“You haven’t signed any of these.” The woman we’d just met at the social security office thrust the forms back across the table at us and glowered. Admittedly our meeting was just before lunch, but her attitude, and her reluctance to slow down from warp speed to intelligible French was starting to annoy me.
“Do you have copies of your birth certificates and passports?”
“Yes, they’re all here.” I passed them over and didn’t mention that, having spent ages preparing for this meeting and filling in a million forms (but not signing and dating them as you have to state where you’ve done so and I didn’t want to get that bit wrong) I only remembered I had to take copies ten minutes before we needed to leave whilst dressed in painting gear, covered in paint and in desperate need of a shower. I’d managed to get clean and presentable, copy the forms and we’d even arrived early.
We were in the local CPAM permanence, a baffling term that applies to the room in which the kids spend their free lessons at school and outposts of official bodies, like this one that deals with obtaining a carte vitale and therefore healthcare.
Having arrived at the office and taken a seat in the corridor outside, we were wondering aloud if we’d have to wait long, as we were the only ones there. A voice emanated from within. The speed of delivery, and the closed door in the way, meant we didn’t immediately realise it was aimed at us. Then we heard someone shout instructions. “If you’ve got an appointment come straight in,” or words to that effect.
I still knocked, but it had not been the kind of voice you disobeyed, so here we were. Trying to get a carte vitale and not much fancying our chances.
“Do you think it will be the same woman as last time?” Paddy had asked on the drive over.
There was a last time because we’d started this process once, obtained a social security number and completely failed to return the required paperwork in the required timeframe. Work, new schools for the kids, work, DIY, family visits and work had all taken priority, so here we were again.
The woman we saw last time was lovely. She spoke slowly and clearly, made sure we understood everything and even ventured a little English. We weren’t expecting the latter at all, but official bodies in the UK can be terrifying even when you speak English, so this was a minefield even without the language barrier.
The woman I’d spoken to on the phone to arrange this meeting was also great. Again, she was patient, explained what we needed to do, what forms to complete and what documents to take with us.
“Have you got form F1106 from Newcastle?” the scary lady asked. It was the second time she’d asked, but the first time I’d understood.
I pointed to the letter I had, on which I’d made notes. “I was told to download these forms and fill them in,” I replied. They included form F1106.
Scary lady looked at me as though I were the stupidest person she’d met, but she didn’t slow down.
“You should have been given form F1106 before you left Britain,”she said. “It’s from Newcastle and we can’t process your claim without it.”
When I continued to look bewildered she told me again the form came from Newcastle.
At this point, I’ll admit, I lost my cool. “You’re going to have to be a bit more specific,” I think I said. What I mean to say and the way in which I then mangle the French language are two different things. “Newcastle’s a big place and I have no idea at all where this form you’re taking about is supposed to come from.”
She glared at me and looked again through the mountain of paperwork we’d provided, while Paddy I signed the forms I’d filled out, which may or may not have included F1106.
“Do you have a RIB?” she barked. Paddy found our bank details and handed them over.
“And do you have copies of these documents?” She waved the proof of address at us. We didn’t and I felt the weight of failure descend.
“Do we need to come back with those?” I asked.
“I’ll copy them,” she said. “It’ll take four to six weeks.”
She left the room and I turned to Paddy. “What does she mean?” I was even more confused. “How can it take that long to copy documents?” I also said some unflattering things about scary lady, but I won’t record them here.
“I think she’s processing the claim,” said Paddy, who has more experience with French officialdom than me.
Scary lady returned, handed back our documents and told us again that we’d need to wait between four and six weeks.
“So that’s everything?” I asked, “It’s all done?”
“It’s all done,” she said, with no more mention of F1106.
Whether we receive our health cards or not remains to be seen. I’m half expecting to be told to go to Newcastle instead.