The Fingerprinting Story
OR RATHER HOW I WENT ALL OVER PARIS TO COMPLETE WHAT I THOUGHT WOULD BE A RATHER SIMPLE REQUIREMENT FOR MY VISA
If you’ve ever had to get a visa to live in another country, you might relate to this story. If it was for France, then most likely so.
It started out as an easy, “Obtain a criminal background check by the FBI or DPS Texas.” One line and a little warning from my immigration lawyer that I might want to allow 2-3 months to do this. Did I listen to my lawyer though? Nah. I looked up the background check process for DPS Texas and saw that it took a mere 14 days and thought- oh I’ve got time and put it out of mind.
About a month and a half before I needed the results of my éclair pinching background, I sought out the help of a friend. Why? Because I had read in some of the forums that you could take the fingerprints yourself and send them in- easy peasey. So that’s the route I was going to go. Easy, cheap, might work, might not. Essentially, I have time we’ll see! My friend notified me that she was armed with an ink pad and then asked an um pretty pertinent question, “Is there a certain type of paper we need to use?” uh hum. Well- I hadn’t really thought about that. And yes, turns out there is a special piece of paper that you needed to order through the FBI to go that route… and it would probably take a week or three to get to Paris… and… it was best if you had a professional do it like the ex-police officier people kept talking about in the outskirts of Paris.
Back to the forums and the US Embassy website I went and found my second potentially less easy but still cheap option: go to a police department in France and beg them to take my fingerprints (something I never thought I’d do). But only certain police stations do it and it was really up to their discretion.
So, I armed myself with a smile, I started out at the most likely spot that I would think would know what to do. The immigration office. I was there anyways for an appointment and I figured well if anyone knew, they should, because they were the ones asking for the background check. I got probably one of the best responses I’ve ever gotten when I asked at the welcome desk, “Ah Madame, we do not do that in France.” So, in all of France no one gets their fingerprints done. I didn’t press the issue.
At this point we were about a month out from when I needed the elusive chocolate snatching results of my childhood. So, on my way home from the immigration office I figured, what the heck, I’ll try at one of the local police stations that I pass every day. There I received an even better response, “Did you check at the immigration office? You know the one on Cité.” Um yes, I did. I just came from there. Thanks.
Then I was down to two options. Pay 60 euros and reach out to the lovely lady at “Fingerprints Paris” or find one of the elusive police stations that might take pity on a poor American and do the job. But why pay and have it easy? Suited up with the info from someone via the forums who had successfully had her fingerprints done and my Frenchman scouring the French forums – we came up with one address. Back where I had been last week on Ile de la Cite in the Conciergerie where Marie Antoinette spent her last days. Fitting.
The first attempt left me empty handed. All I could find was entrances leading to the Department of Justice – again not really a place I want to go for a background check w – and normal entrances to the dungeon.
And so, I was left with time running very thin-just three weeks to go. For my second attempt, I left on a disgusting day during my lunch break to get mission fingerprints done. It was grey, ominous, and the sky couldn’t decide between itty bitty snow or even more annoying sprinkly mist.
I passed the door twice before I realized which one it was. I was greeted by four extremely confused cops who had to revert to their superior before passed my purse and jacket through a scanner and letting me inside a weird fortified courtyard with alphabet numbered doors branching off of it in the heart of the Conciergerie.
Following their instructions, I made my way to door “Y” which…. could not be entered without a special badge so I asked someone hanging outside where to go and was directed down the courtyard to an unmarked door to the right, then up three flights of stairs to a waiting room that had not seen a lick of paint in 20 years. The sole person in the room behind a barred window told me to go back down the stairs, out into the courtyard, cross it, and then take a set of stairs that was on the left, down… into the basement? I really don’t know. I thought I was doing pretty good with my French at this point.
I did find a locked gate to a set of stairs leading down off of the courtyard that didn’t look like it would be budging any time soon. Also remember that it’s rain-slushing outside. So, I did what any budding sugar thief would do and snuck into the building after someone and tried to follow the original instructions I’d been given. Up three floors, second door on the right, got thoroughly confused and found myself wandering the halls of Paris’ central police station walking down hallways past evidence rooms.
I finally asked a man in an empty photocopying room where to go and was met with a, “uh was there no one at the welcome desk?” To which I promptly answered no. Mostly because I really didn’t know how to get into my maze of a story in French. We went down back to the entrance of the building to a desk behind which was probably the largest Frenchman I’d ever seen who very obviously hadn’t moved in the past ten minutes.
After hearing my request, he asked if I was in the police. To which I uh snickered and said um no and imagined myself as an undercover pastry chef. Then he proceeded to call one person who then said another person would do it, and then that person said no, the first person he’d called did it. He then pulls out an old journal, flips through a couple of pages and tells the second lady, well no, according to so-and-so on such-and-such date, you are the person that does this. Then he gave me a great look- kind of a ya that’s right, I deal with this all the time kinda look.
We waited a good 5-10 minutes before two women come down, one of which was there to guard the other woman and supervise the operation. And finally, what I had been expecting to hear from the last five people, “well we don’t normally do this.” Big hesitant smile. “I know I know… thank you..” and we were inking fingers and thumbs, in a handy stand area by the door. Yup I was voluntarily getting my fingerprints done at a police station in France. And they were extremely nice, sending me away with a photocopy (one that they kept for their records, just in case) and the original. And this was after having to restart the form several times after misspelling my name, running out of forms, leaving for 5 minutes to get another one, and finally getting it done.
I’d conquered the system!!!! I felt so accomplished with my fingerprints zipped up securely under my jacket.
I snapped this photo triumphantly as soon as I got back to work.
I thought I’d won.
A call to the organization I was mailing the fingerprints to dashed my dreams. Turns out fingerprints done at an international site are a bit of a gray area – doesn’t matter that they were done at a police station and had an official stamp. Soo I tell the guy on the phone that there’s this lady here that does it on FBI paper. Would that be best? Yes, yes it would.
Enter fingerprints adventure number 25 the following rainy Sunday at ten in the morning. I made my way to a squash court in Montmartre. No really. Which I entered in surprise to see not a hidden den where fingerprints were done on the sly but several squash courts and a bar. Pointed out by the bartender, up a set of stairs to the left of the door, was a makeshift desk, inkpad, and baby wipes.
I mailed those puppies out the following morning, express, and received the answer just three days before I landed in Texas; and four days before I woke up at 6am to drive down to Houston to turn in my 60+ page dossier.
Luckily the other 59 pages weren’t as difficult to track down.
Moral of the story: Get your fingerprints done when you’re home for Christmas in the States, or just happen to have a set on you (pour quoi pas), or just go to the professional fingerprinting lady in the squash court first.