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The Paris beat: not all chocolat et fromage

Europe bureau chief Sara Llana writes that getting through immigration's bureaucracy in Paris is a lot harder than in her last assignment, Mexico City.

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    The Eiffel Tower and the sun are reflected in a tourist's sunglasses during a mild and sunny spring day in Paris, this month.
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When I wrote a farewell letter to Mexico City as I left for my new post in Paris, I received not a few snide remarks: “Oh, poor thing.” “Oh, what a hardship beat.”

Well, I am here to tell you, that it is hard. At least setting up the bureau is, with far more hassle than anything I experienced while establishing the Monitor’s office in Mexico.

It’s an endless task of official stamps, translations, long lines, subway rides, closed office hours, misinformation, and rigid rules (that appear to be inexplicably bent at any given moment).

Immigration to Mexico is not exactly easy. I spent countless hours standing in lines, only to be told I didn’t have the right paperwork and that I needed to return the next day to stand in line again.

But this, I dare say, has been worse.

Per the French consulate in Boston and then a reconfirmation from the French embassy in Mexico, I will have the right to reside in France through my husband’s European citizenship. I was told (in writing) to enter France without a visa and head to the police station upon arriving.

Having dealt with the pains of immigration – both living abroad and in the US, since I married a foreigner – I know to call first and find out what documents are required, even when there is a list of what you need online. Except that here, there is no such place to call. Every attempt led me to the same answer: “You will get all of the information at the prefecture assigned to you.” So I went. Only to find huddled masses, in the freezing cold of a Parisian morning, in a line that did not budge, at all, for two hours (when I finally gave up and went home). There were no officials to ask any questions, no information posted anywhere. There must be another way to get information, I assumed.

So I went with a friend to the central offices the next day, where I was told that I needed to have gotten the visa before having arrived. The consulate and the embassy, she said, were wrong. But then she added that I should go the prefecture, to find out if she was wrong. And the documents I need to bring with me? “You need to go there and ask,” she said.

I’ve experienced variations of this story for everything we have on our to-do list, from finding an apartment (which we mercifully did in a mere 10 days), to setting up Internet service. I do think once we’re settled it will be an amazing beat, and so many parts of the French system make life so much easier than life in Mexico or the US – but we’ve definitely got some hard steps ahead.

Reporter note: After writing this blog, I did go back to the prefecture. I stood in line for 8 hours in total. The good news is that I apparently did not need a visa prior to entrance. The bad news: I did not have all of the paperwork - I was asked for things that were not listed on the website.

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