After more than 11 months since filing our applications for French citizenship, three envelopes from the French Interior Ministry showed up in our mailbox this past Monday, November 2nd. As I grabbed them, I honestly steeled myself for a negative response. Instead, I read only the first line of my letter: J'ai le plaisir de vous faire savoir que vous êtes Française depuis le 22 octobre 2009, and despite thick stone walls and very poor acoustics, Mr Mo heard my whoops and hollers. (He figured out what was causing such unusual behavior even before I ran upstairs with our letters in hand.)
We apparently had been French citizens for 10 days without even knowing it.
We had filled out forms and filed so many papers and documents (it took months to complete our application file) that it would not have surprised me in the slightest to find out that our petition had been rejected just on technical grounds. (For example, the naturalization lady at our departmental seat noticed that I had not gotten my parents' nor my in-laws' marriage and birth certificates officially translated; while she thought that wouldn't matter, she certainly couldn't guarantee anything... but accepted the application anyway. At 50 euros per document, however, we'd already spent a small fortune on our getting our own translations of birth certificates, marriage certificate, the requisite apostilles — certificates from issuing U.S. states that the birth and marriage certificates genuine copies of documents that actually exist... hm, maybe that's what President Obama needs— an apostille from Hawaii? — but I digress.)
It will take roughly six months before we three— Mr Mo, Youngest, and I —receive all of the official papers: French birth certificates (really!), identity papers, a livret de famille—a sort of family-based overarching identity notebook, I assume. Our older two Stateside children are very jealous, and it honestly pains me that they cannot be accorded citizenship at this time. How I wish all 5 of us could be French citizens, rather than just 3 out of the 5 of us! (Especially since that would likely mean that we'd all be living on the same continent.) Our being citizens, however, enables us to apply for a "regroupement familial," should either or both decide to relocate to France (alas, unlikely anytime in the near future, as far as I can tell), and that would make residency and work permits possible. They would still be obligated to live here for 5 years before they could apply for citizenship.
We were not obligated to, nor did we give up our American citizenship. (And had it been an obligation, we would not have applied; many European nations do require making that choice.) To lose our American citizenship, we would have had to go before a U.S. consul and formally renounce it. Or become citizens of a nation engaged in open hostilities with the U.S. (dismay over "freedom fries" does not count). And even had we renounced our citizenship, we would still be obliged to file a U.S. tax returns for years to come.
Dual nationality (with the added bonus of EU citizenship) opens up a number of doors for us that simple legal residency could not do. For example, should Stateside family needs require it, I could go for an extended stay. Up until now, I was obligated to spend a minimum of six months + 1 day per year on French soil to meet the residency requirements.
We can also legally work anywhere in the EU (as in being hired as regular employees; we could already work as consultants, paying for our own social charges and benefits). Youngest can attend any EU university that will accept her. We can vote in elections. (And after years of "taxation without representation" —the lot of expats everywhere who are not under U.S. contracts—this has taken on more importance to me than I thought it would.)
But with the privileges of citizenship come obligations and responsibilities. Among the papers we will ultimately receive, in addition to a letter from "monsieur le Président de la République," is a booklet about the rights and responsibilities of French citizenship, which I intend to study thoroughly. There are issues I care deeply about and want to work to fix, now that I have the right (the obligation!) to speak out: the ghastly "Hadopi" three-strikes copyright infringement law, for example; (lack of) gay rights in France is another. And France lags behind many other EU countries in terms of women in government. (No, I do not have any personal political ambitions, merci quand même, but working to combat the still too-prevalent chauvinism seems like another worthy goal.)
Having glimpsed a bit of the unseemly underbelly of partisan politics even here in our tiny village, I will take my time to decide which party and candidates I will support. I am, however, looking forward to voting in my first national election in the not-too-distant future.
Yesterday our village held its monthly luncheon at one of the local restaurants that will close for winter in a few weeks. (The dish served to all was aioli, and while delicious, made for a garlicky and none-too-restful night, let me tell you.) Before the food was served, I was asked to stand and was congratulated for becoming a French citizen. (Mr Mo is at a conference in the U.S., and Youngest is ostensibly studying in Aix-en-Provence this weekend.) Then we all sang La Marseillaise... well. I know the chorus, of course, but I was teased that my singing of the verse resembled former president Jacque Chirac's blah-blah stumbling.
So last night I did what I should have done before going to lunch yesterday: I learned the (first) verse — thoroughly:
Allons, enfants de la Patrie! Le jour de gloire est arrivé:
Contre nous de la tyrannie l'étendard sanglant est levé!
(L'étendard sanglant est levé!)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras, égorgir vos fils, vos compagnes!
Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons!
Marchons, marchons, qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons!
...And if you think the Star-Spangled Banner is too warlike, it's got absolutely nothing on La Marseillaise (my translation, not word-for-word):
Let's go, children of the fatherland! The day of glory has arrived:
The bloody banner of tyranny is raised against us!
(The bloody banner is raised!)
Do you hear the roar of the ferocious soldiers in the fields?
They are coming right into your arms to slit the throats of your sons and your wives!
To arms, citizens! Form your batallions!
Let's march, let's march — so that the impure blood [of our foes] stains our fields.
Some of the other six or seven verses are even more graphic. Fortunately, nobody knows them, or at least never sings them, kind of like the other three verses of our national anthem (although I am proud to say that do know the fourth verse thereof).
As I was learning the verse to La Marseillaise and inwardly recoiling at the words, I looked up the history behind it and reflected upon how many times France has been invaded: this call to arms was not some symbolic pseudo-patriotic cant, it was based on a real need to defend one's home and family from destruction and brutal oppression. Call me weepy and sentimental, but now, knowing this history, I choke up at the chorus, just as I choke up singing the Star-Spangled Banner (fourth verse especially!) and even more when I sing America the Beautiful (which would be my choice for national anthem).
Well. I should be working (never-ending and always-looming deadlines these days), and this diary has gotten too long as it is.
I am happy that we have been granted French citizenship. Our Stateside children, jealous though they be, have expressed relief: we are no longer in danger of finding ourselves "invited" at the end of a finite residency period to leave this country that we have grown to love. We will continue to pay our French taxes and charges and to benefit from the excellent health care here, even as we try to help America finally get its act together and catch up to the rest of the civilized world in this regard.
To end: sometime in 2002 or so, about a year after our arrival in France, I happened to be driving on the beltway in the greater Grenoble area, and saw this sign: Vous êtes sur la Rocade Sud ("you are on the southern beltway"). And for some reason, the message on that sign spoke to me forcefully enough to bring tears to my eyes: "I— yes, I am on the Rocade Sud." I was actually there, in France, part of France. It was an overwhelming feeling. That's how I feel now, as I write these words—I am now both a French citizen and an American citizen.