Bureaucratic Nutters

Stick ShiftI’ve been holding onto this post for quite a while. I was waiting for the dust to settle. Today, it has. I have picked up my French driver’s license! This all started back in early March of 2016. Here’s the story…

Recently, driving home from our local prefecture on a license exchange issue, my husband exclaimed, “There’s nothing scarier than a nutter with power”. He was referring to a woman at the prefecture who has been hell-bent on making my life miserable.

You see, certain US states have an agreement with France for license exchange. My state, Florida, is one of them. So, according to the Service-Publique France website, I can exchange my Florida license for a French one if I apply within one year of the date of my carte de sejour. So, I drove up to the prefecture to meet a friend and translator to make my application several days before the deadline.

Knowing from past experience just how French bureaucracy works, I made sure I was over-prepared. I had every single document listed on Service-Publique, in triplicate, translated when necessary, in addition to one or two other things I thought might come in handy.

Here’s how it went:

First, the woman to whose window I was called had to check that Florida was in the US (I’m not kidding). Then she claimed she couldn’t read the license (hence I pulled out my certified translation). Then she said it was too new (2013) and that the best they could do was give me a provisional license reducing me to a new driver despite 30+ years of experience and a spanking clean record. So then I explained I previously has a NC license which I exchanged for this FL one when I moved in the US. She said there was no note of that on the license and shook her head (at which point I pulled out a certified translated drivers record that said exactly that!) Then she said she had no history for my former license in NC (which I produced). Then she said, “We don’t have an exchange policy with NC.” No shit, Sherlock. But my license is from FLORIDA! She couldn’t have cared less.

She said all she could do (as it was out of her hands completely…forget the fact that the previous year this same woman somehow found the courage to make an executive decision and issue my husband’s license on the spot) was take half my application, tearing up the required form to request the exchange claiming it was unnecessary. Then she told me to return the following week if I didn’t receive a letter beforehand denying my request.

This did, regrettably, ruin my day. I was despondent. But after a night of very little sleep tossing and turning over whether or not to roll over and play dead over this or to go back and face her royal highness, I chose to go back. For one thing, it donned on me I had failed to ask for a recipisse or receipt for my dossier, something that the Service-Publique website clearly stated should have been issued. It took all my faith and courage but I was determined that A) this woman not determine my destiny and B) that I do something productive and healing with the toxic feelings in me.

I called upon my French teacher at the time who met me at the prefecture and filled her in. I went with the intent of asking for a receipt for my visit the day before because I didn’t get one, and if possible, to plead my case to someone else. No such luck.

Madame bore her usual sour expression, at first scolding my friend for skipping line (we hadn’t) and then rudely refusing a receipt when my friend requested it. That’s when Madame noticed my phone. It was like a light went off in her head. Yes, I was recording everything! Suddenly she smiled brightly. She said it wasn’t a problem that there was blue ink on my application (which yesterday she claimed was an issue), and she helpfully asked if I had with me a record that she refused to take yesterday. Imagine!! She still wouldn’t take my required form saying it wasn’t important “yet” and that I’d still have to go back next week…yes, with the very form she wouldn’t take.

I didn’t know what would happen next, but I was hopeful Madame would think twice about yanking this yank’s chain again. Camera-phones rock! She may not have given me a receipt, but I left with one all the same! It’s unfortunate. Miserable people spread misery. They can’t contain all that agony themselves. In believing in their powerlessness, they fail to see their true power lies in helping people overcome their difficulties, not in creating more for them.

Anyway, after three more appointments (one to turn in that form, one to pay for my license, and one to pick it up, in addition to the two already mentioned, for a grand total of 5 trips), I finally have my license in hand, and it only cost me just under 300 euros factoring in translations, administrative help, all that gas, and the actual cost of the license! I’m not complaining. I’m really one of the lucky ones not having to take French driver’s lessons! Do I hear angels singing???

Brocante-Hopping: “Une Grole”

Today, my husband and I did what one does on a Sunday in the countryside of France. We went brocante-hopping. A brocante is basically a flea-market. There happened to be two in our area…one just up the road and another in a village just 15 minutes from us. There was still a coolness to the air, so it wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable to be walking in the sun all day. My allergies did act up a bit, but I was prepared with plenty of tissues! It’s just that time of year for me.

At the larger brocante in a town called Barbezieux, we enjoyed some amazing pastries including a very stuffed tarte pruneau and a tri-layered cake referred to as coco choco as well as a very nice dark chocolate cake with a name I can’t recall (but who cares what it’s called as long as it’s chocolate!).

Une GroleLater, we went to the smaller brocante just up the road from us where I made my big purchase of the day, something called une grole. I had no idea what a grole was. I wasn’t looking for one. I was actually looking for something interesting in which to rest my wet paint brushes when I was painting. We came across a rather interesting wooden container that might fit the purpose. I wasn’t sold on it immediately, though, even though 5 euros seemed like a decent bargain. It was the story that sold me.

The very sweet couple selling it explained very patiently to the “idiots who can’t speak French” (my judgment, not theirs) what it was. Actually, I was surprised to understand so much. They spoke slowly and with plenty of gestures making me feel both charmed and grateful. And between the words I know and those my husband knows, we were able to work most of it all out.Repurposed Grole

I was fascinated to learn about the grole. It is a traditional Alpine-region decanter for sharing a special alcoholic, spiced coffee. On this particular grole, there are four spouts. So, it is a community vessel and a very special treat, a sort of beverage equivalent to a flaming baked Alaska. As soon as I understood its true purpose, I knew I wanted it. When they mentioned that Italians use it too, I was completely sold, being Italian.

Nonetheless I confessed my true intention for it…brushes! The woman laughed uproariously and shook her head saying, “Un nouveau but pour tout!” making my new grole rather drole.

When I got home, I decided to look up “La Grole”. I discovered this youtube video which demonstrates how to make the coffee drink. I hope you enjoy it. Frankly, it sounds yummy enough to try, so maybe my grole will end up in my kitchen after all!