My latest adventure in obtaining dual French-American citizenship…the interview!
About two weeks ago I got another salmon-colored envelope from the Préfecture de Police. Why is it that they use this particular envelope color, with the odd felt-like texture that makes it seem like it was made in the 1960s? It makes their letters really stand out in the mail pile…and I’m sure my heart isn’t the only one that leaps into the throat as a result!
But of course, instead of it being a deportation letter (not that there would be any reason for them to deport me, but I think the idea lurks in the mind of every expat), it was a letter giving me the date of my naturalization interview. And yet another immense list of paperwork I needed to bring with me — originals and copies.
I glanced over the list of tax forms (from local and national offices), income declarations, Maison des Artists (AGESSA) registration, a declaration from my landlord that I pay my rent, electric and phone bills, passport and carte de séjour copies for me. And for my company, same tax forms, business statutes, K-bis (legal registration to do business in France) and any professional memberships.
In all, I had less than two weeks to gather over 35 pages of documents (and to make copies of each):
Three trips to the local tax office because the first two times the line was too long (and a day later I found the form I needed in my files anyway); two calls to my landlord (with promises to send him and his wife an invitation to my swearing-in ceremony); countless phone calls to the different tax offices on the French Riviera (eventually I sent an email; everything moves at a snail’s pace down there, even by French standards); a trip to a different Paris tax office for my business tax forms (no lines, woo hoo!) and a trip to the Trésorie on the Ile de la Cité (where for about €3 I was able to print out my k-bis business registration from a terminal in the lobby…and a beautiful lobby it is!). I had the rest in my files (you’re expected to keep every bill and tax form for at least 5 years in France).
In the big scheme of things, relatively painless! I didn’t have to get anything else from the US, thus no translation fees, yay!
Et pourtant…I was filled with nervous anticipation yesterday morning as I made my way to the Préfecture offices on the Ile de la Cité. It was a freezing cold morning, but not raining. I cut through the huge lines (for the towers) in front of Notre Dame, my bag heavy with a folder of required forms and another folder of “just in case they ask” forms. I almost popped a copy of Naughty Paris in the file, then recalled someone else’s advice regarding the interview process: don’t make any jokes.
I imagined countless questions they might ask me, like “Who’s the current Minister of the Interior?”, “Name five 18th-century French philosophers,” or even “What’s wrong with the nationality you already have?” I thought maybe they’d quiz me on the lyrics of the Marseillaise, or question my level of integration considering I work only with English-speaking clients and was married to another Anglophone for seven years. I wore my beret. Just in case.
The waiting room was full, but silent, all of us lost in our various internal dialogs. My stomach was flip-flopping, so I concentrated on keeping my breakfast down. The man sitting next to me was doing a crossword, but I saw his hands shaking. But each time the frosted glass door opened, there was an amazingly friendly-looking, smiling bureaucrat calling out the name of the next person.
Mind you it’s a Monday morning, well before the first pause café. No one expects French bureaucrats to be nice, even on a Friday five minutes before closing in late July. I watched about eight others go in before me, each one seemed to have a different agent assigned to their dossier, and each agent looked…kind. I started to relax a bit, but like everyone else, I jumped nervously when my name was called out.
My agent — if he said his name I totally missed it — was a tall, rather young looking French man. I followed him through the enormous room full of cubicles where everyone else was being interviewed, through another door, down a winding hallway, and into a cold grey office at the very back of the building. The window was cracked open. I could see the spire of Notre Dame.
He asked me to have a seat and then explained that he was interviewing me there not because I had a special case, but simply because they ran out of cubicles and they had a lot of interviews before lunch. I took off my beret and he asked me if I had the paperwork with me. “Oui!” I said pulling out my huge folder. He asked me to take out the copies, the only originals he needed were the fiscal receipts, the P237 forms (to prove I paid my taxes).
I had each copy with its original, so I spent a few minutes sorting in the silence. He looks through them, staples a few together and then pulls up my file on the computer screen and asks if I could confirm the information he has (address, age, marital status, parents’ birth dates, and my studies in school). He asked if I was a member of any associations (I mentioned Greenpeace and Restaurants du Coeur, thinking the Hash House Harriers might not translate). He asked if I still had family in the US, if I visited often, how I liked going to school in France during the strikes (I was a political science student)…it was all very conversational, not at all like a test. He said we were neighbors in the 13th (which gives a lot away regarding his political views…perhaps he wouldn’t have been so nice to me if my address was in the 16th), and asked about my guidebooks. I stuck to my work for the Michelin Green Guides and Fodor’s, to be on the safe side.
Finally, he says that my dossier is complete, “Et ca, c’est déjà pas mal.” He said that it would be sent for a final approval at the Ministry of the Interior after a pass through the French Secret Security.
“You’ll have an answer by the end of April.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“You’ve lived here 14 years, own a company, and have a charming accent. I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t approve your application.” I allow one joke to sneak out at this point.
“I don’t have to sing the Marseillaise?”
“You’ll all do it as a group at the naturalization ceremony,” he said, totally serious.
And that was it.
Now all I had to do was wait …