Carte de séjour

I upgraded my précipissé; I have a French ID card. They didn’t let me keep the précipissé, though.

This trip was far easier; I came in with my invitation, my précipissé, and my fiscal stamps. They welcomed me in and (surprise) asked me to wait. After about an hour, a nice lady took my papers and handed me a card. The card is valid for 12 months from the date I had my appointment.

Précipissé

I now have a précipissé or something or other. It’s a word that doesn’t fit into my head. But, even if I don’t remember what it’s called, it means that I’m no longer illegal.

So, how did I go from being a lowly illegal alien to someone who is welcomed into the country? I went to my appointment.

Preparing for the appointment was actually more work than one would expect. The list of documents from the website turned into a one-inch stack of papers. I showed up on time on the correct day. I waited in line for about 45 minutes, but had conveniently run into someone that I knew, so it passed quickly. At the end of the line, I presented my invitation and stack of papers to a nice, but stressed individual who promptly told me that I wasn’t cool enough to get into this club. My proof of address wasn’t acceptable, so he gave me 1.5 hours to find a cooler proof of address.

A short sidebar for people who have never lived in France: Proving that you live someplace in France is hugely important. If you want your bank to send your statements to a new address, you need to prove that you live at that address. If you want to receive state health care, you have to prove that you’ve maintained the same address for at least 3 months. I’m not totally sure what happens that allows France to claim that even homeless people have healthcare here.

Back to the story: The power company was only a couple metro stops away and was willing to hook me up. The line was shorter the second time and was allowed through the main door.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the thing on the other side of the door was an even longer line. At least they were kind enough to give me a form to fill out while I waited. An hour later, I got to speak with another woman who was not as nice as the first person and who seemed fairly bored. She was annoyed that my stack of papers wasn’t in the right order. She looked at the first few papers and sent me away. Several of the documents in my inch were difficult and/or expensive to procure: my translated birth certificate had cost me over $100, the fiscal stamps cost around $150. None of the difficult papers or stamps ever got pulled out of the folder.

Again, you probably aren’t surprised when I say that I got to wait again. About 2 hours this time. They handed me my précipissé and told me to come back in two months with other denominations of fiscal stamps to receive the real card.

VISA 2

I was already ready for the appointment, so I just had to wait till the time arrived. Sadly, many of the papers expire, so there was some work involved in re-preparing for the big day. Even more sadly, I overdid the waiting and missed the appointment; I had written the date wrong in my day planner and didn’t realize the mistake until two days after. Oops.

So I asked myself after making that discovery, "Now what?" I saw two options: go anyway or make a new appointment. As an optimist, I went anyway (it’s not like I didn’t have all of the papers freshly prepared). After an hour wait, the nice gentleman advised me to make a new appointment. It did however give me a chance to ask if I was going to get into trouble. To confirm that I was still golden all he did was confirm that I would be able to set an appointment.

I didn’t hesitate and found a cyber cafe in the neighborhood. I took the first available appointment, which was 10 weeks off. I imagine that the busy season is just starting, because the first delay was only 5 weeks. But, the fact that they have a 5 week delay even in the low season implies to me that they are a fair bit understaffed.

French VISA

Normally when I don’t post it’s either that I have nothing to say or that I have no time to say it.  The silence of late was both.  I’m starting a new adventure that could be interesting and, though many people have experienced it before me, our collective consciousness (google) couldn’t actually provide me with any details about what I should expect from the experience.  But, before I get into the next adventure, I’ll catch up on the last few.  After all, I don’t think that I posted at all last year.</p>

I’m living in Paris, France.  I’ve been here since the end of July last year.  I’m studying Computational Linguistics at Paris VII (Denis Diderot) University.  I started at the License 3 level.  That’s the last year of a degree half-way between an associates and a bachelor’s degree that functions as the bachelor’s degree in France.  I just finished my first year, which means that I have a French degree.  I’m under the impression that this program is fairly demanding by standards.  I’m sure that being responsible filled up my agenda all year long.  I still have a long way to go on my French, but I’ve reached the level that I can usually expect everyone to understand me without having to repeat myself and that when I don’t understand someone it’s because I couldn’t hear them.

So, I admit that that was a fairly short summary for the last 2 years, but unless you’re interested in French grammar, machine learning, or semantics, I probably covered all of the interesting bits.  Let’s get on to the new adventures.

I’m out to continue my French adventure.  French education visas are good for one year.  My year is nearly up, so I need to renew.  The rules say that I need to start the renewal process during the last two months of my visa’s validity.  Beyond that, there are a lot of things that I’m not too clear on, so I’ll document what I did, what I thought about doing, and what worked and didn’t.

This page and this page were my first guides in the process.  I admit that I’m still not 100% what they call what I need to do.  I think that I “have” a carte de sejour, even if I haven’t ever seen it and don’t know what number it is.  If that’s the case, I’m renewing my carte de sejour.  I’m fairly sure that one of the prizes from finishing this process is that they will give me a real carte (card) that I can hold in my hands.  The first of those pages has an attachment that lists everything that I need to prepare for the process.  The second page has a link that allows me to setup an appointment.

I had found the pages some time back, and started in on assembling the papers.  The two biggest challenges were the birth certificate (would you really have thought that I would have needed it as I was packing my bags to come to France) and the proof of enrollment.  The challenge with the proof of enrollment is that my school hadn’t finished yet.  We are supposed to finish this week (even though the last exam was over a month ago).  The French system holds juries on the final grades once everything has been turned in and corrected.  That is supposed to happen in a couple more weeks I think.  After that, I should be able to enroll for the next year.  My visa expires in 3 weeks.  This timeline didn’t seem good to me.  My school helped me out by writing a nice note saying that I would be accepted to the program next year.

Papers assembled, time to begin.  Step one, set up a meeting using the website.  This requires my name, my birthday, the end date of my visa, and my carte de sejour number (see section where I mention that I don’t have a carte de sejour number).  I’m not very good at getting information out of French call centers, I rarely figure out what I need to do to talk to a person and if the information I needed was standard, I would have just picked it up from the web.  So, I headed to the address on the website to ask what I needed to put into the carte de sejour number field.  I explained my story to the folks there and they seemed genuinely pleased that I had succeeded and was trying to continue and genuinely disappointed that I hadn’t come to the right location to do it.  They sent me to the prefecture of the police.  The folks at the prefecture seemed more accustomed to people who were renewing.  I went through security and then waited in line for a while.  The gentleman seemed annoyed with me, but I think the reason was that he felt bad that I had come all that way and that he couldn’t do anything to help me.  However, he told me that the “Number Etr” on the OFII sticker in my passport was my carte de sejour number.  All told, it took about 4 hours, but it meant that I had everything that I needed to begin for real.  I was satisfied.

After tramping home I connected to the website to setup the appointment.  I got a message telling me that they couldn’t set up my appointment and they gave me a number to call.  It’s never good to be the exception, so I was a little disappointed, but diligently called the number the next day during business hours.  Confirming my experience that I have no talent for getting information out of French call centers, I spent an hour on the phone and never managed to reach a person or to hear what the problem was.  However, they did give me a slightly different URL to use to setup the appointment which worked.  While going through the meeting setup, they gave me a different list of papers to assemble.  It was fairly similar to the first, but not identical; one key difference being that the tax that I had already paid to allow me to renew wasn’t the correct amount.

They gave me the choice of when I wanted my appointment, but the earliest choice that they offered me was more than a week after the end of my visa.  Again, not comforting.  I started asking around; apparently that’s fairly normal and the meeting can be several months after the end of the visa.  I remember foreigners in the US telling me that they weren’t able to leave the US and I never really understood why.  I’m guessing this was the reason, and I finally get it.  I always figured that the government would up at my doorstep the day after my visa expired.  I guess that won’t happen for another generation.

The Phone

My life is totally lackluster these days, so it hasn’t merited much blogging. I go to school, I study, I work, I sleep, and I buy weird cheeses and mushrooms that attract flies. If the ultimate goal was to produce a blog, I guess that I could write about those wacky dreams, but my real goal is to let the people I care about know that I’m not dead and to document the interesting events that happen to me (weird dreams don’t typically qualify). In addition, I have really fast internet and a US phone number that allows anyone who wants to contact me any time they see fit.

Errata: had really fast internet. It stopped working yesterday. I find that experience to be irrationally disconcerting. I spent a couple of hours totally unnerved because I couldn’t check my email (which I wouldn’t have had at that time of day anyway). However, I acknowledge that the internet is my primary connection to the outside world, so some access is important. Blogging makes more sense now.

I have a favorite French word: Blesser. For those of the world who don’t speak French, it means to hurt. My normal technique of guessing the meanings of words based on cognates and context didn’t serve me so well here. I was actually curious enough to do research. I think that it’s a cousin of the English term. The English term was created by the bible translators who borrowed a Germanic word which meant roughly, ‘anoint by bleeding upon’. My French wasn’t yet good enough to do etymological research, so I just went with, “I can see how you get from anoint by bleeding upon to hurt.”

So, have you heard me speak French? Probably not, because I haven’t spoken French with any of my friends that actually speaks any French or read my blog. Possibly you’re curious if I’m learning anything. Well, let me tell you. I started by exclusively working on pronunciation. It helped. I’ve had one new accomplishment here that I hadn’t yet managed in any other language; in a social situation alone with an internationally aware native French speaker, I passed as a local for several minutes until I gave up and asked for help on a word. I admit that it wasn’t a normal conversation, but I’m still pretty proud of the accomplishment.

Right now my weakness is formulating sentences. As long as I can get a running start on a sentence, I tend to do fine, but if I have to come up with them quickly, it doesn’t always work out so well. I’ll include some homework from last week to show my level there.

Quand elle a arrêt de courir, Alice n’avait aucune idée ou elle était. Elle était déjà dans la forêt. Apres avoir entendu un bruit, elle a regarde dans un arbre et a vue un chat tigré. Le chaut la regardait et avait l'air amusé.

"Bonjour."

"Bonjour. Pouvez-vous m'aider? Je suis perdue."

"Bien sûr. Ou veux-tu aller?"

"Sortir d'ici."

"C'est facile. C’est par là." a déclaré le chat tout en pointant dans trois directions en même temps.

All told, I’m not sure that my French will progress fast enough for what I need. Ideally, I will be at level C1 (able to converse fluently on most any subject) by the end of the year. When I take the fluency test on <date to be determined>, it will be my first such test. If it’s just reading comprehension, I could probably get close today. However, if it’s a spelling test, I’m not going to make it. Good, I like a little excitement.

Addendum:

Ok the internet came back on its own. Plus, I made the discovery that word has some really great reference tools built in if you get the Multilanguage pack. It’s got on screen tips with translations and IPA pronunciations. However, I’m not sure how much use I’ll have of the Arabic dictionary.

The End of the World

I quit. I didn’t like the fact that I was working so hard that everything else was getting pushed from my life. I figured that a goal would be a good motivator to help me deal with the workload. My goal was to save enough money for France. At the point that I set the goal, I was already past it. I’m not sure if I’d ever accomplished a goal quite that quickly.

I decided to do grad school in France. At this point, the astute reader (I mean you), will ask him(/her)self, “When did Zeke learn French?” The answer to that question is “never”. I’m starting my post-graduate education by finding the cheapest French school in France and spending a tourist visa there. I’m in Nice studying for just under three months. After that, I get to fill in school applications from some other location.

Sadly, it took me about 6 hours to decide that I don’t like Nice. Not in an, “I’ve got to get out of here this second” sort of way. But, I’m sure that I shouldn’t ever try to make this home. As my body adjusts to the local time and I get more opportunities to explore, I think that I’m starting to better understand why. Big tourist spots always develop a scummy layer around the fringe. Nice is a Mecca for ultra-rich folks. That means that the caliber of scum is extra high. To illustrate my point, I’ve included an excerpt from the profile of my 6th best match on okcupid.

My Self-Summary
***!!!!!EMERGENCY!!!!!.... If any of my stalkers, haters, lovers whatever has any sort of connection to Michael Jackson tickets I would be forever grateful. If anyone would like to donate a pair (one for me and one not for you) I would cry tears of joy. Ticketmaster is down and the AMEX people are idiots. I don't have a black one (yet) so they really don't care about a peon like me. Donations would be greatly appreciated : ) Merci. PS preferably in July....

Damn, I didn't know I had to write an essay. I like to drink insane amounts of alcohol, party like a rockstar and add up the damages later. I like to wine and dine only to places with five stars endorcing the bottom of the menu.

When most people see me, they think I am a stripper.. I admit, the fake eyelashes and 22 inch beautiful blond extensions may fool the average $30,000 millionaire however, to the contrary, I am just that sexy. I wouldn't require your black american express if I was a stripper, asshole. Have you seen this badunkadunk?

I’ve got an itty-bitty furnished studio. It’s nice enough. I’m sure that I’ll start to find the nicest parts of the city as I spend more time here (I’ve definitely seen glints of promise). More on that to come.

My French class has 5 people in it and meets for 3 hours a day. I’m enjoying it. I’m augmenting my studies by learning the IPA. The IPA is basically my new favorite thing. I’ll probably talk more about that later, too.

So, I’ll quit focusing on myself and get back to the end of the world. I’m sure it’s happening—the weatherman told me. This is an undoctored photo from wunderground.com. I’m pretty sure that a temparture of -5573 degrees means that, not only is there no molecular motion in the air, the molecules feel extra lazy and won’t even start moving until they’ve been warmed up by an extra 5000 degrees or so. I’ll do my best to get any of my personal business done before Monday.


End Of The World
Originally uploaded by ze6ke.

Sorry I Can't Travel Both

I'm hunting for jobs full-time. This activity certainly wouldn't make it onto my list of favorite pastimes. But, I admit that I have learned a lot every time I've done it. I think this is the first time that I was looking for a job where I was giving much consideration to how much I would like the work: Before I graduated, it was all about money. My first after-college job was to fulfill a curiosity. The second job was all about finding a good boss. Peace Corps was all about doing something international.

Deciding what I want to do with my career is far harder than finding a job. Before thinking about it really hard, I started pursuing development positions. My success was limited; probably because I was not using a developer resume, am not horribly experienced and wasn't committed to the effort. After poking at it for a while, I realized that I am basically qualified to become a DBA and that I would probably enjoy the position more.

Through the whole process, I was feeling an inordinate amount of stress, and hadn't identified the source. I figured out that part of the source was that I didn't feel like I would have any success landing the jobs that would help me get into business school. It was taking me a while to sort all of this out in my head. Shortly after putting it together, I realized that I'm better qualified as a project manager than as a DBA or developer and that PM jobs would help me get into business school. I hadn't included them on my initial rounds because I had wanted to be more technical.

That brings me to where I am now. I haven't persuaded myself to commit to a business track or a technical track, but now is the right time to make the choice. I initially went down the PM trail because I was tired of having bad PMs ruin my projects; when I was in charge, things went more smoothly than when I let someone else do it. Going into the future, I think that being technical would mean having an easy, pleasant life but risk getting bored in about 10 years. Going down the PM road would probably mean more stress, but would also open the door to more variety and ability to produce interesting results.

Do other people have this much trouble deciding what to do with themselves?

My Big Adventure

What I did:

I traveled to a few places –

  • Washington

  • California

  • North Carolina

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • California

  • Japan (just for sushi at the airport)

  • One night in Bangkok

  • Bangladesh for 6 months

  • Florida

  • North Carolina

  • Ohio

  • Massachusetts

  • North Carolina

  • Florida

  • Oregon

  • Washington

  • Oregon

  • California

  • New Mexico

  • Mexico

  • Guatemala

  • Belize

  • Guatemala

  • Honduras

  • Nicaragua

  • Costa Rica

  • Panama

  • Colombia

  • Brazil

  • Uruguay

  • Argentina

  • Spain

  • France

  • England

  • Ireland

  • England

  • France

  • Germany

  • Italy

  • Germany

  • Czech Republic

  • Serbalslokvia

  • Bulgaria

  • Turkey

  • Egypt

  • South Korea

  • Hong Kong (with surprise stop in mainland China)

  • Canada

  • Oregon

  • Washington

  • Mexico

  • Guatemala

  • Mexico

  • Texas


I did it on three separate passports and filled one of them up completely.


How long did it take:

From the the fifth of July, 2005 to the 19th of December 2008. Just under 2.5 years.


How much did it cost:

$26,000 or so.


Was it worth it:

Absolutely!


What did I learn:

  • How to learn languages – The fifth language was certainly easier than the first.

  • Spanish – I'm pretty good.

  • Portuguese – I'm OK.

  • Bangla – OK, I forgot Bangla already, but I used to be pretty good.

  • German – I'm pretty bad.

  • French – I've definitely had conversations in French. I'll get back to it.

  • Korean – I think I learned more in my one month there this time than in my year before.

  • Geography – It's important to look on a map and figure out where I've been.

  • Politics – I have a pretty good understanding of what is happening and why. The world was more pleasant before.

  • Economics – Evolutionary Microeconomics is fun.

  • How to find cheap flights – $26,000 comes out to just over $10,000 per year.

  • How to travel – Cheap hotels, nice hotels, hostels, street vendors, couch surfing, visas...

  • History – Maybe not everything that has ever happened, but I can definitely put things in context now.

  • My physical and emotional limits – Some of them at least.

  • What it means to be an American – All you have to do is believe.

  • That America is going down – I don't think it's going to be a 3rd world country any time soon. But, the financial markets are already bucking conventional wisdom and betting against it, it's still losing money, and the majority of Americans don't see a big problem. The scary bit is what will happen once the American earning power has fallen off, but before the military power has.

  • Why it's ok that Americans call America America – When America was founded, it didn't really have neighbors. Americans were the only people that could call themselves Americans for a bunch of years. However, the name didn't show an awful lot of foresight.

  • How global warming works – Global warming isn't a big threat to the first world, but it's going to tear stuff up in the third.

  • That international banking can be a pain – I tried a lot of stuff with banking on my travels. I got told plenty of times that I couldn't open an account for some reason or other. I also got told that I couldn't make deposits outside of my country of residence.

  • What marketing is

  • Bargaining

  • That I don't like Citibank

  • Everything there is to know about food poisoning

and

  • What I'm going to do next


How have I changed:

  • I'm a sincere, positive person. I normally bring out the best sides of people. In my travels, I saw the worst sides of some pretty horrible people. Those are images that will take a long time to wipe away.

  • Having a deeper understanding of how things work, I will be more thoughtful in what actions I take.

  • I always felt that traveling was a part of growing up. I had never had the opportunity to do it before. Now, I feel ready to make much bigger commitments because I feel like I'm an adult.


Fin

Mexico City was not very exciting. I went back to my first international hostel. It was still a nice place. Unfortunately, I spent most of my time in the hostel because I was recovering from that quesadilla.

From Mexico City, I flew to visit family that I hadn't seen for several (15) years. They were older than I had remembered, but still nice. After that, I flew to see family that I hadn't seen together for 3 years (that would be my immediate family). All we did was cook, eat, talk, and watch movies. Everything but the movies was great. The movies were fine.

Guitarron

I've been unhappy with the quality of my writing recently. I'm not a talented writer; for me, good writing takes work and all the stars being in alignment. The whole idea of ending my trip has really knocked my stars out of alignment. I realized that this end is something truly final. I've enjoyed traveling and I will likely never have a similar opportunity again. I will probably make it to Khazakstan and China someday, but those will be shorter, direct trips. Maybe I will hold a funeral service for my traveling self.

After Angangueo, I went to Morelia during the daytime to hunt for a guitarron (giant bass guitar used in Mariachi music). Shortly after arriving, I realized that I had lost my camera and that all of my awesome butterfly pictures were gone forever. The timing was pretty extraordinary; right before the end of my trip. This made me realize how well I'd done on my travels having only lost about four things on the whole trip. I gave away far more than I lost.

Everyone in Morelia directed me to a city called Paracho, the avocado and guitar capital of Mexico. I wanted a little time in Mexico for accepting my end so I tried to do Paracho as a day trip. I arrived in the early afternoon and spent a couple of hours walking around learning where stuff was and eating ice cream that was complicated enough that I had to ask for instructions. The whole city was shut down. I was worried that it was because we were on a big Mexican holiday (Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadelupe), but apparently it was just because lunch lasts until 4 in the afternoon. I found a fully outfitted guitarron for under $200 and learned that guitarron cases are both cumbersome and heavy.

On my way out of town, I stopped for dinner. I taught someone in the avocado capital of Mexico how to make an avocado smoothie, it was totally new to her. She was out of milk so she started by handing me a wad of pesos and asking me to go to the grocery and pick up some milk for her. In exchange, she fed me some quesadillas which thoroughly messed up my bus ride to Mexico city and the next several days.