Today was take two for my morning at the Préfecture. This is where foreigners go to take care of most official business like updating visas and… getting a license! I arrived in a bit of a hurry (knowing I had 90 minutes before I had to teach my next class), but I squished against the wall with my ticket in hand and looked around. I spotted four French people working the ticket counters and three men who were likely French-African. Besides this small group, the waiting area was overwhelmingly people of Arab descent. There were men and women and lots of children. I passed the time watching kids crawl and play and watched the ticket counter people shake their heads no a lot and keep a relatively quick turnover.Thankfully, when my ticket number was called, the same nice lady as Monday was behind the counter.
Now, I have a joke with a few friends that I have bureaucracy magic. This is no small thing. I have just had incredible luck with CAF (housing allocations), social security, OFII (immigration office), and other administrative tasks. I am thankful I’ve never left an appointment wanting to cry. Many of my friends have. So when my number got called Monday morning and I explained that I was mostly here to ask questions about the logistics of exchanging my license, I was expecting head-shakes and hurried responses. Instead, the woman smiled at me and complimented my French. She was kind and gracious and took her time. She highlighted what I needed on a paper and promised me she could file my request as urgent since I’m moving this summer. I left feeling accomplished and content.
This morning I went in with all the papers ready and had a few sticky notes with arrows pointing to forms I couldn’t figure out. She helped me out and looked over all my papers. She said my “quittance de loyer” (receipt from paying my rent) wasn’t a great justification of my residence, but thankfully I had also grabbed my rent agreement before leaving my apartment. She checked my ID photos and said, “These are a little small.” My heart sank. But then she whispered, “Go across the street to the convenience store. There’s a photo machine there. Go print two photos and come back. Don’t take a ticket to wait when you come back. I’ll hold your papers.” I thanked her and ran across the street, thinking “Why was she so nice to me?” Sure, it’s possible that she’s always incredibly patient and kind. I hope that’s the case. But I couldn’t help but wonder if I was experiencing some privilege because of my skin color. It began to really trouble me. She told me she’d rush my request and I should expect an e-mail from them on Tuesday. I biked home pondering this and wondered if my positive experiences at the CAF office had to do with something similar. I hope this isn’t the case, but I want to be aware of it.
On a separate note, I thought it would be a great idea to play a game of “telephone” in class yesterday to illustrate a point I was trying to make about a Navajo aural culture and losing piecing of history that weren’t written down. When I asked the kids if they knew how to play, they said no so I started to explain. When they heard the rules, they all exclaimed, “Ohhhhhh Arab telephone!” I was kind of horrified. I think I visibly cringed. After asking an Arab friend later, I was informed, “Yeah, they call it that because of the stereotype that Arab women talk too much.” They added, “It would be better to avoid that one.” I filed that away in the “good to know” / “won’t make that mistake again” file.