When you’re new to dealing with French administration, understanding how things work and what timelines you can expect can be frustrating, and if it’s important, life-determining bureaucracy stuff (like visa applications or renewals), the process can be downright infuriating.

That’s partly because there’s no real way to track progress on applications, there’s often no “customer service” contact information, and most things seem to go into some kind of administrative black hole until suddenly, magically, your dossier has been processed. What happens in the meantime can be a total mystery.

Which leads to the two types of people who deal with French bureaucracy, and their unique challenges: on the one hand, those who expect service to work like it does in the States, and who are incredulous that their email hasn’t been answered within a few days or that OFII never answers their phone. They want answers now, and part of my work is to Francesplain how things just don’t work like that here. And on the other hand, I see the occasional posts in my Facebook group like, “I sent an email to this service 7 months ago and never got a reply. Should I follow up?”

Yes. Yes you should.

Part of the dance of cultural adaptation is learning when to follow up, and when to hold back. Badgering an administration can work against you – and get you labeled a troublemaker or get your file pushed to the bottom of the pile. We don’t want that.

And the other part of the dance is understanding who has the power. Usually, it’s not you. But knowing where it lies, and how you can manipulate it for good… well, that’s magic. And reading books like Harriet Welty Rochefort’s Joie de Vivre or attending a cultural workshop with Francie Plough Seder’s CrossCultural Directions can help you to understand how to get what you need, without inciting a diplomatic incident. Knowing if, when, and how to push back on an administration is key to your success – and your happiness – in France.

Stay tuned, and next week, I’ll tell you a story about how we made a miracle happen for one of our clients, by understanding this dynamic.