Thursday, February 10, 2005

Zut alors! My Run-In with The French

It is an open secret that Scottish people and French people have a love/hate relationship. Scottish history points to The Auld Alliance between the two countries, in stark contrast to The Auld Enemy, which was England. If anything brought the French and the Scottish together, it was our shared enmity for the English. Indeed, a large portion of Scottish history is intertwined with French history. Bonnie Prince Charlie (that effete also-ran) served as the exiled monarch from his headquarters in where else but France. He was the Scottish equivalent of the Dalai Lama, holding court in France while his people longed for his grand return to liberate them. Numerous French influences are evident in modern Scotland, although they have been Scottified to the extent that no self-respecting Scot would admit to their naissance francaise. One place, the former hunting lodge of the Duke of Hamilton right near my old town, is called Chatelherault. In French it's pronounced "Shatler-oh;" in Scottish it's pronounced "Chatter Hall." See what I'm sayin? On paper it's French; in real life it's Chatter Hall. Same with surnames. The surname McSorley sounds Irish, and it potentially is. Sort of. But its true origin is from the French Sorrel. So the McSorleys of the world actually have French origins, by way of County Cork and then Glasgow.

So what's my point? My point, dear reader, is that me and the French don't mix. Maybe it's because some element of my origins has to be "de gaulle," and it's duking it out with the part of me that's "frae Gael." Whatever it is, I just don't understand them. The cadence of the speech, the tone of voice, the "oh my lord you are so stupid" vibe that just climbs through the phone at you.

Where is all this coming from? Well, I emailed and then called the French consulate today to find out about what papers would be necessary to transport a Chinese baby through the Paris airport. Well, you'd have thought I was asking if I could come and tear down the statues of Jerry Lewis. "I cannot help you; you will have to call the consulate in China."

"um, yes, but they are closed for the Chinese new year. Can you perhaps just tell me what, if any, paperwork is required?"
"Madam. Did you email me today about this?"
"Well, yes. But since I hadn't received a reply I thought I'd call."
"We only handle visas from 2 till 5pm."
"Be that as it may, it's 2:10 now. So--can I take her through the airport without a visa or do I need some paperwork?"
"I can't help you from here. You will have to call China."
"I understand that anything will have to be processed in China. So does that mean that paperwork is indeed necessary?"
"You will have to ask the consulate in China."
"Okay, but you DO work for the same country, right? So would you be so kind as to maybe look it up to see if I do indeed need the paperwork?"
"I can't help you here. We only help Americans and the French. If she is Chinese, I cannot help you."
"But her mother is an American citizen."
"But she is Chinese."
Oh. Okay. Thank you anyway."
"Good day, Madam."

I swear to you I almost took a cab over there and did something very gauche and de classe and worthy of an enfant terrible. But I didn't. I did what all of us do when stared down by the great behemoth that is bureaucracy: I blinked.


No comments: