Lily la Francaise: Becoming French II

Lily Heise la FrancaiseIt’s official. After 20.5 months from sending in my application, I’m now finally French! I’ve just had my official ceremony, I sang the Marseillaise and I’ve soon have my French “Carte d’Identité.” So what happened from my first post on becoming French till now? A lot of waiting … and some intrigue.

I’d posted a few updates on my Facebook Page over the course of the second half of the procedure, but let’s pick up from where we left off in this first blog post. After I sent in my citizenship application on October 29th 2014, I had to file away all lofty thoughts of having a French passport, made out in my funny foreign name, for the time being, “storing” these somewhere amongst my newly, partially reorganized closet from all the digging I had to do to track down the mountain of paperwork required for my application. I would hear back on whether or not I could go on to stage two within … a year. My good friend Preston of Paris by the Glass had sent in his application a few months prior so I knew when he’d have news, I’d have some two to three months later.

Lily Sending off her citizenship application

Sure enough when I was in Japan for work last April, Preston got news that he’d have his interview in a few weeks’ time. Oh boy! I had a bunch more travel coming up for work, I really hoped my interview wouldn’t be called for when I would be away again. As luck would have it, I received my “convocation” at the beginning of June for an interview appointment to take place mid-June, perfect timing right in between coming back from Asia and departing for a month in Canada.

I hadn’t really thought too much about my interview until the night before. Geez, maybe I should check what actually happens during the interview, I thought. Why hadn’t I been paying more attention before and here it was the last minute! Fortunately Preston replied to my text message plea asking what sorts of questions come up during the interview. “Oh, just the names of a few Presidents of the Fifth Republic and a few overseas departments, you’ll be fine,” he assured.

There would be a quiz?? So I went about researching all the Presidents of the Fifth Republic (I  actually knew them all already anyway… but how about their dates of office?? My interviewer might end up being really nitpicky) and memorizing all the departments of the whole country, I even started on the Marseillaise before I knocked some sense into myself. There was no way I’d have to recite the French National anthem… yet. Still, I didn’t sleep well; so much was hanging on this one twenty minutes of time.

Arriving early has never been my forté, but I managed to arrive five minutes before my scheduled time slot (instead of the 10 minutes I’d planned). I regained my composure as I sat in the “naturalisation” office’s banal but orderly waiting room. I was called in a couple of minutes after the appointed time, marvelling at how much more efficient and civilized this office was compared to the residence permit office where you’re surely to wait hours in a cramped smelly waiting room only to be told you didn’t bring in some mystery document which wasn’t even on your required checklist. I also noted that the lady handling my application was extremely nice, again galaxies away from what I normally experienced with French bureaucracy.

After my citizenship interview

We chitchatted about this and that while she double checked the thick pile of new documents I’d been requested to bring in. I learnt that we both lived in the same neighborhood and that she had two kids, a girl and a boy. She did get around to asking me some “serious questions,” and I got to show off my recently memorized facts about la Belle France. By the end she said that everything was parfait and that if I would have an answer within… a year, but that if didn’t hear back from her within six months I could send her an email for an update. Another year?! Man, that seemed long. I shook her hand, went home for a nap and once again “shelved” all thoughts of the citizenship process for the time being.

I continue to travel a lot for the rest of 2015, not too worried that I’d miss any important letters because I still had Preston’s progress as a point of reference. Did I need to do anything in particular to prepare myself to “become French”? My whole life was changing on many fronts, I was excited about the prospects the coming year would hopefully bring. In December I was in such positive spirits that I won a raffle prize at an expats’ event: organizing services! I was so excited thinking I’d won life organizing services, but it turned out that it was for organizing physical things, which I could definitely use as well. The fabulous Robynne Pendaries of Professional Organizing whipped my excess documents and my closet into shape, for real this time. We also came across the mammoth file folder with all the documents I’d amassed for my citizenship application and stored them safely into categorized binders, I wouldn’t be needed those for awhile, or maybe even never.

When Preston had an update close to the end of the year, I figured I could have some news any day as well, however, when I did, it wasn’t exactly in the form that I’d been expecting. layered in the huge stack of bills, flyers and Christmas cards awaiting my return from my month-long escape to South Africa was a notification that there was a registered letter sitting at the post office. Seeing the very detailed address listing my building and floor number, I assumed it was from the citizenship office. Hmmm, from what I’d heard they don’t send the confirmation that your application has been accepted by registered letter, so what could this be?

I nervously picked up the letter the next day. Inside the envelope was a letter DATED December 17th… but the envelope was postmarked January 13th, just the day before I’d returned. The letter explained that my birth certificate needed to be “legalised.” What the heck was legalised? They already had an official long format copy of my birth certificate embossed with a fancy looking embossed stamp, what else could they need? It turned out that wasn’t good enough, and I had to fork out another 35 euros to have the embassy stamp the back saying they thought it looked like an authentic document. One more hoop to jump through!

My concern wasn’t over having to pay more money, it was about the dates on the letter. The letter warned that if I didn’t send the legalised document back within two months, my file would automatically be rejected! After all this? No way! Two months? One month had already been lost on their end as the letter had obviously been sitting around on someone’s desk over the Christmas holidays and they’d only got around to sending it back after their holidays.

So I rushed to the embassy the next day and sent back the freshly double stamped document by registered post which should have arrived several weeks before the required two month period. To make matters just a tad bit more stressful, the notification slip that my letter had indeed been received never came to me in the mail. For two weeks I obsessively checked my mailbox, still no slip. Was the civil servant managing my file on holiday yet again and wasn’t there to pick up the letter?? Couldn’t his secretary have signed for it? If he hadn’t received it, why hadn’t the post sent it back to me?

I didn’t have much time to fret about this as I was about to heading off again, this time almost a month between New York and Canada. I’d asked a friend to check my mail on the lookout for anything from the citizenship bureau. Still nothing…. therefore after I got over my fussy jet-lagged brain around March 20th I did two things: first I filed a search with the post office to see what had happened to my letter. Had it been received? Was it sitting in the local post office? Secondly, I tried to contact the citizenship office, they didn’t accept phone calls so you either had to email … or fax. I sent one email with my file number in the subject heading. Two days later I got back a form email saying I hadn’t put the subject in correctly. I redid the email and sent it back. Once again after two days and I received another refusal letter; I hadn’t indicated the “purpose” of my email in the subject heading. But the reason of my email, checking on possibly lost crucial documents, wasn’t in the their list! Sigh! I chose the closest one to my concern and hit send. As it was Friday, I didn’t expect to hear back until the earliest the end of the following week, or even later.

Sunday rolled around and I got an email from the post office. Dear Madame… we think your letter has been lost! Ce n’est pas possible! That wasn’t the answer I’d wanted, I didn’t want their offer for compensation, I wanted my recipient to have received my letter. Trying to fend off a complete state of panic, the next morning I was off to an appointment and checked my emails on my phone. Low and behold there was one from the citizenship office already. So had they received my letter?

Instead of answering my question… they cut straight to the chase and said that they were happy to inform me that I’d been French since March 29th! It was so that I very unceremoniously learnt that I was French… and had been for a few days.

May the celebrations begin! I started that very night (and I even took my hand at the very French accordion), though I would wait to hold my “official” party until my official ceremony took place. The next week my postbox beheld my official letter announcing that my application had been accepted and letting me know I’d be contacted again about the ceremony… within the next six months. The French administration sure knows how to be a kill joy. However, it didn’t take six, two months later, at the beginning of June, a final letter came in the post, this one providing me the date for my ceremony, virtually one year after the date of my interview.

I attended the ceremony with my “oldest” Paris friend, Special Kay from my book, who’d gone through very similar trials and tribulations as I had over our many years in France. We met up nearby the special nationality office in the Place du Chatelet where ironically a small strike demonstration was taking place… I would have to fully embrace French habits and way of life now!

After some typical French paper pushing, we were ushered into the “Marianne” room for the ceremony to begin. We all were handed our “naturalisation decrees” signed by the President confirming our newly acquired Frenchness, were shown a movie on what it meant to be French, were given a little speech and we finished off with singing the Marseillaise… I hadn’t needed to go back to memorizing the whole thing, I’d been tipped off that they give you the words to you on a print out 🙂

Special Kay, my valuable “decree” package and I enjoyed lunch at Le Georges on the Centre Pompidou, celebrating in style atop our city and overlooking some of the country’s most treasured sites. Then we had the fabulous official party,  a grande fete à la Francaise and à la Lily, feather boa and all, attended by many of the wonderful friends who’ve been there for me over the years, from two year olds to eighty-two year olds.

carte d'identite

I just had one more application to fill in, the one for my French Carte d’Identité. I was surprised at what a relatively painless procedure it was, no lines, and no hassle, was this what life will be like now? I’ll only have my identity card in a month’s time, but now I’ll be forever French!

For a more detailed account of applying for French Nationality, see this great post by Anne Ditmeyer of Pret à Voyager who applied at the same time as me.

Un grand merci to everyone for your encouragement and support!

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