Citizens of nowhere

Today I took the first step towards obtaining French nationality: I registered and paid for an officially-approved French-language test. Youppppppeeeeeeeeeeeee….

… or not. I am told that it could take quatre mois for my exam date to come through and only once I have sat the test and waited for the results (assuming that I am successful) can I register for a rendez-vous at my local PIMMS (if you think this sounds like a refreshing alcoholic beverage you could not be further from the truth). The wait for such an appointment currently stands at neuf mois. From the day on which I attend the RDV (calculators at the ready, this still potentially 13 months away) and on condition that my dossier is in order—with some documents in triplicate, others singular, some original, others in photocopy, some in colour, others en noir-et-blanc, some stapled, and others not—the remainder of the process will take at least two further years.

France is, of course, not alone in making naturalisation difficile. There are also perfectly good arguments for any country to challenge would-be citizens to jump through a series of hoops before clasping them into one’s bosom. Nonetheless, I find myself prey to a lingering suspicion that the trial by bureaucracy for which I have just enrolled is as much about the French love affair with paper as it is about immigration policy.

The children are not yet home from school, and already today I have accumulated three examples that tend to confirm my suspicion:

Case-in-point 1

Having reached the ripe old age of 10, The Reader will be progressing from école primaire to collège next year. Although she will remain in the same establishment, a dossier d’inscription is required to make this happen (I am still feeling fortunate that we have got this far. The fiche de préférences on which we were required to provide the name of her chosen school was so impenetrable that we had to ask French friends for help: they in turn confided that they had rung up the maître de classe for advice).

Filling out the dossier went as it usually does. With a healthy dose of good cheer and determination, I set about noting The Reader’s nom, prénom, date de naissance, contact details, and other little nuggets of information in all of the several locations where each one was required. After about 45 minutes of this, in the middle of the fiche sanitaire, I became really quite bad-tempered and handed the whole thing over to Eadred, who dutifully continued filling out our GP’s car registration number and our neighbour’s grandma’s star sign, and scanning in copies of my grade 1 piano certificate.

An officious note accompanying said dossier informed me that I was reminded (I had never been informed) that it was to be delivered, in person, to the secretariat de collège, who would be awaiting my arrival in a certain room on 25 June. I duly rendered myself to the appointed place at the beginning of the day, only to be presented with a lengthy queue (a loose term because there is no English word that adequately describes a turbulent mass of people who may or may not have been waiting their turn) of morose-looking parents, all nervously checking their dossiers (rappelez-vous que tout dossier incomplet sera rejeté !).

The queue

Fortunately, The Reader’s dossier passed muster, and I was away after a mere 90 minutes, wondering to myself how much France’s national productivity dips on collège inscription days.

Case-in-point 2

My spirits were momentarily lifted upon my return home by the appearance of an envelope bearing the inscription améli. You may recall that my social security regime had inexplicably been changed without my consent, and I had been attempting to get the error reversed (which would take au moins dix semaines, madame). Malheureusement, I had aggravated my plight by subsequently losing my carte vitale. This meant that, when I received the letter informing me that my correct social security status had been restored, I could not simply take my carte vitale to the pharmacie to have its details updated. I would, instead, have to register online, via, for a new card.

With this advice ringing in my ears, and naïvely hopeful of a swift resolution, I had hastened to, and put in my login details. There I encountered the next hurdle: when I had been deregistered from the main social security regime, my ameli account had been closed. It would be necessary, therefore, to re-register. C’était un petit peu sciant mais, quand même… I gritted my teeth and went through the registration process. After giving the site a potted history of my entire life, I finally reached the confirmation page, and (drum roll) I was shown a notice that told me that, in order to confirm my account, a letter would be sent to me, by post, within two weeks. Upon receipt of said missive, I would have ten days in which to enter the code contained therein into the website, validating my account, and enabling me to order my new carte vitale.

Now perhaps you can understand why the ameli envelope caused me to fall into such raptures. With trembling digits, I went to the site and entered the code, and was finally – ah the relief – allowed to create a login. From there, and after sending and receiving a confirmation e-mail, and clicking on the link it contained, I navigated to the menu, where I pressed  the button entitled commande une carte vitale. The computer buffered… My heart beat faster and faster…

… and non. My dossier is currently subject to étude, and I am advised to log back on in about two weeks, when it may be possible to order a new carte vitale. In the meantime I will try not to develop an ingrowing toenail or any other semi-fatal disorder.

Case-in-point 3

This blog post is nearly as long as The Reader’s dossier de collège, so I will be brief. Even after the antics described above, this lunchtime I was foolishly taken in by an advert telling me that I could register online for a holiday activity for the kids. I went to the site in question, filled out pages and pages of information and paid actual money only to receive an instruction to print out the whole caboodle, along with proof of payment, and take it, in person, to the centre d’activités in order to activer l’inscription.


Remind me why I was so keen to obtain citizenship of this Kafka-esque country?