05 March 2009

Fit as fiddles

We had, and passed, our medical exams this morning at the immigration and naturalization department, so we're cleared now to apply for our residency permits. And while we were communicable disease-free at the exam today, I'm not so sure we will be next week, after walking a gauntlet of people with crunchy coughs outside the building clearing their lungs before coming in for their exams. Can you really cram for a medical exam?

As has been the case in pretty much every situation we've been in so far, the Parisians far exceeded their reputation for helpfulness and friendliness. It started before we even got to the immigration and naturalization building. We knew the building was a few blocks from the metro, but being in the 'burbs just outside of Paris proper, the intersections didn't have the street names in the locations we'd come to expect. So we wandered around the circle a bit, and just as we figured out we needed to be going the other direction, an older gentleman in a baseball cap and sneakers came out of his way and explained, unbidden, that we were headed the wrong way. Thanks, man.

The staff at the medical office were also pleasant and patient with everybody there this morning, which kind of surprised me, given that it's a government office, and beyond that, a government office that has to deal all day long with people like us who don't really understand what's going on. Maybe the people who work there are chosen for their helpful and kind natures or because they're champions of immigrant rights, either of which would be a novelly reasonable strategy for a government agency. Whatever, they joked a good bit with us, in particular, and one of us (it would be insensitive to point out: only one of us) even got a smiley face drawn on his band-aid after the glucose test.

Still, the people at the office were so nice to us, in particular, that it made me wonder if we'd just benefited from what we've been told is a subtle but hefty racism here. Many of the people immigrating to France come from former French colonies, and plenty of non-former colonies, that are inhabited by people who are neither Christian nor Caucasian, or at least visibly not both. Even in Paris, which has a long history of a cosmopolitan citizenry, there is distrust of such Others. 

Maybe I've got it wrong. Maybe people were so nice to us because we were easy to deal with and obviously well-- ummm, let's be safe and leave that at extensively-- educated. The young guy at the front desk almost cried with relief on being presented with our single sheets of paper inserted helpfully at the picture page of our passports. Many of the others there today had thick folders of papers accompanied by lots of verbal explanation and gesticulation. Maybe it's because I like to kid around in those kind of formal/tense situations. Maybe it was that I conducted all of my business in what I like to imagine is charmingly child-like (not childish) French (doing a medical exam in a foreign language you don't have mastery of is a most interesting experience, BTW), despite the fact that most of the staff could speak English quite well, if needed. Maybe it's just that Karen had proof of gainful employment. Or maybe it's countryism, and we're lucky enough to have been born and raised in a country that, while seen by some French as the root of much cultural and political evil, is not perceived as a major direct exporter of terrorism-conducting, disease-bringing, or public assistance-needing people. That's an awfully thin line. Regardless, I think this whole transfer-to-a-new-country thing would be a little less polite, at least, if we weren't white and without obvious religious affiliation.

And obviously this isn't by a long shot unique to Paris, or France, or Europe. Just 2 weeks ago in the Philly ER after my crash, I was zoned out while the nurse/PA taking my vitals said something I think ended with the words "people like us." Did he mean tall, male, over 40, glasses-wearing, not-drug-seeking, unemployed (gee, I hope not, given that he took my vitals), or white? If I hadn't been there seeking drugs, I'd have asked.


  1. Ah, yes, was that the place either in Malakoff or Montrouge? That was my first experience, too. They were very pleasant, very efficient. Don't get used to it. That's the highwater mark -- everything is downhill from there.

  2. Or......they were so relieved to encounter Americans now presided over by Obama that they concluded these folks had to good guys.