Drancy -- and then sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I must have had a funny look on my face.  One of the museum guides stopped and made sure that I was doing okay.

Yes, there have been documents to collect, calls to make, trips to the prefecture and the mairie and long waits in line, but throughout it all, I have been treated kindly.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Carte Cigogne

    Inspired by my success at the mairie, I decided to go to one of the transport centers in order to get my public transportation pass.  You wouldn't think that would be all that difficult (pay them some money, get a pass) except that to get a pass, you have to prove that you are a resident.  (I have those forms!)  Also, as long as I'm proving that I'm a resident in order to get a pass, I figured that I might as well take advantage of the "Carte Cigogne," which is the reduced-rate pass that they have for families with three or more children.  (It's a savings of almost one-third the total monthly rate.)  Of course, to get that card, I have to provide documentation (birth certificates, etc.)  (I have those forms, too!)
   It was surprisingly easy, so much so that I ended up getting all of the kids their transportation passes, too.  (School passes, requiring proof of age, etc., so the same forms that I needed for mine, plus a photo for each kid.)
    Oh, and the name "Carte Cigogne"?  It means "Stork Card." 
    At least it doesn't look any different from any other card....

Children: Half-Registered

Or half pre-registered, so is that a quarter registered?  I went to the Mairie for the 4th Arrondisement this morning and registered my children for school.  Except they only accept registrations for maternelle and elementaire (primary/grade school) and not collège (middle school), and I still have to contact the elementary school to speak with the director in order for the youngest two to be fully enrolled.  The older two kids have a separate registration process, so I have a number to call in order to find out which school is the proper one to contact.  (Yes:  a call in order to be able to make a call.)  But I still consider it a success!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

First trip to the Prefecture

Verdict  not totally unpleasant.  It was also unsuccessful in the sense that I didn't get the titre de séjour or residency permit filed.  On the other hand, I didn't expect to get it filed, and I got closer than I thought, so it was definitely a positive experience in that sense. 

Got there around 8 am (they open at 9 am for my type of document.)  Found and stood in the right line, got told it was the wrong line ("No. No. Carte de séjour over there.")  Moved to the "right" line.  Got to the front, got told to go back to the old line ("No.  Visa Scientifique over there.").  Line was now much much longer.  Woman behind me eventually verified that I was indeed likely in the right line.

When the line began to move, an obnoxious student pushed in front of me.  Got my number (6 people in line ahead of my for my visa type), and sat down.  Waited.  And waited.  Consoled myself with the fact that only 2 women appeared to be servicing the same kind of visa/titre de séjour that I needed and if they were taking their time with other people, they must be reasonable people who weren't looking for excuses to send us all away.  Eventually got my turn and a quite nice woman looked at my documents.  My marriage license needs to be translated (too long and complicated) and I can't come back until the first date on my rental agreement (makes good sense, plus I don't even know if I'll have the translation by then!).  She looked at all my documents and put them in order for me and got me a list of translators (the link on the Prefecture's site is broken, which is really the most important reason I was there today).  Very helpful.  And now I know which line to start on -- and stay -- in when I return.

There is a moment in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan where Peter Pan does something of which he is unreasonably proud -- I don't remember what the minimal accomplishment is -- and he crows.  I felt like that when I left the Prefecture.  I found the right place, I stuck with it even knowing it wouldn't be successful, I got a list of translators, and I found the right bus to make it to the Mairie to register my kids for school.

Then I got to the Mairie to see the sign:  Fermeture Exceptionelle:  24 Juillet.  And here I was hoping my good luck was going to continue!  Still, a productive day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

More documents to gather

I thought that I had all my documents (in triplicate or even more!), but it turns out that I was mistaken.  Given what I've heard about the bureacucracy involved in getting a visa, this isn't too surprising.  So far, I know that I need a different form of identity photo than the ones I brought (though it looks like it might be available at Monoprix, which is kind of like a French version of Target) and official (judicial) French translations of my marriage license and birth certificates. More running around and more money -- and that's only what I already know I need!  Once I get to the prefecture, they may tell me I need something else...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    Saw this jam on the shelf in the supermarket today, next to fig and sour cherry.  There's been some recent discussion of the book French Kids Eat Everything (for example, the Huffington Post has an article about it), and the irony of seeing this right after reading that discussion wasn't lost on me.
    In fact, I'm not even sure it was ironic.  A nation that can offer rhubarb, fig, and sour cherry jam on its supermarket shelves is certainly a nation that has different culinary expectations for its children than the United States.  An American "Good Mother" would not be serving her children rhubarb jam!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In Lyon...with a phone?

I was congratulating myself on avoiding the Olympic mess...until I realized that my flight (and thus, my luggage) goes through Heathrow on one of the busiest baggage days of the year (think horses, boats, surfboards, etc.). 

Fortunately, my luggage arrived just fine, as did I.  After a bit of unpacking and a short nap, I walked up the hill to make some necessary purchases, such as a mobile phone.

I went to the SFR store and debated my options, but decided on just buying a prepaid phone and paying as I go.

This seems pretty uncomplicated, right?

Somehow, it tooke from 5 pm until 6:30 pm... and it's still not working.  The salesperson first rang up the wrong SIM card, then spent an hour trying to make it work so that she wouldn't have to cancel the order.  Finally, she cancelled the order, but because I was assigned one number at first and then another number with the second SIM card, there is a glitch that may take some time to process.  She recommended that I give it two hours.

I won't be surprised to be back at the store tomorrow, but on the positive side, I got a lot of language practice in that hour and a half.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

No need to change my airplane ticket

The kids and I went up to the French Consulate on Tuesday, and it was a remarkably easy process.  I don't have the kids' passports yet, as they want a copy of my husband's passport and a notarized statement that he is okay with my taking the kids to France for five months.  Other than that, it all went smoothly, and I have my passport -- with visa inside! -- in hand.  Should be no problem making my July 16 flight.  (They didn't even bat an eye.  Clearly this is not all that unusual.)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Convention d'acceuil!

I have spent the past six weeks worrying about the fact that my "convention d'acceuil" (necessary for the visa, which is necessary for a vist over three months) has been stalled.  I filled out all the forms at ENS-Lyon when I was there in April and it was to go to the prefecture right away, then get sent to me.  Weeks passed with no word.  I assumed that it was stuck at the prefecture.  In fact, it seems to have been on some random desk at ENS-Lyon.

My contacts emailed it to me the day that they received it (July 4), and I have made my appointment with the French Consulate in Chicago for July 10 (the next available set of 5 appointments, as I need one for each of us).  Now I just have to hope that everything goes through okay so that I can make my July 16 flight.  (I think that might be a long shot, but I'm not changing it yet!)

So now it's just a question of filling out all the forms and getting copies of everything!  By nexgt Tuesday afternoon, I should know where I stand.