By Yetunde Oshodi
Okay so the title of this post is a bit misleading. I mean I am not exactly talking about a trip to France at least not exactly. Last Friday a year's journey came to an end (or some might say to a new beginning). Last Friday I became a member of the Republic that is France. Let me put it another way, last Friday I became French.
When my father decided to apply for American citizenship I was a minor and the process seemed endless. I would automatically also receive this citizenship due to being underage but I actually never had it till after my first year of university. I was just a green card holder till that time. The automatic process was not quite as automatic as I thought and from the time my father had spoken about it while I was still in high school, I had simply forgotten. The only thing I personally had to do was return home from university to respond to a series of questions to an INS agent: Name, address etc. After that point I was officially American.
The French naturalization process for me was different. It was a decision I made along with my French husband. To be perfectly honest it was mostly to put an end to the countless administrative tasks you have to go through as a foreigner and though I became a 10-year "titre de séjour" holder at the same time that I became eligible for applying for French nationality, I thought why wait.
Over a year ago we filled out the paperwork. We had translations done. We argued that my Nigerian birth certificate was acceptable when we got married so did not see why they would need me to get another one that was issued less than 3 months prior (this is a common request in France for all official documents). I made the trip to the US to the police station in the town I grew up in to request an official letter of good conduct to prove that I was not a delinquent. We had to prove that our marriage was not celebrated under false pretenses. I even had to relinquish my only, orginal birth certificate to be put into the dossier for one year. I'm still waiting to get that one back. That last part nearly made me faint. I could hear my father's voice saying, "don't ever lose yourself from your birth certificate".
I kept thinking, no this isn't going to happen. They are going to find some reason to make this process last even longer than the year they have promised. I was rather pessimistic about this whole thing after countless other battles with French administration related mainly to my business. Anyone who has ever been a foreigner from a non-Western country can probably understand what I mean here. Even after so many years in the US and having an American passport, that feeling doesn't just disappear. Nothing goes that smoothly.
But then it came, a simple envelope with a convocation to turn up at 14:15 on November 30th for an official ceremony. The presence of my conjoint (my partner, aka my husband), was requested. Lateness would not be tolerated and if my husband could not attend I would need to call and schedule a new date. This was it. This was the moment that we had been waiting for for a year. No guests were allowed but that was one rule that didn't quite seem to be respected - my co-candidates were already being so French.
No more standing in a never-ending line at the prefecture de police. No more yearly justifications (or 10 yearly), of a relationship, taxes, proof of address and so on. I was going to be French.
I have to say that the building in which this ceremony takes place is a little sadder than I had hoped. How cool would it have been to have such a ceremony at say, Versailles or even the Hotel de Ville. At least some building that embodies the French history and culture. No, instead on the third floor of a building in rue des Ursins, in the Marianne room, 50 or so of us squeezed in and were welcomed to France and the French republic. The welcome was one of the warmest that I have ever received when dealing with anything administrative. The staff was lovely - all women and seemed just as happy if not more so than we the candidates.
First a video was shown on the values of France. Then came an explanation of what comes next - how to get a passport, a national ID card, a voters registration card and a warning on not to lose the copy of the naturalization certificate. Then came the singing of the Marseillaise (French national anthem), words to which had been conveniently posed on our chairs. Then came the calling of names. But rather than having us walk up to the podium, our mistress of ceremonies came to us, and remitted our dossiers to us and gave us a biz (the French kiss on each check), something that I have generally taken to be shared with people who knew each other. She called our names and our countries of origin. Hearing everyone's names and where they came from was when the ceremony became emotional for me. I was smiling more than I had expected and even had a small tear in my eyes. It was a good day and a start to a new chapter. And no, I have not renounced my American citizenship. I am now officially Franco-American.
The next steps will involve a bit more paperwork and of course a copy of our married decree that is less than 3 months old. Vive la France!
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