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'I became French to avoid the airport queues'

Ben McPartland · 9 Oct 2013, 12:15

Published: 09 Oct 2013 12:15 GMT+02:00

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In 2012, 46,000 applications for French citizenship were accepted by authorities and earlier this year the country’s interior minister said he wants that number to top 100,000 in the future

Many of those who opt to obtain French nationality are Anglo expats, who for a variety of reasons, some perhaps more practical than others, decide it would be a good idea to become French.

But the journey, which can be somewhat of an emotional roller coaster, is not always easy and many end up entangled in red tape.

Here we speak to three Anglo expats in France who tell us why they gained French citizenship and whether it was worth it.

Richelle Harrison Plesse, singer and freelance journalist, originally from Australia

“The main reason why I became French was to get through the passport checks at the airport quicker. I was travelling a lot at the time and it was becoming such a pain to have to get in the line with 200 to 300 people with one guy checking passports.

"Meanwhile in the EU queue there are three or four people checking passports and everyone is whizzing through. I just thought, when the time comes that I can get a French passport, I'll get one. If French people ask me why I became French, I have no qualms about telling them it was to avoid the passport queues at airports.

'There was no champagne or nibbles. Unbelievable'

"I started putting my dossier together in May 2011. That took a long time because I had to request original documents from Australia and then have them translated into French. I couldn’t do that myself, I had to pay for an official translator. It was expensive. Something like €50 a page.

"In September 2011, I then had my "Entretien d’assimilation", which I went to with my husband. It was run by a young woman who looked a bit embarrassed to be asking me questions. I was expecting all these questions on French history, so I had done loads of revision and learned all the important dates, but it was all a waste of time.

"In the end she just asked if I had French friends, if I spoke English with my husband and how I contributed to local life and the community.

“I think I finally got the news I had been accepted in mid 2012 when I was sent a letter telling me I had to attend the ceremony. We all had to stand there and sing the national anthem and then we were presented with a certificate.

"The one disappointing thing about the whole day was that there was no champagne or nibbles. I thought, 'This is France. Of all days, today is a day where they should have champagne.' I nearly gave my passport back.

'There are things I'll never come to grips with'

"I came here without speaking the language and I learned it on my own. I have French friends and I am the kind of expat who doesn't just hang around with other Anglos. A country like France, where the food is that good, you just have to embrace it. There are things I’ll never come to grips with, but I have integrated.

“I feel a mix of Australian and French and even British, because I lived in the UK for a while. It really depends on who I'm with. It changes all the time. My French friends and family were really happy for me. They often tell me I'm more French than some French people.

“I feel like I have given a lot to this country. I work here. I pay my taxes. I think I have embraced the French way of life. It’s nice to have something official. And in terms of the passport queues, I am getting through much quicker these days.

Jennifer Greco, originally from the United States, lives in Normandy

"We were living in the Languedoc region and were having a lot of problems trying to get the Carte de Séjour renewed every year. We had to get visas, then Cartes de Sejour, and having to reapply meant the paperwork was endless and the fonctionnaires were pretty inept as well.

"When we found out that after five years we could apply for nationality and could avoid all the hassle of renewing cartes de séjour, it seemed like a very attractive idea

"When I first got the list of paperwork that we needed to get together, I looked at it and thought, 'no way.' We needed both of our parents birth certificates translated into French. Then they had to be sent back to the US to get a stamp on the piece of paper to basically say it was all formal.

"We were dealing with five different states back home in the US and I just thought, 'we are never going to be able to do this.'

“Anyway, we managed to get it together and around six months later, the police showed up at the house. We had the interview. They were very nice and just wanted to know why I wanted to be French and whether I had integrated. But then we forgot about it and later on the piece of paper came through the post.

"It’s definitely worth it. I'm really glad I did it. I felt like we had already integrated. But having French nationality definitely generated a lot more respect from my neighbours.

"It was like we were welcomed to the club. People invited us over to celebrate. The French are very proud of their country and they definitely appreciated it."

CLICK HERE for 10 reasons why you should become French

Veronica Yuill, from Britain, became French in 2002

"When we left Britain, we sold everything to move here and had no intention of ever returning to the UK, and we still don’t. Being British, we didn’t need to become French in order to live or work here, but we set up our own business in France and our life was here, so we wanted to become French.

"The whole process took about four years. We thought the local prefecture had just put our form in a drawer and forgotten about us. We had pretty much given up hope.

"But then the letter came through out of the blue. It was quite a thrill when it happened. We were delighted.

"The process isn't smooth. They said they wanted our parents’ marriage certificate and then they made a mistake in the translation, which basically made me appear illegitimate.  It was a lot of paperwork and a lot of waiting.

Story continues below…

'Our sense of humour is not just going to change with a French passport'

"Having French nationality does not stop us being British. We still have British nationality, so we didn’t have to give that up. I suppose that makes it an easier decision. I feel French up to a point.

"We live in a small village so our neighbours and clients are French but obviously we still have an attachment to Britain through friends and family and we have a British cultural background.

"There are still things that are not French about us, like our sense of humour. That’s not going to change just because we have a French passport.

"Our neighbours were quite impressed that we went to all the trouble. When people ask us where we are from we say 'France.' They look bemused and then we have to explain it.

"It's the same when British people ask us. I have never met another Brit who has done the same thing as us.

"In practice it hasn’t changed much apart from the fact we can vote in national elections. After you're here for a certain period of time you can't vote in Britain and I didn’t want to vote in a country where I don’t live anyway. It’s nice now to feel as though you can have an impact."

CLICK HERE for 10 great reasons why you should become French

For more information about how to qualify for French Citizenship, including all the documents you will need you can CLICK HERE or visit the appropriate French government website by CLICKING HERE.

Let us know your views on becoming French in the comments section below.

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Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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