Sunday, April 22, 2012

Questions not to ask. Apparently.

I leave for Paris three weeks from today! Obviously, this means that instead of focusing on my finals, I find time to think of things I still need to buy for my trip. Today, for example, I wandered around on amazon (on my iPad, another pre-trip purchase...hehe) looking for power adapters for my Apple gagdets. $5 plus shipping and handling later, I have two USB charge plugs with circular Euro prongs.

Thinking about technology and working in France, I started to wonder about what the office situation in Paris is going to be like. I know it's a relatively small office, so while I am wondering about whether I will have a broom closet office to call my own, I start to consider whether I will need to bring a laptop to work everyday.

This is, to me, a reasonable question because for my last two internships here in the States, I have had to bring my own laptop to work. For one I had my own office, for the other it was bring-your-own-laptop-and-fight-off-the-other-interns-for-the-best-table-in-the-joint.

The laptop dilemma causes me great mental pain because I have 2 laptops: a small netbook thing on loan from my mom that's so slow and so bad at multitasking that I have black and white flashbacks to Windows95, or my regular size laptop that I got for law school that likes to turn itself off in the middle of taking notes for class, irrespective of whether I have recently saved my work.

Neither choice is appealing. But the thing is, I don't know what I need!! << great mental strife.

I've never seen this office, and in my interview I didn't want to seem too presumptuous, like, "what kind of office space will you provide for me? Will I have a desktop? A staff of four? Lunch vouchers?" I suppose I could have asked those questions more generally, like "will your intern have an office computer" but I was really not thinking that far ahead back in October. I cannot understate my complete lack of knowing what to expect. It's a small office of an international law firm that does not appear accustomed to taking interns. P.S. I do get lunch vouchers, that information was volunteered. (because I totally would have thought to ask about that).

So, I decide that this is a reasonable question and that I will email my contact person at the law firm. I write a little greeting followed by something like this, "I'm wondering about technology: will I need to bring my own laptop or will there begone available for me to use at the office? Thanks. I'm excited to start soon, etc."

To which I receive the following response:
"Dear Cate

We are an international law firm and have all the necessary technology
to operate internationally.  You could bring your laptop for use at the
place that you are staying but you will not need it in the office...."

I feel dumb.

Really dumb.

My husband says I should not have used the word "technology" to preface my question about the computer issue. Makes it sound like I'm next going to ask whether they have electricity, or perhaps an outhouse. But that's not what I meant! I had a reasonable question, damn it!

I replied. Said thanks,that was my hunch but for my last two internships I've had to bring my own. We'll just have to laugh about this later...I didn't say that.

I still don't know for a fact that I'll have an office. They could have me squatting in the hallway waiting for assignments, but with a company-supplied laptop, of course.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Visa? Yes, No, Maybe.

This weekend I took what turned out to be a completely unnecessary field trip to the French Compound Embassy in Washington, D.C. Even though the French Embassy's website seems to indicate that US nationals do not need a visa for an internship in France, there were questions about whether my stipend would put me into a visa-needing category, whether I would get *bothered* at the border, etc. So, I was told by my hosting law firm, and several other people that I would either need a visa to do an internship in France, or that I should just get one anyways to eliminate potential border hassle.

Also, the French Embassy's website is intimidating/snobby/huffy? in a stereotypically French way. Somewhere it says something like: "Do not call us. If you have a question, read the website. If you call and have a question that is answered on the website we will hang up on you, idiot." It's much more authentic if you imagine someone saying that in English with a hardy French accent. "Eef you have a kesteeon, read zee website," if you will.

I did not call.

So, I made an appointment to get my visa - in person, no applications by mail for the French - this past Friday. I spent the better part of a few weeks (vague estimate, I know) gathering my documents, making photocopies of everything on the visa-getting website and arranging a little yellow file for myself with all this stuff. I even had a little lodging French and English. Holla.

I arrive a bit early at the Compound Embassy, enter through the rather imposing gate surrounding the several buildings that make up the Embassy, hand over my license and get an attractive little badge to wear. I go to the visa building and start skimming a promo magazine put out by the Embassy. Minutes later, my name is called over the loudspeaker and I head up to glass window #2. A visa officer asks for my passport, visa application, and little passport photo. I pass them through the glass and start arranging my handy yellow file on the shelf in front of the glass partition.

Then, the officer starts muttering in French. I think he's talking to me and so I look up expectantly, and eloquently say, "Huh?" He ignores me. I realize he has a headset thing on and is talking to someone else entirely. Noticing my presence, he asks me what I'm going to be doing in France. I say that I have an internship.

Magically, a lady appears over his shoulder and proclaims, "You do not need a visa for internship. Paid, unpaid, you do not need a visa."

I reply, "Oh, my employer seems to think that I do. Should I get one just in case?"

Visa Woman says, "No. The rules changed recently. You do not need a visa." She doesn't seem to get why I might want one anyways, and it appears that my appointment is over. I receive my documents back and apologize for the confusion and shuffle out of the building, head hanging, dismissed by the Visa Officers.

Also, she didn't have that strong of an accent, but for some reason whenever I tell this story now she does, in my head. Much like the website.

SO, went to the Supreme Court and bought souvenirs instead. Aaaand got my FIRST EVER SPEEDING TICKET on the way to Baltimore (where my dad and step-mom are, and where I stayed for the weekend), so in terms of $$$, I probably came out even.