Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Place That Sends You Mad


I've once again entered the bureaucratic circle here in France (not that I have missed it or anything!).  It has almost been a year since I've set my foot on French soil and hence it was now time to exchange my Canadian driver's license for a French one.  To my understanding, as the ICBC representative has informed me prior to leaving Canada, there is a reciprocal agreement between British Columbia and France to accept each other's licenses as valid and exchange them one for the other without a problem as long as it's done within a year.  Sounds simple enough?  Well, not so much here in France...

Jakub has already warned me about "the prefecture" which is essentially the administrative jurisdiction of the department where you get to experience the French bureaucracy at it purest and its best.  Jakub made it sound like a very frustrating experience so I psyched myself up, and headed to the big building with ample officials and overflowing paperwork.

VISIT #1 TO THE PREFECTURE:  I was directed to the reception desk, with no line-up and was given a very simple blue form and a checklist of items to bring back (photos, stamped envelope, etc.).

VISIT #2 TO THE PREFECTURE:  After collecting the above mentioned items, I returned to the same reception desk.  Everything was ok, except that I did not have the "carte de sejour" (residency card) so I presented my Czech passport which serves as an equivalent.  The officer told me he needed a photocopy and sent me off to the photocopier around the corner.  The photocopier was broken, so I went to the tourist office where I got a photocopy and came back.  At this point, I had all the required documents, the officer gave me a little slip and told me the driver's license will be mailed to me.  Wow, I thought - this was a piece of cake, I don't understand what Jakub was complaining about.  It seemed like one of the smoothest operations that I've undertaken in France as far as paperwork goes.

Little did I know that this was just the beginning of my repeated visits to the prefecture...welcome to France :))

One sunny day, I received a registered letter and I was glad that my driver's license has finally arrived.  To my dismay, I opened the envelope containing my Canadian driver's license and all the rest with a letter that explained to me that there is no reciprocal agreement between France and British Columbia because the French minister of transport has made changes to the law in January 2012.  I further read on, that I will have to complete a French road test to obtain a new license and the Canadian license I own is no longer valid.  So all of a sudden, I was without a legal license, unable to drive.  The public transport here is not exactly the best, and to get both kids to different schools all in one morning is not possible without a car, etc.  I was actually quite outraged and very frustrated.

I then went to the nearest driving school office to find out if I could do the road test immediately and how much it would cost.  The guy told me I'd have to do two tests, a code test (I have no clue what that is), and a driver's test (minimum 3 hours), it would cost approximately 350 euros ($450) and the earliest date possible was July.  I was getting more outraged at this point - three months without a license and it would cost a freakin' fortune!!!

I went home and started searching the internet if there is any mention of these law changes and what exactly is going on.  I found some French government website for foreigners and it stated exactly what I was told in Canada.  I printed and underlined the important points.  Meanwhile, I even called Canada and they were unaware of any changes in law.  I also thought of getting a Canadian international license at BCAA but was then told it would still probably not be accepted as it is only a translated equivalent of the Canadian license....

VISIT #3 TO THE PREFECTURE:  I decided to go and protest, that they can't just take my license away for three months, with no warning and make me go through this bull $hit.  I took my notes and went back in the bureaucratic rabbit hole.  Back to the reception desk where the secretary sent me to a wrong line-up.  And this is where I thought to myself this will be a long and painful process with a possibility of zero success.  I was eventually given a ticket and waited to get into the licensing office.  The secretary there didn't really read much of my letter and said "sorry, we can't do anything for you, the licenses cannot be exchanged".  I told her, "but it is stated here on the government website that it is acceptable".  She said "no it is not".  I turned to the second page where I highlited British Columbia, class B license...and then she changed her attitude.  She checked some papers and sure enough it seemed like it was acceptable.  So she called her boss.  They chatted for a bit, unsure what is going on, then the boss went to check with her boss.

After some time she returned and said, "sorry, we didn't know about this change, it is recent and you are right, we can exchange the license for you".  This was so absurd.  Of course I was glad that this was resolved but I was still surprised that they can be missing such key information.  Obviously the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.  At this point I didn't have my passport photos with me as I didn't even expect such an outcome, so the secretary told me to come back the next day with the photos and gave me the blue form yet again, since the first one was discarded and not returned to me in the letter.

VISIT #4 TO THE PREFECTURE: I came back the next day with everything that was asked for hoping that this would be it.  But the lady came out again and said, "when was your driver's license issued?" I said, "in 2008".  But she wanted to know when my very first driver's license was issued as apparently they have to put that date on the French license and they cannot put a fake date on.  .....Deep Breath...... Ugh, how the hell should I know - I was something like 18 years old and why would I even remember the date....but I recalled that LUCKILY I brought some paperwork with that info from Canada and told her I could bring it to her the next day.

VISIT #5 TO THE PREFECTURE:  I headed over not really expecting anything at all anymore.  I thought that this time around they will for sure think of some other idiotic nonsense, like that they'll need the documents from Canada translated to French or what ever else might strike their fancy at that moment.  I felt like a puppet being dragged around for no reason and really, does a mother of two have nothing better to do than take the tram to the prefecture and back every stinking day???

I came back and patiently waited what will be next.  The door opened and I was handed a spanking new pink French driver's license.  But get this!!  The secretary said that because my very first Canadian license was issued when I was 17 years old (which is illegal in France) they had to put a fake date of issue on my French license anyway!!!!  Frick, but whatever, it's time to celebrate folks and I've opened a bottle of yummy dark Czech beer......Cheers!

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