In France I am an etrangère, or a stranger. We would say foreigner in English.
It is mostly a good thing. I feel very welcomed. People allow me to fumble through my conversations in almost-French and tell me I am doing very well. One very kind lady in the local bakery encourages me to repeat myself because she adores my accent.
And then I face the various governmental departments and it all seems less friendly, less logical and yes, less clear.
Things are complicated here. Everyone agrees. Now imagine if you were not born here, instinctively knowing how things work. If you want to up the ante: add less than ideal language skills. This means that some hard-to-understand logic is now incomprehensible. Go ahead I dare you to take all of that and face the system. Bon courage as they say.
Here is what I learned all in one day. It is possible to exchange my US driver's permit for a French version at The Prefecture. There are many prefectures in Paris, but my colleague advises me to go to the main one. The internet site seems to favor the one in the 15th. It is neither, nor is it the one in the 1st. It may be the one in the 18th. I will let you know if/when I find out.
Oh and L'Assurance Maladie? You know the thing that gives you almost free health care? Well if you apply in September, and then send an additional document upon request in January, be prepared for a surprise. Your job, although never explained, was to resubmit all documents including those from the first submission and the newly requested one. You will discover this only 60 days after the last submission, and then should expect to wait another 60 days for a response. The response of course may be that you need to resubmit for a new reason. Stay tuned on that.
Now this is not so different from the US, who took 18 months to provide me with FBI clearance for the right to apply for my French visa. Who refused me during my first US visa application, mostly because the officer was pissed off at Canada over Iraq, softwood lumber and Mad Cow Disease. Even though I explained to him that I was in no way influencing any of those initiatives, he still sent me packing. And for all I know Canada might be similar for those who are not Canadians.
But today my challenge is France, and it aint easy folks.