While I haven’t been sharing the stories, my interactions with the French administration have been continuing as I’ve been going through the process to change my visa status from ‘student’ to ‘worker’ and get the card that says I can live here more. The thing is, this whole process was a lot less entertaining than the initial one, because there are only so many times you can take a day off work and stand in line for two hours at the police station just to be told ‘you’re missing the original dated from within the last three months of the official translated copy of this certificate with the color authorization from blah blah blah blah’ before you very much stop laughing and very much start contemplating homicide. Anyhow, after a handful of experiences along these lines and some serious internal dialogue about anger management, ten months of paperwork and visits and re-paperwork finally culminated in this: my convocation to the Office of Immigration for my medical visit. This medical visit is the final step. It means your file has been processed and your carte de séjour is sitting there waiting for you. You just need to prove that you don’t have tuberculosis or bad vision and you’re clear.
Now, I did this visit in 2010, when I entered the country as a student. Basically they check your eyes by having you read a row of small letters on a poster (though I know for a fact they don’t even listen to what you say because I started reading them in English and the nurse filling out my form said, ‘très bien.’) Then they check I guess your eyes again, or your literacy, by having you read a few lines out of a book. And then things get a little weird when they lock you in a tiny cabin with two doors and tell you to get naked from the waist up for an X-ray. I don’t understand this, because I’m pretty sure the Transportation Security Administration has x-rays that are able to tell whether or not a fully clothed woman is menstruating, but apparently French x-rays can’t see through fabric and this partial nudity in a public facility is just something you need to accept. You take off your clothes and stand there awkwardly for a very long time until they open one of the doors and invite you in for an x-ray. Following this, you re-enter the waiting area (clothed now) until the doctor is ready to see you, check your x-rays, and sign off on your health and eligibility to live in France.
And this is where things got weird. The doctor called me in, or tried to, but both my first and last name are tricky pronunciation tasks for francophones. Once I understood he was speaking to me, I stood up. He asked if he’d pronounced my name right. I said no. And then he said, ‘Well, it’s too complicated to pronounce. Wouldn’t you rather marry me and take my name?’
This is the sort of macho, condescending thing I’ve gotten used to hearing in France, where gender roles feel almost more dramatically in-your-face than in the first season of Mad Men. It’s annoying, it’s forward, they think it’s charming, and I just am not quite quick enough in French to respond how I’d like to. So I smile in a way that I hope says ‘not a chance in hell’ but is probably more ‘ok yeah cool when,’ because things go downhill from there.
The X-ray goes up on the wall. The doctor’s professional opinion? “You are as beautiful on the inside as out.”
Let’s pause a moment and recognize that this is really a very weird thing for an internist to say. It’s just… really weird. We’re literally looking at a picture of my internal organs. This expression is sweet and cheesy when an old person who uses this kind of expression is talking about someone’s intangible qualities, but he actually said my lungs were as beautiful as my face. I wasn’t going to say, “Thank you,” and he had already made me uncomfortable so I’m pretty sure I said “good” and hoped we were done now. We weren’t done now. He then leaned forward until he was kind of close to my face and said, as if in wonder, “What are these eyes? What do you think are, a cat?”
I said, “No, I don’t think I’m a cat.”
Then he worked for an inordinately long time to listen to my heartbeat or my breathing or whatever it was he was trying to assess by holding a stethoscope to my chest. Evidently my discomfort was palpable, because he then asked, “What is it? Are you afraid of doctors?”
Fact: Guys, if you have to ask a girl if she is scared of you, YOU ARE BEING TOO SCARY. And if you are a doctor, you should make extra efforts NOT TO BE A CREEP.
Anyway, I got the signature, I got the certificate, and at LONG LAST and after ten months of employment, I am legally entitled to work in France.
And for future reference, Docteur J. Tretout at the Office Française de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration on Rue de la Roquette in Paris is a huge weirdo with a lung fetish.