22 January 2007

An Alternative Look at French Bureaucracy

To date, our journey through the maze of French bureaucracy to reach the golden prize of a Carte de Sejour (residency card) has been long and twisty. Suffice it to say that we have lived here over a year and a half and still have never seen this carte.

Today it took a very surprising turn. I was sent a letter...called a convocation in French...requesting that I present myself at the offices of ANEIM...basically the medical office for foreigners...at 1:30 pm with a recent chest x-ray, vaccination records, medical records and my eye glasses. With much trepidation for a day of pure bureaucratic insanity, I arrived with only the first and last items and hopes that I could bedazzle my way through the missing middle bits. I was armed with a thick magazine, my latest knitting project and lots of anticipation. The receptionist at ANEIM was a master of keeping the flow moving. She was amazing. She knew every person in the waiting room and who they were waiting for. She kept telling all of us the status of our wait. At one point, a doctor had to leave to an emergency and she told us that we may have to come back on Wednesday. Then when another doctor arrived, she announced that we would definitely make it through the system today. Every time a nurse came out to take another person, she made sure that they were taking them in the correct order so that we all were seen as we had arrived. Her energy and friendliness were incredible.

First I met with a nurse who weighed and measured me, tested my blood sugar and eye sight and ran me through a battery of questions. Mostly we talked about the fact that she had lived in San Jose, California for a time when her husband worked for IBM. She was so sweet. She advised me on all the health issues that women in their 40s should be aware of and which doctors I should go see regarding these issues.

I then met with a doctor who examined my chest x-ray for TB and ran through a family history series. After a few questions, she took to explaining how the French health insurance system works. She emphasized that since I was here on a visitor's visa, I would have no insurance from an employer. Therefore, I needed to go to the Social Security office and ask to be put on the national health insurance and then I should cancel any insurance that we had paid for. She wrote down a list of the abbreviations of the type of coverage that I should ask for. She then reviewed the process where you pick a doctor and then they send you to the dentist, eye doctor, ob/gyn, etc...all of which are covered by this FREE insurance. I was flabbergasted. There had never been a mention that when you receive a visitor's carte de sejour, you win the insurance lottery.

The receptionist then gave me a thoroughly stamped paper to take to the mayor's office. Within three weeks he told me I would be the owner of my carte de sejour. On my way out of this truly wonderful experience that ended up taking all of one hour, all of the bureaucrats wished me a bonne journee et bon continuation with cheerful waves. Ah French bureaucracy...

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