Josh and I get really excited about how great our health care is here. Just the other day, he showed me the part of Sicko in which Michael Moore interviews French people about their government-run medical system. He talked to American expats in Paris who had nothing but praise for their sécurité sociale, or "Secu" as we lovingly call it. I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty great. I can usually get an appointment with my doctor in a matter of hours. (I called a few mornings ago around 9:30 am to get a checkup appointment and they had me in at 2:15 that afternoon.) There’s almost no paperwork to fill out at the doctor’s, you get care first and deal with insurance afterward. Minimal paperwork. Pretty much everything is covered. I needed tests (for nothing serious) and they were done the next morning, with the results in that afternoon. A month’s supply of medicine cost me. . . 37 cents. I pay, per month, just a bit more than what I paid in the US for catastrophic insurance with a $1,000 deductible.
Now, the point of telling you this is NOT to cast light on the current debate in the US over government-run healthcare. It’s to cast light on how RIDICULOUSLY STUPID so many other things are in France. Seriously, if they can get it so right with healthcare, why did it take us three months to get internet when we moved here? And, once more, Josh is on the phone with the internet provider. He just got a USB key so he can access the internet from anywhere in town, good for someone who meets people in cafés for English tutoring and wants to use youtube. Of course, the USB key works with a password. Of course, SFR (the internet company) hasn’t sent that password. Of course, they’re not going to. About 20 minutes ago I heard him getting mad on the phone with SFR and asking to speak with a supervisor. He’s been on hold ever since.
It’s a good thing our health care is so good and we can buy wine for the same price as soda, because we’re going to have REALLY HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE in not too long.
My biggest worry right now, au niveau administratif, is la rentrée – back to school. Let me tell you what back-to-school is like at a French university. I’ll give you a timeline.
Sometime in August:
The official start date of the Fall semester is announced (Sept. 25) Course lists/schedules are not yet posted.
Course lists/schedules are not yet posted.
Course lists/schedules are not yet posted.
I go to my orientation. The woman speaks extremely rapidly and mumbles. I understand almost nothing. She hands out some of the schedule. We have to get the rest of the schedule from the department secretary, who is only in the office from 9-10 am and from 10:30-11 am.
I try to go get the schedule. There is beaucoup du monde (a ton of people) in the hallway. The secretary brings us into the office one at a time to hand us the schedule. One at a time. On the door there is a sign saying, “WE WILL NOT GIVE YOU YOUR SCHEDULE BEFORE ORIENTATION ON SEPT 24TH.” I wait my turn to go in. I have a question about my electives. A secretary tries to answer. The electives are not on the schedule. There is a master list of all electives in all departments. I have to go to another office. Then I have to write down the electives I might want, and go to the department offering each elective to get the schedule for each course. While she is explaining this to me, she and her colleague get in a screaming fight over who should answer the phone. “I’m helping this girl,” she says. “I’ll answer the phone when I’m done.” They are clearly stressed out.
Sept. 25th afternoon:
Josh has found me outside my department office, the second third of my schedule in hand. All I need is the electives, now. That final missing piece. The rest of the treasure map. There is an “electives fair” in the courtyard so we head outside. Each department has a spot at one of the folding tables set up around the perimeter of the courtyard. Students wait in line to get the schedules for all the different electives they want. This saves us from going around to all the offices, all of which are open during different hours, closing frequently for coffee breaks. I look at my degree requirements and decide to wait and take an elective next semester. I don’t pick up any schedules. I realize later that I actually DO need an elective this semester. I have to go to all the offices. Josh didn’t fare any better. He waited in line for the electives he wants to take, but the departments still don’t know what times those courses will be offered. Classes start on Monday.
Sept 28th morning:
I have made it through two hours of Spanish classes, 75% of which were conducted in French. When the professors speak Spanish, they’re very slow and deliberate and repeat themselves often, using synonyms. Now I know why French people have the reputation of being bad at foreign languages. I go to the office where you pick up the master list of electives, only it turns out. . . it hasn’t been published yet. Not for 3rd year students, just for 1st and 2nd years. I ask the woman working in the office how I’m supposed to not miss my classes if the schedule isn’t available yet. She tells me she doesn’t know. Josh goes to class. His professor doesn’t.
My class today is taught by the woman from orientation. I can barely understand her French. She only speaks in Spanish about 5% of the time. Everyone takes furious notes except me. I try not to cry. Meanwhile, Josh’s department has re-done their schedule. Most of his classes now overlap by at least an hour.
Today I miss classes to take an hour-long bus to Marseille to sign more papers for work. I’m going to be teaching English in an elementary school again. I get up early to get my papers ready—social security info, birth certificate, RIB (bank info sheet). I remember last year when my friend Julia got her RIB hostilely rejected because she had torn it off the sheet instead of cutting it with scissors. My last RIB has been torn off the sheet, too. Oh, well, by the time they open my file I’ll be an hour away by bus.
I get up early and walk through town as the farmers’ market is being set up and the streets are still glistening from an early-morning spray-down. I take the bus to Marseille and walk to the Inspection Academique. The secretary at the front desk ignores me, more intent on looking for a box of ink cartriges she’s stashed somewhere. I’m supposed to wait until she finishes her current task and then she’ll give me her full attention. I don’t care. I’m American. I interrupt and ask where the assistants are meeting. When I get there, they say, “Oh, wait, you already signed those papers. You can go home again, sorry.”
I was not at all surprised by this. It was exactly what I had expected would happen. I stick around to get a copy of a paystub from last year that never came. I’m directed to a woman who takes me up to her office, squeezing with me into a two-person elevator that already has an occupant. Her office is full of pictures of foreign places. She frantically ruffles through files and then searches through her computer. She looks at me with sad and frightened eyes and tells me that the woman at their office in charge of paperwork for Language Assistants--the same woman with the aversion to torn edges--retired without training anyone to do her job. I feel so sorry for this woman in front of me, drowning in the avalanche of French bureaucracy while I complain that my feet are cold.
On the bus ride home, I feel another tension headache coming on. This makes me think of my great health insurance. I remind myself that I’m going to get a free pair of glasses. Cute French ones, and my insurance will pay for them, with almost no paperwork to fill out. I feel better. Sortof.