State of me
Down to the wire

Want to know a sure fire way to go into labor in France?

Go and take care of something administrative at the Social Security office.

I've been on congé maternité since February 6th.  I was supposed to receive a payment from the social security at the end of the February. Well, February ended and nothing showed up.  I didn't worry too much about it since this is France and things take a little longer to happen.  Also, living in Paris, it seems like administrative offices take a bit longer to process things.  A week ago, Julien asked if I had been paid or not by the social security. I check my bank account and still nothing.  I started to sweat a little because this meant that I would have to call them to see what was going on. I hate calling administrative offices to ask questions.  I always seem to get the one person who doesn't know what's going on, or I end up being on hold listening to elevator music at 15 centimes the minute.  I think Julien saw the fear in my eyes and said he'd do it. Whew. Later that evening he came home with a short list of documents that my dossier was missing.  And that was why no payment had been  made. Why they didn't write a letter to tell us that something was missing?  We don't know.  And Julien and I had no idea that we were supposed to send in these specific documents either.

So, I ask the question. How are you supposed to know what to do and when?  I'll have an answer for you in just a second...

I had lunch with a friend today which motivated me to go to the Social Security office and complete my dossier.  I had to present myself in person because they do not take mail ins for this kind of administrative task.  I took my number and waited. and waited. and waited. and waited.  It was hot. And I continued to wait and wait. At least I was sitting down. Finally, after about 45 minutes they call my number.  I head over to the desk with my number flashing and explain why I was there.  The woman pulls up my file and starts listing off the documents she needed.  It is a different list than the one that Julien gave me the night before.  Well, slightly... there was one attestation that wasn't on the list and a certificate that I no longer had possession of because another administrative office had taken my original and not given it back to me. and this certificate happened to be the most important thing on the list according to the lady.  Luckily, I had the attestation with me. But the certificate was another story.

Sweat started to bead on my forehead.

For 15 minutes the woman behind the desk went back and forth on why this one certificate was so important. All the while she grew more and more rude with me.  I asked her if we could call the other administrative office  and have them fax over a copy. She rolled her eyes and said, "oh we don't talk to that office directly. You have to go over there and get it and bring it back to me"  (!)

Finally, she told me she would not make my dossier because I was missing this certificate. And then she exclaimed, "Point finale!!" Incredible.  She started to type the next person in line's number to call them over to her desk when  I looked at my stomach and then looked at her square in the eyes with a bit of psycho rage and said (rather loudly) "I am going to have my baby in 5 days, you expect me to go to this office get this form and then come back here and give it to you so that you can just make a copy of it for my file?" 

I felt my stomach contract. Hard. A trickle of sweat ran down my face.

The room became very, very quiet. The woman at the desk next to us peeked over the cubicle divide.  I had the lady's full attention. I asked her, "what is on this certificate that is so important!?"  She muttered something about dates, starting dates of work and ending dates, blah, blah, blah... I quickly flipped through my file folder and pulled out another document that had exactly what she wanted. It wasn't the exact certificate she was asking for but maybe it would work? It was a document for another administrative office, the one she said that her office doesn't talk to.  I pushed it across the desk to her. She peered at it over her glasses. Pursed her lips and then called her boss.  A minute later she hung up and said, "OK, c'est bon!"

She smiled at me and started typing away at her computer.  I sat back with a big sigh.  I did it.  I've done the one thing that other foreigners talk about happening but had never happened to me.  I got someone to break the rule, just a little bit, for me! Whoa...

Five minutes later, her tone had completely changed. Where earlier she was talking to me like I was this huge annoyance. Now, she was smiling. Asking me if I was having a boy or a girl. Wishing me a happy delivery and informing me that in 14 days I would receive my payment.  She was being genuinely nice to me.


I come from a culture where you are nice to people and they are usually pretty nice back.  I would have never of raised my voice and lost my cool talking to someone like that in the US.   I called Julien and told him my triumphant story and he just said, "You see, you're understanding the French better".  I guess you have to raise your voice and lose your temper a little bit for them to take you seriously and respect you, just a little.  I wish I could have recorded myself talking to this woman, hearing myself in my head I amazed myself at how easily it came out.  Maybe I am becoming a little French...

So, I asked the question earlier how do you know what to do and when in France concerning administrative offices?  I asked this exact question to the woman before I left.  She just smiled at me and did the little French "pffffft", puffing her cheeks out and said "I don't know, you just know."

Ah, La France...