here in france, they have specified the processes of life more than we have in the states.  for example there is a word for moving in (amenager) and a word for moving out (demenager).  they address one another in the formal (vous) and the personal (tu), depending on the occasion, and they are the inventors of the word Bureaucracy. it was invented here in paris.

i was moving out.

i had borrowed a friend's car and i had what i thought of as "my second body" neatly crammed into the tiny citroen's backseat and i was busily on my way to the storage unit where i could stuff my stuff and not think about it for a few months. i mentioned i was borrowing a friend's car; as most of my friends, he didn't have his life in order as he was supposed to (this is the nature of personality) and so some papers were missing. a mysterious tag on the front of the car was expired. a light either didn't work or was falling off. "don't get pulled over." he told me and anyway like i'm interested in listening to that when i, who had received 20 speeding tickets on the highways of colorado by the age of 20 (that's an average of 5 tickets a year, i'll point out) had never been - and remain uninterested in - being slowed down by police. the police have never liked me. i'm tall, i have a scar on my face, i dress a little odd and my shoulders are a bit too wide. cops dont like me; they have put me in jail for a sip of whiskey, they have held guns at my head because i was sleeping in a field, they have handcuffed me because i was unlocking my own bicycle, and they have, on these occasions, never had reason. i'm not a smartass to cops. they're too stupid to be smartassed with. cops in the states have twice yelled at me and once pulled out a gun when i've asked if i can get out of the car to look in the glovecompartment. my own mother was hassled by a cop one day (with me) in los angeles when we jaywalked a street. the cop started to yell at her - a woman in her 60's - and when i pointed out "we'll be careful next time, officer" to alleviate a little unpleasantness and barter some respect for my mother, the cop put his hand on his baton, pointed at me and told me that i could "wait your turn to talk." yes, cops in america are enraged beef; power-hungry, afraid, off-kilter, it is clear.

as far as moving violations go, i'm willing to stop and pay the fine, but i consider it more like Rent For Speed than i do The Reprimand.

speeding is my way of life.

so anyway, there i was; paris, sunday, 4pm, carting my crap in the car. and of course the police pull me over. i was not optimal, to understate the situation; i was driving with no identification (let alone my international driving permit). i knew the car was missing papers, i knew there was somethings wrong with it, and i fully expected to have the vehicle towed and me put in The Cage.

first, fortunately, it was a woman that was the cop. being a guy i can bat my Groovy Greens at her and it does more good than the time i tried it with the american cop i - mistakenly - thought was gay. But more fortunately, she was nice. i mean nice as in "reasonable" and interacted as we humans normally do. i was baffled, however, 20 minutes later, when i drove off. i had been given some paperwork to do in five days, and i was sent on my way.

me. an immigrant, a criminal, a tall weirdo artfag with a scar on his face. i didnt understand it. she was POLITE to me. she let me get out of the car to go around to look in the glovecompartment. she was shivering and she apologized for her bad handwriting, pointing out that it was cold there, on that day. she apologized for the inconvenience and told me which office was best to go to. she told me it was easy and the stamps worked well. i was too happy to still have my freedom to ask her (what stamps?) - i'd figure it all out later. then she sent me on my way and wished me "bon demenagement" - something like "good luck moving."

i drove away smiling. i was supposed to do Department-Of-Motor-Vehicle-style paperwork and i was smiling like my face was gonna cramp. i had a great day, finished moving out, returned my friend's car at 3am and vowed to take care of the bureaucratic snake in the garden as i fell into muscle-ached sleep.

four days later i collected all The Papers (- i mean things such as my driving permit, insurance, etc.. these papers existed, i just didnt have them with me the day i got pulled over. i was too busy juggling boxes to shuffle papers) and walked over to the "Gendarmerie." these things are all over the city and i still dont understand exactly what they're for. as far as i can tell it's a police station that also has a legal capacity a bit like a court. i walked in. there was no line. there was a man behind the counter. i told him what had happened and he said he could help me. i asked if i needed to make an appointment and he looked at me with the "oh this is a foreigner" look and smiled. i was being a little foolish. harmless, but foolish. he asked me for my papers. i handed them over like homework. the nice man at the counter looked at my nice papers and then he called his nice boss in. they talked nicely about the date that was marked down. they agreed that it was okay as it was. they looked at me. nicely.

i thought, okay, nice, now is when i have to go to jail for driving without I.D.

instead they told me to go to the bar up the street to buy 2 almond stamps and then we would be done.

i didnt understand this at all. i asked them to write down the name of the stamp for me and they wrote down "2 Amends Stamp, 11 Euro each." then, that little mystery coming untangled, i had to clear up this question of cops telling me to "go to the bar for civic duty" bit. so i asked for directions. the nice man walked me outside, put his hand on my shoulder, and pointed to a corner. "Go there and turn right." "but what's it called? its a bar? you really want me to go to the bar?" i asked him. "Yes, its a tabac. Go in and ask them for two Amends Stamps for 11 each." if i had acted any more confused i probly would have been arrested for being such a baboon, so off i went.

here is the woman that sold me my two amends stamps for 11 each. she was nice, too. she seemed to enjoy selling these stamps instead of selling cigarettes and booze and coffee. i asked her how often people bought stamps. "A couple of times a day I suppose. They're really easy. It's a great idea." and i wondered about these stamps.

something seemed suspicious. everyone was so NICE about this. everyone was so pleased with the process, and everyone seemed to like their stamps a little too much.

something was askew with the world.

so i went outside to get a breath of fresh air and think about this. i looked at my stamps and thought "they do things a little different 'round here, no questions about it." and the little stamps in my sweaty palm had a cooling, reassuring feeling. they were proof that i had paid my 22 fine.

the parisians like their stamps; there's no doubt to be thrown on this.

by the time i had mine - in all of 2 minutes - i found i shared their opinion.

back i went, with both my new confidence and my freshly-purchased amends to the world of the french bureaucracy. i had my stamps that i had just bought (my new stamps with the face of that beautiful, slightly mannish woman that presides over france like a patron saint). i was abiding by the rules. i had done what they asked in a timely manner and i didn't think i would be arrested for it.

by the time i got back to the gendarmerie the nice people behind the nice desk had put nice stamps (normal postage stamps, also with the same face of that same mannish woman) on envelopes, addressed the envelopes, and were ready to sail. they were waiting for me, smiling at me, when i walked into the office.

it was, quite literally, public service with a smile. i felt synapses in the back of my head cracking and shattering. it looked like i wasnt even going to have to kiss any ass to get out of there with my freedom.

with all this good news and sunny temperment i was getting trigger-happy and feeling right pup so i asked if i could take their picture and ("no, no. not possible." ) that chased their smiles away (stamps the french like. photographic litigation they do not). this small indiscretion on my part didn't stand in the way of an amicable relationship as they knew this was all something exciting for me. so, together, as if compatriots working for the good of the mother country, we put the stamps on the paperwork.

we carefully put the amends stamp where it belonged. then there was an ink-based impression stamp that went on top of the amends stamp. then there was a signature that went on top of both stamps. then there was a small hole to be punched in three overlapping proofs of my amends. then these were stapled together, loaded into envelopes, and sent off via standard post to somewhere in rennes, a town to the west of paris.

Voila. i thanked them. they thanked me. i walked home.