Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Good news, bad news - It only took a couple of minutes (and 70 days) to get my French driver's license!

Waiting in line to pass security. The man in the green jacket and aviator's cap is the one who had a gun.

The good news is that I finally have my French driver's license...70 days after I first applied! The bad news is that I had to give up my career as a truck driver to get it. Here's a timeline of events:

November 22: Stephane takes the day off from work to get our driver's licenses. Having done this in many countries, we mistakenly think that it will be an easy task. After scrutinizing all of our supporting documents, petty bureaucrat denies my application because my Swiss passport does not indicate my maiden name and place of birth. I generously offer to tell her, but she responds that she needs an official document, such as a birth certificate - translated in French, of course. Denied!

Stephane sympathizes with me, but I can tell that he's secretly relieved that he doesn't have a maiden name and will soon have his French license. But then...petty bureaucrat questions why Stephane signed our apartment lease when we were still in Switzerland. She hints that perhaps we still live there and have ulterior motives for wanting French licenses. Stephane, who is normally the calm one in our family, cracks under the pressure and makes a remark about the stupidity of the system to petty bureaucrat. She's not pleased. Denied!

November 23: We stuff the contents of our 3-drawer filing cabinet into a portable file and return to the Prefecture de Police. We wait. Our numbers are finally called and another petty bureaucrat asks for a slew of completely different attestations and documents. Stephane whips them out with lighting fast efficiency in an obvious battle of Swiss organization versus French petty bureaucracy. He's determined to beat the system. When Stephane disappears to make yet another copy of an obscure document, petty bureaucrat and I have the following conversation in French:

PB: You will receive a letter in the post informing you of the date of your medical check-up.
MK: Why do I need a medical check-up?
PB: For your truck driver's license.
MK: (Certain that I had misunderstood) Excuse me, but I don't want a truck driver's license.
PB: Well, it's included on your Swiss license. You can give it up if you want (looks at me suspiciously because she believes that I'm going to give up my career as a truck driver and live off the social welfare system in France).
MK: If I give up the truck driver's license, do I still need a medical exam?
PB: No
MK: OK, I'll just take the driver's license for cars.

The back of my Swiss driver's license apparently indicates that I can drive semi-trucks!

Stephane finally reappears and relinquishes his career as a truck driver, too. [What's really funny is that PB wouldn't give me a license because she didn't know my maiden name but was prepared to let me drive a huge semi-truck in Paris because she misunderstood the classification system of Swiss vehicles. That's scary!]

Approved! Now, we had to wait for the invitation from the police to pick up our licenses.

December 12: We receive letters inviting us to present ourselves at the police station after January 20. The invitation includes a long list of documents to bring with us.

February 1: Stephane and I leave home at 7:50 am, ride the metro for 40 minutes to Porte de Clignancourt and wait in the freezing cold to pass security. We end up waiting a lot longer because one of the guys in front of us has a gun with rubber bullets. As policemen scurry to encircle the man, Stephane and I make our way to the all too familiar second floor. After showing another petty bureaucrat all of our papers (again!), we sit down and wait.... Stephane receives an email from his boss saying that he needs to go over a presentation with him before noon. More minutes tick by.... PB calls us to her desk a couple of times to ask if North Dakota (where I was born) is in the United States and to demand another attestation. Stephane develops a maniacal look in his eyes and comments that he understands why the man in line had a gun. I worry about Stephane's sanity and pat his arm. Finally, we're told that we'll receive our licenses in a couple of minutes. And, we did - a couple of minutes plus 70 days!

Now that I've received my driver's license, I need to upgrade my status from "newbie" in Paris to something else. Any ideas?

My French driver's license! It took petty bureaucrat 1 hour and 4 minutes to review our documents (for the 3rd time!) and to issue our driver's licenses. 

26 comments:

  1. How exciting! Now you can join all the other crazy drivers encircling the Arc....Congrats "Newbie on Wheels!"
    nancyb926

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    1. Thanks - I'm going to stick with the metro for the time being! It's a lot safer for me and everyone else. :)

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  2. Oh man...now I feel discouraged - I sent in my DL by mail in order to do a change of name/address and was planning on going to pick it up tomorrow, but after reading your post, maybe I'll wait until I feel up for a fight!!

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    1. Good luck! I hope that it isn't such a big deal to do a name/address change. A longtime resident of Paris told me today that the best way to deal with French bureaucrats is to just give them whatever they ask for and not argue. She even had a funny story of how they "created" documents because there was no way that they could obtain them otherwise.

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  3. Ha ha, very funny, I loved the part about giving up your truck-driving career to live off social welfare. I had much the same experience, except in my case they suspected me of "moving" to New Zealand for the nefarious purposes of obtaining a licence (because I am in France on a UK passport) and I had to prove I had a good reason for being in NZ. Being born there did NOT count as a good reason!

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    1. Isn't it funny how creatively suspicious they are? Or maybe you aren't the first person who moved to NZ to get a driver's license so that you could use it to work the system in France! And since you were born there, I bet that your parents were in on the deal, too!

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  4. PS I love your little weather widget - very poetic! "Pâle soleil d’hiver – de plus en plus sec et froid avec une bise glaciale en journée"

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    1. Thanks! :) I just got a new weather widget. Today's forecast sounds more ominous and not quite so poetic - ACCENTUATION DU FROID. I'm still trying to figure out how to get a French radio widget. I'm a bit of a widget junkie.

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  5. Patient? I can't even imagine, the DMV here drives me crazy, the thought of doing that in another language, oy.

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    1. Yeah, this tried our patience big time. Has Sara told you about how we picked her up at the airport and then made her take the metro home because we were determined to get out driver's licenses on the second visit. I think that she felt a bit abandoned when we gave her a metro ticket, a few Euros and the keys for the apartment shortly after she arrived in Paris.

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  6. Wonderful post - could just picture everything -- the craziness, your hubby's growing impatience, etc.

    As the Aussie say, good on you, mate. Bigtime!

    Cheers and can't wait to read about your driving adventures.

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    1. Thanks! I already had a bit of an adventure in Paris-St-Ouen when I had to drive around the block to pick Stephane up. My fingers were clutched to the steering wheel and I was dripping with sweat after 5 minutes of going 30 km per hour! ;)

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  7. You forgot to mention having to pick me up at the airport at 6:00am, then getting stuck in rush hour traffic on the highway en route to the bureau...then getting lost and going around and around in circles cuz dad put the wrong address in to the GPS - oops!

    So glad you finally got your license!! This deserves a celebration :)

    That said, I'll really miss riding around in semis with you :( Devastated.

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    1. No more driving the big rig around Paris and squeezing down narrow side streets. It really won't be the same in a car! :(

      I also neglected to mention how we told you to make your own way home on the metro because we were determined to get our driver's licenses. Wish you were here to celebrate with us!

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  8. Hilarious post!

    I laughed throughout (e.g. the battle of the wills - Swiss vs French), but my favorite part was the French bureaucrat's asking whether North Dakota was, in fact, in the United States. LOL...

    But then I started wondering what percentage of Americans would know the answer to that question!

    Your Friends in Boston

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    1. Are you saying that most Americans would think that I'm Canadian!? ;)

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  9. Reading your post made me curious - I've just checked my own (Swiss) driver's licence to verify what kind of cars (or trucks or motorcycles) I'm entitled to drive. And true, there's no maiden name on it. Instead a very, very old picture of me, taken shortly after our wedding (so you know how old it must be, since today is our anniversary)!! And no, I don't have a fancy new credit-card-like driver's licence; mine is still in blue paper. I'm glad that in those 31 years of driving around Switzerland I had to show it to a policeman only once, can you believe it?!! Have fun on the streets of Paris...

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    1. Happy Anniversary! The place of origin on my Swiss passport also confused them because the French use the place of birth, like we do in the States, to identify someone. Stephane told me that some of his colleagues who moved here from Switzerland told him that they did the medical test because they didn't ask why it was necessary, so they must have incorrectly given them licenses to drive trucks. The French must think that there are a lot of Swiss truck drivers moving here for some reason.

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  10. Oh boy, what a palaver! We still have our Irish ones but they expire soon so we'll have to run the gauntlet and get our French ones. I'll be prepared for the truck thing now since we can drive small ones on our Irish licence too!

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    1. How long have you lived here? Don't you have to get your French driver's license within 1 year? I wonder how they'll handle Irish truck drivers! ;)

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  11. I have a very short fuse with stupid and inefficient people... that whole situation would have driven me batshit crazy...;)

    Congrats on getting your French driver's license!:) But would you really want to drive in Paris, though?;)

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    1. Thanks! No, I REALLY don't want to drive in Paris! I just need it for when I drive outside of Paris.

      The inefficiency of it all is what was really getting to Stephane. One person would staple papers together and then another one would unstaple them. There's a lot of wasted time - both their and ours.

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  12. Hmmm. I was about to make this the next thing on my to-do list since Pennsylvania licenses can be turned in. Sounds scary now. I love the intensity of Stephane whipping out all his papers with "Swiss organization." Amazing!
    Congrats and good luck around Etoile!!! PS: You were born in North Dakota?? How interesting!

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    1. You're lucky that you have a license from PA! I've heard horror stories from Americans who had to take the test because they were coming from non-reciprocal states.

      You probably know it already, but you can't apply for your license until you've lived here for 6 months but you have to do it within 1 year. And the really good news is that the license is free -- as long as you don't count the hours that you waste waiting to get it.

      Yeah, there aren't too many people who are from ND. I don't have any memories of it though because we moved shortly after I was born.

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  13. What about "resident alien in Paris..." :p

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    1. Ha! That's a fitting description! :)

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