Not just another visitor’s visa — my DIY Carte de Séjour!

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My temporary Carte de Séjour

La Carte de Séjour, one of several varieties of titres de séjour, is a French residency document enabling us non-European Union francofolles and francofoux to pursue Paris addiction undisturbed for an entire year.

In pursuit of La Carte, we will have proved to the French government, that, no matter what, we won’t go running to them for financial support — definitely not in the form, for instance, of free health care.  Oh, by the way, without a carte de séjour, I discoveredone can’t even apply for French health insurance. But sans an approved health insurance policy, don’t bother applying for a carte de séjour. . . .

American expats, I was vaguely aware, commonly hire consultants to facilitate the process of prying the official séjour document from the bureaucracy — not to mention to help navigate the health insurance catch 22, and myriad other complexities of resettling in la belle France. The consultants charge what their expert help is worth. A lot. So, I opted for DIY. How did it go? I promise I’ll just hit the high points. . . .

In late 2015, I showed up (again) at the French Consulate in Manhattan to apply for a simple visitor’s visa. The visa is valid for a period longer than the three months (90 days) period when Americans may visit France with only a passport for documentation. At this point, I’d become accustomed to spending at least six months of the year pursuing my rêve français (French dream), so I’d been a repeat visa applicant.

Ten months?!” the consular official’s Gallic eyebrows rose. “Well, okay — “but now you’ll apply for your Carte de Séjour. Here’s the address in Paris; show up within two months of your arrival in the city.” Inadvertently, I’d crossed a bureaucratic threshold. 

La Préfecture de Paris (police HQ) done up in tricolor lighting — to celebrate my Carte de Séjour?  

We need to see more mouvement in your French bank account  —  more euros — so we know you’re actually living here,  explained a bureaucrat last summer, on examining bank statements. Translation: more bank transactions to show that indeed I am here in the lovely capital,  contentedly eating, drinking wine, doing my bit for the local economy.

What’s more, and even better — 2017 was the only year in my history when I lived in Paris all year long, in just one location. No more loading expatriated possessions into taxis and riding half way across the city to a different exchange apartment . . . . A different what?

For years, I’ve routinely searched home exchange sites to find une parisenne or un parisien to live in my Manhattan 1BR while I occupy his or her Paris digs — usually engaging in serial swaps with one Frenchy for a few months, then another Frenchy for another couple of months. Anything to manage to stick around la ville de lumière.

But in 2017, I exchanged all year with only one Frenchy, a gentil French MD doing some très important medical research in NYC. He pays his Paris co-op maintenance, oh là là! And I, likewise pay to maintain my co-op apartment in Harlem. An apartment with the special New York Affordable Housing distinction, accorded by the expensive city that created that budget-friendly, official real estate category. Along with a variety of related “guidelines” (more on those in a minute).

In Paris, on Tuesday, 14 novembre 2017, I heard the word I’d waited for since 2016 from the bureaucrat corps at Paris police HQ. . . Oui, said the beneficent bureaucrat in whose discreet booth I sat. Et voilà, I’m good to go — I mean, stay, officially — for an entire year in Paris. A confirmed parisienne

“. . . That’ll be 269 Euros, s’il vous plait. The bureaucrat readily recalled the days when the fee for la Carte was only 106 euros. Never mind, for the francofolle, Paris is worth it. Also worth some collateral expenses — translations of every requisite English-language document (official translations only, don’t try this at home!) starting with my . . . birth certificate. How many euros for the translations? Never mind. More mouvement on my French bank statements.

After months of bureaucracy angst — I mean angoisse — finally I was taking a deep, deep breath. And sharing a glass of bubbly in the select company of supportive amies, one of whom I met in the early 70s, in Morocco.

Meanwhile, back in Harlem. . . In an ironic twist, the Affordable Housing bureaucrats had decreed in concert with my co-op board that my 2017 exchanger, the Burgundian Frenchy MD, must now sublet — officially — the same charming, Affordable Housing 1BR apartment he already was enjoying in Central Harlem. But, about those Affordable Housing guidelines. . . might the Frenchy MD be deemed over-qualified to sublet affordable housing?! The jury of New York real estate bureaucrats did their esoteric thing, on their own timetable. The suspense would be over (wouldn’t it?) by the time I hit my native N.Y.C. for a holiday interval in late December. Did someone say bureaucracy angoisse?

The bureaucrat ‘jurors,’ hard at work somewhere in the downtown civic center, did pronounce the Frenchy MD an acceptable sublet applicant! Bureaucracy angoisse over — right? Well, what about that co-op board I mentioned? Right — another ‘jury’ with my case on their docket as 2018 blew in.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, more or less as my flight from Newark airport landed smoothly at Orly airport, the Préfecture text materialized in my French cell phone: Show up and collect your permanent Carte de Séjour! When. . .? Between noon and two PM, on the very next day. . . I’d trade in the document you see above left for the real, durably laminated Carte. My one-year (renewable) Carte boasts the same ID photo as the paper version, but is much smaller. I realized no one had ever shown me theirs. Size doesn’t matter; fits nicely in handbag (if you dare leave home with it; some prefer a photocopy.)

In the February Paris chill, I kept my Carte de Séjour cozy. In the February New York chill, a Harlem co-op board sifted through their overflowing IN basket. (Let’s not debate which city has the worst weather, it’s too close to call. . . .) What with one bureaucratic thing and another, thanks to the board, the suspense lasted until April-in-Paris cherry blossoms had bloomed and April-in-Manhattan snows had melted. When my exchanger’s sublet finally was stamped Official by my co-op, I was . . . just about half way to the — routine! — renewal deadline for my Carte de Séjour.


 

Missing urban presences — Paris, Brussels, Bordeaux

Ria (l.) and Suzanne, two from my Brussels charmed circle

Ria suggested in an email that Paris, in tandem with her city, Brussels, are like my part-time lover. Maybe, she added, that’s why you’re so in love. Ria is one of a Brussels circle of long-time special friends whose welcome charmed the city for me. The part-time lover idea appealed; after all, part-time is known to keep feelings potent, n’est-ce pas?

Place Royale in handsome Brussels

My first Brussels belle, Nicole, took this photo of the Musée Magritte, irresistible lure of the Royal Art Museum complex in the Place Royale

When I thanked Ria for the insight, she replied in an even deeper vein: In life, she wrote, rather than keep on missing — one feels better sustained by desire.* The better I get to know my friends’ handsome city, the more Brussels complements ethereal Paris. Two capitals after my own heart. And city missing may attack with no warning. . . .

On New York’s extreme east side — genteel but remote turf well north of midtown Manhattan — on a day when I’d skipped lunch, where could I go to fend off late-afternoon starvation? Just one more block east, said an informant, at a place named something like Pinocchio’s –? The array of sweets at first had my full attention in Beanocchio’s, but then as I Continue reading

Defining ‘francofolie’ – Sarah’s turn

Sarah, from francophile to francofolle

Sarah, from francophile to francofolle

You’ll soon read that Sarah, a Brit graduate of Columbia University, has a real feel for French language. But bear with me, first, for a (self-indulgent) diversion about my own folie.

An element of francofolie may indeed be an affinity for the language. Where did you learn French? I’m asked. Why do you speak well? When I speak well, which is far from always (a glass or so of wine really can boost my fluency), I explain it’s because I make an ongoing effort — je fais un effort. (But when I say, I learned on the pillow — sur l’oreiller — that gets a smile from Frenchies, too.)

As for the effort, when not in France, I go for one French course per semester at FIAF (French Institute Alliance Francaise), where teachers assign riveting French reading, and students discuss. Also vital — a heavy dose of French movies — one almost every Tuesday — included, gratis, in your FIAF membership!

Jean Gabin in Le Jour se leve

And FIAF movies are just a start. At the Film Forum, in Greenwich Village, I can . . .you-can-she-can (etc.)  see the best of new French films — and classics. In the tatter category, Film Forum is about the only commercial venue where you could catch a classic like Le Jour se leve (1939). “Another Sunrise” (my title translation effort) with famed actor Jean Gabin. Alors, getting back, finally, to Sarah:

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Merci, former French cultural counselor Antonin Baudry, for Albertine bookstore

I empathize with your feeling, she emailed, of missing French culture (or, to put it in the French grammar form which I find more poetic, to have Paris ‘missing from you’); even though I am not French in the slightest and only lived in Paris for two months in the summer, during that time I became a helpless francophile and now feel something lacking in my New York experience. I find myself thinking back almost daily to the independent bookstores. . . in the Latin Quarter, the relaxed café culture and the patisseries which I would make regular pilgrimages to during my short time there.

Clearly, Sarah is well on her way from francophile to francofolie.  As for indie French bookstores, in New York, where for about 15 years there was a desert where French books should have been, a brilliant French Cultural Counselor genie arranged for an oasis:  beautiful and well-stocked. Called Albertine, the shop is housed on two levels of Continue reading