Last Thursday, I had to take the day off to go to the immigration office in Rennes for the mandatory medical visit that's the last step to validate a long-stay visa. This is a story that's been told over and over and over again by language assistants, students, and anyone else who's ever had reason to live in France temporarily, and I'm very glad to say that I don't really have anything particularly interesting to add to the ongoing narrative. I received my appointment within a few weeks of submitting all the ridiculous paperwork after I arrived here, in contrast to some people in other places and/or years who don't hear anything for months, or even who leave before the OFII ever actually gets around to dealing with them. Everyone at the office was very nice and friendly, and the appointment itself went smoothly, wasn't awkward, and didn't turn into any of the horror stories I'd heard. Really, the worst thing I can say about the experience is that the dumb timing (my appointment was at 1:30, and of course it also takes over two hours each way to get to Rennes and back in the first place) and the icky weather prevented me from enjoying the rest of the day in Rennes, and I couldn't stay because I teach at 8 o'clock on Friday mornings. (How I envy the people who had Friday appointments and could just take a long weekend and be done with it!)
Miguel, my Spanish-language counterpart and pseudo*-roommate, had the same appointment time as me, which was either a bizarre coincidence or an unusually efficient bit of organization on the part of the faceless French bureaucracy, so we were able to take the same train that morning and have lunch and find the office together after we got to Rennes, so that was nice.
Here's how the visit went down, for those of you who haven't already heard a dozen or more similar tales from other people, or who are just interested in how ridiculously different the same freaking process can be in different regions even though in theory it should be the same for everyone. As far as I can see, these visits exist mostly to make sure people are healthy enough to work, have had all their shots, and don't have anything contagious. There were a lot of HIV/AIDS awareness posters hanging around the office, but they're specifically really keen on making sure you don't have TB. I was asked once if I've been exposed to TB and twice if I've been vaccinated and/or recently tested, and of course, I had an x-ray taken of my chest. (I got to keep the x-ray. It creeps me out a little.) That's usually the highlight of the OFII medical visit story, especially for women, because you obviously have to strip to the waist, and you aren't given anything to cover yourself with—you just have to awkwardly stand around half-naked for a few minutes. Fortunately, I'm a lot less uncomfortable with nudity than a lot of girls I know, and I was also lucky enough to have a female radiologist, so it really wasn't that bad as far as I was concerned. And the fact of the x-ray made the inevitable “Is there any chance you could be pregnant?” a lot less irrelevant and invasive than it might otherwise have been.
After I was allowed to put my clothes back on, I was escorted to a different room by a different person who asked me whether I'd had a series of vaccinations (note that I didn't have to provide even approximate dates or offer any proof, just answer “yes” to everything on her list) and then weighed me and gave me a vision test (I'm considering getting new glasses here while I have really nice health insurance...). Then my x-ray came back and I was taken to yet another room to see the actual doctor, who looked at the x-ray for about five seconds and asked me again about tuberculosis, then proceeded to collect some really cursory information about medications, whether I exercise, and whether my parents have any health problems, and then make small talk about where I work and whether I like it and the weather in Brest**. And that was that. I went back to the waiting room until I was called into a fourth office by a fourth person who looked at my papers, gave me the signed and stamped document stating that I'd passed the medical exam, and put the sticker in my passport that indicates I've successfully gone through all the necessary rigmarole to finalize the validity of the visa I first applied for almost four months ago.
So, I am now officially and 100% legally a resident worker in the Republic of France. For the next six months, I am free to come and go as I please, I'm entitled to take advantage of various government services, and other than straightening out a snafu with Social Security (either they don't have my birth certificate, which I don't think is true or is not my fault if it is, or they don't like the copy they got, so I think I'm going to have to have it professionally translated and send them that) in the next couple of weeks, I'm finally done with paperwork and stressful bureaucratic formalities. For the rest of my stay, I can [hopefully] be as carefree as the European assistants who don't have to deal with any of that crap.
* since we live in neighboring rooms in a weird sort of mini-dorm, rather than sharing an actual apartment
** Allegedly the worst in all of France. We have a city that's almost-universally viewed as ugly AND unpleasant. GOOOO BREST.