Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Naturally Enough

All six of us now have dual nationality – British & French.
Not counting subdivisions like English & Scottish, of course.
Looking back on it, it wasn't difficult or too expensive; it just took a long time.

Contrary to popular belief both in France & in UK, the kids, born in France to British parents, were automatically & only British with no option of French nationality for many years.
It was only when AA got to age 16 that she could first apply for French Nationality, which she wanted because she felt French & we wanted because it could be necessary for some career options, such as Civil Servant (no longer true).
In fact, for somebody born in France, it was very simple & almost automatic.
There was no problem keeping British Nationality as well, which made the whole deal less traumatic.

Similarly for the other kids, the procedures were simple & rapid.
But the rules & procedures changed each time, the last 2 kids being able to agree to parents requesting their naturalisation at 13.
Currently, for kids born in France of foreign parents, subject to minimum residence conditions, French Nationality is acquired automatically at 18, can be requested by the child at 16 or by the parents, with child's agreement, at 13.

This continual changing of the conditions, and the scare when the National Front candidate got to the last round of the Presidential elections, made us think more seriously about applying for French Nationality ourselves.
Maybe we should do it before it became very difficult or impossible?
Although UK citizenship seemed to give us just as much of everything as being French would, apart from voting in national elections, who could say if that would always be true?
Who could say that Britain would stay in Europe?
What were the chances of the National Front acquiring significant clout?
In any case, after 25 years here, we didn't look like leaving and were feeling more & more French in many ways.
So the idea of actually becoming French, without needing to stop being British, started to appeal sub-consciously, as well as being maybe a logical strategy.

We had already looked at it once, and given up after seeing the list of everything we needed to provide.

But in 2002 we decided to take the plunge.
At that stage, AA, BB & CC were already French but DD was only 12 so only British.
Our application, if successful, would cover DD too.

Pretty obviously, we needed to provide copies of UK passports & French cartes de séjour.
And original birth & marriage certificates.
Less obviously, we also needed originals of parents' birth & marriage
("where applicable") certificates.
Everything not in French had to have a French translation.
But not our own translation; it had to be from a certified (expensive) translator.
Kids' birth certificates & naturalisation certificates.
Deeds of the house.
Proof of kids' scholarisation.
Certificates of employment for previous 3 years.
Employment contract with occupation, dates & salaries.
Last 3 months' pay-slips.
Last 3 years income tax notices.
Some P.237 fiscal document that the local tax office had never heard of, but very obligingly invented, printed, stamped with several posh ink-stamps & signed for me.
I suppose I needed an electricity bill too, as you need that for most things when passport, carte de séjour & driving license are inadequate.
Presumably there must be a big market for forged electricity bills in France.

All that took some organising, and some expense for the new UK certificates & official translations, but it was not the horror story I had expected.

The horror story I had not expected was how long it was going to take from there on.
The Government brochure did warn that it could possibly take over a year, but we optimistically assumed we would be quicker because of our non-complicated position.
In fact the next thing that happened was that DD reached age 13; we applied for Naturalisation for her via the simpler children's procedure; she had to stand up in front of the Magistrates Tribunal & confirm she wanted to be French; and she was French.

At about that time, we heard that the only person dealing with "regular" Naturalisation in Strasbourg had been away on maternity leave, but was now back & had opened our file & found it was now out of date.
Could we please send up-to-date copies of all the incidental stuff we had managed to gather & send correctly last year?
Many months later, we were "invited" to the main Police Headquarters in Strasbourg, with all our original documents, to be interviewed by somebody from the DRRG (Renseignements Généraux, which is basically the Interior Ministry's Anti-Terrorist Intelligence Unit).
In fact there were no spotlights or waterboarding (at least, not for us) and we had a pleasant & very short chat about nothing in particular.
To such an extent that we wondered what information anybody could possibly have gathered from the interview.
Intelligence must be subtle.

The information seemed to have been positive, because shortly (by our recalibrated time-scale) later, we had a communication from the Ministry of Labour saying "Yes – maybe".
In fact what they said was, "Il m'est agréable de vous informer que j'envisage de réserver une suite favorable à votre demande", which means roughly "I am pleased to tell you that I am considering pigeon-holing your request in the happy-ending box."
And that only 18 months after we first applied.

But we weren't out of the woods yet.
A heavy-bold paragraph said we had just 2 months to return yet another form, basically saying we were not joking & still really wanted to be French, honestly.
If we did that OK, then we should see our Naturalisation published in the "Journal Officiel" within 6 months.

Well, the Journal Officiel is a gigantic document published 6 days per week listing all that is new in French Government Laws & Decrees.
Fortunately you can consult it by internet ( until you get suspicious after finding nothing for ages & eventually find out that they don't include details of Naturalisation on the internet version.
So you find that all Mairies get a paper copy of the Journal that you can consult.
Except our Mairie opted out – probably being too small to hold all that paper.
Strasbourg Mairie gets it OK & kindly let me browse the cardboard boxes of their archives, reading all the Journals since the above letter.
I was surprised to see there were over 2000 naturalisations every week, but we were not amongst them yet.
Once I was up to date, I checked the latest J.O.s at the Mairie every couple of weeks, but still nothing.

The six-month deadline came & went.
After 8 months, I wrote to ask if there was a problem & the next day, crossing in the post, received a letter confirming that we were now French & that the notice had just been published in the Journal Officiel, which I was able to check & photocopy for our archives.
Strangely, DD's name was next to mine, although she had been French for ages, so we don't know whether she is now double-French or whether 2 naturalisations cancel each other, or…
But DS's name wasn't.
Until I thought to look under her maiden name – phew!

After that, in what seemed like no time, we received certificates signed by Chirac & Raffarin, genuine French birth certificates & marriage certificates, even a "Livret de Famille" which all real French families have.

The Livret de Famille is a very official-looking thing, like a double-sized passport, started normally at a marriage & with spaces for recording, with lots of official stamps, the deaths of each of the happy couple & the births & deaths of the first 13 children.
They could have saved some paper if they had asked.

Anyway, all's well that ends well, even after 26 months, and we are genuinely pleased & even proud to be French.
Though relieved not to have had to choose to drop being British.

When can we start to apply to be European?

Parting thot: "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." - Albert Einstein

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