Who ever thought I’d be BEGGING for paperwork?

« Paperasserie . »

It’s the French term for “paperwork,” also known as red tape.

This is sure to be one of the first of many complaints on this subject. (But don’t worry – I don’t complain for the sake of complaining.  I’m searching for deeper understanding.)

While I sit here and groan about the inefficiency of the assistantship system, I have a premonition that I will soon be facing much, much more in the coming months.

Oh, I had been forewarned.  Many people have written about this subject and warned the rest of us.   France is known for this paperasserie that somehow successfully pervades every area of life.  On the upside, it makes things extremely organized – everything has its specific procedure, and all you have to do is follow it.  There is a form for everything.  Not that America doesn’t have its own strict rules, but at least I have the cultural framework with which to deal with it.  I can handle America.*

France, however, is another story.

I like to think of it as a lesson in sociolinguistics. For example, learning to translate one phrase (“The forms will be available on our website by mid-October.”) into its real meaning (“Probably more like mid-November, if you don’t lose interest before then.”) must be a part of the application process.  You know, understanding the French culture and all.  If you want to live there, you may as well start getting used to bureaucracy à la française now.

My experiences have led me to believe that most applicants would fall into one of three categories:

  1. The first group of applicants may simply take it as a sign that perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be…and give up.
  2. The second group of would-be applicants go insane from checking our website once every hour for a month and a half.  The disappointment and frustration of still not seeing the new application forms becomes too much to handle – it slowly erodes their mental health.  By the time the forms do appear, they will be mentally unfit for the poste (read: job) and will never make it past the medical evaluation.
  3. The final group of applicants includes those who are determined to do this no matter what and who prove strong enough to withstand the grueling waiting process.

Looks like those of us who manage to make it into the third category have yet to wait.

This is only the beginning of my long future relationship with French bureaucracy. “Surely there must be a way to beat the system,” my inner American wonders.  But then, the part of me that has experience living overseas tells me instead, “Find out how to go along with the system so that in the end, it is actually working for you.

At least I’m in good company. On the one hand, I have empathetic Americans who are going through (or have gone through) the same process and can commiserate during the wait.  And I’ve got sympathetic French friends who offer to help out in any way possible.

The handful of current assistants I know can empathize with my situation and have advised me not to stress too much.  The forms were late for them, too.  They will come eventually.  “And once you do fill out the applications and send in your dossier, don’t even think of hoping to hear back from them before the beginning of June,” they told me.  “Maybe even mid-June,” I say to myself, practicing this translation.

Irony of ironies, right before I was going to publish this entry, I checked the official web site only to find out that


Let the paperasserie begin!

*Well, everything except taxes.  I always need help with that.  But everything else?  No biggie.   I can figure it out.  God help me when the time comes for me to pay taxes in France.


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