Monday, July 10, 2017

Not an illegal alien.

Last week was my first trip to France's second biggest city... Marseille! 

A lot of French people stereotype Marseille as being dirty and full of crime. David has certainly never had an interest in going there. I, however, have been interested in checking it out for a while so I could form my own opinion.

I FINALLY (after 9 months of living in France) received a letter scheduling my immigration appointment to validate my long-stay visa. We debated if it was even worth it at this point, but ultimately decided that I should in order to be completely legal, have health insurance, and be allowed to work (just in case).

Early Thursday morning, I took a 2 hour train ride to Marseille. I only had limited time to sightsee, so I took a taxi directly to the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde from the train station. 

Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille

This church sits on a hill overlooking the city. I was pretty pleased that I took a taxi since it was 90 degrees and humid, and that hill was steep.

View of the Vieux Port in Marseille

I knew the views would be amazing, but the inside of the church was a pleasant surprise!

Interior of Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille

Ceiling of Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica in Marseille

My favorite part of the view was being able to see the Ch√Ęteau d'If, of Count of Monte Cristo fame.

View of Chateau d'If in Marseille

I decided to walk down the hill and hope that just by going downhill and following other tourists, I would end up at the Vieux Port. My plan worked, with one small hiccup. The walk down was mostly just a sloped sidewalk, but there were also random stairs at uneven intervals. Of course I had to miss one, fall flat on my face, and skin my knee like a toddler. 

The Vieux Port is the center of Marseille and was a nice place to walk around for a while. I saw a few places I wouldn't mind coming back to someday and exploring more.

Vieux Port of Marseille

Ferris wheel in Vieux Port of Marseille

After a light lunch (okay, it wasn't actually a lunch... it was a nutella crepe, let's be honest), I hopped on the metro to get to the immigration office. Sightseeing time was over.

I've gone through the French immigration process once before during my teaching internship, so I knew to get there early. They give you an appointment time, but they give the same appointment time to 30 other people. I got there at 1:00 for my 1:30 appointment. Since it's France, they completely close the building down for a nice leisurely lunch.

I was the first one in line outside. I talked to some Canadians who were shocked that I wasn't one of them based on my accent. Those beautiful nasal vowels. #stillgotit

By the time they let us in at 1:30, I was surrounded by a crowd of people from all over the world who were in the same boat as me. The process was a bit different from a few years ago because this time I'm the spouse of a French citizen, and have the right to renew this visa indefinitely. 

So with a group of about 20 people who also have the right to stay in France on a more permanent basis, we started off the afternoon with a written French test. Basically, if you don't have at least a basic level of French, you're required to take (free) French classes.

It was fun to hear where everyone else was from. There was several people from Morocco and Algeria, a couple from Armenia, a handful of people from China, and others. An older lady from Kazakhstan struck up a conversation with me and kept me entertained while we were waiting. She was confused at how long the French process took because apparently in Kazakhstan... anyone and just cross the border and move right in!

The written test was very simple and I got 100%. The next step was an oral interview to make sure we could speak French, and also to give us information about settling in. I was surprised at how nice my interviewer was (not usually a trait of immigration/government officials). She was so complimentary about my French and even said she wished I lived in Marseille so she could hire me to teach her kids English. She gave me tips on finding a job, getting a French driver's license (which I won't be doing- I've seen how they drive here), and explained how to sign up for social security.

After a long wait, the medical checkup began. First up was a lung x-ray to check for tuberculosis. Has anyone ever met someone in the western world that contracted tuberculosis in the 21st century?? Last year for both of my jobs in the U.S. I also had to be tested for this. I find it pretty amusing that I've been tested for TB three times in the last year when I've never heard of any friend of friend of friend ever catching this, but what do I know.

The next steps were meeting with a doctor and then a nurse. They did basic things like checking my blood pressure, blood sugar, and vaccination records. I was very happy to finally get the official stamp in my passport and get out of there. The whole process took 4 hours. Most of that was waiting time and not actually doing anything.

As far as Marseille goes, I found all the stereotypes I've heard about it to be untrue. Everything I saw seemed clean and safe for such a big city. So don't be afraid to visit! I would happily go back.

It feels good to not be an illegal alien any longer... even though we'll likely only be staying in France for another 3-4 months. Better late than never!

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