Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Couldn't get through the bathroom... what rhymes with "quatre?"
Unfortunately, my French isn't good enough to come up with silly little rhymes.
However, it is good enough that I don't need to take government-ordered French classes. In fact, I passed my little immigration interview yesterday with flying colors. Not that I knew I had one coming my way.
I took off from work midday to go to Montrouge, just south of Paris, so I could have my controle médicale (a.k.a. a physical), a standard requirement for getting my Carte de Séjour (essentially the equivalent of a U.S. green card, but only good for one year at a time, after which it must be renewed). Typically, this would be a humdrum affair where I'd get the routine run-through, turn my head, cough, and be given a clean bill of health.
Alas, since Sarkozy has taken the reins of the République Française, immigration has become a bit more stringent. Little did I know that this was going to be an all-day affair.
I was ushered - along with around 20 other people, one white, the rest brown like me - into a room with tons of pamphlets on the tables, stern-sounding warnings about how one must be integrated, blah blah blah. I started having flashbacks to my trips to the US INS twenty years ago, going through a procession of government lackeys who knew less about American history and the English language than my 13 year-old immigrant ass did, all of them holding sway over whether I could stay in the country. (God only knows what US immigration is like now, under the deft touch of Homeland Security.)
Here I was again, about to be inspected, admonished, and possibly browbeaten into being a good immigrant. The door flung open, but I didn't see anyone. Then I looked downward and noticed a casually dressed, cute little pixie of a girl come in, who in a very soft, welcoming voice greeted us and told us that we would be watching a film about becoming a French resident. She spoke softly and clearly so that everyone would understand. I could hardly believe she was a government worker.
The big flat-screen came on and I braced for the slickly produced, overly-patriotic propaganda film expounding what a privilege it was to be in France, how honored we must be to pay huge taxes, and how to salute the Mighty Sarko... Instead, it was a very lighthearted - and sometimes even sappy - welcome, talking a little bit about the French values of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité, with a fourth one that seems to have been added recently, Laïcité (secularity). In addition, it advertised the avenues by which one can become functionally integrated into French society, talking about their language classes, employment services, and professional development. Instead of feeling browbeaten, I was impressed.
Then another functionary entered the room and told us about all of the language/civic/professional training options available to us as immigrants. It was all friendly, too friendly.
This all changed, of course, once I went to the medical section for my examination.
The area is set up in stations, and examinees go from point to point undergoing various examinations. I suddenly felt more like a conscript in the army.
Station 1 - Check in with a passport and be given a small medical dossier.
Station 2 - Remove shoes, drop personal belongings, get weighed and have heigh measured.
Station 3 - Eye examination from a longer distance than I've ever had, with smaller eye charts.
Station 4 - Blood test.
Station 5 - Remove shirt, press torso against cold plastic surface, be showered with X-rays.
Station 6 - Remove shirt (again), have vitals checked. Proceed with medical consultation.
I'm shocked there wasn't a de-lousing involved.
The humiliating part was Station 6. I was told by the doctor that I'm in fantastic health, with excellent blood sugar levels, good blood pressure, immaculate lungs, blah blah blah. Except that I'm grotesquely overweight. That in itself isn't so bad - I know I'm larger than I should be, and I know for sure that I'm enormous by French standards. But to be told almost every other sentence that I'm a fatty is a bit cruel and unusual. I acknowledged that I'm well aware of this. That after ballooning up from May through June, I've lost considerable belly fat. I told her I'm active. That I climb flights and flights of stairs without getting winded. I wanted to tell her that I even went to Diesel - yes, freaking we-only-make-clothes-for-heroin-addicts Diesel - and bought their skinniest pair of jeans just the other day.
But in the end, sitting in her office shirtless, it was plain as day that I am a grotesque fat-ass.
Oh well, I still passed and got my health certificate and can finally qualify for a Carte de Séjour.
And after waiting the rest of the day for my interview, I walked out beaming with pride, having gotten my French language proficiency certificate without having to take a single DILF (kind of like ESL, but for French) class. (If I didn't, I'd still have a whole year to learn...!)
Unfortunately, I still have to take my formation civique (civil training) class, which will take a full day sometime in September. But even my cynical (fat)ass agrees that learning the laws and general civil procedures about the country I'm now making my home is pretty damn important.
In fact - as much as I dislike him as a person - I applaud Sarkozy for this more rigorous immigration procedure. While it eats up time and on the surface appears to be a means of keeping people out, I think it's vital that people moving to a new country learn the language, know the laws, understand their rights, and adopt (or at least accept) the basic values. Doing so is a very important concession to the country that's taking them in, offering them its benefits, and allowing them the opportunity to start life anew, away from their quasi-fascist or deteriorating or dysfunctional country of origin.
I only hope that those 20 other people feel the same way.