jeudi, novembre 09, 2006

Medical exams and immigration

Today was my day to visit the préfecture (sort of like the head police station for a particular arrondissement of Paris) to undergo a medical exam and get my titre de séjour, which is the second half to the visa process here.

Essentially, when you get a visa (like my student visa), you get a document attached to your passport that gives you temporary enter France (usually 3-6 months, it seems). Once you arrive in France, you're supposed to present yourself immediately to the préfecture of your area to make an appointment for a "visite médicale" and file the appropriate documents. Thankfully, the folks at the Centre started the paperwork for me (they do this for all the students), so I just had to fill out a few forms at the Centre in September, and then wait to hear about my appointment. Well, my appointment was today, so I headed over to the préfecture around 14h00

The medical "visit" entails a general exam (weight, height, brief medical history) as well as a chest x-ray (for contagious respiratory diseases, I suppose). The experience was one of typical Kafkaesque bureaucracy, although I can at least say that they were efficient. On the way out of work, I stopped at a tabac and bought a 55€ stamp; the fee for the medical visit / paperwork is 55€, so they get you to pay for it by buying a nationally available stamp that you stick to your form, thus preventing the préfecture from having to deal with payments. I grabbed a "formule" lunch (sandwich, drink, dessert pastry) at a nearby boulangerie and headed for the préfecture. A few feet into the building, there was a welcome desk with a man waiting behind it. I started to explain the purpose of my visit, then he looked at the forms in my hand and interrupted: "Upstairs, to your left."

I headed upstairs and to the left, forms still in hand, encountering another desk with a woman behind it.

"Down the hallway, through the door, desk on the right."

Down the hallway and through the door, I found a packed waiting room, full of France's newest and brownest. I approached the desk, this one manned by three young people (all of them black, interestingly enough).

Stamp, stamp, stamp, scribble, "Take a seat and wait."

There weren't any seats at first, but then someone's name was called and I took his seat. Quietly, I finished my dessert pastry while I looked around and tried to figure out the flow of bodies. The room had doors all the way around it, all of them unmarked and closed. Every once in a while, a door would spit out one person, then call out for another person by name. Sometimes the ejected people sat down again and waited, sometimes they headed over to the desk to pick up documents, sometimes they left. The immigrant-machine became more legible when someone finally called my name.

"Howareyougoodcomeoverhereandsteponthisscale. Hmm. Step over here for your height. Hmmm. You're a bit fat. I'll give you a blood glucose stick.

Here, she paused, both serious and patronizing, "This is VERY high."

"Of course," I said, "I just ate a baguette sandwich and a dessert pastry 20 minutes ago."

"Well, nonetheless, you should what what you eat. Now, come over to this room. Walk in, close the door and lock it. Strip to your wait, remove all jewelry, and wait until the door on the other side opens."

The nurse stuffed what looked like my burgeoning medical chart in an envelope on the inside door, and left me to strip. Just as I was pulling off my undershirt, the other door opened and three women peered at me.

"Come over here, my dear. Stand in front of this panel. Put your hands on your hips. Take a deep breath." *click* "Great. Get dressed and wait in the waiting room. Someone will call you."

I find a seat in the waiting room, still rebuttoning my shirt, and wait. A few minutes later, an older man pops out of a door, dismisses a young lady holding a large envelope, and then picks up a stack of papers and an x-ray, "Garcia! Luis!"

I follow him into what is apparently his office. It looks like he's one of a collection of doctors who provide the final medical check after the nurses are done with me. At least I hope it's final.

"So, you're here on a student visa. What do you study?"

"Ethnomusicology...well...popular music."

At this point, the compressed time scale of my medical visit paused and expanded indefinitely. The doctor's eyebrows popped up, "Really? That's great! You know, I'm always fascinated with how the most banal lyrics of mainstream pop express concepts the high philosophy can't express or hasn't the imagination to consider..."

I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow of our conversation, but it ranged far and wide. The frantic speed with which my body was fed through the préfecture's bureaucratic machine came to a suspended halt, with my medical checklist half-filled, the doctor's pen still in his hand, my chest x-ray floating above both of our heads on the wall, as we discussed music and philosophy, neurology, mass culture, and French politics. It felt like an hour had passed before the conversation slowed and the doctor suddenly remembered the task at hand.

As the doctor handed off my papers to someone behind the desk, I sat back down in the waiting room, feeling a bit guilty that we had engaged in a long and leisurely conversation while a packed waiting room...waited.

After a few minutes, someone at the desk called my name. "Back down the hall, door on your left."

With the newly-signed and stamped papers in hand, I head down the hall to a smaller room, filled with file boxes, a counter, and two women. One is young, a bit quiet, and a bit slow; but she's only slow in comparison to the older woman, who speaks loudly, addressing everyone in the informal ("tu"), calling them "dear" or "little one." The men, in particular, she constantly called "jeune homme" (young man); I've noticed that "jeune homme" is a slightly less charged equivalent to the phrase "boy" directed from an authority figure to a black man in the USA. Whenever I see a police officer or other official interpellate a brown-skinned man (more likely arab than black), they always use "jeune homme!" At the same time, I've noticed that young men that would fall into the racaille category (see also here) often call each other by the same phrase with a hint of irony. All of this meant that I wasn't sure if this older woman was being overly friendly and matronly, or racist and condescending (my guess is a bit of both). Un/fortunately, I ended up being helped by the younger woman, so I couldn't see if her demeanor would change when a lighter-skinned hispanic boy with good French skills presented himself.

Either way, my titre de séjour wasn't ready for me yet, so I had to take my documents back with me and make an appointment to pick up my card on early December. Go figure.

The rest of the day I spent at home, trying desperately to get my SEM paper off the ground.

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