Fu­ture proof

Charles Ti­money shares his ex­pe­ri­ences of ap­ply­ing for French cit­i­zen­ship

Living France - - Contents -

Even af­ter spend­ing the past 30 years in France, and de­spite my wife’s regular en­cour­age­ment for me to do so, I have never felt the need to ap­ply for French na­tion­al­ity. I have al­ways replied that do­ing so would be long and com­pli­cated and would very prob­a­bly change lit­tle: I live, work, pay taxes, have med­i­cal cover and the prospect of a pen­sion just like a French bloke.

What more, apart from the pos­si­bil­ity of vot­ing in na­tional elec­tions, could I want?

All this changed with the EU ref­er­en­dum. With it came the like­li­hood that my life in France, postBrexit, would be eas­ier if I be­came French. It was time to act. The first step was to visit the sous-pré­fec­ture – the sec­ond-tier county hall of the depart­ment of Yve­lines where we live.

In the hope of not hav­ing to queue for too long (if any­thing sums up my in­deli­ble Bri­tish naivety it is an ex­pec­ta­tion that there was go­ing to be a queue), we ar­rived out­side the gate 15 min­utes early to be faced by a scat­tered group of some 30 peo­ple. There was a large friendly no­tice sug­gest­ing that peo­ple wait in line along the fence to the left. Ev­ery­one was stand­ing any­where but near the fence hav­ing either not read the no­tice, not un­der­stood it be­cause it was in French, or be­ing from a cul­ture in which queues form no part. Or, most likely, all three.

The gate was opened by a smil­ing girl who greeted the group col­lec­tively with a warm “Bon­jour à tous”. We were among the few who replied. In the brief but in­tense push­ing-and-shov­ing con­test which fol­lowed the gate open­ing, we some­how man­aged to lose five places in the queue. Once in­side we quickly spot­ted the small ‘ De­mande de nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion française’ – ap­pli­ca­tions for French na­tion­al­ity – sign that pointed away from the main hall.

Gal­lop­ing to­wards a side room, we over­took a few strag­glers on the home stretch to a ticket ma­chine which, when pressed, is­sued us with a num­ber. Ticket in hand, there was noth­ing to do but take a seat, let the adren­a­line rush sub­side and just wait for our num­ber to ap­pear on the wall display.

PA­PER TRAIL

Some while later – I have no real idea how long it was, but as whiles go, it was a long one – our num­ber came up and we were called to a win­dow. There, we ex­plained to the charm­ing young woman be­hind the ar­moured glass that I had come to ap­ply for French na­tion­al­ity, based on the fact that my wife is French and, more im­por­tantly, that I am mar­ried to her.

At this, the woman, whose badge showed her to be called Claire, pushed up her sleeves, looked ap­prais­ingly at the pile of neatly la­belled plas­tic files which I had care­fully spent the pre­vi­ous eight weeks pre­par­ing, and said “Right, let’s see if you have ev­ery­thing”.

Claire checked the orig­i­nal and two copies of my pass­port, my wife’s pass­port and our re­spec­tive birth cer­tifi­cates. So far, so good. Then we hit a bump. “Cer­ti­fied trans­la­tion of your birth cer­tifi­cate?” she asked. “Com­ment?” What? But that wasn’t on the list!

At this, Claire pointed out, most kindly, that any­one would know that a French trans­la­tion of a for­eign-lan­guage birth cer­tifi­cate would be re­quired – how else would any­one know what it says? I tried ar­gu­ing that mine is in English – the univer­sal lan­guage – and, for good mea­sure, that I was born in Ox­ford, that most fa­mous and trust­wor­thy of cities, but to no avail.

“Let’s carry on,” Claire con­tin­ued, “and see if you have got ev­ery­thing else. Mar­riage cer­tifi­cate?” And here we come to one of the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of French bu­reau­cracy. In or­der to be ac­cept­able, mar­riage cer­tifi­cates, like French birth cer­tifi­cates, have to have been is­sued within the pre­ced­ing three months.

When­ever you have to pro­vide one, you con­tact the mairie of the town where you were born or were mar­ried and re­quest the cer­tifi­cate you need. In­ex­pli­ca­bly, how­ever, the doc­u­ment you re­ceive will be iden­ti­cal to the one which was is­sued at the time of the birth or wed­ding, or at the time you last needed one, the only vis­i­ble dif­fer­ence be­ing that it will have a re­cent date stamp in the corner.

The cer­tifi­cates are is­sued free of charge so there is no clear rea­son why a re­cent, date-stamped cer­tifi­cate should be con­sid­ered ac­cept­able while an iden­ti­cal, but older one, is not. No French per­son I have asked finds this odd at all.

Claire car­ried on. “Par­ents’ birth cer­tifi­cates?” I had ac­tu­ally found these in an old suit­case a week or so ear­lier. Un­for­tu­nately, I hadn’t had them trans­lated (it wasn’t on the list!). Claire had clearly soft­ened since our meet­ing started, be­cause she said, “Puisque vous avez une tête sympa …” (“be­cause you have a nice face” – it’s been a while since any­one last said that) I could fill in a form where I just de­clare ‘ sur l’hon­neur’ their dates and places of birth. That would save me hav­ing to pay fur­ther trans­la­tion costs. To this, I agreed read­ily. But of course an­other bump was loom­ing.

“Rent book?” I ex­plained that we own our house and pro­duced the bills for an­nual rates and lo­cal taxes, made out in our names and ad­dress. These, taken to­gether, show un­equiv­o­cally that we own the house in ques­tion. At this, Claire scoffed openly. It is painful to be scoffed at by some­one who has only re­cently said that you have a nice face.

“That’s all very well but we ob­vi­ously need to see the orig­i­nal deeds to the house.” My wife and I stared at each other in con­fu­sion. We must have such a doc­u­ment some­where but had no idea where it might be. Claire fin­ished her list by check­ing our tax re­turns for the pre­vi­ous three years.

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