After some back and forth with various parties, and a lot of time spent holding the phone with various customer service reps, we are headed back to Chicago. We hope that a little face time with the consulate will speed us toward a solution.
We have an ally in France in the form of someone in the Human Resources Department at the University of Poitiers. He has been working tirelessly on our behalf to cut the through the bureaucracy of the process. Hopefully, his work trying to speed things along at the ANAEM (the French department of labor) will prove fruitful and we will come back to Raleigh with visas in hand.
If we don't get our visas, at least we got to say goodbye to all our friends in Chicago. It will be nice to visit someplace we know, where we don't have to scour the internet and alternative weeklies trying to figure out where to eat or what movie to see. Best of all, we have a tandem bicycle waiting for us in Chicago at my friend's apartment. It may need a little repair, but it is much better than riding the trains and buses into the wee hours of the morning.
In some respects this convoluted visa process has been good preparation for what is to come when we have to apply for residence permits once we arrive in France. There are a few horror stories floating around the internet that make the visa process seem effortless by comparison. Whatever the future holds, we will try and keep a sense of humor about it and maybe even offer other people tips that will help them keep their sanity during their negotiation of this maze.