Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Getting a French passport - not so simple

As a newly naturalised French citizen I'm keen to have all the official documents, even if they end up being more symbolic than practical. But, hey, you never know when it can be useful and an EU passport might always be useful.  I now have a bolt-hole at either end of the planet, depending on the damage from the Fukushima reactors, (only slightly joking).

I collected a cerfa form from my local mairie, phoned a different mairie (only some of them have the authority to process passports) and made a passport demand appointment. Allow a wait of a few weeks. This matters because some documents you have to supply will have limited validity dates.
I needed to supply the following:
  1. A French official birth certificate (very recent as it must have a validity after your passport appointment and these documents have a life span of only 3 months)
  2. Your carte d’identit√©
  3. JC's carte d'identie (because I live at his place)
  4. Justification de domicile - proof of address like the power or water bill
  5. Attestation d'hebergement - a letter written confirming, with lots of details, that I do in fact live at JC's place and that we are both good people
  6. Timbre fiscale - a fiscal stamp you pay €86 for
  7. Identity photos - must have the date of issue clearly attached
  8. The completed cerfa application form
All of the above items I put in a folder and off we both went to the appointment. There was no sit-down appointment, we discovered. We handed the folder to the receptionist who controlled the process.

Shock number one: "You're married? she said.
"No" said JC, racing in before I could tell her myself. "She's divorced but she has her former husband's name still - they are allowed to call themselves anything they like over there," he explained.
"Well that's not acceptable here. You need a letter from your ex-husband giving permission to keep using his name."
You what? I was flabberghasted. He has nothing to do with my life now. Getting a letter, having it apostilled, translating it all was going to get complicated and expensive. I was NOT happy.

In the end she changed my form so that I no longer had my married name (the name I use and have done for 16 years) on it. I was back to being FREE (not!) The French only care about your birth name. For them nothing else is legal. For me from my Kiwi culture I can be who I want when I want and no man is going to dictate that.

"I could call myself Mickey Mouse if I wanted to," I said. The woman ignored me. Even my mother had changed her surname to that of a French ancester. JC thinks the Anglo-Saxon freedom to change your name is ridiculous. What a mess it must be, he thinks, not at all logical.

Shock number 2 was directed at JC. The name of his street said Chemin des Petits Pres on the letter but it said Rue des Petits Pres on his power bill. Not acceptable, it must be identical even though there is only one street like that and JC is the only one who lives there. JC explained that the databases often automatically change chemin to rue and he has no control over this. Often the companies' computer applications online do not give chemin as an option. Too bad. JC spent time trying to explain how the tiny road had often changed its name and was in the process of doing so again to Chemin. NO, my carefully crafted and printed letter would not be acceptable.
Steam was coming out of my ears and JC was annoyed but philosophical. The receptionist handed him a blank piece of paper and told him to rewrite the letter showing rue and not chemin. He hand wrote it (rather illegibly) on the spot.

Shock number 3: "Wait a minute Sir. There is an inconsistency with your name." Hhh? "Yes, on this bill it says LEROY and on your carte d’identit√© it says LE ROY. This is no good," she said.  A fatal space, FFS.

I just wanted to get on with it. I had, I thought, all the documents in order, and had filled them in in good faith, but no. You don't know what you don't know. JC may have to come back one day with more proof of name and address. I exasperately explained that I can't take any time off work to come back again, it doesn't work that way as classes cannot be resceduled, courses cannot be put on hold because a space is missing in someone else's surname many kilometres away.

A man came out to see what all the fuss was about. He got his explanation and to him everything was normal despite the inconvenience to JC and me. Eventually I was allowed into an office to record my fingerprints and check the data in the database.

I find dealing with the French administration immensely stressful because they can make your life hard when you have done nothing wrong. They are not usually customer focussed so if their processes are incompatible with your work or life they just don't care. At least the receptionist did try to solve some problems rather than following through on her initial response to send us straight home and reschedule.

JC hates me making a scene (I understand that) but I find some things intolerably pointless and my work situation complicates things immensely as I am not sure when I am ever available, trying to keep several changing employers in mind. On a couple of occasions a wee rant in my messy French has gotten me what I want. The French hate public scenes so they will either fix it so you are quiet or they will evict you. You can never know what way the wind will blow so it's risky raising your voice. My advice is don't rant at the prefecture if you can help it (there are always security staff there) but immigration and the local mairie might 'come to the party' if you achieve the right frequency.

I now have to wait a few weeks to see if I will get my passport soon, or not.




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