25: Paper Wait
“Thirteen months!” I spluttered, spitting my wine out and causing the other customers in the smart Parisian café to fall quiet. We now felt we were being watched, two conspirators up to no good seemed to be the consensus.
“Thirteen months though!” I hissed, trying to keep calm and not cause a scene. “Are you sure?”
“That’s what she said.” Said Colin. “Thirteen months.”
I gave a low whistle and shook my head, “Thirteen months,” I said again gravely. I hadn’t known Colin for very long, an expat living in France like me, we were both applying for French citizenship and both daunted by it. I don’t know much about Colin apart from that because the conversation rarely strays from the dominant topic. What I’ve found since the referendum vote is that if you meet a fellow Brit on the continent the likelihood is that within a couple of minutes, the pleasantries over and done with, the conversation will lag, before one or other of you starts with the ‘can you believe what the hell is going on?’ stuff. There’s a real sense of uncertainty, incredulity, anger.
There’s also fear too, which I’m doing my level best to stoke as much as possible. I’m behaving like a 24 hour news channel with this, there’s little in the way of hard fact because like everyone else I don’t know what’s going on, so my remit is to put the wind up you, speculate wildly and predict Armageddon. I mean obviously that isn’t my intention but it seems to be a side-effect. I am frightened. Brexit, particularly a Hard Brexit, will affect my earning ability, my ability to travel from home to work and officially split my family along nationality lines. The latter especially scares me when the loudest voices at the moment are right-wing ones, alt-right ones, call them what you like. The nationalists dressed as patriots. So yes, I’m scared.
Quite a few people have contacted me recently asking why I’m applying for French citizenship and I cite all the above reasons and just say, honestly, that it potentially removes some of the uncertainty. It doesn’t remove the fear, but I’m doing something at least. I hate the impotence of my role in this whole fiasco and if you think I’m showing a bit of side by even claiming I have a role, I do. I will be a bargaining chip used by both sides. Well, not me alone, that would be a pretty low-rent negotiation frankly but the 1.2 million British people on the continent and the millions of EU nationals living in Britain. Our futures are currency now. I’ve every right to be bricking it.
I had met Colin in the same week that I’d taken my French test. He was about to do the same though he had far more confidence than me. Colin is fluent, uses French everyday at work and knew that that part of the French citizenship process would be a formality. We were both a bit baffled by the following stages though.
In order to apply for French citizenship you first need to gain a certificate of Language Competence before continuing. Colin had flown through, he was too embarrassed to tell me his actual score which was very British of him; I scraped by. The next part of the procedure is to gather all the documentation needed to make the application itself. Some of this is obvious, date of birth, proof of address, marriage certificate, proof of earnings and so on. Some is less obvious. My parent’s marriage certificate, my parent’s birth certificates, the deeds to my house and so on. Thorough stuff that can also be augmented according to local bureaucracy tastes; a friend of ours was asked to provide their great-grandparent’s marriage certificate for instance which suggests someone in the town hall has been watching the French version of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ and is a big genealogy fan.
It’s been an odd process gathering this kind of historical information. If becoming French daunts me, then peering into my British past is just as unsettling and official documents, especially the older ones, seem strangely disconnected. We aren’t a close family anyway and far from bridging any gaps, they make the distance greater. My granddad on my mother’s side died when I was seven. I vaguely remember him, a harassed man dominated by his aggressively Roman Catholic wife, my grandmother obviously, but I couldn’t even remember his name, which was upsetting. Communication is very limited on that side of the family anyway but you can’t go ringing up your estranged mum and asking what her dad was called. That’s a bit much. Then it turns out that my granddad on my dad’s side wasn’t even called what I thought he was…
The French authorities can ask for as much proof of my heritage as they like, and if they’re reading this I swear they’re genuine, but I may as well be offering up birth and marriage certificates of someone else’s family for all the credence they give to my identity as it is now. If you want to check my background then I can put you in touch with various pub landlords, comedy club stage managers and animal rescue facilities who know me far better.
My dossier is now an inch and a half thick of the requested documents. Also of course, translations have to be provided of ‘foreign’ documents though why on earth a marriage certificate has to be translated into French beats me? Marriage is a French word, as is certificate. The dates are the dates and names don’t have to be translated. So I’m to provide a French translation of a document (French word) of a certificate (French word) of my marriage (French word) to someone who’s French? That’s totally (French word) nonsensical (French word).
I have one more document to arrive from the HMRC in the UK to prove my self-employed status and then I’m good to go. Good to go where though? There seems now to be some confusion as to where I actually send my dossier. My local Mairie says that it goes to the Préfecture in Chateauroux, but the website says that it must go to the Plat-Forme de Naturalisation de la Région Centre Val-de-Loire which is in Tours. I suddenly feel like a footballer who has two opposing clubs competing for his signature. Of course the reality is that two opposing bureaucratic hell-holes are desperate for the opportunity to laugh at my dossier, question my heritage, refuse my passport photos on technical grounds and write back with an emphatic ‘Non!’
Colin is slightly ahead of me with all this and as a resident of Paris also knew exactly where his dossier had to be sent. He then followed it up with a phone call and a polite enquiry as to when he might get a call for his interview. I’d forgotten about the final interview. That’s when he was told there was a thirteen month waiting list, just for the interview.
“Thirteen months!” I kept saying it over and over again. Ok, Paris has probably more of this to deal with but still… thirteen months? I’ve got images of me in a year or so’s time, sitting in my front room, a kind of French-spurned Miss Havisham, all Breton shirt, beret and cobwebs railing at the injustice of it all. Thirteen months though, really, that’s just outrageous (French word).
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