Ever since I started learning French, all I wanted was to be French and speak French like a Frenchman.
As you can see a lot of French but that’s how I felt. When I finally moved to France in 1991, I wanted to work for Air France or the French police “Gendarmerie” and everytime I was told ‘No you have to be a French National’. This was despite the EU rulings in particular for Air France as there was no risk to national security.
Over the years I still wanted to have a French ID card and be able to say once and for all “I am French”
In 1999 I began my long journey to acquiring French nationality. Beforehand I did check with the Embassy in Paris as to whether it would have any an impact on my British Nationality. I still remember the reply I got in a very English accent “But Sir, you are born British, you will always be British”
So the main thing the French authorities wanted to know was had I paid all my taxes. By this time, the European Union had become much more integrated. A Brit asking for French nationality seemed strange to them. I thought at one point they might think I was a spy, but I don’t look like James Bond.
When I finally obtained my French nationality in 2002 it didn’t really bring me any more rights except that I could now vote in presidential and national elections.
It also gave me the right to make my name more French. So I chose a very royal name of LOUIS like the kings of France. It was also a conscious decision to make my name easier for people to understand.
I did feel very proud, even organising a buffet in work the day I went to collect my French nationality papers.
That day I got up early, had breakfast, showered got dressed in a brand new suit I had bought for the occasion. When I arrived at the Prefecture de Police in Paris, I was told to wait in front of a door in a drab corridor.
About 10 minutes later the door opened and I went into a dull, shabby room with a picture of Jacques Chirac (who was President at the time) and the French and EU flags.
The lady dressed in everyday clothes gave me a file and said this is your ‘papiers.’ She asked me for my Carte de Sejour (residents permit) and then gave me an A4 sheet of paper with my name and date of birth, a photo stapled to it and a stamp.
She said “This is your identity card until you get an final one done”
She then told me I was not liable for national service (phew) went through the papers explaing to me which was my birth certificate and then stood up.
She said “Welcome to France” and that was it.
That was IT.
I walked out feeling so down. So sad. What should have been a fabulous day for me was rubbish. I was so disappionted. No ceremony. No singing of the anthem. Nothing.
I supposed that is what pushed me to go across the road to the other building, fill out the forms for my identity card (for which I d have to wait three weeks) and my passport which they did immediately.
Consolation prize: I did sit next to Audrey Tautou (DaVinci Code). When asked “Who’s next” she smiled at me and said “It’s your turn”
She must have been waiting for her passport to go to the Oscar ceremony. She is so beautiful, a lovely gentle smile.
After all that, I went back to my office where we had the buffet I had organised. My colleagues had bought me a book on France and a collection of French songs.
Thankfully the French people I knew made me feel welcome.
The French as a state certainly did nothing to begin my integration.