There’s a reasonable explanation as to why the French have a reputation for bureaucracy–they’ve earned it.
As I’ve learned after a year-and-a-half of trying to get anything official done here, there is no such thing as official. Just because the official government website says it’s so, doesn’t mean it’s so. If you speak to a government official and they tell you it’s done a certain way, don’t count on it. The next official you speak to will tell you something quite different. And who’s right? Why, they both are.
Take my recent experience trying to exchange my U.S. driving permit for a French permit. According to the official website, my state has an exchange agreement with France. I’ve learned not to count on the official website, so I went directly to the Marie annex to get the appropriate paperwork and the answers for my locale. The lady handed me a written list of everything I would need to submit. Great, I thought. I have it in writing.
So, I gathered everything on the list. One item asked for an official translation of my original permit OR an attestation of validity from the US. Notice I capitalized OR. In actuality, the instructions were in French, so it said OU. Ok, that means I need one or the other.
I traveled to Marseille, gave the US Embassy $50 and they gave me a paper that says it is an official translation and attestation of validity of my permit. I included it in the portfolio of other documents required. I was ready to get my permit, or so I thought.
The translation/attestation of validity, I was told, was not acceptable. I needed both, the lady said. I pointed to the “OU” and said, the paper says I need one or the other.
Are you ready for her answer? She put an X through the “OU” and said I need both.
And such is the arbitrary French system. As carefully as I have tried to plan for every scenario, when I show up with exactly what I think they want, they arbitrarily change their minds.
I didn’t stop there. I called the US Embassy to see if I could get another type of paper. I was told that is the paper the US gives out to meet France’s requirements. What else can we do, she asked? It’s a translation and we stamped it with our seal to say it’s valid.
And so I told this to the not-so-kind lady at the French bureau. Her response: It’s not acceptable. And so I just stared at her for a few minutes, and finally asked, in French, so give me a solution. She shrugged her shoulders and moved back to her desk.
Technically, I’m supposed to get a French permit after living here for a year. At least that’s what the official website says.
So, what am I going to do? I’ve decided to adapt to the culture and make my own rules. I’m going to keep my US permit.