Thursday 17 January 2013

OFII - A French Waiting Game

OFII... The dreaded visit for all holders of a French visa. It's an appointment made for you by the French Administration basically so that you can show to them that you do not, in fact, have tuberculosis. And thus, with that, you can be in France legally. But wait, before you go to your appointment, you must pay 60 euro for a stamp! And you must provide absurd amounts of paperwork! And when you get there you must be prepared to dedicate at least 4-5 hours of your busy day to... waiting! And then, you must wait some more!

I traveled all the way down to the OFII offices in Montrouge, right outside Paris, and fortunately there was a big sign outside the metro station that said OFII --->, because otherwise, I would have been totally lost. There was snow on the ground and despite my attempts to be bundled up, the cold pierced through my 87 layers and went straight for the bone marrow. Hmm... so this is what winter feels like?

I arrived, checked in with the lady at the front desk who already had a print-out of my paperwork in a stack with everyone else's, and I was quickly ushered into the waiting room, where I sat, and waited, for nearly two hours. I was surrounded by a large number of immigrants, like me, waiting to get the green light on our TB-Free French stay. There was a tv screen across the room that had me mesmerized. I was eating an apple while simultaneously watching the dissection of a large octopus on tv. This was the entertainment for us while we waited to be stripped down to sub-human levels of embarrassment (okay, thats an exaggeration, I admit). I actually found it amusing, and I was both fascinated and disgusted as I watched a muslim woman without gloves, in an old turquoise medical room somewhere in Tunisia gracelessly cut open the slimy invertebrate with her rusty scalpel.

Finally, after a women had come in a number of times and called every name but mine, and after I had eaten all my snacks, and after I had watched another woman on TV make a pot of octopus couscous, I was called for my turn to be seen. Or rather, my turn to wait a little bit more. I followed her into the medical examination offices, where, along with 5 other people, I was greeted by an impatient blonde woman who rushed me to put my things down and give her a urine sample. I turned around, and behind us, in this wide open room, were three bathroom stalls with small, short little blue doors. Welp, okay then. I did my thing, and came out awkwardly holding a cup of urine, feeling bashful in front of the several other people in the room that could clearly see everything I was holding. Now, in the US, giving a urine sample (at least at my hospital) involves going in a large, private bathroom, taking two sterilized cups with all of the necessary medical information already printed on them, doing your business, then, at your leisure, leaving the cups (sealed with a nice, clean orange lid, hidden in a brown paper bag, of course) inside the mysterious little stainless steel 2-way door/box in the wall. You leave it, and quietly go on your way. At OFII, they roll a little differently.

Next, in the same room with the same woman and the same people watching (and also doing the same thing as me), I was weighed and measured, and rushed out to the little seating area where I sat and watched other poor souls go through the same awkward procedure I had just finished. Another woman came out from one of the many bizarre doors in this large room and called me in to have my vision tested. Turns out, I'm not blind.

I was then escorted into Door 42, another bizarre blue stall, and told to remove all of my clothing from the waist up for a chest x-ray - aka the TB exam. Even though I had been through this process before, I still found myself taken by surprise. I was standing in my little stall, topless and looking in the mirror, awkwardly trying to find a way to look like I was just casually covering my chest (arms crossed) when the door on the other side of the stall swung right open and a woman (to my relief - it was a man last time) called me in, but not before asking for my paperwork, which forced me to put my arms down and walk in, baring all. Once inside the room, I saw a large x-ray machine, and I saw a man, sitting at his desk, looking at things on his computer. I wanted to wonder why he was there, I wanted to feel embarrassed about being topless infront of a strange man in his office, and I wanted to know why no one seemed to think this was weird, but it all happened so fast, I just found myself pressed up against a cold plastic thing, inhaling and exhaling as the woman took my x-ray in record speed. Finally, I was done, she sent me back to Door 42, and I was able to put my 87 layers back on. For now.

I thought I was done, but no, I had to sit and wait a little bit longer in that same open room where people were still being assembly-lined in and out of the urine offering station. I spent a very, very long time reading the "I got tested for HIV" posters in French, and I'm pretty sure I have each one memorized now. Eventually, a kind lady in purple called me in to another weird stall, and asked me to sit down next to her at her computer while she looked at my x-ray. She asked me to take my sweater off when I first entered the room, then seeing that I had a long-sleeved shirt on, asked me to take that one off too. My shirt underneath was also a long-sleeve, so alas, I found myself without clothing once again, sitting at a computer with a lady who seemed to be in no rush to allow me to put my clothes back on. She first asked me all sorts of questions like if I have been vaccinated against TB, and I just said "I think so", and apparently that is official enough because she marked a check in the "Oui" box, and moved on. More questions followed, none of which I actually knew the answer to, but it didn't seem to matter, as long as I "assumed" I had had all my shots and tests and exams and what have you. She finally took my blood pressure (the reason for which I had to disrobe) and ushered me out after I quickly got dressed again.

Phew, almost done.

I went back to the front desk, the lady directed me upstairs, around the corner down the hall, in front of the blahblahblah (I have no idea what she actually said), and when I got there, I found an old familiar friend: a waiting room. When it was my turn, a friendly, handsome young French man invited me into his little cubicle and asked for the magical 60 euro stamp, my endless paperwork, my passport, etc, and after making a few funny jokes (that I actually understood, in French) and making me smile for the first time in 3 hours, a big blue sticker was placed inside my passport, taking up an entire page, and I was sent on my way, back into the cold.

Et voil√†! I am now officially, legally in France. But shit man, they don't make it easy. Pro tip: Bring a book.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Octopus dissection?!!!!!! The DMV has some major shoes to fill!

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