Basically, if you plan on leaving the country to go abroad, try to avoid these six things that have tried so valiantly to hinder my journey across the pond.
#1: When the French play 'hot potato' with your documents.
I should expect nothing less from the country that invented the word "bureaucratie," but in order to get your visa, it starts to feel like every single person in France needs to see all 14 forms you have to fill out. You've got the board of education people, the labor department people, the residency people... who all sport their trusty rubber stamp-makers so they can studiously stamp every single document they encounter and staples are flying everywhere and pages whiz through copiers and scanners and papercuts are cropping up left and right and it's utter bureaucratic chaos. That's how I imagine it, anyway.
I'm not poo-pooing on this at all, I do think it's an effective way to make sure that everyone's cleared and legit and ready to go. It just takes a reaaal long time. And so after three weeks of waiting for my work contract, the FINAL PIECE of my visa package, biting my nails every day and hoping everything was cleared, finally I got to hop on the visa train and everything started getting processed.
#2: When duty calls.
After weeks and weeks of waiting, the visa finally came! I got a text from my mother around noon that read as such: "A Fedex package arrived for you!!! I put it right under your jury summons."
Oh yes. Jury duty. Well, clearly it would be quite difficult to judge a case on an 8-hour time difference (plus rumor has it you have to actually, you know, be in the country or whatever), so I translate my work contract into anglais, a two-hour endeavor since I haven't actually written in French since I turned in my senior thesis (whoops) and got cleared. Thank you Universe, but I'll have to judge the good people of Georgia another time.
#3: When your former host mom forgets who you are.
Once the visa had arrived and the jury duty had been circumvented, I gave Madame a call to make sure she knew when I'd be staying in France with her, etc. etc. I call and she picks up the phone. And I say "Hey Madame, it's Bridget!" and she says "Who?" and I say 'Bridget' again, and we play this little game for awhile where she says "Qui?" over and over and I try to describe myself saying things like "You know, your former student," or, when things got more desperate, "That one who always forgot to shut the bathroom door and who liked to say cool French slang things to you! Je suis une pute! Remember?!" And after several attempts, finally she says, "Mom, here's the phone!" ... and I felt dumb. I had been talking to her daughter the whole time, who obviously wouldn't have remembered me. Turns out Madame does, in fact, remember me, and as soon as she got on the phone she said "I'm making you goat cheese quiche when you get here!" (my fave) and all was well with the world again.
#4: When your mom thinks you got a really great discount on your flights to Réunion, and it turns out that really you forgot to pay for one of them.
This one was definitely the worst. Upon looking at my credit card statements, the charge for my flight was just over $600, and my mom said, "Wow hun, you got two flights for 600 dollars, that's great!" And I said.... that is most definitely not right. Turns out, I'd managed to choose an option on my Paris to Réunion flight where I was supposed to call the airline to finalize payment on my flight. If you didn't call within 48 hours, your reservation would've been cancelled. And I'd booked the flight three weeks ago. Oh, good.
I called a very nice woman at the airline and sorted it out. (And I didn't call anyone 'monsieur' this time, so it was definite progress!) Can't imagine what I would have done if I'd gotten to the gate in Paris and they told me I wasn't on the flight. So, again, MAKE SURE YOU CHECK IF YOU HAVE TO CALL THE AIRLINE TO FINALIZE PAYMENT. Kind of important. :P Thanks for saving my life, ma. Anyways, we got the other flight all paid for and good to go... until...
#5: When you get a phone call from the credit card company after booking that second flight.
The fraud department gave us a ring to make sure I wasn't being... y'know, fradulent. But we cleared that up real fast. That whole deal wasn't too bad. It was just icing on the cake, really.
#6: When your school isn't six blocks from the beach.
This one really wasn't something that would have prevented my departure, but it certainly would have been an issue if I hadn't realized it before I had to go teach. Anyway, this is fun. Apparently Google maps, if they don't recognize your address, puts you in the center of town. So I am not, in fact, in the middle of town, I'm actually a bit further up into the hills. But I did get to creep on some of the pictures of my area, and it looks GORGEOUS! Here's an area near my school: