Changing address on my titre de séjour, or Down the rabbit hole of the Prefecture de Police
For those wannabe Parisians who do not have the legal right to work in France, a visit to the Prefecture de Police has no doubt been a necessary and traumatic step of your immigration process. As an Australian with no recent familial ties to any European country, I sadly rely on this venerable institution to grant me permission to live and work in Paris.
I have already used this blog to lament previous encounters with the Prefecture de Police as well as to chronicle my first transaction using fiscal stamps. When I moved apartments at the beginning of last year, I knew that I was legally obliged to change address on my titre de séjour, and yet I would rather have stuck hot coals in my eyes than return to the Prefecture. So I decided to keep my change of address on the DL.
However, when I got a new job at the end of last year, I decided it was probably a good idea to come clean to the authorities about this whole new address / new employer situation.
Getting hit on at the police station
OK, so if it wasn’t already clear to you, I'm here to tell you that the local police station has nothing to do with the Prefecture de Police. Also, they apparently don’t know anything about how a foreigner might go about changing their address. Don’t even bother asking them, they will just point you towards the extremely unhelpful website, which apparently confuses the native speaking employees of the French administration just as much as yours-truly (“Wait, hang on - you’re right, that really is confusing…” “THANY YOU!”).
Also, should you venture into the local police station, be aware that you run the risk of being hit on IN THE WAITING ROOM by a charming young man awaiting his interview with the police. “So what are you here for?”… I was ever so slightly relieved that he didn’t open with “Do you come here often?”
Initiating contact with the Prefecture de Police
Once I had established that I didn’t want to tell my future children that I had met their father in a police station, I decided to initiate contact with the REAL Prefecture de Police. Unfortunately, it appeared that getting in touch with the PDP was more difficult than making contact with a drug dealer, or a Russian spy.
I called the number on the website, which led to an automated message informing me that the number had been disconnected and helpfully suggesting that I call another number. I dutifully called said number, waited on hold for some time before being told that I needed to EMAIL a really long address which seemed like it could have easily ended up in my SPAM folder along with emails from Nigerian business men wanting to make deposits into my bank account.
But try to fathom the logic of the French administration at your own peril! I obediently sent an email to the Nigerian-looking email address and after several weeks of radio silence I started to wonder if this wasn’t all a big prank.
Then I received the following email from the Prefecture that hardly served to lift my spirits: “Please indicate your mailing address so that we can send you the relevant forms to fill out.”
Rendez-vous at the Prefecture
Eventually I received the paperwork from the Prefecture, filled it out and sent it back. Meanwhile, the season had changed twice, the country had a new President and North Korea had conducted two nuclear tests (Side note: I’m sure it would be MUCH easier to change address in North Korea). Also, I was about to finish up with my original French employer and head to Australia for 3 weeks, and was therefore starting to get nervous about my lack of up-to-date carte de séjour.
The week before my flight back to Australia, I received an email from the Prefecture: “Please present yourself at the Prefecture de Police as soon as possible. Your request for change-of-address is incomplete, and there are some documents you need to sign.”
Of course, I didn’t dilly-dally. Instead, I arrived at the Prefecture bright and early the very next day ready to sign the aforementioned forms.
Door 4/8 and three-quarters
After announcing myself at reception, I was instructed to make my way to Door 6. I then preceded to wait out the front of Door 6 for nearly two hours. This was is bad enough in itself, but was made substantially worse given the fact that I was outdoors in sub-zero temperatures (being the first week of December). After finally entering the building I could barely move my fingers, so imagine my joy on being told that in fact the team of Door 6 couldn’t help me, and that I needed to try either Door 4 or Door 8, she wasn’t really sure which.
I politely asked if she couldn’t be more specific, to which she replied that if she could then she would have, which was probably the most logical statement I heard during my entire experience at the Prefecture de Police.
Feeling like Alice in Wonderland, I mounted the stairs in search of Door 4/8. Door 8 was locked and covered in complicated, contradictory signage. I started searching for the little door behind the curtain, or at the very least the white rabbit, but at that point someone emerged from the locked Door 4 and I stole my chance to enter.
The disheartenment of locked Door 4 was nothing compared to my feelings on reading the following sign: “The receptionist is currently away. Please be patient.”
Please be patient? Nothing about this experience was inspiring patience, especially when I could see several people tapping away on computers behind the unmanned reception desk, intently ignoring my gesticulating and sighing.
The Queen of Hearts of the Prefecture de Police
After finally succeeding in capturing the pity of one of the employees, I was handed a number and asked to wait in an adjacent room. I was half expecting to be met with jar of potion marked “Drink me”. However on the upside I was also starting to regain the feeling in my fingers.
As I sat in that waiting room for another hour and a half I was overcome with the same sense of hopelessness and existential dread which must be felt by inmates of Guantanamo Bay. I once again started toying with the idea of moving to North Korea. Then finally my number was called and my ordeal so far would appear nothing compared to the Queen of Hearts who awaited me at the desk.
After I showed her the cryptic email which had led to my visit to the Prefecture she asked me if I had printed out and signed the attachment.
No, I explained. As I had received the email the evening before and it seemed urgent, I had come straight away, imagining I would be able to sign the form onsite.
“Well, there is a printer behind you,” she snapped, “It costs 60 cents.”
I only ever carry enough cash to buy coffee and demi-tradition, and as it so happened I had completely exhausted this reserve the day before.
“I’m sorry, I have no cash. Don’t you have a printer here that you can use?”
She let out a heavy sigh (almost as if she had been waiting for nearly four hours to sign a paper which apparently didn’t exist): “I can’t be expected to do everyone else’s work!” she exclaimed, rolling her eyes dramatically before sending the document to the printer.
“Can I see your passport?”
My heart sank. Of course I should have brought my passport, but to be fair I had assumed that I would rock up, sign some forms, and then wait for another couple of weeks before being called back again.
“Oh, I have a cretin!” she sighed to her colleague, before stomping over to the printer.
The most frustrating part of all this (which, just to be serious for a second is easily the worse administrative experience of my life and probably borderline abusive), is that I relied on this person in order to remain in the country. I knew that I could not defend myself, or ask that she speak to me like a human being rather than an animal, because she could easily tear my request in half (and I certainly wasn’t putting it past her). Of course, I was also frustrated by the fact that forgetting to bring my passport was indeed sort of cretinous.
The Queen of Hearts’ attempt to print out my forms was fruitless (it was somewhat ironic that someone who had accused me of being a cretin was unable to successfully print out a .pdf) and I was subsequently ordered to go and print the form out myself, retrieve my passport and come back only once everything was in order. I was forced to go to work to carry out the printing (my office at that time was in Saint Denis), circle back to my apartment in the 9th to collect my passport before finally returning to the Prefecture of Police in the 4th.
By this stage I had effectively wasted my entire day in an effort to print and sign a single document.
At the end of Alice in Wonderland — or at least the Disney animated version — Alice is shown being roused by her governess, having fallen asleep under a tree, suggesting that the whole adventure down the rabbit hole had been nothing but a fanciful dream. Personally I feel that my experience at the Prefecture of Police aligns more closely with the original Lewis Carol novel which I understand to be an an allegory of an LSD trip.
Although I would be forgiven for waking up after my journey to the Prefecture wondering if it were all a dream, I am pleased to report that I am now the proud owner of a shiny new Titre de séjour, complete with an accurate address. So I guess it must have all actually happened.
In other news I can confirm that no matter how many jazz bands decide to play beneath my apartment window during summer, no matter what sort of mould problem may be lurking behind my couch, they will drag my dead body out of my current apartment (all the way down the five flights of stairs, no elevator). Anything to avoid a return trip down the rabbit hole that is the Prefecture de Police.
Have you ever had the joy of visiting the Prefecture de Police? Was your experience as soul-destroying as mine?
Heeeey! PS: It's been a while. I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, I've just been on the other side of it, hanging out in Australia for a couple weeks over Christmas. I allowed myself a break to recharge and to focus on spending time with my homies, but I'm excited to get back into blogging regularly here. And in the couple of weeks that I have been back in Paris there has been no shortage of random things happen to me that will be ripe fodder for future posts.
Hope you all had a magical end of year break and have made an awesome start into the next one. Bisous xx