To be French, or not to be French…

With the insanity of Brexit hanging over Europe like a big black cloud, every now and again I think seriously about naturalisation – claiming French citizenship. But generally not for very long, although I’m giving it increasingly more consideration each time it reaches the top of my ‘to possibly do’ list.

Reluctance stems from the fact that I shouldn’t be having to do it. I consider myself European, and I’m happy with that. Yes, I was born in the UK but I left there in 1992 when I was thirty. I’ve now lived out of the country almost as long as I lived in it. It’s not my home, either emotionally or spiritually. I stopped feeling British a long time ago and I stopped being British the day of the Brexit referendum. A referendum we couldn’t take part in because of laws, currently in the process of being repealed, that stopped people who’d been away from the UK for longer than 15 years from voting in it. Never mind that it affects us directly, but don’t get me started on that!

Further reluctance to apply to become French stems from the fact that I have had many encounters with French bureaucracy, and can count on the fingers of one hand those that have been positive and constructive experiences. It is not the general way of French fonctionnaires to be helpful and co-operative. (And no doubt by writing that I’ve put paid to any hope of getting French citizenship!) I know that it will take years off my life to attempt something so huge as naturalisation as this will involve prolonged and regular interaction with civil servants.

One further another off-putting factor is the expense that will be involved. First up there’s a fee of €55 that has to take the form of a timbre fiscal, a sort of postal order equivalent. Then you need to prove you have adequate language skills to get by in France so need to take a language competence test: the TCF (ANF). The cost of this at the closest test centre to us is €87, which is fairly hefty. And a text book with practice tests would be a good idea, setting you back another €20 or so. I downloaded an application form for the TCF to contemplate, and noticed that you have to attach a copy of your carte de séjour to it when you send it in with your fee for the test.

Now, people from EU states don’t need a carte de séjour. When we arrived in 2006 I was all set to apply for these for the family but was told that we didn’t need to. All that was necessary was for our mairie to send photocopies of our passports to the Préfecture. I’ve now looked up about applying for a carte de séjour again – and the one relevant to me would be a Carte de séjour Citoyen UE/EEE/Suisse séjour permanente. That’s a lot more straightforward (in theory) than applying for naturalisation, but the information on it makes it clear that you don’t need to apply for it: “Toutefois, ce n’est pas une obligation”. However, the French Interior Minister has apparently recommended Britons should apply for it, I suppose in case of a hard Brexit, yet still the government website tells you not to bother! Somebody needs to make their mind up.

I’ve gone off on a slight tangent, sorry. I was talking about the cost of naturalisation. You have to provide certain documents, such as birth cert, marriage cert, and you must supply the originals. However - that word again - I’ve read on one website about the process that you have to provide originals that are less than 3 months old i.e. issued less than 3 months ago. This poses an immediate problem. I’m nearly 56 so my birth certificate is the same age. I got married nearly 32 years ago and so my marriage certificate is also nearly 32 years old. What’s going on here with this less than 3 month old business?

We’ve come across this bizarre requirement before when we set up our business. Despite having the originals of my birth cert and marriage cert in my hands, I had to send off to a government agency in the UK for new copies of these at the hefty price of £70 each! For whatever reason the CCI preferred these to the originals which oozed authenticity in their creases and mottled paper. In the case of my birth cert, I couldn’t see what the re-issued copy added. Extra validity? My presence in their office was surely proof enough that I was still alive, and not just 3 months ago but that very same day! I did ask ‘Why?’ the first time I came across this illogical demand, but simply got the answer ‘Parce-que’. I only ever fobbed off my toddlers with that reply, ‘Because’ when they asked ‘Why?’ for the 50th time and I’d run out of other things to say. ‘Because’ is most certainly not an acceptable first answer for an adult. As for the marriage cert, I had my wedding ring on my finger and was accompanied by one of the by-products of my marriage to Chris, namely our eldest son. Evidently still not convincing as a new reissue of the certificate, meaningless as that is in itself.

Anyway, as well as these chimera less-than-3-month-old ‘originals’, for naturalisation you have to get them translated, and by a certified, approved translator. That will cost around €60 per document, and you could need a good handful of these translating if you end up having to provide, as well as your own, your parents’ wedding cert and possibly also birth certs (but less than 3 months old, naturally) if these are demanded. That seems way over the top to me, and will push the cost up massively.

And then you need photos for another few euros. Most of the other stuff you need to submit, such as proofs of residence in the form of utility bills and your letter of motivation, comes free but will inevitably cost dearly in terms of stress!

So now perhaps you can see why I’m wondering if it’s really worth it to apply for citizenship. It would give me the right to vote, and having been disenfranchised for many years, apart from in local elections which here are extremely local in that they’re for the mayor and village committee, I would embrace that right. I have absolutely no say in how the country I have lived in for twelve years and where I pay my taxes is run. So much for the idea of no taxation without representation… That’s the main advantage and should be adequate justification, but the question is do I have the energy and perseverance that will be necessary? There are stories on the net of the merry dance other people have been led in their quest for citizenship, and they’d give you nightmares… It’s not an endeavour for the faint-hearted.

Probably for now I shall warm up with trying to obtain that carte de séjour and then, maybe, once I’ve recovered from that, assuming I ever do, I’ll roll up my sleeves and go for the big one. Watch this space…

(All creative commons photos from, respectively A pile of Euro bank notes, bicyclette rouge)