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What I can tell you about interview to gain French citizenship

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What I can tell you about interview to gain French citizenship
Photo: AFP
13:44 CET+01:00
Briton Joanna York has just had her crucial interview as she undergoes the lengthy and paperwork heavy process of gaining French citizenship. Here she sheds some light on the experience in the hope it may help the many Britons who are also on the road to becoming French.
It took me by surprise when an unassuming letter from the Préfecture de Police arrived in my letterbox.
 
I had sent in my application for French nationality about 9 months earlier and, on the advice of friends who had been through the process already, didn't expect to hear anything back for at least another three months.
 
So I eyed this correspondence with some apprehension, wondering what challenges would lay inside.
 
It was, of course, more paperwork. As if the thick dossier I had already supplied wasn't enough, there was now another A4 page-long list of documents required and I had only a month to gather them before taking them in person to la Préfecture de Police.
 
With memories of how arduous it was collecting the documents for the initial dossier still fresh in my mind, I set about this new administrative challenge straight away and began contacting various organisations, hoping they would send me the new documents I needed in time.
 
 
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And the letter collected dust on a shelf until the Sunday evening before my meeting when I decided to take a look at the papers I'd amassed so far. As I prepared to read through the document list with a fine tooth-comb, a little word in the first line of the letter caught my eye.
 
Entretien. Interview.
 
Odd, I thought, and I carried on checking through my documents.
 
But on my way to work the next morning this word was still playing on my mind. It couldn't be the interview, could it? Not the one where they test your knowledge of French history and make you sing La Marseillaise? Surely they would draw more attention to such an important step in the process?
 
I started Googling the words to the national anthem on the Metro, just in case. But by the time I got to work the nagging thought was turning into to disbelief as I got text messages from friends who had been through the same process confirming exactly what I didn't want to hear.
 
 
Make sure you know about current events, they advised. And historical events. And the main politicians. And famous French people. And some geography.
 
As the list of things I needed to know about France piled up I realised my plans for a Monday night with Netflix and a Shepherd's Pie were well and truly scuppered.
 
I rushed home from work that evening making an overwhelming mental list of all the things I didn't know about France. It was only when I re-read my letter that I saw, in tiny writing right at the bottom, official advice to look through the citizen's handbook, le livret du citoyen, which gives an overview of France's history, culture and society.
 
With 15 hours until my interview began, some of which I hoped to spend sleeping, I threw my hopes behind the handbook and started cramming.
 
The next morning after panicking over what to wear, how to get to the interview and whether I should have tried to memorise the entire Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen, I arrived at the prefecture with 5 minutes to spare – just enough time to pass my bag through the security scanner and join the queue at the main desk in the Bureau de Naturalisations.
 
 
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After about 15 minutes in a packed waiting room my name was called and, dossier in hand, I followed my interviewer into a large office full of cubicles and desks.
 
As we sat down at hers, she advised me to take my coat off. “We'll be here for at least 45 minutes” she said.
 
She pulled a bright yellow folder, stamped with my name and stuffed with a wodge of documents, down off a shelf and started flicking through it, adding new pages from the paperwork I had brought with me.
 
I took extra documents specific to my situation.
 
One was a translated confirmation of presence on my university course to prove that I wasn't just planning to live off unemployment benefit and the other was déclarations de concubinage, one from me and my partner.
 
They had requested a photocopy of my partner's ID and/or tax returns and pay slips for my 'concubin'.
 
Then when she had confirmed everything was in order, the questions began.
 
We covered the meaning of liberté, égalité and fraternité, key dates and events in history, France's role in Europe, the French voting system, French geography and my own experiences of travelling around France.
 
A lot of the interviewers looked surprisingly smiley and friendly which made me feel a bit more relaxed when I got there. Mine was a bit stern, but not unfriendly. She didn't ask anything about Brexit. She just asked if I saw my future in France and why I wanted French nationality. I said I was applying for nationality because I wanted to live in France as a full citizen with the power to participate in society.
 
While I was there the interviewer told me she needed some more tax information that wasn't on the list, and she asked me to email it to her later in the day. The feeling I got was that she was trying to help me complete my dossier, rather than trying to catch me out.
 
Here's exactly what they asked:
 
What are the values of the French Republic?
 
How is liberty exercised in everyday life in France?
 
How is equality exercised in everyday life in France?
 
Can you define the concept of secularism in France?
 
Do you agree with secularism?
 
What does the national holiday on the 14th July commemorate?
 
When did the French Revolution happen?
 
Who was the king at the time?
 
Which republic are we in now?
 
Who was the first president of this republic?
 
How long is a presidential term in France?
 
How does voting work in France?
 
Why is the 11th November a national holiday?
 
When did the First World War begin and end?
 
How many countries are in the European Union?
 
Was France one of the founding countries?
 
Have you visited many places in France?
 
Which famous French sites have you seen?
 
Can you name some of France's major rivers?
 
 
That might sound like a lot, but it only took about 20 minutes and, thankfully, she didn't ask anything that couldn't be found in the livret du citoyen.
 
And, even more thankfully, I didn't have to do a solo performance of La Marseillaise.
 
With that, she closed my dossier, walked me to the door, and told me that I'd receive a final decision by post sometime in 2019.
 
And then, one hour after I'd gone in, I was back outside on a wintery Paris morning feeling shocked that the entire process was over a whole three months earlier than I had expected.
 
All that was left to do now was keep my eyes open for another letter. I've been told I should hear back from them in 6 months.
 
 
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