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Bureaucratic Play

French consulate regions

French consulate regions

It’s hardly news that bureaucratic functionaries love to toy with people. Who can blame them? One has to have some fun in one’s life. As a result, I’ve been anxious for months about Joel’s need to get a student visa for his time in France this fall. It’s required for any stay of over 90 days, and Joel will be studying in Grenoble from early September through December 19. The rules are that you need to show up in person at the consulate to which your home region is assigned, do so at least two weeks ahead of departure, and bring a long list of documents.

My first worry was, is Joel eligible to submit the application at the Boston consulate? If they insisted that Seattle is his home address, he would have to go down to San Francisco. (There seems to be no way around showing up in person at one of the ten consulates around the country. See the map here, also copied above. Notice that Louisiana gets its own consulate, which I suppose makes historical sense. So does Florida. I can’t imagine why.)

My second worry was that Joel would get around to it too late, especially if he showed up for his appointment in Boston and was told they can’t do it, he has to go to SF. My third worry was that he’d have failed to comply with some paperwork requirement, as interpreted by the fonctionnaire. And my fourth worry was simply that they’d screw him, just for the heck of it, like a cat toying with a mouse.

So anyway, Joel flies out of Boston a week from Sunday, nine days from now, to London and then Paris. That means to meet the two-week-prior requirement, he should have been to the consulate by last Friday at the latest. It didn’t work out that way. When he got around to making an appointment, the best he could do was three days ago, Tuesday morning of this week. In Boston. He had other things on his mind, like finishing up his summer half-term classes a week ago. This would be the week to deal with visa and apartment. Gail flew to Boston Monday, arriving that night, and got up way early (Seattle time) Tuesday morning so she could accompany him to the consulate. One of the paperwork requirements was a document attesting that your parents could provide for you financially, so what better way was there to do that than to have a parent present?

I wasn’t there, so I’m not the one to tell the consulate story. The main point is that the consulate official, noting that Joel had not met the two-week requirement, said that the best she could do is get the visa sent to us at the end of next week. Next Friday. It could be sent FedEx. Indeed, that’s the only option, and one of the items you need to bring is a prepaid FedEx mailer, which fortunately Joel arranged to get on Monday afternoon. That night I gave him our account number so it could be charged to us. Now, the thing is, it would be sent Friday to Seattle and Joel would be flying Sunday to France. That doesn’t quite work. Unless we pay extra for FedEx Saturday delivery, which we agreed to do. And even that doesn’t work very well. It means Joel can’t fly from Seattle back to Boston that Saturday morning, and flying out Sunday morning wouldn’t allow him to catch the 6:00PM flight from Boston to London. Well, there’s always overnight, and that’s what I booked him on, once we had all the information. The plan, then, was: visa sent Friday, visa arrives Saturday, Joel takes off Saturday night, arrives in Boston Sunday morning, kills 10 hours, takes off for London Sunday night.

I could say more, but again I wasn’t there. Like, there was the mother and daughter who cut in front of Joel and two other parties, all having 10AM appointments at the consulate. There is no first-come, first served apparently. Some fonctionnaire, ready to take the next case, asked for a 10AM appointment, and this mother jumped. But the galling thing is that they got their visa immediately, because there wasn’t enough time to send it, whereas Joel couldn’t even have his shipped a day sooner to simplify life.

Okay, so here’s the punch line. The visa came. An hour ago. The doorbell rang, I saw a FedEx truck out the window, I ran like hell to the front door so I wouldn’t miss him. I took the envelope from him, opened it up, and there was Joel’s passport, with visa glued to a page.

Let’s review. The consulate got his application Tuesday. They processed it Wednesday. They shipped it Thursday. It arrived Friday. No big deal. But we were told they wouldn’t ship it until next Friday. Our mild effort to ask if it could be sent sooner was met with the observation that we were late in getting there. Tough luck. We would have to pay the FedEx Saturday delivery fee, and if something went wrong, Joel wouldn’t be making his flights. Plus, because of the anticipated Saturday delivery, I had to book Joel on an overnight flight to Boston through JFK.

It’s here. We can relax. That’s the important thing. But what was the point of all the toying with us? Oh, I guess I already answered that at the beginning. Just because. One has to have some fun.

Further good news is that Gail and Joel have succeeded, as of 2 hours ago, in emptying Joel’s apartment, turning in the key, getting rid of the rental car, and checking out of the hotel room. Three days of hard work. Now they just have to wait for tonight’s flight, already scheduled over an hour late, with an arrival time in Seattle after 1:00 AM local time. It’s going to be a long day.

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Categories: Culture, Family, Government, Travel
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