Applying for French citizenship
You can apply for French citizenship if: You are over 18. You have lived in France for at least five consecutive years (less under certain circumstances, such as having studied at a French university). You can demonstrate that you have integrated into French life and you speak reasonable French. You are of good character and morals. You don’t have a criminal record (minor offences such as parking tickets and speeding fines don’t count). By becoming a French citizen you will be entitled to the same rights and benefits as the French, including the right to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections and to hold political office. It would also allow you to become a citizen of the European Union, enabling you to enjoy freedom of movement within other EU member states and the right to live and work there without applying for visas. You don’t have to give up your own nationality, and you can have dual citizenship.
The following documentation must be provided, and anything written in English must be translated by a sworn translator: The Cerfa no. 127530*1 application form (this is available online on the government website immigration. interieur.gouv.fr) Your birth certificate. Proof of identity (e.g. passport). Proof of marital status and whether you have children. Evidence of employment and residence in France. Evidence that you don’t have a criminal record. An attestation de moralité to attest that you are of good moral character (a letter from your mairie would be sufficient).
STAMP OF APPROVAL
On our second visit, two weeks later, we arrived 45 minutes early to find just six people waiting outside in the cold. By the time we got inside, however, I was eleventh in the queue.
Once back with Claire, I handed over the certified translation I had prepared, along with the deeds to the house which had been found in a dusty box file. “C’est parfait!” she declared, stamping a form with the words dossier complet and handing it to us.
Unfortunately, she went on to observe that it was unfortunate that we had returned this particular week of all weeks, because her colleagues who formally receive applications for naturalisation were all away on a course. Keen to avoid coming back yet again, I asked whether I couldn’t just hand the file to her. Sadly not. It would seem procedures are procedures, even in France.
On visit number three we arrived an hour early to find ourselves second in the queue behind the Polish man who had been there since 6am that morning. The process of handing in the file took less than 20 minutes, the time spent passing the same documents and copies from my plastic sleeves one by one, this time to the charming Catherine. I have to say that all the staff members we encountered at the sous-préfecture were charming and friendly. (This is unusual enough for French fonctionnaires to deserve a mention here). Having handed everything over, we were given an appointment for a formal interview two weeks later.
This time, there was no need to queue in the cold or take a number, and breezing past the huddled masses clutching their tickets was heady stuff indeed. Once in her office Catherine asked us about our education and employment histories, our social activities and our friends, all with a view to establishing whether our marriage is real or a sham for the purposes of naturalisation.
To my relief, it appeared that she didn’t suspect a sham for she presented me with a formal receipt signed by the head of the sous-préfecture himself, which showed that the formal part of the application was in order. But there was more to come.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
The following day my wife rang me at work, somewhat shaken, because three huge policemen had just rung the doorbell and handed her an envelope with the word convocation on it. This means ‘summons’ in English.
Despite the title, it turned out to be nothing more serious than an invitation for us both to attend an interview at the local police station in order to answer yet further questions about my application for French nationality.
We were received by a charming (yet again) young policewoman in a disproportionally huge blue sweater (it seems that she may have been wearing a stab vest underneath it) who asked us numerous questions about where we had lived since we got married all those years ago, and, somewhat to our surprise, whether we came from a monogamous or polygamous culture. I tried to make her laugh, wondering whether it wasn’t too late to become polygamous, but weak humour and police interviews clearly don’t go together.
Moving on to her next question, she gave me a long, hard look and asked, “Estce que vous êtes connu au Commissariat en tant qu’auteur?” This I understood to mean “Are you known to the police as an author?” I have in fact written three books about France but was astonished that she might have heard of them.
How detailed, I wondered, can the French police database be? I sat up straighter and was just starting to smile modestly prior to making some selfdeprecating reply when I received a sharp elbow in the ribs from my wife, who hissed, “She’s not asking about books! She’s asking whether you’re a known criminal.” Ah! I swiftly changed the self-deprecating reply into an unambiguous “non!”
Having managed to deal with the remaining, less troubling questions successfully, all that’s left to do now is wait. In a mere year’s time, I should be granted French nationality, an event which will be marked by my being presented with a French birth certificate (though containing all my original information). A new birth certificate! At my age! Rejuvenation indeed!
But that’s not all. All recently naturalised locals are invited to a ceremony with Monsieur le Maire where we will sing the French national anthem and drink champagne to mark the occasion.
I shall have to make sure I revise the words of La Marseillaise beforehand. Charles Timoney has lived and worked in France for over 30 years. He lives just outside Paris with his French wife Inès and is the author of Pardon My French, A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi and An Englishman Abroad