As promised, I continue the saga of my quest through the impenetrable depths of French Administromia for a pretty pink driving licence. As my experience two days ago was full of trials and tribulations and (above all) rich in writing possibilities, I will be writing it up in manageable chunks. Here is the first….
Tuesday was the big day for the driving licence showdown. I gathered together the driving licence forms and the mug shots and slid them into my briefcase with a huge pile of photocopies. I had frantically copied practically every document in my possession bar my supermarket receipts and the Easter egg wrappings, due to a well-founded fear of the French powers that be. They have an unhealthy obsession with what they call “justificatifs“: they can ask for documentary proof of anything from your home address to your bra size three years ago, depending on which way the wind is blowing and what they have had for breakfast. If you don’t have it with you, you are sent to paperwork jail without passing go in their real-life Monopoly game, and you have to start all over again.
In any case, whether you are desperately battering on the door for political asylum with determined gunmen hot on your tail or requesting a simple change of address on your car papers, you will invariably be met by an indifferent civil servant shrugging his Gallic shoulders as he informs you that he needs a copy of your phone bill before he can do anything. I have come to the conclusion that even if there is just one telephone bill for every member of the French population, there must be the paperwork equivalent of the Black Forest lurking in the depths of every French administrative building. I sincerely hope that they never get flooded – the employees will end up like museum pieces from Pompeii and Herculaneum, but encased in papier mâché instead of volcanic ash.
I hauled the huge pile into the car and set off for Queen Cerfa’s evil palace; our local equivalent of the tower of Babel. After successfully shoe-horning the car into a tiny parking space in the underground car park, I walked up to the huge gates, where a chubby little boy dressed in pair of jeans and a well-worn, hooded Spiderman top appeared out of thin air and placed himself between me and the gate in what I can only presume was a Superhero stance. Arms neatly crossed across his plump belly and feet planted well apart, he stared defiantly at me with dark, malevolent eyes set beneath furrowed eyebrows. I opened my mouth to tell my aspiring superhero that his shoelaces were undone, but I didn’t have time. He lifted an arm towards me, and folded his two middle fingers down to create a llama-head shape with his hand. Thrusting it towards my face, he proceeded to force air through his pursed lips to make a “pshhhhh” sound, but only managed to generously shower my lower half in saliva droplets before legging it across the square to his mother. I brushed myself off glumly – I had obviously been given the role of Doctor Octopus rather than Gwen Stacy. The rest of the day did not bode well.
I lifted my eyes to see a policeman who asked me if he could check my handbag. I smiled sweetly and opened my bag to reveal my personal collection of tissues, post-its, lollipop wrappers and supermarket receipts. He wisely decided against foraging, and hastily waved me through before anything escaped from my bag and bit him.
In the inner sanctum of the administrative beast, two pulsating snakes of muttering people twisted towards the door as they waited in line for the two reception desks. My queue was being dealt with by a pasty-faced lady with flaccid cheeks and loud pink lipstick, loosely-permed greying hair drooping half-heartedly over her glasses. This offbeat French reincarnation of the British Bulldog was unceremoniously perched on a wheelie chair behind the counter. She irreverently shoved a form towards the woman in front of me and barked “Come back tomorrow!”. The woman blinked, and left. It was my turn.
Or so I thought. Bulldog glared at me, and didn’t call me over the taped line on the floor. Keeping eye contact, she slowly and deliberately put her hand in her pocket and pulled out a black object. As the screams of an exhausted child echoed around the hall and the queue grew in length, she languorously examined her phone, peering sadistically over the top of it from time to time to be sure I had understood that she, and she alone, had my destiny in her hands. At this point a man sporting an official badge appeared and beckoned to me, succulently pulling the plug on her power trip. Flashing a victorious smile at Bulldog, I stepped up to the counter and explained what I had come for. A huge grin spread across his face. “Ahaaaaa!” His blue eyes sparkled mischievously as he flicked through my papers. I cringed – he had picked up on my accent. It escapes when I’m stressed out and tries to transform my voice, making me sound like Jane Birkin on a bad day.
Bulldog’s sidekick was none other than Attila the Pun, and he was thrilled by his discovery. “Soooo, wee-euh wanteuh a nay-ceuh driveeng permee for ze biouteefool Joanna, heing?” he shouted, evidently proud of his linguistic party piece. I was furious to realise that I had blushed to the roots for the first time in light years. It was Bulldog’s turn to produce a sardonic smirk.
“Yoo weel tekk zis teekeet to ze countère O, and yoo weel wett. Goude biyeuh, ze biouteefool Joanna”. I stomped off, sat down in an empty seat, and glared at my teekeet. Here it is, crumpled and soaked with sweat: my administromia open-sesame. Everyone was clutching one, and their heads snapped up like expectant punters at the betting shop every time the buzzer signalled a change in the stakes.
My ticket informed me that my number was number 55, and the number on the board was 22. So at least the ticket machine could count. It was half past ten. Even if they dealt with one person every two minutes, I had over an hour to wait. So I did what I enjoy most: people watching.
To be continued….