Mon dossier

by jemma margaret

Last Friday I took mes papiers to the Bureau d’accueil des doctorants to “reinscribe” for this school year.

When I got there, I greeted the last name E through M woman and gave her my cheque and reinscription paper, which had involved a very long online survey in which I had to include parent’s occupation (there is a discount if you’re under 29 and your parents work for the train), choice of social security package, and high school grades. She rifled through them (seemingly a difficult thing to do with two papers), and looked sternly at me.

Did I have social security?

Well, no, but that was what the cheque and papers were for.


She pulled out my file and noticed I was a Cotutelle exchange student. Did I have that papier? No, I did not.

At that point I had ceased to exist. There was no one at this woman’s desk. She returned to her computer.

Was it the same paper as the one she had? I asked.

Yes, she said.

And where can I get it? I asked.

Madame Zizzo, she said.

Where is she? I asked.

Jussieu! she said.

So I walked back.

By now it was after noon, and since it was also Friday the Bureau des étudiants étrangers was closed for the week. I could return Monday at nine.

Yesterday was Monday, and I returned. Lest you think all French administrators are really terrible, I must tell you that Mme Zizzo is as wonderful as her last name sounds. She encouragingly spoke to me in French with helpful English during the important parts, checked my form before printing, and wished me an excellent year.

Then it was back along Rue des Écoles to Rue de l’École Medicine and past the surgery rooms where they were (ironically?) drilling outside.

Mme E through M still manned the desk and was not a mite nicer except she accepted my papers and sent me to the front desk to drop off my cheque. Confused, I thought the interview was not over and left my bag by her chair, only to quietly shuffle back and nab it a few minutes later.

The secretary at the front desk attached a 2012/2013 sticker to my student card.

C’est tout? I asked.

Oui, c’est tout, she said.

Happy to have my library privileges firmly secure for the next calendar year, I rewarded myself with un petit chocolat chaud from Pâtisserie Viennoise. While warming up from the downpour and burning my mouth in a bittersweet way, I witnessed a young American couple having their own French foibles.

Parlez-vous anglais? The man asked.

A little, said the pleasant waitress.

Deux café crème and two croissants, the man said.

Crème? You want crème or café au lait, with milk? said the waitress.

The couple looked at each other and decided to indulge.

We’ll take cream, said the man.

A few minutes later the waitress returned with two coffee mugs overflowing with gorgeous billows of whipped cream.

If only I can be so lucky for my bank appointment Thursday!