Bu·reauc·ra·cy (by??-r?k’r?-s?) : An administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action: innovative ideas that get bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy.
I’m a white female, 5’7, 20-30 years old. Sounds fairly common, doesn’t it ? I mean, really, I don’t have anything special. So why don’t I fit in these bloody boxes ?
It all started when I turned 18. For the first time of my life, I could sign my excuse note if I felt like skipping school (i.e. Math class on Mondays from 8:00 to 9:00 – do they actually expected me to show up ?). Loved it. My scribble was worth something. I didn’t need anyone in this world but a pen. I would have signed anything.
But with power came along a bunch of unpleasant things. Like responsibilities.
For example when I had to renew the passport I had done when I was 12 years old. In France, passport are valid for ten years – great value for your money but the picture is rarely lifelike 10 years later. So on a Wednesday afternoon, I walked to the Prefecture with a bunch of papers in my bag – birth certificate, picture ID, proof of address – and my still-valid passport. I handed them to the counter clerk. And I learned I didn’t exist. No, no, he didn’t ignore me. Don’t get me wrong. No, I learned I literally didn’t exist in French computers.
See, my parents have been happily living in sin for almost 25 years now. They never got married and don’t plan to do so anytime soon. So I have two last names : my father’s and my mother’s. And if ten years earlier it was fine for a child to have both of his parents’ name, it wasn’t the case anymore. So the French administration simply erased me from its file, thinking I was some kind of mistake. I spent the rest of the afternoon explaining I, in fact, did exist. It took me about 6 months to renew my passport and to have both of my names back. Welcome to France !
The same year was my last year of high school. In March, all students must register with the board of education for the national final exam, due in June. At this time, we were to choose our electives. I had taken Chinese. I had studied the language for the last 8 years. When I keyed the code for Chinese as a second language in the computer, it biped. I knew it wasn’t a good sign.
Indeed it wasn’t. Apparently, no one in France ever registered for Chinese as a second language for the final high school exam. I was told I simply couldn’t take the exam and I’d have to take Spanish instead, like everyone else. Too bad I didn’t speak Spanish. I had to fight for three months and a teacher flew from Paris especially for me. Sometimes it pays off to fight with the French administration.
But sometimes it doesn’t. After I graduated from high school, I decided to keep on studying languages at University. I would take Chinese and English as a major and economy as a minor. In June, I visited the local university. When the lady in charge of the Foreign Language department asked me, out of curiosity, why I wanted to take Chinese, I replied that I had studied the language for a few years and that I’d love to work in China.
I received a blank stare. Was she anti-communist ? No. She smiled, obviously embarrassed.
— So… you took Chinese before ?
— Yes, I studied it for 8 years in secondary school.
— I’m afraid we can’t accept you here then. The University policy specifies that only beginners in the language are accepted.
So I didn’t go to this University and actually ended up doing distance study and passing my Baccalaureate while on the road around the world.
The same year, I attempted to take my driver license for the first time. I passed the written test, took the compulsory driving lesson, booked a driving test… and ended up losing my written test. How ? Well, the driving test examiners were on strike for 12 months and the written test is valid for a year. Of course.
Then I left for Hong Kong. And Latin America. Canada. Never looked back much. Last time I dealt with French administration, I was stuck in Panama where my credit card was stolen. I was in the Ambassador’s office, on the phone with my bank which figured out it would be “quicker” to send me a new credit card by regular mail. From France to Panama. I, of course, never received it and finished the trip carrying my money in my bra (long story, really).
Bastille day in coming up. Long live French administration, we only freed the jail !