If you’ve just joined the conversation, I’d recommend that you read the first part of this story to get a full understanding of where it all started. This is the second part of my carte vitale’s journey in the land of bureaucracy.
In February, as I anticipate Valentine’s Day, my second application is rejected. I feel like pulling my hair out. The reason given this time is that my birth certificate is unacceptable. It has to come from my place of birth—isn’t that what I’ve done?—and then translated into French.
Oh.Well I didn’t know that part.
So, again, I have a setback. I take deep breaths, step outside and contemplate the wonder of Paris to remind myself that I love being here, despite bureaucratic shenanigans. Apparently in France, official documents that are not already in French must be translated by a court-certified translator in France. And as much as I would like to, I can’t have my newfound best friend who works at the patisserie down the street do it for free. No, that will not do.
Thus, in March, I call home to ask for another one. My family is able to procure a copy and send it to me, but when I finally receive it, I notice that the way my name is written on the document is incorrect.
Let me explain. I have two family names that are supposed to be in capital letters like this: BAHATI KASEKE, and my first name has the first letter capitalized: Michael. But the birth certificate I received from home has it like this: BAHATI Kaseke Michael. So this is an added complication. I won’t go into Uganda’s own bureaucracy.
This process is becoming a nightmare.
Now I have to figure out where to get the document translated so it will be acceptable to the lovely, frustrating bureaucrats. Foreign birth certificates used for the purpose of social security number applications must to be legalized, unless your home country has an exemption agreement in place with France. And Uganda does not have such.
In May, after getting the certificate translated by the appropriate authority, I apply a third time, hopeful that everything is in order. It is spring in Paris, and despite the stress, time and money spent, as well as the increasing complexity of the process—do the French even know what they’re doing? It’s as if one hand doesn’t know how to shake the other—I am swept away by my surroundings.
The culture shock is still with me. There are things that continue to be unfamiliar and strange but I am hopeful that will fade in time.
Three months later, a letter arrives with my carte vitale. I might have danced around the kitchen while screaming in a manly fashion, naturally. A glass of wine in one hand, a sheet of paper in the other. I’m trying to remember if I was in my underwear, at the time.
So you know, it is possible to receive a paper record in the mail that can be used until you receive the actual green plastic card. It will have an expiration date which you can renew.
The social security number itself has thirteen digits, plus a two-digit clé de contrôle (control key). The numbers indicate gender, whether you are foreign-born, the year, month and place of birth, and so forth.
I am absolutely ecstatic, after innumerable weeks of red tape, until I realize that my name is incorrect. Instead of all three names, the card only shows the following: BAHATI Kaseke. My cheers almost become tears. What a blow!
It is May, now as I write back to CPAM, anger carefully controlled and fortified with lots of coffee to ask them to change the name on the card to either BAHATI Michael or Michael BAHATI. I’m still happy to have the card in my hand, but that smile on my face dims drastically as the days warm to summer when I receive yet another letter close to the start of October.
It states that CPAM agrees to change my name, but on the condition that I provide another birth certificate—are you kidding me?—where these names are written per my request.
This is the last straw. I give up!
The thought of having to deal with this process a fourth time makes my brain cells congeal into a black mass of despair. Another session with CPAM would end me, and wine would not help. Though I would definitely feel better.
I decide not to waste my time fighting for something I already have: my carte vitale. That prized possession that makes grown men weep with joy. It’s just a little bit of plastic, but it has the power to make your life a living heaven or hell.
After all, I’ve gotten what I wanted after much toil and strain! I could now get insurance, and also get reimbursed for my expenses. I am practically French! Despite the pain, it is still very exciting!
I think about that time even now, six years later. Eight months of back and forth with the system; more than four visits to the Securité Sociale office in my département to follow-up with the case; numerous stamps for letters; approximately one hundred Euros for administrative costs to get my birth certificate released back home; around fifty Euros for its translation and DHL transfer fees of about ninety US Dollars. All this just to get a piece of plastic.
I’ve made many friends since my arrival here through the expat community in Paris and heard some horror stories. I may have thought that eight months is a long time, but some have had to wait over a year, and others practically live in the CPAM offices, bleeding their hearts out while dealing with French workers seemingly as confused as they are themselves, and spending tons of money, all to get the Holy Grail of numbers: a carte vitale.
What have I learned from all this?
Nothing happens quickly in France. It gets done when it gets done. Businesses close at irregular hours, and people take long breaks in the afternoon, so shop with an eye for delay. Even vacation time, compared to places like America is much longer than expected. Taking your time and a laissez-faire attitude seem to be a way of life and all you can do is be very patient. No hair-pulling!
I don’t really mind the fact that the system is overly complicated. But I had no idea going in, what I would encounter. Perhaps I should have done more research, not assumed that knowing the language was enough to get by. Who knows? Maybe I was blinded by the bliss of just being in the country, thinking that my rose-colored glasses would make everything okay.
Whatever the case, I still love it here. Nothing will change that. But I have come to the conclusion that the system is so complex that even the French themselves don’t understand it.
That’s okay. I eat a croissant, drink a tasse of hot chocolate and chat with my friends at a tiny table on a sidewalk in the city.
C’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?
Over To you.
Thanks for reading and, you know what? I’d love to hear your experience related to Ameli, Sécu and the carte vitale down in the comment.
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