Visa-Vis Part 3: Applying

by Céleste

You made it. The research is done. The hours of compiling information and gathering documents are over. You can almost smell the fresh baguettes and espresso. Now is the time where it all pays off.

Now you must “simply” approach The Consulate. It’s a bit like simply walking into Mordor.

For Vincent and I, the Consulate was in Chicago. About 6 1/2 hours away. We packed a suitcase, grabbed our toothbrushes, and hit the road on a Sunday afternoon, so that we could stay over night and have the interview on Monday morning. We would make it back Monday evening and be fresh and ready for work the next day.

We made it to Chicago. I was nervous. Vincent was nervous too, which is weird for him because he’s usually the cool and collected one. That’s how I knew that this was something to actually worry about. I pictured lines of people waiting to go into interview rooms. I thought about what kinds of questions they would ask, and how I could charm and persuade them to allow us to go. I wondered if they would tell us immediately whether we qualified. I would soon find out.

We woke up on Monday morning, tired but ready to plead our case (with the help of two alarms and a wake-up call for good measure). We drove to the French Consulate, which is located in the Michigan Plaza, way up on the 37th floor. We arrived 30 minutes early. We tried to check in with the helpful ladies at the front desk, as you need a pass to get into the elevator banks and up to the Consulate itself. They said we would need to wait until 9am exactly.

“Oh wait,” they said. “The French Consulate is closed today. It’s Columbus Day.”

Vincent and I stared at each other, aghast. I thought we had misheard. We came all this way for nothing?

“But we signed up online!” Vincent said. The ladies called up to the Consulate. I felt like we were outside the gates of Oz. It turned out it was a mistake, the French Consulate was indeed open. I guess they don’t celebrate Columbus Day.

We went up the elevator to the Consulate. We turned right, and walked down the hall, turning into a small office. A French newscast was playing in the background. Information about passports and travel was hung on the walls. We approached the desk, where an impatient woman was waiting to process us. The desk was separated from the waiting area by the kind of glass partition you usually see at a theatre box office. This was not what I had pictured.

I walked to the desk and said hello, smiling. The woman gestured for me to present my presented appointment receipt (do NOT forget to bring this!) I put it into the little bin that was open between the partition. She read it briefly, then asked for “our papers.” My husband and I had filed all of our information neatly into two separate binders, with little folders for each type of file or document (I’m very organized). I hurriedly pulled each document out, feeding them into the gap in the partition. It seemed I couldn’t do this fast enough, as the woman asked for more and more information. Luckily, we had everything we needed, as outlined in Part 1.

Now for the questions. I steadied myself, waiting for whatever she had to throw at me.

“Why are you going to France?”

“Well, we just wanted to experience something new-”

“What? What will you be doing there?”

“My husband will be telecommuting.”

“And you, what will you do?”

“Well I -”

“Are you a missionary? A student?”

“No, I’ll just be on vacation while he works.”

“What?”

The woman was very confused as to why on earth I would want to go to France if I didn’t have a job, or a class, or a field of study. I tried to emphasize that we wanted to experience the culture and the language. This seemed to be nonsensical to the woman, however. Even though we were applying specifically for a long-stay visitor visa, apparently we needed a reason for going, not just vacation. All of her questions were about what we were doing and why. Then, she put all our papers into a folder and dismissed us. We walked out of the office, and paused to assess what had just happened. I felt terrible, I knew that we wouldn’t be approved. I felt that the woman would talk to the other staff and laugh at us silly Americans trying to go on a long vacation.

We left the building, and then immediately left Chicago, we didn’t even go to the Rock and Roll McDonalds. We had gone in with a lot of hope and excitement, and left with a lot of confusion and frustration. My thoughts were mostly, I should have said something different, I forgot to explain this or that… Vincent seemed positive but hesitant. The ride home was long and quiet.

A week later, after we started to wonder if we’d ever get a chance to do this (should we even do this?), we got our package in the mail. Vincent brought it upstairs and I told him he needs to open it, I couldn’t bear to see the denial letter. So he did and I waited.

We were approved!

We were so happy. The first piece was over, and we were now set up to finally take the next steps. If you’re looking to follow our adventure, be sure to follow Aix Squared.

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