Stewart is going through a process which we think many people like us don’t worry about, ie, becoming a legal long-stay resident in Europe, in particular in France. Here’s his report, written on 16th December:
We went off to see the French equivalent of the Immigration Department again yesterday to try to sort out my long term visa to stay here in France for longer than the prescribed three months. I hope to be able to get this as Lesley is an EU citizen.
This attempt – I’d tried to set this up before leaving Sydney – began four days ago when we went to the local Prefecture offices, just a few blocks away. They said “non, go to the police headquarters, It’s over near the Notre Dame”.
The address we had been given turned out to be not totally accurate (we found the equivalent of the goods delivery entrance), so we did what we were told to do as kids and asked a policeman – actually a policewoman. She directed us around the corner to a huge old building surrounding a vast courtyard. We found the correct entrance and inside a room full of a hundred or more foreigners all waiting to discuss their immigration requirements. We finally got to the head of the line and in our broken French asked for help with our ‘titre de sejour’. “Non, you need to go to the Prefecture de Police at Montparnasse”.
This was so far in another direction we left that expedition for the next day when with the thermometer reading just one degree Celsius, off we went again, about 6 ks across the Seine and along the wide straight boulevards to Montparnasse. We found the Prefecture de Police, however there was no wheelchair access.
After buzzing the ‘Handicap’ button on the wall a friendly gendarme suddenly appeared and took us around the back to a wheelchair lift surrounded by heaped rubbish, broken chairs and several unfortunate-looking police – mostly raggedly dressed detectives, trying to satisfy their nicotine addictions as quickly as they could out there in the cold. A scene straight out of a US cop movie!
My chair only just fitted inside the lift which inched up about a metre to the ground floor. Then the officers had to move various pieces of furniture out-of-the-way, including their security scanner (the type you see in airports) which was too narrow for the chair to fit through, so I could get to the bottom of the next set of steps. There was a ramp there, but so steep I said “non!”.
So they sent a young friendly woman who handles long-term stay visas down to interview us at the bottom of these steps just inside the front door. We had just about every document they required including passports, marriage certificate, three passport photos, proof of financial independence, etc. However our accountant, Dennis Messner’s declaration of our retirement income, an essential ingredient, had to be in French! Why didn’t he – or more to the point, we think of that? And we also lacked the magic ingredient we are often in need of: a ‘facture’. This is a gas or electricity bill with our permanent (France) address on it .. but of course we don’t have such a thing.
So after a very nice (cheap too) lunch, we came back home to Endellion – by bus, to use Google Translate to turn Dennis’ words into French. He now sounds very sexy!! And to rustle up the equivalent of the ‘facture’ which turned out to be the paid invoice from the marina here at the Port de l’Arsenal. And then off we went again all the way to the Prefecture of Police back at Montparnasse.
It was the same process as on Tuesday, but we had arrived at shift change-over time when there was much kissing on the cheeks and hand-shaking going on amongst the gendarmes. The whole atmosphere was friendly and informal. Very different from the police we had dealt with in Australia, the UK or even in Belgium. It didn’t really feel like a police station, but the guns on hips and the odd person being escorted past us (waiting in our spot at the foot of the steps in the hallway) in hand-cuffs was proof enough that this was certainly the real deal – France style.
Our young woman seemed happy with Dennis’ French, and the ‘facture’ and has arranged an appointment in January for the next stage of the process. Not at her offices here in Montparnasse, but back near the Notre Dame where we had gone on Monday. It’s a long and convoluted process, but I am very keen to be staying here legally, and to be able to relax when I see the police on their beat approaching; rather than being a genuine boat person in the fullest sense, with whom I can well relate, I will be legal.
Meanwhile, as we work our way through the red tape and the office buildings dispersed across metropolitan Paris, we are getting an unguided tour of yet another face of this remarkable city!
Stewart’s appointment is on 28th January, 2011 .. wish us luck!
Here is a map showing the area we are talking about..
A: The Ile de la Cite is where Notre Dame is and in fact is where all distances in France are measured from – across to where we are based at B: Port de l’Arsenal at Rue de la Bastille (where we are moored, at the River Seine end) – and then across to the left bank where C: Montparnasse
is and well-known for its early 1970s skyscraper which can be seen from all over Paris otherwise, refreshingly, low-rise.