My Bureaucratic Luck (Is it really luck?)

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.


10 thoughts on “My Bureaucratic Luck (Is it really luck?)

  1. Thank you so much for writing about this. It’s an important topic and a relevant one, white privilege is a tricky thing- it exists but I find that most French people don’t acknowledge it. I find that France believes with its secular laws that everyone is seen equally under the law, but I think there is still an astounding amount of racism (in some cases, worse than the US). It’s one of those things where you’re curiously called the “good kind of foreigner” or something of the sort– or you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of closeted FN supporters. It’s frustrating. I admire you for writing about your experience- it’s the first step in combatting these inequalities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Dana. I was hesitant to write about it because I’m fairly certain this isn’t the first time in my life I’ve experienced white privilege, but in France it somehow feels more offensive. Especially when I hear comments exactly like the “good kind of foreigner” type remark. If you have any advice on helpful responses, I’d love to hear them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not an expert on race and I don’t pretend to be. I consciously try not to “whitesplain” things, either. But I guess one response that seems to work is asking people what they mean when they say something racist. Ie: “You’re a good kind of foreigner.” Try responding with, “I don’t get what you mean, please explain it to me…” Usually that makes people uncomfortable because they have to admit their racism lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Omg I just re read my comment and I didn’t not mean to say that you whitesplained at all!! On the contrary!! I meant to say, “in addition” or also!! 🙂


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