My passport is lost.
That's right. The good news is that I have another chance for a decent photo. (Hah! You know I'm kidding on this one, right?)
To renew a passport, one must send the actual passport to the Consulate in Marseille. Registered mail is recommended. (No, really?!)
And so I did. Registered mail with an avis de reception - a return receipt.
Last week, in the process of planning dates with one of my work contracts, I realized I would need my passport for one of my meetings. (Don't ask - that's another story.) errrrr... "I don't exactly have my passport," I announced. No worries, I was told after some checking had been done. My titre de sejour* would do for identification instead.
The bigger problem turned out to be that in calling Marseille to see why I hadn't yet received my avis de reception (mailed in early January), they told me there was no record of having received my passport in the first place.
Oh. This can't be good.
I started at La Poste.
|The buiding to the left, in the back is La Poste. Nevermind that kissy couple in the foreground - happens all the time around here.|
When I first arrived in France, I used to stand in line at La Poste and marvel at how there could be thirty people in the queue and no one being served. Mind you, the fonctioners behind the counters were all busy. Busy exchanging kisses and talking about the last meal they had enjoyed, that is. I was mystified at how calm the customers not being served were. As I had all the time in the world since I had just arrived and I was in the honeymoon stage of my existence here, I thought it rather quaint. Now, it just pisses me off and I roll my eyes and sigh as when I look up at the number board to see 379 flashing and I'm holding a slip of paper that says 461. There is a system to the place but it is a total mystery to me how it works.
Last week, when my number flashed on the board like a winning bingo call, I dropped my nasty attitude on the way to the counter.
"My passport seems to be lost in the mail. I've checked online to follow its registered number and there is no information available on this parcel," I explained. (And as I always add when I'm relating such tales to my sister: this was all in French.)
I could see it before a single syllable left the postal worker's lips. Eyebrows lifted, bottom lip puffed out, shoulders began to creep up in a familiar shrug. Yep. This little exchange was likely to go nowhere.
"Oh no. It is not lost," she said. "They must have received it at the consulate," she said, confident in La Poste's ability to deliver...but really, only god knows why she would be confident.
"I've called the consulate. They've done a search. It is not there," I said...again.
"Well then, we'll just look online. The information will be there," she said, again with a confidence that is admirable - just not deserved. (It would be useless to tell her again that I had already tried.) And with that she tapped in a few details and came up with - that's right. Absolutely nothing. (Meanwhile, I could totally understand if the crowd of number-holders behind me was doing a collective eye-roll and heaving a garlic-scented sigh.)
"I do not know what to tell you then," she said. "You'll just have to wait."
"Wait?" I wondered out loud. But in my head I was thinking, Wait for what? For hell to freeze over? For some uncodified amount of time before I can get some assistance? Does anybody have a clue about what that waiting time would be, pray tell. But what I said was, "Is there anyone I might speak to that could look for it in the system?"
"Bon.** You can call this number - but they will charge for it," she said as she scribble a four-digit number on my receipt.
Of course they will charge me for ....errr....customer service, I thought, at a whoppin' 32 centimes a minute!
I thanked her and turned to elbow my way through the waiting masses.
Once I was home, I called that four-digit number tout de suite.*** A recorded message began, leading me through a number of prompts to push this number or that to land in the right spot. When I finally arrived in the appropriate department, the recorded message instructed me to say the 13-digits of my assigned number, found in the upper right-hand corner of my receipt. Madame Repondeur**** even gave me a aural demonstration, rattling off her own 13 digits to suggest pace and clarity.
"À vous*****," she said, indicating that it was now my turn to share.
"Un-ahh-zero-quatre-trois-sept-neuf-cinq-huit-un-cinq-sept-trois," I said, slowly and deliberately.
"I will repeat your number back to you to for verification," she said, "Un-ahh-zed-quatre-trois-sept-neuf-cinq-huit-un-cinq-sept-trois," and then she instructed me to press "1" if that was correct and to repeat the number if it was not.
It was not. I repeated the number. "Un-ahh-zero-quatre-trois-sept-neuf-cinq-huit-un-cinq-sept-trois."
"I will repeat your number back to you to for verification," she said, "Un-airrr-zero-quatre-trois-sept-neuf-cinq-huit-un-cinq-sept-trois. If this is not correct, simply say the first two characters of your number."
So I did. "un-ahh."
"We have no record of this in our system. Thank you for using La Poste. À bientôt! Aurevoir******."
What?! That's it?? We're not going to even give it another shot until we actually get somewhere?
I called again and went through the same drill. Three.more.times. (I know, I know. I like to think of it as "persistent" but ask people who know me well and I'm guessing they have another word for it. I'm also guessing that they would not consider this to be one of my more charming qualities.)
I suspected that it was my accent that was not registering my registration number with the recording system. I headed back to La Poste the following day, receipt in hand, along with my portable phone to see if one of the postal workers might be able to get past Madame Repondeur.
When I reached the counter and explained my dilemma, the look of astonishment was priceless. Okay, I'll give her that this probably isn't a request they get every day as a portable phone is being handed to them...but really, is it too much to ask for a little help here, people?! It's their bloody system (yes, I've picked that up from some of my British friends here...a little softer than what's in my lexicon) for gods sakes!
Absolutely not. They do not do that.
"What do I do next?" I asked.
"I don't know what to tell you," she said.
Really? I'm telling you my passport is lost in your mail system and you're telling me you don't know what to tell me to do to figure out where it is? But all I said was, "C'est dommage,*******" and thanked her.
On the way past the back door of the poste, I saw a woman I've worked with before stomping out her cigarette butt and reaching for the back door - her smoking break now over. I stopped her before the door shut and, after saying the obligatory, "Bonjour, excuse moi de vous deranger, mais********..." and went right on with a brief description of my petite problem.
She suggested I go to some obscure office outside of town where perhaps someone might be able to help me. I made a note and figured I could probably ask 10 different postal workers and get 10 different suggestions for 10 exciting but likely unproductive goose chases.
I spilled out my frustration to a French friend who then offered to make the call to see if we could get past Mme. Repondeur. Nope. Even her clear and proper French seemed to run into the same brick wall. But she did find, in teeny-tiny print, a number to which I could text my registration number to begin a search. Voilà! I tell you, they don't make it easy here.
I have not found the grand French paradox to be that they have extraordinary rates of life expectancy despite their diets of cheese and cream sauces. No, I find the grand French paradox to be that they have two favorite expressions:
La vie est dur. (Life is hard)
Tout est possible. (All is possible)
I wish I could help them see that it really doesn't have to be so hard. It really doesn't.
I'll keep you posted on the passport. Let's all keep our fingers crossed in the meantime. It feels very, very weird to be in a foreign country without a passport.
* french residency/working papers
*** right away
**** answering machine
***** your turn, to you
****** see you soon, good-bye
******* that's a shame
******** hello, excuse me for bothering you (magic words around here)