This morning, I paid a visit to my Caisse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie, the office that deals with the paperwork surrounding the French national health service. I needed an Attestation de Carte Vitale, a document testifying to my right to access the healthcare system, one of the many documents which one receives in the post one day in France and must conserve for the rest of one's life and which I had promptly lost among all the other such documents I have which, after 4 years in France now fill two large files and take up far too much space on my bookshelf.
I had been informed (wrongly as it turned out) that this document needed one of the dreaded tampons (not a feminine hygiene product but an official stamp) and as my last visit to this office lasted almost 4 hours, I went prepared. I got up early to beat the queue and made sure I ate a good breakfast. In my bag I packed not only as many official documents as I could think of but also a book to read and, fearing that the 20 pages I had left would not be enough, a second book, as well as my new Smartphone (yes, I'm very excited about that too!) to keep me entertained.
When I arrived at the office, I discovered that the machine to print the document I needed was no longer out of order and my mood lifted several degrees. I inserted my card and was presented with a range of choices, including the option to print out the Attestation. I touched the screen. The document appeared. A surge of happy adrenaline coursed through my veins. I printed a second copy. Nowhere did it say I needed the fearsome tampon. I returned to the initial screen. So many choices! High on the ease of the operation, I requested a European Health Card and a Declaration de Medecin Traitant (another two pieces of paperwork that I've been putting off dealing with for about 18 months now too.) Before removing my card, I clicked another couple of options just to see what was available to me and was ever so slightly disappointed that none of the documents on the list were things that I needed.
I collected my papers and turned around. The office was empty except for the lady at reception, who smiled at me and asked if I needed anything. Feeling that my experiences had been in the fairytale-on-cloud-nine realm of too-good-to-be-true, I double-checked about the tampon. Nope, none needed.
"Votre systeme avec la machine est vraiment efficace," I said.
"Tant mieux," she replied, with a beatific smile.