Adventures in French Bureaucracy

Today was a big day. After three months of waiting, I finally became legal in France, and I have the x-ray to prove it. Just another adventure in the joys of French bureaucracy. The process started back in August when I went to get my visa at the French consulate. No joke, that process was about ten times harder than actually getting into grad school. The “system” is completely dated and some simple signage would do them wonders, but no, we’re dealing with the French here, so that would be too easy. Really I’m convinced that the French are firm believers in “survival of the fittest” and this is how they’re able to weed out the duds.

My special “invitation” for my x-ray only occurred after loads of paper work, filling out even more forms and then figuring out how to prove I actually live here (my 10m2 apartment isn’t worthy of a mailbox!). It was good I was as “nervous” about taking my London trip as I was, seeing as I was given a whopping 3 working days notice for my appointment that I was scheduled for 9:30am this morning. Actually, conveniently for me, it was scheduled in the middle of one of my final “exams” so I got out of listening to about 15 presentations, and instead could laugh at the wacky world the French government was about to send me through.

I arrive 10 minutes before my appointment and hand over my form to the woman at the front desk and was told to go have a seat. Having a seat became the theme of the morning. As I sat there I couldn’t help but notice the poor choice in keylime green wall color, and can’t help but ponder why ever doctor’s office in the world strives to be the tackiest place on Earth. France, I thought you’d at least rise above American standards with your design sensibilities. Or maybe you just figured that you’d have a lot of Americans coming through your doors, and you wanted to make them feel more at home.

Then I was ushered into the next room, where I was told – you guessed it – to have a seat. The chairs here were metal chairs, kind of like some you’d see in the metro, except for the fact that much wider. Was this the French way of saying, we know you foreigners, you’re all fat!? Then when the doctor called me in to the first room, he takes my height (never mind the 2in heals), weight (clothed), and asks me if I’m pregnant! Non! Is he trying to suggest that I’ve eaten a few too many patisseries since arriving in this land? Then I realize that it’s because of the x-ray machine, and I’m sent back to… go have a seat.

The next room is a bit reminiscent of going to the county fair. I couldn’t help but feel a bit like livestock when I was practically pushes into the small changing room. The woman in French tells me to take of my clothes [top only] and wait there. I needed the English translation and she was annoyed with me suggesting “what don’t you get?”. Nope, I heard heard her right the first time. I was about to have my first peep show in Paris. And my door opened and it was me the x-ray machine, and the two [female] technicians. Deep breath in, and I was done, and ushered back into my stall to put my clothes back on. Step two, and I’m realizing this experience is not nearly as amusing for men as for woman. And, I go have a seat…

The final room is one-on-one with me, the doctor and x-ray. French doctors often get a bad wrap for being cold and distant (sure, blame it on the socialist system). And given that I’m at a center that sees a windmill of people everyday, I didn’t have high hopes for this step. But I had the loveliest doctor of all. When she got to the question “do you drink alcohol? ” I responded oui, with a smile. Du vin? she asks. Oui. I found it all quite endearing, and we were able to have another moment when we got to a similar question if I eat well and have a good appetite. Bien sur, j’habite en France! So not only did I get a clean bill of health, but I I did it all en Francais, and made it to the next, and final stop – but not without being told to have a seat two more times.

At the last stop, I pulled out my passport and handed it over to the woman behind the desk. As she pasted in my brand new “carte de sejour” inside she had me lick my 55 Euro stamp I was told to bring with me. After that entire escapade, I must admit that I was a bit disillusioned to be told to paste it on a piece of printer paper. Seriously, you make me pay 55 Euros (not to mention visa and consulate fees) and make me stick it onto a piece of paper? I really wish they would have a fake envelope or something just to make me feel better. But, at the end of the day, I’m just glad I have my proper paper work (and don’t have this last minute looming medical exam hanging over my head anymore)!

So if French bureaucracy is first meant to weed out the duds, the second role it plays is to bring foreigners together. This process is ridiculous, but something we all have to go through. At the center I ran into two classmates and we all had this strange since of accomplishment. It’s a weird process, but something we all bond over. And according to one of my professor’s the process has only gotten better over the years (shocking, I know!). In fact, he shared with us my favorite tale of French bureaucracy battles so far: Someone he knows was having trouble with their paper work and went to the office to try to get it settled. The people who work on the other side of the desk are notoriously mean and heartless. This guy just needed his paper work stay in Paris, and the woman at the desk wouldn’t have it – until she had a heart attack. Lucky for her, this guy was a doctor, and saved her life. Needless to say, he ended up getting his paper work. So things do work out. . . eventually.


  • Ha, reminds me of my X-Ray in Switzerland, where I was the only American in the office who had to have one, largely because I did not fall into a pre-designated category by the Swiss. At any rate, I am 5.5″ and I was by far the tallest person of in a room full of people who were getting X-Ray’s as well! Memorable, but crazy–just have to keep a sense of humor to get through some things. And I was not even given a copy of my X-Ray.

  • I typically love your blog however today, not so much. I might find this post documenting your experience with the French medical system amusing if it wasn’t such a frightening indicator of what is to come in our country if our Marxist leader and Congress pass their so-called “health” care legislation. Unfortunately, such inconveniences as you note here are only the tip of the iceberg when in comes to the inadequacies of socialized medicine. For all those idealists who believe socialist policies such as this are a moral obligation – WAKE UP!! This is does nothing to solve the problems with our current health care system (ie skyrocketing costs as a result of outrageous malpractice suits, insuring all the uninsured, providing competition amongst insurance companies to lower costs) – instead, this plan is the biggest power grab by the US govt in history and will result in covering less than half of those currently uninsured, raising premiums drastically, and greatly diminishing the quality of health care ALL Americans can currently receive. NO American is denied health care in this country however they might be if we have a socialist system where rationing leads to unnecessary deaths (Is it a coincidence that cancer deaths are substantially higher in the UK? I don’t think so!). I hope the public wakes up to how this administration is trying to “CHANGE” this great nation from one of innovation and prosperity into what could ultimately look similar to the former Soviet Union!!

  • dear anonymous,

    thank you for your comment. just a few things to respond to:

    1. while this post includes a medical exam, it is primarily a post about immigration formalities. i have never talked to anyone on the flip side, but i’m guessing it’s no walk in the park as is in the US either.

    2. start to finish this process was 1 hour 15 min. perhaps my sarcasm came off the wrong way. i’ve had to wait much longer in a US waiting room, with disgruntled visitors. here, everyone seemed to understand and laugh at the process. it’s only natural to have to wait for x-rays etc. this was the best care i’ve experienced in a long time.

    3. clearly i am on the other side of the health care issue. in the US, not only was it nearly impossible for me to make appointments, but more often than not my doctor would spend more time complimenting my outfit or being eager to up the dosage of medication she was perscribing to me (this lead to a medical induced ulcer!). i always took advantage of the “patient first” walk in health care after that, as it seemed more reflective of the european system. as is, the US system is pretty much my idea of living hell – i’d rather get sick than deal with it. perhaps (even with a good job and full coverage) i just had more bad experiences than most.

    4. i disagree with your assumed statement that “socialized” medicine would result in less people getting coverage. the ease and accessibility of making an appointment in france, is something i can tell you works. without having to jump through insurance loopholes and issues of coverage, you can get to the point of your problem – YOUR HEALTH without having the system giving you a greater headache.

    this is my stance on the issue.


  • Has anonymous even lived in a country with universal healthcare? So quick to lay down the socialist card without really understanding the benefits of nationalized coverage and the implications of healthcare in the US remaining a for-profit BUSINESS.

    Also, the French health system is a mix of public and private healthcare, so that bologne about the public option putting private healthcare options out of business is not an inevitability. Second, the privatized healthcare here IS NOT FOR PROFIT!

    Take a look at the mess in the US and how many low-middle class individuals can’t even afford to get the medicine they need or the treatment they require.

  • The reason they do the chest x-ray (and oftentimes a blood test) when you come in is so that they can screen for potential conditions that may indicate a long-term disease that can cost a lot in the long run and decrease quality of life: Lung cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes…

    Because everyone foots the bill for (quality) medical care, there is a focus on screening early for potential problems. If they had found anything in your chest X-ray, you wouldn’t be barred from entering the country, but counseled on what you could do to avoid XXX or YYY.

    I’ll take that over the Oh-look-I’ve-been-wheezing-for-years-and-it-turns-out-I-have-incurable-cancer approach to healthcare any day.

  • The last time I recounted a story about French health care on my blog, stating that I had wonderful care and that it was a great system, I had a commenter telling me to “go home” if I didn’t like the system in France.
    People just don’t get it sometimes.

    As for Anonymous – why can’t people leave their names when they have an opinion? And they obviously have no idea what their talking about.

  • I’m an American living in France. The reason I retired here instead of staying in the US and living in a warm climate area ws threefold. The south of France has a very livable climate. The crime rate is so low it’s almost a nonentity, and the healthcare system (needed as we approach an older age (I’m almost 70) is very affordable. The government picks up the first 70% of most things and costs very little (in our case – nothing) and the major medical costs about $150 a month for the 2 of us and covers the other 30% including 100% of pharmaceutical costs. The major medical companies are privately held and are certainly in business for a profit. All the USA would have to do is cover everyone with Medicare and the privates would cover the rest of the fees that Medicare does not. Since the US already has many social programs what would it take to add one more? To say that the system is Marxist is to be totally out of touch with the present environment. To also say that the President is a Marxist is a blatant attempt at insulting an extraordinary individual with a theory that related to the 1860’s and not to the present era. That a government would give it’s populace the gift of affordable healthcare that would cover all persons is a wonder of the present world as opposed to the days of yore when people were treated like serfs. You should grow up sir, and join the 21st century.

  • wow — what a vivid story — loved it.

    reminded me that a trip to the post office, something that would take 20 minutes in the US, took 3 1/2 hours and shedding tears here in India — the world works in all kinds of ways, eh!

  • oh my goodness – these living in paris posts really BRING me back there.
    french bureaucracy is the worse !!! its not easy for us north americans in the beginning (read 1st-2nd year!) but it gets better… once everything is in place and taken care of! (then i left! crap.)
    i had very good experiences in general with health system in France, MUCH better than the canadian province i am from and now live in. ahem. truly awful. no matter what michael moore says – he most. def didnt check his facts with all of the provinces…
    anyways :
    congrats on being legal :)
    one of the worse parts about living in france for us was when you call say your phone or internet company because THEIR SERVICE isnt working and you are already at your wit’s end, and they put you on hold for—ever (!) while charging you x amount of centimes d’euro la minute! now thats annoying!
    (oh and, dont get me started on banks. des heures de plaisir.)

    then again, no destination is perfect. it’s all about the transition periods and the adventures that go along with them!

  • just read other comments ie anonymous’s!

    douche. (sh have been his/her chosen name i/of anonymous, or coward one or the other.)

    your reply on the other hand was perfect.

    and, yes, sometimes people just don’t get it and have no idea what they’re talking about. sad really.

    oh well.

  • Hi Anne – I had my chest x-ray for the US immigration process – the green card. I have mine framed, with a little heart-shaped doily where my heart would be…. a valetines’ present for Stark – I would only do chest x-rays for love….of a person or a place…

  • This was hilarious! It reminds me of the hoops I had to jump through to get mine (made all the worse by an office that moved – twice – in the time that I lived there and the fact that I lived en banlieue)

    Congrats on your chest XRay. I think I still have mine somewhere…

  • Oh yes, the French bureaucracy, had a very similar experience to yours but overall, aside from it being quite a lengthy process it was not half as bad. The people working there were very nice and the doctor was lovely! I don’t speak much French,yet, but she spoke very slow and a little bit of English and I was truly pleasantly surprised. All that said, the American bureaucracy/immigration is exactly the same if not worse, so I guess, some things are just the same no matter the country or the culture :) Oh, one thing that just doesn’t make any sense. I got my carte de sejour after living here for 6 months, it’s for a year, and due to expire in 6 months, which means that I have to try to have it extended in about 3 months…oh joy…now that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me at all!!!!


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