I have been here a week and already I have two amazing stories both of absolute charm and absolute heinous bureaucracy. If there is something that the French here love, it is their paper work and red tape. Consider the following stories:
It has been an total, complete, and utter pain to secure both my France SIM card and NaviGo Pass. (For those that don’t know, a NaviGo is much like a SmartTrip card, but it is pre paid for the entire month when I paid 80 Euros and am now allowed to ride any and all buses, metro, and RER between Zones 1-3).
Now, normally you would think that it would only take one trip both for the NaviGo and SIM card.
Hah! You would be very sorely mistaken.
Instead it has taken 4 trips to both the SFR and RATP office (office where they dispense the NaviGo passes) AND it is a 20 minute commute each way by bus to the RATP.
The first time we went, and after standing entirely too long next to a man who very much needed to become re-acquainted with his shower, it turned we didn’t have the papers; as the woman who clearly did not want to do any work told us – in so many words – to shove off because we needed proof of residence, passport (I don’t know what it is with the French, they are simply obsessed with my passport, for everything), proof of registration at a French school, as well as applying everything all of the above too to Phillipe.
Ok so that was round One.
Rounds Two and Three the office was closed, once because Monday administrative offices are closed, and twice because “due to extraordinary circumstances the office will be closed today and thank you for understanding”.
[[Inhale, count to five, exhale]]
Finally, today we went back to the RATP and after almost being turned around yet again by the RATP greeter, we were told the RATP office was going to make an extraordinary circumstance for my situation. The lady this time was absolutely lovely and after duly waiting another 20 minutes in a stifling office with stale air with our ticket with our number on it, in five minutes we finally had my NaviGo pass, no need for any proof of anything. Phillipe said that he felt that the first time around he knew the woman didn’t want to do work and so she was giving us the run around. I am inclined to agree given how easy it was to get the NaviGo pass in actuality.
Then OK, now for the SIM card.
First: the store wants to charge 10 Euros for the SIM card in the store, but if you order online, it is only 3 Euros. So we turned around and went home, and ordered online where they told us it would be 1-2 business days. In actuality it was 4.
But this is France and we LOVE to wait.
Then finally with the SIM card in hand we go back three more times to the store, and of the first two times, waiting again because there are 20 people in the shop and only 2-3 reps max, the network server for the registration for my activation PIN code was down.
[[Breathe and don’t strangle the sales rep.]]
Ok we’ll be back tomorrow. Today YES MIRACLE OF MIRACLES there were only 2 people in front of us, and WOW the server works. Finally: I am almost a human being here in France, and I didn’t even need to open a bank account – although they wanted me too; and I don’t even want to go near that one – only my passport number again.
Frankly I’m surprised these people don’t want my blood for DNA samples and proof of who I am.
My nerves are not cut out for this I think. I can see why there are stories of people quite on edge ready to explode.
But ok, just as there can be as much hair pulling, steam out of the ears, jumping over the counter and strangling fantasies, there can also be charming people who really do have acts of kindness.
The lady today who gave my NaviGo card was very friendly and did not ask for much identification, and worked quite efficiently. The man who activated my SIM card almost let me walk out of his store today without paying him. Ultimately, it was I who said “Wait, I need to pay you!” Maybe I had just charmed him with my awkwardly standing there and my obnoxiously red Maryland hoodie. Hah. I wish.
But the clear winner here today is the Rueil Fencing Club President. I was given a three-day trial at the club after which I would have to pay for insurance/licence/club dues. The total would amount to a staggering 363 Euros. Yet I do not know what Phillipe said to the woman, or what she saw in me as I was resoundingly getting licked at Epee – see the photo below; Phillipe laughs and says I will be a strumfii – but all that I have to pay now for the next 4 months is a mere 70 Euros. Good deal indeed. Yet I still have to go tomorrow for a doctor’s physical and a paper to say that I am in good health and fit for fencing. There is no way of getting out of red tape here, I fear.
I have been teaching the people there – who are absolutely lovely as we all speak a Frenglish (although the coach Renee speaks a mile a minute; I am working on trying to slow him down) – the art of high 5s. Constantly setting myself up for disappointment, for I get excited about something and throw my hand up and they look at me confusedly before stiffly holding their hand close to their body in reciprocation. My goal here is to have them high-5ing all the time by the time I leave.
As a side note, the Preisdent’s son will be representing France in this year’s Olympics in London for the Men’s French Foil team. This is quite a lifetime achievement; and I had the pleasure of talking to him briefly, although hovering at the 1.9 meter mark, he had to bend a little bit.
Phillipe laughs and says that I will go back to the United States not speaking a sentence of French, but that I will be in bonne form; which is Frenglish for quite athletic and fit. Indeed, I am fencing 2 hrs twice a week, a 1 hr swimming once a week, a 20 km rollerblading around Paris once a week, and walking everywhere. It’s only a pity that once again my toe nail has decided to abdicate its role as a nail, and has fallen off.
Another thing that made me laugh was that here many men wear their pants low on their butts, with their boxers hanging out, for all to enjoy, and I laugh because I am quite certain that if they knew the truth of where this particular fashion came from (ie: prison culture), they would not be so quick to do it. They also wear their flat brimmed hats precariously perched atop their heads and try to be real hood, and a G with street cred, but I laugh because they look like buffoons trying too hard.
And now, I present to you the battle wounds of a sabreist turned reluctant epeeist:
There are also more across my chest and on my shoulder. I cannot wait until my own gear gets in and I am better protected. I might just start weaing an elbow protector in the meantime though, and until I look less like an assault victim. Plus sweating in gear that is not your own is not the best thing ever. These are the marks of a novice, but that does not stop them from being tender. This is also why I love Sabre, typically less bruising.