On June 16, 2016 I became French. Getting French citizenship was the “easy” part, staying in France was the real challenge. The most exciting part is that I never have to go to the Prefecture [above] to renew my paperwork as a foreigner again, otherwise what was known as “my least favorite day of the year”.
I was reading expat expert Jean Jaquet‘s latest newsletter, and there was a section about living in France by starting a small business. In his words: “Clearly, one needs cold blood and iron nerves to choose this solution, as it makes impossible to comply with the requirements of the prefecture, but it can be done.” I can confirm, this is a true statement. Living in France as an expat is ripe with catch-22s. Rules have changed since I went through the gauntlet, and I’ll openly admit if I knew what I knew now, I probably wouldn’t be here. The first years after grad school my seasoned professors would see me, and say “Anne, how are you still here!?!” with genuine awe. Most of my friends have managed to stay, stayed by getting sponsored by a company (only an option for higher level positions), or getting PACSed (civil marriage) or married—both which involve their own rounds of paperwork.
I never moved to France with rose colored glasses, I knew there would be hurdles, but knowing that I stayed here on my own, by starting my own business (a path I never imagined for myself, but can’t imagine any other way), it’s even more rewarding knowing not only did I become French, I did it the extra hard way.
(Read my French Bureaucracy, Explained post for a better appreciation of the challenges and limitations of living in France. Skip to the bottom of the post for naturalisation/citizenship specifics.)
Jump to the bottom for more citizenship specifics!
Nine years ago today I started this blog on 14 Juillet—Bastille Day. Four weeks ago today I became French.
It was a day like any other. I waited in line to get in the doors, then waited in another line once inside, then waited for the ceremony to start. But on this day, Meg was with me, and I was officially becoming French. I technically have been French since April, according to letter with a xeroxed stamp making it official, but refused to believe it until the ceremony where I received my official documents and got to sing the Marseillaise. That day individuals from 32 different countries became French.
In honor of the occasion I wore two of my favorite French designers. The dress by Papier Tigre is only available in Tokyo, and the pin by Macon & Lesquoy was a collaboration between Macon & Lesquoy and Papier Tigre. Two hearts for my two countries, which conveniently are the same colors seemed quite fitting for the day.
Later that night Meg surprised me with a cliché French celebration with my friends in Paris at the Amélie cafe (Les 2 Moulins). It was easy to spot the group as we were all wearing stripes and berets, which was extra entertaining for my friends who are actually French. Fun fact: besides being my favorite movie, Amélie happened to come out in 2001, the same year I studied abroad in Paris for the first time. It was the perfect setting to catch up with friends and celebrate my newfound Frenchness! And to top it off, at the end of the night two random tourists who didn’t speak English came up to me and asked if they could take a picture with me in front of the Amélie poster—because I looked like her! It was awesome, and we all had a good laugh.
What’s changed since then? I now have two passports, two birth certificates, I’ll be able to vote in the next election, I have full working rights (on my prior status I had the right to work in France, but was not allowed to hold a salaried position/contract), I’ll be able to work/live anywhere in the EU, and I’ll save a bajillion hours of my life every year because I no longer have to renew my paperwork every year.
A huge thank you to Meg (aka De Quelle Planete Es-Tu?) for being such an amazing friend and support, and for the amazing documentation of the day! If there’s one thing true about bureaucracy, it’s that it brings people together. I never could have navigated this alone.
Ironically, I’m not sure that I’d be where I am today if it weren’t for my blog. Stay tuned for the long version of how I became French… UPDATE: Here’s how I became French.