A small miracle happened today. I arrived at the CAF, a French department where you can apply for various welfare benefits. The one that I am entitled to is the fairly generous rent discount for those on a low income
To my shock and to the shock of the native French speaker I had taken with me (the English co-ordinator at my school Virginie) we were in and out, with my 11 page document submitted within 15 minutes.
In French terms, that’s… the equivalent of 15 seconds in most countries.
That morning I had religiously gone through the checklist of things I’d have to bring, then took everything I was told not to bring – because with French administration, you just never know. I had also made sure to go to the post office that morning and photocopy my titre de sejour (French visa validation stamp) just in case the office at the CAF wouldn’t let me use their photocopier (believe me, in France this wouldn’t surprise me)
So when we walked up to the counter and submitted my form to the middle-aged woman behind the desk I had that immediate sinking feeling that always follows when submitting something to the French Government. An array of scenarios ran through my head “I’m sorry Mademoiselle, but your photocopy is not officially validated, you’ve written this form in black not blue, I’ll need an additional X, Y, Z before I can do anything’.
But instead, she flicked through my papers, accepted my photocopied titre de sejour and RIB then glanced up (with a smile would you believe) and said ‘C’est Tout’ (that’s all). Both Virginie and I replied with surprise and at the same time replied “C’est tout?!”
I couldn’t believe it. It seemed the French Administration Gods had finally decided to cut me some slack. Not only was it easy, but the lady I was dealing with was nice – WTF?
She even told me to have a nice day as I left the office – and that within 2-3 weeks I should receive a letter stating my CAF entitlements were in place. Compare this to the previous day where I’ll admit, I had been close to tears (ok, scratch that I was in tears) at the shear injustice o f French beaurocracy and why I was receiving three different answers to the same question. Why my visa requirements were so complicated and how my dream of living in France may not have been what I’d imagined and how I really just wanted to go home – to Australia.
So the experience with the CAF left me not only feeling happy but with a new-found optimism about life in France. Like some divine force had picked me up and said ‘it’s okay, in the end you will be happy you made the decision to live here.”
Now I know that I am not completely out of the woods with my CAF, I still haven’t received any money from them – but this is a very good start to what is usually the shit-storm that is French administration (even the French will agree on this). But I am one step closer to finishing my paper work and in France that is quite an achievement.