When I submitted my application for the Carte Vitale, the infuriatingly elusive piece of plastic entitling me to the medical benefits for which I already pay taxes, I was told that it would be processed within three weeks. That was more than three months ago. Still, hope flickered last week when I received an envelope emblazoned with “Carte Vitale” in my mailbox. I ripped it open, and although it did not contain an actual Carte Vitale (OF COURSE), I discovered that I could have my Carte Vitale, if I immediately affixed a passport-style photo to their letter and returned it with a photocopy of an ID. Was this a trick? After all, earlier application attempts had been rejected because of the absence of a gold sticker and a little blue ribbon. I carefully assembled the specified materials, scrutinizing each line of the instructions.
There’s a great scene at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade* where Indiana Harrison Ford Jones, racing to save his dying father, Sean Connery, must pass several ancient trials using only his wits and a little journal full of cryptic notes. If he succeeds, he will obtain the Holy Grail, but failure will result in immediate dismemberment and death. My Holy Grail: the Carte Vitale. You know red tape’s starting to unhinge your mind when you start comparing your struggle for health insurance to a Hollywood quest for immortality.
French bureaucracy is all about jumping through hoops of seemingly arbitrary height and width. Specifications are not always honored and sometimes it feels like there might be a greying knight standing at the end of the long line of trials, waiting for you to select what looks like a pretty great Holy Grail but is actually an express ticket to HELL. All you can do is persevere: follow the instuctions, kiss the knight’s ass, and hope he’s too old to stab you.
*If you haven’t seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, do so immediately because it’s got everything: Nazis, trap doors, Sean Connery, Venice, maps, tombs, youngish Harrison Ford looking shirtless and dirty and delicious, boat and motorcycle and horseback chases, a John Williams score, comedy based almost entirely on banter between foils, and a corny half-baked origin story– really what more could you want?