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You know it’s going to be a bad day in Paris when…

1. There are no raisins in your pain au raisin. What a shock. I am a regular–if not slightly-obsessive–consumer of this most delicious of French pastries. Of the thousands of pain au raisins I’ve encountered over the years, this albino was a rarity. How did this puerile pastry manage to sneak past the initial line of inspectors, cozying up in the display case among its fully developed cousins, bursting with plump, juicy raisins? What’s more, how could it have been selected from the line-up and wrapped up in a thin sheet of wax paper for presentation to a hungry customer – me – given the flagrant dearth of raisins? Even more stupefying, I didn’t even notice I was holding a mutant pastry until I was down the street, hurrying off towards a meeting in the center of town. Was it a cruel joke played against a naive foreigner or an innocent mistake? Either way, surely this is a major no-no, if not some kind of punishable felony, in most institutes of high French pastry making.

2. Mounted on the wall in the hallway where foreigners go to renew their papers at the Préfecture de Police, you notice a portable device used to treat sudden cardiac arrest.

Yes, sandwiched among objects that one would expect to find at any French administrative office building — the change machine, payphone, Photomaton, soda machine, and photocopiers — — is a defibrillator. It looks liks this:

Ok, defibrillators are commonly found in non-hospital settings (airports, malls, casinos, golf courses, hotels, schools, etc.). Yet I do not think it was arbitrarily placed in the same hallway where foreigners go to obtain visas and working papers. French paperwork and administrative issues can painful and highly stress-inducing for foreigners. I’ve been known to shout, shed tears and throw large objects against walls in the days leading up to and following meetings at the Préfecture. In case my upcoming rendez-vous was too much for my circulatory system to handle, at least there would be help close by.

3. You have to go to the Préfecture to renew your papers. What should be somewhat routine by now (this was my 3rd annual renewal) remains an agonizing ordeal. It usually starts with a long queue outside the Préfecture complex, having to stand in line for ages with all the other foreigners. Once you pass through the security checkpoint, it’s around the corner and up the stairs to Niveau 1 where you get into another line and wait until they call your number.

Even through you are given a list of required documents ahead of time, there is no telling what specimens you will be expected to present during the brief but crucial meeting with the documents inspector at the Préfecture de Police de Paris. The list of documents seems to grow each year including proof of taxes paid, social security, health insurance, renter’s or home-owner’s insurance, proof of business certification, and a stamped letter by a certified accountant attesting to your annual income. It is not unusual to be asked to show bank statements, leases, and/or deeds to property. It won’t be long before they require parents’ birth certificates, kindergarten report cards and stool samples (all translated into French).


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