We all know that bureaucracy is a huge waste of time.  Dictionary.com agrees with me if its definition is any indication: an administration characterized by excessive red tape and routine.  Meaning that nothing useful actually gets done.  We complain about bureaucracy all the time, usually when it involves a trip to the DMV.  You wait in lines and wait for your number to get called.  But I’ve gotten my license renewed once and it honestly wasn’t too bad.

French bureaucracy is notoriously awful.  The people who work for government agencies usually don’t agree and contradict each other all the time.  They send you to one office, which sends you to another and then so on and so forth.  In the end you deal with an impatient, pissed off administrator who won’t give you the time of day because you forgot such and such a document or that you don’t have an appointment.

I am a dual French-American citizen but my dealings with French bureaucracy have been mostly limited to the French Consulate in Manhattan.  I’ve only ever set foot in the building twice: once to apply for my French passport (and the process was made easier by having my father present) and the second time to pick up my French passport and my carte nationale d’identite.  So I’ve been mostly spared having to deal with annoying French bureaucracy.

The carte nationale d’identite is not mandatory in France but it is one of the main forms of ID, apart from the driver’s license.  It allows French citizens to travel in and out of EU countries without using a passport.  I don’t have a French license so when I’m usually in France, I show this card as proof of ID.  However, my card was in my bag when it got stolen so I have to get it replaced.

Last week I went to the French Consulate in Madrid.  It’s easy to find and it’s on my metro line so it’s convenient to get to.  However, that’s all that’s really convenient about it.  Getting stuff done inside there is another story.

The first time I went in there, the lady at the info desk told me I had to go back to the police station and officially declare my CNI (carte nationale d’identite) stolen.  Without that official statement, the Consulate wouldn’t bother to see me.  When I initially reported my bag stolen, my French ID card was not the first thing I thought of to include in the report.  I was more concerned about, oh, I don’t know, my money or someone using my credit/debit cards (which didn’t happen, thank God). I think I get a pass for forgetting to mention some silly card.

Ok fine.  So I went back to a police station, waited around an hour in the waiting room, before being called in by an officer.  Once I had my handy little denunciacion (certificate declaring my belongings were stolen, no idea what it’s called in English), I realized I couldn’t go back to the Consulate that day because it is only open between 9 and 1:15 PM.  (The New York Consulate also has restricted hours, the French government likes to make things harder for their citizens on purpose, I’m convinced).

Today I went back again, this time armed with my denunciacion.  I also brought along my French passport, my apartment lease form as proof that I live in Spain, pictures for the new card, and a photocopy of my old CNI.  Info desk lady looked at my denunciacion and waved me through.  Wow, sure looks like I might be able to get my card replaced.

I entered the Consulate offices and explained to the receptionist why I was there.

“Oh you’re a student here, you have dual French-American citizenship, oooh ok, your card got stolen, hmmmm.” I felt like a specimen being studied in a laboratory.

I followed a woman to the back of the offices and embarrassingly mixed up Spanish and French verbs and tenses.  She filled out a form (another one?!? What was the denunciacion for then? Proof that leads to more proof that my card actually got stolen? My head hurts.) declaring my CNI to be officially stolen.

When I tell the woman the card was issued by the French Consulate in Manhattan, I could tell by the look on her face that nothing useful was going to get done that day.  Why can’t the French Consulate in Madrid replace my card? Aren’t all Consulates part of some network or something? Apparently not.

I am officially registered as a French citizen living outside the French Republic.  Since I live in New York, I am obviously registered at the Consulate in Manhattan.  They have my file with all my info.  The Madrid one does not.  If I want to get my CNI replaced in Madrid without enduring the hassle of going back to NY, I have to:

1) Make an appointment to officially request to have my file transferred from NY to Madrid.  God knows how long that will take.

2) Make another appointment to apply for a new CNI.

3) It would be another 2 months before I had access to my new CNI anyways.  And while someone can pick up my CNI on my behalf once it’s ready, I have to apply for it in person myself.

So I get to repeat this same song and dance once I go back to New York next summer (if I even am in NY next summer).  Knowing them, they will probably ask me “Why didn’t you have your file transferred to Madrid?” This would only make sense if I planned to live indefinitely in Madrid.  As of now, I have no plans to do so.

So no matter what, getting my CNI is going to be complicated.  Oh but wait, I am going to France in a few weeks, can’t I do it there?

No, because I have no permanent address there and I am not listed as a resident anywhere in France.

The lady did assure me as long as I have my passport, I’m okay.  Why do I feel then like when I eventually go to the Consulate in Manhatan I’m going to be lectured about waiting so long to get my CNI replaced?

So the Consulate here can’t do squat for me.  But then that’s typical of French bureaucracy.

Ok back to the hell week of papers and studying.

Amelie, one extremely confused French citizen