Long-stay visas, which you get if you're going to be in France for more than three months, are only valid for three months. When you get your visa, stapled into your passport is a little note that says you have to present yourself at the préfecture to apply for your residence permit (carte de séjour) within a week of arriving in France.
James checked this out with the lab administrator and she said to take all our documents and go down to the préfecture.
James: "Do we need an appointment?"
Administrator: "No, you can just go."
So, on the first Monday after our arrival in France, we did.
When we got to the préfecture, the world was there. Although, apparently there were not as many people as are sometimes there because the line wasn't out the door snaking around the corrals that are right outside the building. There weren't really any signs telling you where to go so I asked at an information desk and they told us to go to the really crowded room, where we got in a really long line behind someone else who said he was there for his carte de séjour. Actually, we got in line behind someone who was saving a place for a pregnant woman who had gone to sit down, who was there with her elderly mother, who was also sitting down. Apparently saving places in line is a totally normal thing to do because a woman who got there right after we did asked us to save a place for her while she went to sit down with her toddler. And eventually the guy (in front of the pregnant woman) in front of us went out for a smoke and we saved both of their places. I think it's a pretty good system.
So we waited.
We got some necessary photos in the photo booth while we waited. And we waited some more.
After about two hours, we were getting pretty close to the front. The pregnant woman had come back a couple of times to make it known that she was still there, so when we saw her approaching, we figured she was just coming back to stand in line for a while. Then, all of a sudden she was starting a fist fight with some other guy who was there. There was shoving, clawing, racial epithets, general yelling, and then the pregnant woman's husband came out of nowhere and punched the other guy. A mêlée had ensued!
However, through the ruckus, everyone managed to maintain their places in line and after the fight ended, the pregnant woman came back to her place in line. Apparently she and the other guy had had a run-in earlier on and he had accused her of cutting in line and kept trying to prevent her from getting back in line. (So maybe that system of saving places only sort of works.) She told her story a few more times with a few more details each time, but each time she loudly told everyone that "that's how it is in his country -- the men hit their women". Perhaps the most surprising part of it all -- even more surprising than a fist fight started by a pregnant woman -- was that she was telling the story in front of people who may well have been from this guy's country. I'm amazed that another fight didn't break out.
Finally, after over three hours of standing in line, we made it up to the window and presented our documents, and got our cartes de séjour.
No, actually, that's not what happened at all. That's what I wish would have happened.
Instead, were told that we were in the wrong place. We were told that for visas scientifiques (the kind that foreign researchers get) we needed to present ourselves at CROUS (Centre Régional des Œuvres Universitaires et Scolaires), which is basically an administrative entity that makes student life better at French universities. The irony of that was that although the CROUS was across the city from the préfecture, it was just up the street from our hotel.
Before our trek back across the city, we stopped for lunch at this really nice little sandwich café. I think it's called "101" at 101, Rue de Rome, but it's a little hard to tell because it has a creative sign: the first "1" is a fork, the "0" as a plate and the second "1" as a knife. Actually, you can see it in street view if you go to the Google map of Marseille and enter the address (except, as you can see from the link, Google thinks it's at 92, which it's not). The woman who we think is the owner is really nice and she happily and patiently described to us the many options for the lunch formules (set menus) like the one we shared: delicious buttery crusted quiche lorraine + salade niçoise + tarte frangipane aux poires for only 5€! We wanted to go back there repeatedly because the owner was so nice, but alas we didn't.
After lunch we went to CROUS and found Madame B., who could help us. She was going on vacation for three weeks starting the next day, so she'd have to help us later on, but she was very nice, very helpful and very pleasant to work with.We were much happier after that. Here's a view toward La Canebière (a famous street in Marseille, that goes down to the Vieux Port ... think The French Connection).
We still don't have our cartes de séjour. But that's for another post.