Like other foreigners who are living in France, I had to go through the French immigration process to have my carte de resident (Residence Card.) Because I was married to a Frenchman, the paperwork to receive residence in France, was considered more of a formality than a daunting procedure to be legal in the country. Nevertheless, it was a real eye opening experience, and one that haunts me when I hear about immigration....
With my back-pack full of legal French documents and less than ten French words in my pocket, I went to the Prefecture in Paris to apply for my residence card.
Standing in line, waiting with hundreds of other immigrants, I realized I was not alone in feeling nervous. My eyes searched the crowd for a friend, someone who I might shot the breeze with....but without a common language between us we could only share a small smile of encouragement.
There was a guard at the entrance door. She grabbed my papers, and started to bark something in French. I didn't know what she was saying. Luckily I understand her sign language, as she pointed to the photo machine. I needed a black and white, non-smiling photo of myself. Not a happy one, in color like I had in hand. (Look at the photo of me up above: Wide-eyed, boyish... someone who is about to wet her pants.)
Walking into the small airless waiting room I saw the whole world gathered. Fourteen chairs for a few hundred people. No water, not bathroom. There were elderly people, young people, pregnant women and small children. I stood there wishing I could do something to change the situation. Each of us had a number and waited our turn. After waiting eight hours my turn finally arrived. The clerk, who looked like she had never smiled in her entire life, looked at me like I was a murderer trying to ask for a knife. It wasn't easy.
I felt angry. Angry that people should treat people as rudely as I had seen in the last eight hours. Angry that I saw an elderly woman pee her pants because she wasn't allowed to go outside to use the bathroom. Angry because of the blatant racism and vulgar remarks. Angry because people who wanted a better life; who were willing to do slave labor,who left their countries, there homes, to be able to eat and live were treated like animals. Angry that because we didn't speak French, the clerks yelled as if speaking louder we might understand.
When my turn came the clerk asked my name. I gave my name. Not understanding me, she huffed as she ramaged through my paperwork then typed my married name.
I had never caused a scene in my life. But on this day after being pushed to the wall, feeling the insults of the day embedded in my memory. I decided I wanted to keep my maiden name. After a blow out scene where languages collided.
The clerk stood up and ripped my document in two . Then she re-typed on a new piece of paper:
A M A R O.
*I have heard that this is the norm for immigration waiting rooms all over the world. It is not like the "Welcome Wagon."
Photos: Snippets of my French Carte de Resident. Circa 1988