Last week I finally got my carte de séjour. This is essentially my ID, work permit, travel document, and residency card all rolled into one slightly-larger-than-wallet-sized piece of laminated paper. As part of my Contrat d’acceuil et d’intégration, I had to attend a day-long seminar regarding my rights and duties as a member/resident of la République Française. This seminar, aka Formation civique (civic training), was to begin at 9:00 am sharp. I was told not to be late and that I should expect it to take all day, until 5:00 pm. Lunch would be provided. At the end of the day I would be given a certificate proving that I was there, which I will need to present when I wish to renew the carte de séjour. Without it, my renewal may be denied.
So on Friday I woke up early and rode the Métro a solid 40 minutes, all the way across town. I arrived promptly at 8:45 and sat down. I noticed the wall had some red and blue napkins taped to it in various patterns. (The photo at the top is one of said napkins. They all declared “I love the Republic.”) At this point I began taking notes on my phone, realizing I lacked pen and paper.
8:50 am – My name is taken and I am told to wait for the “Monet room” group to be called. (All the rooms in this building are named after famous French people. Or Albert Einstein.)
8:55 am – I notice a warning written on the white board at the end of the room, by the coffee and tea urns. It reads: “Pour notre santé a tous interdit de cracher par terre.” Translation: For the sake of our health it is forbidden to spit on the floor. Umm, is this a recurring problem?
9:07 am – The first group is called. I’m not in it.
9:10 am – My group is called. We go up two flights of stairs to the Monet room and sit down. This takes about 45 seconds.
9:15 am – The formateur (teacher/trainer) tells us that we will begin in 15 minutes. Glad I was on time.
9:20 am – Roll call. Windows 2000 VERY SLOWLY starts up. Everyone with a French name gets a smile. The rest get awkward pauses while the teacher attempts to pronounce half the name, hoping the owner of the bizarre name will jump in and correct him. Luckily, the name Camille lands me in the first category.
9:30 am – A paper is passed around the room which we all must sign to prove our attendance.
9:47 am – (i.e. 32 minutes after we were told we had 15 minutes) Class starts. We go around the room introducing ourselves. The class is all in French, so most of the participants are from former French colonies in Africa. The teacher tells us that since he doesn’t have to do this formation in two languages, we may get to go home a little early.
10:10 am – A latecomer arrives, interrupting the proceedings for a full 10 minutes while the teacher leaves the room to speak with his colleague.
10:50 am – Coffee break. I have tea, which is surprisingly decent. I take a bathroom break and am surprised to see this on the wall:
In case the picture doesn’t get the point across, what the sign says is: Be very clean -Think of others – Forbidden to pee on the floor! (Seriously, is this a recurring problem?)
Upon leaving, I check to make sure I was in the ladies’ room. I was.
11:15 am – Class resumes. We learn a little about the history of the European Union, and which other countries are members.
11:27 am – We’ve been working for a solid 12 minutes. Time for a 10 minute break.
11:46 am - Class resumes again, and we get a brief rundown of French history, from the Romans to the present, focusing mainly on the Revolution and the two World Wars.
12:40 pm – Lunch. We are herded back to the Einstein room downstairs, which has been set with placemats, plastic cups, napkins, and rolls. Each of us is handed a styrofoam box containing a pile of overcooked vegetables and some rice. The place settings include a container of grated carrot salad and a yogurt. I sit down at a table with three men: one from Algeria, one from Guinea, and one from DRC (Congo). I eat the carrots (fine) and take a stab at some former zucchini. It’s bad, but made worse by an overwhelming fishiness which I discover is emanating from underneath the vegetables. I’m not sure how you cook fish so that is impossible to cut with a fork. It was essentially inedible. So I ate the rice, and as many of the vegetables as I could stomach, and the roll (decent), and the yogurt. Not an entirely satisfying lunch. At least the company was interesting.
1:55 pm – Back to class. Discussing certain rights gets some of the students riled up. There are long, heated discussions about homosexuality, slavery, religious freedom, and so on. What most of this has to do with living in France is unclear.
3:07 pm – Another break. All this arguing is making everyone tired.
3:41 pm – Class resumes, and two more papers are passed around to be signed.
4:07 pm – We’re free to go! Certificate in hand, I call Nick and make arrangements for happy hour.