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???

A Special Hell for Bureaucrats

I know. I know. I haven’t been keeping up with the blog as well as I might. Real life keeps getting in the way. We are currently in the midst of our latest head-butting practice having to do with my US house closing from the distance of France. I’ll leave that fun story for another time…suffice it to say, it involves multiple complications, strenuous efforts, and lots of walls, oh…and a trip to Paris!

During this latest trial, Stuart and I were both struck with a certainty that there must be a special hell for bureaucrats. In fact, we’re pretty sure what goes on in that hell.

* * *

[The bureaucrat arrives in hell which is disguised to look exactly like the gates of heaven. He approaches the front desk.]


“George Bureaucrat.”


“Proof? I don’t have any proof. I’m dead.”

“Sorry. I can’t let you in without proof. Here. Fill out this blue form.”

“Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

“Yes. That’ll be $8543. Cash or charge?”

“What for?”

“The pen.”

[moments later]

“Okay, here is my completed blue form.”

“This will never do. We need at least three copies…”

“Is there a copier here?”

“…three copies, that is, of your birth certificate translated into at least 5 languages.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“And I don’t see your parents’ signatures on here.”

“But my parents are dead. In fact, they’re probably here.”

“No excuses! I can’t let you in without their signatures.”


“You have another option.”

“What’s that?”

“Make an appointment for a signature exception.”

“Okay, I’d like to make an appointment for a signature exception.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t do that here. You’ll need to take the stairs down 567 flights, past the red tape, to the Signature Exception Department. They’ll be closed for the next six weeks, though. It’s vacation season.”

[Arrives at the Signature Exception Department and waits 6 weeks.]


“I need a signature exception please.”

“May I please have your stamp?”


“You were supposed to get stamped at the front desk upstairs.”

“I don’t…they didn’t…but…but…”


[Goes back up the 567 flights of stairs to the front desk.]

“I need a fucking stamp.”

“There are people ahead of you. Take a seat.”

“No! I demand a stamp now!”

“Fine. The stamp department is through that rotating door.”

“Thank you.”

[Goes through rotating door. Bureaucrat is now locked out in the freezing rain. Eventually, he finds his way back in again, gets his required stamp and goes back down 567 flights to the Signature Exception desk.]

“I need…”

“Oh, you again. Stamp? Let’s see. The next available appointment is 9 years and 37 days from today at 11AM.”

“‘Scuze me?”

“Do you want it?”

“What am I supposed to do for 9 years and 37 days?”

“Well, you can start on the application.” [hands over an inch thick packet]

“This is the application?”

“Well, it’s the first part.”

“You mean, there’s more?”

“Yes. That’s Part A, the shortest. There is also Part B, Part C, Part D, Part E…and a few others, but the worst by far is Part ZZZ. Oh, and this too. This just requires you to name all of your siblings.”

“I only have one brother.”

“By siblings we mean cousins…1st, 2nd, 3rd once removed, and twice, and third removed cousins as well. This will need to be certified by a notary…from Belarus…with an affidavit from the North Korean government. All parts must be translated into every known language on the planet including dead languages such as Latin, Akkadian, and made up languages such as Klingon and Ubba-dubby. This must then be submitted in triplicate, no staples, along with a four leaf clover.”

“And where am I supposed to get a four leaf clover?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that. It’s not my department. But when you find the right department, they’ll ask you for a recent photo…no more than one minute old. I have to warn you, they usually have a very long line. I’d bring a camera…and a printer.”

[So finally, our weary bureaucrat hands in all his paperwork after many years of struggle and toil.]

“Here. I’ve finished my application. Can I please go through now?”

“What is this?

“My application.”

“But these are the old forms. We can’t accept those anymore. Dear me. You’ll have to start again using the new forms.”

* * *

Something like that anyway.




Moving Stuff Overseas: More Than I Ever Wanted to Know

So, today, I have begun my research into moving all of my crap overseas. You may be able to tell by my use of the word “crap” that I am less than enthused by the impending process.

It’s a good thing I starting looking into this now, because like every international process, it is incredibly complicated, costly, and full of bureaucratic delights. Today, I discovered, for example, that I need what’s called a “Certifcat de Changement de Residence” from the French Consulate. (What would have happened, I wonder, if I had failed to realize this? A 21.2% TVA on my items?) This gets sent to me, I fill it in, it goes back to them for a stamp, and then gets sent back to me…or something like that. And rats, I think I also need a Certificat de Non-cessation to prove all items are for my personal use which I failed to request when I called the consulate not 20 minutes ago. Doh! Maybe, just maybe, they’ll include it?

There are other things it says I need but I don’t think they apply to my situation as a spouse of an EU citizen. I’m not relocating for work, for example, so I can’t provide documents to that effect.

I am not bringing a lot with me, and the more I learn, the less I feel attached to things. Nothing I own is really worth anything…’cept to me, of course. I have very little furniture anyway, and only three small pieces that I want to have in my new home. I do have several electronics items and my sound healing tools, and hopefully, I can locate some proof that I own all this…ahem…crap because supposedly, I may encounter difficulties without recus or receipts.

I’m also bringing some clothes, shoes, jewelry, suitcases, books, much-loved kitchen items like the colonial flatware I grew up with and ye olde US measuring utensils, and papers. Really, I can’t imagine it taking up more than 25 sq ft. of space. Though I would like to bring my unused cosmetics, supplements, and food items, it sounds like that will be more trouble that it’s worth. Best to start using it up (and yes, I will grieve the loss of my irreplaceable, beloved Neem toothpaste).

I apparently will need a detailed inventory of all items, one inventory per box, electronics separate, in duplicate, signed and dated…and of course, translated into French. Wee. And I’m not talking French! (Please pardon my oui joke.)

Now, as for getting it there, I seem to have several options starting with air or sea. They say sea tends to be more economical, so that’s most likely the way I’ll go. Now within that category, I can pack and transit myself to the carrier, pack myself and have it picked up, or have it packed, transported, and shipped for me. I can also have a private or shared container, in which my belongings would be created with the belongings of others. It can arrive at a terminal in France where I can pick it up or it can be brought to my French residence. So many options!

I don’t know anything else yet…and frankly, even this was more than I ever wanted to know. I’ll post more as I learn more. Wish me bon courage!