Margaret and Dick   


June '04: Identity, 2004 edition

It was a typical day in Limoux, with bright sides and mostly humorous twists.

I returned from errands with a pound of local cherries, whose harvest is just beginning.  The June fruit harvest has shifted from North Africa to Spain and is now coming into the Roussillon , our “deep South.”  I also bought fresh Scottish salmon pavé (paving stone), boneless square steaks.  We do eat well here.

Stopping in the little North African store for dried chickpeas and mint tea, I picked up several pickled lemons, an Arab delicacy that will soon flavor a chicken tagine.  The morning amusement reached its peak when a thin, animated, older Frenchman hanging around the store noted my accent and asked if I was American.  I said yes, he enthusiastically told me that he had lived in the US for 20 years, but now was retired here. “But that’s a long story,” he added.  I gently resisted the temptation to ask about the long story, but noted on leaving that he wore a plastic ID badge on his shirt that said: “Profoundly deaf.  Speak clearly, I read lips.”  Clearly enough to discern accents, apparently.

I went by the medical lab for my monthly blood test.  It is simpler here:  results in eight hours, 10 euros, no paperwork.  But today the office person suggested that I get the official medical lab ID card.  "Why bother?" I asked, since they just look up my record on the computer?  “Oh well, it is simpler, you just show your card next time.”  So she made me a bar-coded ID card.  Identity cards are a big thing here.  If I ever get into an accident, people will learn that I am officially registered with the government, the bank, the insurance company, the medical lab, the bicycle club, the swimming pool...

Today included a small triumph of identity:  the Sous-Préfecture, the local seat of government bureaucracy, accepted my paperwork for the annual renewal of my carte de séjour.  Why is this big deal?  Without the carte, my stay is limited to three months.  In May I had gone to the same office with the same paperwork, and the woman behind the counter said:  “You are two early.  Your carte does not expire for two more months.  Come back next month.”  It did no good when I protested that last year’s renewal took three months to process, and I had returned to the US by the time the carte finally arrived.  The precious document sat in their files for the six months until my return, at which time it was time to start again. 

I hate these trips to the Sous-Préfecture.  The bureaucrats really don’t care about the clients they are serving.  We interrupt whatever it is they are doing without us.

Today there was a different woman behind the counter.  She looked over my paperwork:  proof of residence (utility bills), birth certificate, marriage certificate, proof of independent finances (pension statement), proof of health insurance.  Every year it’s the same paperwork, updated for inflation. 

“It looks complete,” she said.  But then the curve ball:  “Are you sure that you prefer to submit these pension documents rather than your annual income tax documents?”  I returned the ball:  “Oh, US tax documents are so complicated.  This is much simpler.  And it was accepted last year.”  I had no intention of getting into the complications of our joint income, stocks, real estate…  It’s always best not to volunteer any more information than necessary.  And my US pension demonstrates enough to live on, given the modest cost of living in s outhwest France . 

I almost blew it at the end.  “Sign here, inside the box,” as she pulled out the signature form that will be transferred onto my photo-ID carte de séjour.  As I begin, she screamed in horror as I began to write my signature.  “No, no, you must stay inside the green box that is within the black box.  Your signature begins outside the green lines.”  I offered to do it again on a fresh form, but she accepted my slightly outside-the-box signature.   

“At least you didn’t have to pee into a cup like you did for the first carte,” Margaret said on hearing my saga.  No, but I would have done so, happily, if the bureaucrat had asked me to.  They train us, those bureaucrats.

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