A stiff, cold blast has been howling across the region, blowing away all of the lovely spring blossoms. Boo. If Germany or wherever it was that was experimenting with lasers and the weather has set its sights set on France, I wish they would stop and allow the soft days of spring sunshine to return.
Today was the kind of day in the life of an expat that is a formal and legal necessity and it’s the type of day that just sort of pulls you along. You have no control, you spend a great deal of the experience confused and you really aren’t 100% certain of the outcome until the very last moments.
I completed, or at least, I think I completed (remember this person is currently a ‘French language site under construction’) the last bits of my visa requirements. With all the rattle and noise that’s been booming out of my mainland recently about immigration and with the extra amount of time I have spent sitting in waiting rooms the past two days, I have had the leisurely opportunity to allow a few thoughts to tumble about the old crane-o-sphere.
First up, the question of why certain countries require chest x-rays for long stay visas. But, it’s not just a chest x-ray. The process involves a full physical evaluation of your health.
I had to complete a full physical health examination for my Mauritian visa and I have just completed my health check for my French visa. One of the health checklist to-do items is to have an x-ray of your chest taken and evaluated by a doctor.
I have been told it’s to check for tuberculosis, but tuberculosis is highly contagious, right? It spreads via the air when people cough or sneeze. So, if these countries are checking to see if I have tuberculosis, shouldn’t they be doing it immediately after I enter the country?
In Mauritius, as in France, I waited two full months before having my chest x-ray taken. During those two months, I had contact with more than a few people in many public places and I’m pretty certain I sneezed or at least stifled a cough a few times while I was out roaming free amongst the populace. So…?
I was also required to provide more than a few bodily fluids and/or substances, if you catch my drift, in Mauritius for my visa. These containers of ‘guess-what-I-ate-last night’ along with a few vials of blood that they drew were necessary for their tests; however, my paranoid side or shall we call it my ‘grand master of imagination’ is pretty certain that my DNA is also now in a laboratory somewhere being used for super funky experiments. There was just way too much of ‘me’ collected.
My finished test analysis was not only ready a few short days after I deposited all of my ‘goodies’, but was thorough and easy to read even without having a medical degree. Huh, go figure.
However, the x-ray experience was not a groovy kind of thing and I seriously wonder if I have reached my lifetime limit for chest x-ray exposure. And if I haven’t, the little man who administered my x-ray most certainly has either a) developed or built up a tolerance (can this even happen?) or b) has simply made friends with the radioactive gods.
There was not really any formality about the procedure. Come to think of it, not even a door or a wall to separate the technician from me and the x-ray machine. Other times when I have had an x-ray taken, the person clicking the button has not been hanging out with me in the same space or room while the x-ray is being taken. This guy stayed by my side.
I will admit that I took a long puzzling look at the x-ray machine when I first saw it; but after many assurances from the technician and a few moments of ‘hmmm’ time, I simply had to swallow hard, say a prayer to the anti-radioactive gods and accept. You have no choice and like I said, there are days when you just kind of float along and ride the wave of uncomfortable-ness until it sets you back down on your feet.
You might not have a clue where you have landed or what was said to you during the mid-air fly time. An ancient x-ray machine might have taken 20 years off of your lifespan, but, really, what other options are there?
The French x-ray was completely different and very French simply because I had to walk around half-naked for a few minutes while the machine was being set-up. In Mauritius all clothing remained firmly and fully on and I can’t even imagine the little x-ray technician at any point in his life asking any women to undress from the waist up.
But, here in France, it really doesn’t matter – the air temperature obviously does – but, being half-naked with a stranger as they set things up for a day’s work is as normal as normal does.
Colored Stamps, Rubber Stamps, All Kinds of Stamps
I enjoy reading the blogs of other expats not only because there are so many events and experiences that I can readily relate to, but simply because these blogs can be a great source of ‘heads up’ when going to live and work in new countries.
One of the things you read about continuously in the blogs of Americans living in France is the love affair that officials have for paperwork at French governmental offices and agencies. Many tales have been told of long lines, incorrect documents and the none-too-pleasant lady working behind the counter.
My experience in France didn’t really have too much of a punch in any one of these areas. Yes, I had to wait and in the end I saw five different people on two different days in two different buildings: one x-ray technician, two doctors, one screener (who did a few medical things, I think, to mask his real purpose which was to check for people coming in to work illegally by casually dropping the occasional ‘workish’ question here and there) and one woman who I now refer to as the ‘stamp lady’.
I call her the stamp lady because she was the end depositing point for my entire visa process and it was at that point where many stamps were thrown down. Before my appointment, I was sent a list of items that I had to bring with me to the immigration office. One of the items on the list was tax stamps. I had to buy exactly so many red stamps and exactly so many blue stamps.
Perhaps it’s because many people coming into the country only have cash with which to pay and the people at the immigration office don’t want to deal with potential counterfeit bills? Or maybe there is a historical precedent – the king once required tax for all governmental documents to be paid by stamp and it just stuck?
As I was watching her slowly take my stamps and careful drag each one across her pre-moistened desk sponge, I kept thinking to myself, “Wouldn’t an option for an on-line payment system be quicker and more efficient? And why did two different doctors need to check out my chest x-ray? And why couldn’t all the medical stuff have been done by one person and not three people? And…”
My thoughts were brought to a sharp halt by the ‘Thud! Thud!’ of the stamp lady stamping the stamps with a stamp.
Yes, the stamps were stamped. Because in certain countries there is nothing more official than a stamp and I guess a rubber-stamped stamp is way more official than just a plain stamp that’s been left un-stamped.
And that’s how the events of this morning progressed. I moved along from person to person either collecting or gathering stamps or depositing or gathering paperwork. I’m not saying that the process and paperwork is unnecessary. Obviously, requirements and procedures for obtaining a visa in a foreign country are going to entail paperwork, people and stamps (or stickers, I got a few of those as well).
I’m just questioning the efficiency of the total end-to-end process; but then again, I was born and raised in America and I guess it’s just something we can’t help but notice. I know there is the argument that if one person were to do the jobs of two or three people, two or three people would be out of their jobs. I am also firmly aware that I only saw the applicant side of things and really have no clue as to what’s going on behind the scenes within the maze of databases, information and files.
I got to keep the chest x-ray. What the heck do you do with a chest x-ray? I wonder if the stamp lady would have stamped and signed it if I would have asked her.