Well, at least I had the sense to put a question mark when I titled this post “The End?” of my battle with the préfecture.
Because of course it wasn’t the end. That would have been too simple.
In case you missed it, I went to the prefecture not once, not twice, but three times in order to finally get my récépissé, the piece of paper that gives me the right to stay in France until I get my carte de séjour, the official legal card. And they said something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you have shown great patience and determination in this quest and will now be awarded the golden récépissé. Come back in October for your carte de séjour (and in a year you can do it all over again! Bienvenue en France.)”
And silly me, I thought I could just come back in October and get my carte de séjour. Oh, so naive.
You’ve been holding your breath waiting for me to finish my story about the préfecture, haven’t you? If you missed it, I’ve already been once in Vienne and once in Lyon trying to renew my visa. (FYI, I have a job contract specifically for a foreigner like me which gives me the right to live in France for the duration of the contract, so it’s not a legal problem – it’s a bureaucracy problem.)
To cut a long story short, I flew back from Barcelona a few days early specifically to do this whole thing over, because who doesn’t love waiting on the sidewalk for hours while the sun comes up? I brought snacks this time.
Remember when I told you about going to the préfecture in Vienne? It didn’t go so well. So I decided to try again… in Lyon. (Note: I had to change my address on paper to change préfectures.)
Unlike in Vienne, I knew what to expect at the préfecture in Lyon. My awesome expat friends gave me the inside scoop, so I knew I had to get there early and bring something to keep me busy.
I took the bus over around 5:30am. I worried that I was too early. What if there was no one around and I didn’t feel safe?
Ha. Ha. Ha.
There were over sixty people in line when I arrived. It was 5:45am. The préfecture doors open at 8:30am. By 6:15am, the line had doubled, and by 6:30am, it stretched the length of the entire block and around the corner.
So I settled in to wait. I wished I had something to sit on. I wished I had something to eat. I wished I had a latte and a blueberry muffin. But what I did have was a smartphone and a book, and so two and a half hours went by faster than you’d think.
At 8:30, the doors opened and the line moved forward. I showed my passport and visa and they gave me at ticket – number 64. Everyone rushed into the préfecture and tried to grab a seat before they were all taken. There are about 30 guichets, or windows to talk to a person, about half of which were open, and ticket numbers popped up on a screen with a bing-bong sound to show when it was your turn and which guichet you should go to. I jerked my head up every time a new number bing-bonged onto the screen, as though 64 was magically going to appear after 11.
It was 10:02am when 64 bing-bonged onto the screen. I jumped out of my chair, shaking, and rushed over to my guichet. It was almost over, and the man seemed nice. Everything was going to be fine.
He asked for my documents one by one. Copy of your passport? Work contract? Birth certificate original and copy? Last pay stubs? They piled up on his desk as I slid them through the slot in the window.
Justicatif de domicile? This is the paperwork that proves you have an address. I was worried about this one. I didn’t have a recent bill because I didn’t have access to one, but I did have a lease, which I had used before without a problem. I thought unless I got stuck with someone really mean, it would be fine. I had even brought my bank statements to prove I did have the means to rent an apartment and wasn’t living on the street. That’s the point, right?
He peered at the documents I handed over.
“I can’t accept this. Do you have anything else?”
I tried to explain that there were no other documents available, that I had used the same ones before with no problem, that I was leaving on a plane the following morning and couldn’t come back (excuses, but all true.)
He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t unfair. He simply said, “Ma’am, your dossier is not complete and I cannot accept it. It won’t do any good to cry.”
I knew I had lost, and I knew I should have known better. There was nothing I could have done about it, but I knew that unlike the woman in Vienne, he was just doing his job. And he was right.
I walked out into the sunshine in a daze. I had come to Lyon specifically for this at an inconvenient time, rushed to get my dossier ready, waited for hours on my feet as the sun came up – all for nothing. And I was leaving for Barcelona the next day and wouldn’t be back in Lyon until after my visa had expired. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and I sobbed shamelessly as passersby stared.
Normally when French bureaucracy gets me down, I go to the boulangerie and get my favorite pastry, pain aux raisins, but this wasn’t a frustration that pain aux raisins could fix. So instead…
One latte, one blueberry muffin, and a lot of love and deep breaths later, I was ready to pick myself up and carry on.
And by the end of the day, I had schemed a Plan B.
If you ever find yourself at the préfecture in Lyon, here is my advice to you:
Triple-check your dossier
Bring all the documents listed, and anything else you think the might need. I was asked for a document that was not on the list, so it’s better to be prepared. Have originals and copies whenever possible – they won’t keep the original, by they like to see it. It’s a good idea to organize your dossier so that you can find the documents easily – that way you aren’t shuffling through everything at the guichet. You can see a list of required documents for your particular situation here. (If you’re outside of Rhône, check with your préfecture.)
The later you get there, the longer you’ll wait, and if you’re too late, they will run out of tickets and you won’t be able to get in at all. I’d recommend before 6:30am. If you’re a party animal, just skip going to bed and go straight to the préfecture from wherever party animals party at 3am (I really wouldn’t know). Try to lure your friends along to keep you company with snacks and whatever you drink at that hour of the morning (limoncello?) The other people in line will be so happy you’re all there.
Bring something to sit on
The sidewalk is not the nicest place to sit. It’s dirty and uncomfortable. It’s perfectly acceptable to bring a folding chair or a stool to sit on.
If you get hungry in the morning, and I do, bring something to snack on. That means get something the day before, because nothing will be open when you’re on your way there. Starbucks opens at 7am here. Beverages are at your discretion – a mug of coffee could be nice, but remember, you’re going to be waiting in line for three hours at least and you can’t leave to go pee.
Bring something to do
Anything that will keep you entertained for a few hours that you can do standing up! (unless you brought that chair) I was pretty jealous of the girl with her iPad watching a movie next to me. I watched over her shoulder until I started feeling like a creeper. Cell reception isn’t great inside the building, so make sure you have more than your smartphone!