Rage against the machine

Alternate titles for this post:

Nothing works

Contradictions and possible ironies in northern France

Anomalies and consistent inconsistencies

The voices in my head

The voices in my head are winning


While working on my dissertation, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the events of my life that had led me on the path to self-sustainability. As I was moving through the writing of an autoethnography about my experience in a four-year doctoral program on sustainability, I began to engage in a dialogue with my inner realm. I did a lot of listening to this inner realm and identified several voices, which were all active at different moments and often interacted with one another. There was an inner critic that was particularly loud, for example.

Recently, I have been noticing a voice of rage and frustration taking the lead in expressions of complaint and ire. This voice has been building steam since I moved to Belgium five years ago and has been granted renewed energy and life with the onset of a global pandemic, three lockdowns in quick succession, and the challenges of being a foreigner trying to figure out how things work in two different EU countries.

Lately, the voice has been ringing loud and clear inside my head, largely due to the contradictions that seem to arise on a daily basis. Today has been no exception. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Facebook blocked me from Marketplace. This means that all of the furniture and odds and ends I have been trying to sell before my husband and I return to the United States this summer are sitting in the middle of our living room. This morning, Facebook recommended that I buy an ad to boost my listings so they sell faster.

I have been desperately trying to procure a first dose of the anti-Covid vaccine before getting on an airplane for an international flight. I tried to register on several French websites to get notified of extra doses for the vaccine and to make an appointment for a vaccine when I am eligible in mid-June. I cannot subscribe to any French website, however, without a French cell phone number. A land line does not suffice. This becomes especially interesting/maddening when I decide to purchase a SIM card for my old phone so that I can acquire a temporary French cell number. In order to go to Orange, one must currently make an appointment in order to avoid long lines and wait times for assistance. I try to make an appointment at the Orange store closest to where we live, and I am informed by the website that I cannot make an appointment without a French cell number.

Frustrating fodder for the voice in my head.

The voice was further encouraged with the delivery of two letters addressed to me, which arrived in the mail. Our property owner’s adorable granddaughter delivered them both to our front door.

The first was a letter from the pompous doctor I saw in Lille a week or so ago with the notes he had dictated into a handheld recorder while I saw across from him in his office, in which he stated that he agreed with the vascular doctor I saw in January that I had chilblains and that the only treatment was to wear gloves and take vitamin D. I noted that he had not included his other treatment suggestion of putting on more weight since chilblains tended to affect women with low body mass index.

The other letter appeared to be from our health insurance company. In the letter, I was informed that I could access my healthcare information online. I was surprised that something involving French bureaucracy was accessible online since the administrative system in this country has thus far seemed to follow a lengthy, antiquated paper trail. The letter referenced an actual website and also included login and password information for me to input in order to access the site.

I went to the website and did not see any place to enter this login information. I saw a place to enter my email address. I inputted my email address and clicked on the box “I am not a robot.” The website responded that my email address was not recognized.

I saw a place below to click “Join Online.” I try this option, and I am prompted to input my French Social Security Number. I inputted the number and was told it was not recognized/did not exist.

Then I tried clicking on “first-time login” and a little box popped, up informing me that I should use the details sent to me by mail. I clicked “ok” and then I was sent back to the first login page where there was no option to input this information.

I next tried clicking on “Forgot/Lost codes” and was taken to a page where I could input First and Last Name, Social Security Number, and email address. I filled in the requisite information, and the website promptly responded that the number could only be 13 characters. My number was 15.

A voice in my head started screaming.

It was the voice of rage, rearing its head and shaking its fist at the seemingly perpetual circle of motion I seem to travel as I try to understand the French administrative machine. I am a hamster on a wheel in a state frustration while chasing my tail, only to realize that I am hamster and therefore I have no tail.

This voice comes out to “play” more and more frequently with the continued challenges of life. Trying to get a first dose of an anti-Covid vaccine or trying to navigate French bureaucracy or both. Each logistic of life—our molasses-like internet connection, the equally slow vaccination campaign in France, trying to find a large cardboard box for my return trip to the United States, etc.—leaves me exhausted from the noise. Something needs to change and soon. Otherwise, I am either going to need a type of hearing protection that has not yet been invented or the internal screaming may shift to external and everyone else will need it.

Later, my husband looked at the letter and suggested that I try the number at the top, which is missing the last two digits of the Social Security Number I have been trying to use.

That is so simple, it just might work, I say.

I input the 13 digit number, click “Ok,” and wait with bated breath.

We do not recognize your number, comes the response in red typeface.

Well, shit. I guess simplicity simply has no place in the year 2021.

1 thought on “Rage against the machine

  1. I feel like these are all examples of the French still trying to come to grips with the fact that are no longer a global power. The things that are driving you mad are a reflection of their madness. In this way, perhaps, they are inviting you to be truly French.

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