The Stressful Things Of Life

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So much has happened in the last few weeks that I don’t really know where to start. I mentioned it before disappearing into a whirlwind of life-changing events, but we’ve just ticked a couple of boxes of Most Stressful Things You Could Face In Life. I knew from experience that moving house was one of them so I looked online and sure enough, this is what I found:

1. Buying or selling a house.

2. A relationship break-up or divorce.

3. Getting laid off.

4. A death in the family.

5. Getting fired.

6. Being in debt.

7. Starting a new job.

8. Becoming a parent for the first time.

9. Planning a wedding.

10. Going broke or bankrupt.

Number 1 and 7 happened to us in a really short space of time: we moved one week and I started a new job – after a break of nearly four years – the next. The week after we moved I also became a student again and started a qualification in business management, in addition to having to find a childminder for the girls and buying a second car.

I must admit that I surprised myself by not getting stressed by the expected things. The packing was  painful and we lived in boxes for 2 months so by the end I was tired of it but, incredibly enough, not stressed. In the midst of that I went for a couple of interviews and got the job, and it was an odd time but not stressful to me.

What did happen however, was that there was only so much space in my head for the multitude of other decisions I needed to make in the space of two weeks, and I simply couldn’t give each issue the amount of engagement and energy they required. So finding a childminder and a car, these two things got to me. I found myself one Wednesday morning chatting to a friend when the realisation that I needed to sort these things out in the next seven days suddenly overwhelmed me so there I was, crying over stuff I didn’t even know I had been stressed about.

Life has been… exhilarating, busy, challenging, and then some!

We moved into our brand new house three weeks ago today, and it’s been momentous and exhausting. I am still in disbelief that it is a real thing that happened and I catch myself at times ‘so we actually live here?‘, as we had no immediate plans to move before mid-December when it all started. As to the move itself, it went very well but I am SO GLAD it is behind us now. I have had enough of living in boxes and I look forward to never doing it again. Unfortunately I can already tell this is going to continue for a while yet, as this past month confirmed that Badgerman and I both have the tendency to keep things, we’re basically beginner-level hoarders. The house is gorgeous, with loads of light and very well finished (one friend came to visit and left suffering from ‘banister envy’ as she put it). To be honest, it’s hard for me to get my head around just what an amazing turn of events this is. I’ve rented my whole life and house prices being what they are in the South East, it looked unlikely that we would be able to afford anything this spacious so I couldn’t be more grateful (even though we do only own a bit of it).

Then there’s the new job, and a completely new routine for the whole family. I was most anxious for the girls rather than for me, hence the meltdown over finding suitable childcare for them at short-notice – how could I think to move them from the only house they ever knew AND disappear into working life the next week? It turns out that the ‘children are resilient’ saying is true of my own; both girls seem to have adapted to their new circumstances with relative ease.

I don’t like being so busy that I don’t have the head-space to write or think about writing, but between adjusting, unpacking and studying (just, WHAT), it is where I am at the moment. I am aware that I am still in ’emergency mode’ and that I need to find a new routine for myself so that I don’t just play catch-up with my life but am able to carve space for relaxing and blogging. I’ll let you know when I figure it out!



Passport woes and a miracle

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French expats blogs all have at least one thing in common. Actually, strike that, blogs from French expats AND from expats living in France, all have one thing in common. They all contain at least one post bemoaning French bureaucracy, be it the post office, the embassy, the social security people; whatever the problem, if you need official paperwork done, you are a little bit in the merde.

At least, it strikes indiscriminately, so don’t go thinking that being French is in any way a protection against uptight bureaucrats, convoluted paperwork and red tape. Hells no! Now I can add my own story (another one!) to the long list of disgruntled blog posts that festers within the depths of the internet.

Instant French Failure

Last April, I sent out Luciole’s British birth certificate to the French Consulate to be transcribed into French so she would officially exist on their records. I thought I would be clever and also sort out her passport in time for our August holiday. I had all the documents at the ready; all I needed to do was to book an appointment with the Consulate to deposit the paperwork. Let’s just say I failed at the first hurdle.

I absolutely do not understand the thinking behind it but you cannot just post the bundle of paperwork over to them; you have to present yourself in person at the French Consulate to give it to them. As Luciole is a baby, I didn’t have to bring her (small mercies indeed), but I did need to go myself and represent her as her parent and carer. So far so, well, as good as it was going to get; there was not a single appointment to be had until mid-August. That’s right, you could not get a Consulate appointment between April and August, so that pretty much not just closed that door but slammed it right in our faces. I’ll spare you the exact words that came out of my mouth at that point.

UK Passport Delays

The next best thing was to get Luciole a British passport. The UK might have its bureaucratic nightmares but its nothing compared to the French system; you can send things in the post! As Badgerman is British, there was no issue of eligibility to cause any trouble, we just needed to get it all out in time. I posted the forms at the beginning of May using the special Post Office passport delivery service. About two weeks later, I received a text message saying that the paperwork had been received and that as it was a first passport (as opposed to a renewal) it would take a minimum of 6 weeks for it to be created and sent out. This gave us a deadline of 31st July at the earliest. As we were due to go away on 4th August with a weekend in between, you can imagine my state of mind…

All the while, the Passport Office was making the national news’ headlines because there were huge processing delays due to a surge in passport requests. Throughout June and July, the subject cropped up every week, doing nothing for my heart rate. There was only a small chance that we would get this passport on time, and I was already thinking about our options if we had to delay our holiday departure.

So I got together with some friends and we prayed about it. I rarely talk about my faith on here because it’s not what the blog is about but hey, that’s what we did. Can I just say at this point that my expectation about getting this stressful thing resolved was pretty much nil and the content of the prayer itself was not remotely spiritual. It was very much a case of ‘God, I don’t know if you can do anything about this, but if you could put Luciole’s application at the top of the pile, I would be really grateful, thanks’. It was mid-July, we’d heard nothing for a month and I was preparing to face the inevitable.

On the Friday (we are talking 2 days later), I got a surprise text telling me they were processing her application and that we would receive her passport within the next 7 days. This was confirmed the following Monday morning when my counter-signatory ‘person of good standing’ friend texted to say she’d just had the Passport Office on the phone checking things were in order and they confirmed it would be on its way within a day or two. And so it did, it turned up on 24th July, a whole week ahead of schedule! And exhale…

I’m happy for people to put it down to coincidence or good karma, whilst I am really on the cusp of calling it a bit of a miracle. In any case, I’m immensely grateful to God and to whomever put my girl’s application at the top of the pile, when 30,000 others were delayed. There was even a Passport Office workers strike over staffing and pay on 28th July, and they were still talking about it on 11th August. Whereas I was able to relax and celebrate birthday parties without a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over my head.

And so now, we are a truly bi-national family. Badgerman holds both nationalities, I am French, Little Girl is French and Luciole is British; not complicated at all!

Success at the French Consulate

The front cover of a contemporary French biome...
My French nemesis? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Against all odds, yesterday was a good day.

I’ve been feeling quite stressed the last few days leading up to yesterday’s trip to London to apply for French passports for me and Little Girl.

This said, even though I wasn’t looking forward to it, it wasn’t the prospect of travelling on the train alone with a baby I was dreading; I did it all last month to arrange the transcription of my marriage certificate and Little Girl’s birth certificate and it worked out fine despite the fact that there was a bus strike and I ended up taking the pushchair on the tube (which is do-able if your pushchair is lightweight and you have strong arms).

Why the stress then? Well, when I went to the Consulate in late June for the transcriptions (feeling even more stressed), I discovered that the paperwork they held for our marriage bans, which was supposed to speed up the process, had been destroyed because it was over three years old. I am not sure why they don’t use a storage facility like everybody else instead of destroying fairly recent paperwork but I’m sure they have A Very Good Reason. Not that I asked; it’s usually better not to antagonize those in control of the outcome of a strategic administrative request by asking awkward questions.

In any case, in order to validate my transcription request I now needed to produce a full original copy of Badgerman’s Acte de Naissance, requested within the last three months (as opposed to, say, an extract from the same Act, which I had with me at the time, fat lot of good it did me). This is what I mean when I say ‘if you think you have all the paperwork you need, think again and bring triplicates!’.

Once back at home, we sorted out the request for the birth certificate, which had to be signed and faxed over directly to the relevant Mairie, and we waited. And waited. It’s only when nothing arrived after two weeks that I realised that their form lacked one important piece of information: a contact number in case anything goes wrong…

So this is why I found myself this morning feeling very stressed and going up to the Consulate facing the very likely rejection of our passport applications due to incomplete paperwork.

The initial reaction from the Consulate officer was as expected: he could do my passport under my maiden name but not do Little Girl’s at all. I explained the situation with the outstanding paperwork (I may have grovelled a bit) and lo and behold, after a short wait whilst he checked our status, this wonderful wonderful man came back and said that he would be able to do my passport under my married name AND do Little Girl’s one too, as long as we forwarded Badgerman’s acte de naissance when it arrived.

I would like to think that it was my natural charm and candor that clinched it, but I suspect it had nothing to do with me at all, and that kindness was to be found at the French Consulate after all. I wish I knew this man’s name to add him to my Christmas card list.

Incidentally, I got home and the acte de naissance had turned up with the morning post. And to top up this most successful day, the French Market was in town and I bought some merguez for a true taste of France.

The pleasures of dealing with the French administration

There are only two things that are sure to send me into a whirl of anxiety: car maintenance and French bureaucracy.

In the case of car maintenance, it might just be inherent weakness on my part. For no reason whatsoever, the thought of having to put oil in a car makes me feel really stressed. It’s irrational. French administration though is known around the world for being if not the pit of hell, at the very least the hellmouth, and with reason. If you thought that only expats have trouble dealing with French bureaucrats, let me dispel that myth right away. Fully fledged French citizens like myself are more cursed than most as the fonctionnaires’ relentless need for paperwork follows us around the world and threatens our peace of mind indiscriminately. I am bracing myself as we speak.

Part of it is my fault. I thought I had all the time in the world and after Badgerman and I got married three years ago I delayed having our marriage certificate transcribed into French. I then promptly forgot all about it and it’s now coming to bite me in the backside, with added pain and suffering.

At the present time the only piece of official ID I own is my British driving license. As luck would have it, my French passport and ID card both ran out last July around the time I gave birth to Little Girl and my mind and body just weren’t in the right place to sort it out for a while afterwards. I already knew how painful it was going to be and I chose to bury my head in the proverbial sand in order to stave off the inner panic I could feel rising. Unfortunately this tactic is not going to get me anywhere now if I want to be able to take Little Girl to France to see her grand-parents over the summer. So I am faced with the task of getting our marriage certificate and Little Girl’s birth certificate transcribed as well as renewing my passport and ID card and getting a passport for Little Girl, all at the same time. Oh the fun to be had, I cannot wait.

This would be a pain under any circumstance but this stress is compounded by a bizarre practice of the French for confirming ID. To get around the fact that my out of date paperwork is under my maiden name and therefore unusable, I need to provide an extract from my birth certificate. Unlike Britain, you are not given an official document upon your birth, which you then carry around all your life and produce to confirm who you are when needed (what do you do if you lose it by the way?). That would be way too simple. Instead, the official document is held at the mairie – local council – of the town where you were born, which could be anywhere in France and its colonies, in my case, one of the many Parisian ones. You have to request a copy of the original document directly from the mairie, which they send to you in the post within 72 hours (or not at all as the case may be, and that’s how my previous attempt was thwarted). The cherry on the cake is the fact that this proof of ID needs to have been requested within the last three months. This is where I simply lose the plot. You see, I already have a LOT of these birth certificates. We are talking at least ten. But none of them can be used because they are ‘out of date’. The information on them is exactly the same, apart from the date on the official mairie stamp. ‘Why would the information be different if it is a copy of a birth certificate?’, I hear you ask. MY POINT EXACTLY.

Today I went online to order one from the mairie and started to feel really uncomfortable. Do they keep records of who asks for these things? Because if they do, they might start to wonder just how many times I have changed my name and how many passports I am trying to acquire, for all the times in the last few years that I have requested this same bit of paper.

Once I have all this stuff, I need to take myself and Little Girl to the French Consulate in London having pre-booked appointments. I was advised today that I need to book FOUR separate appointments to sort out all the paperwork, because lucky me, they are all dealt by different departments. I am already hyperventilating at the thought of all that could go wrong.

how I feel every time I think about French bureaucracy