I had never desired to become French.
I had been living here for 10 years, but having two nationalities (Australian from my place of birth and British thanks to my Welsh father) seemed like enough.
- Quiz: Do you know France well enough to become French?
- What I can tell you about the interview to become a french citizen
In a country so foreign to my native Australia, where it’s frowned upon to smile at work, and you can bathe topless but not run topless, being one of the locals seemed like too much hard work.
But then the Brexit vote happened.
And one of (the many) unintended consequences of the Great 2016 Foot-Shooting across the Channel in the UK was that I was forced to seriously consider my life choices. If my father’s land couldn’t guarantee my European rights, I must find somewhere that could.
So France it was. Despite my shared fears about the paperwork, costs and time involved, applying to become a citizen was relatively straightforward.
New citizen Sam Davies with his certificate of naturalisation
I applied in May 2017, nearly bankrupting my company with photocopying and printing costs for the dossier of documents I needed to supply.
My application was processed and a year later I was invited to the infamous assimilation quiz at the Prefecture.
Despite the horror stories I have heard – people being asked to name five presidents, the year of women’s suffrage, and a cheese for every day of the year – the only question asked was the one I had not prepared: “Why do you want to become French?”
I reeled off a litany of dubious excuses: Australia’s historic war-time bond to France, my passion for French Literature (I thought Les Mis was penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber), and my love for local wine – AKA binge-drinking – before revealing what we both already knew: “Actually, because of Brexit.”
(The three years since 2015 have seen a tenfold hike in applications from Brits for French citizenship.)
Eventually though, my application made it to the surface from the bottom of a very high pile, and my name was announced in an official decree as someone who had become a French citizen.
The final step was a ceremony to receive documents including a new birth certificate: after almost two years’ wait – and 12 years since I moved to France – I was to be officially born again.
On the morning of the ceremony, I awoke feeling different.
Reading the news I was overcome with the most wonderful sensation: I suddenly no longer gave the faintest toss about Brexit.
As a Frenchman, I would be ring-fenced from the fallout of any future folly, and safe to live, love and leave Europe of my own volition.
Another benefit soon hit me, and I mean literally, when an electric scooter rear-ended my bike, evoking from me a tirade about French people’s driving skills.
Now being French, I was free to insult my fellow people with impunity. After all, it’s not xenophobic if you’re disparaging your own ilk, right?
I arrived in good time for the 3pm ceremony at the prefecture on Ile de la Cité to find that an orderly line was already forming – these aspiring citizens were still obviously not appraised of the local customs with regards to queueing.
We were about 70 to be welcomed that day, and were soon ushered inside, upstairs and into the Marianne room, dedicated to citizenship ceremonies.
I’d imagined a majestic hall befitting the country that gave us the Palace of Versailles.
The reality was a perfunctory room of green plastic chairs, looked down upon not by a portrait of the Sun King but the Jupiter President.
Once all were seated, staff handed out folders containing the essential papers we’d need to start our nouvelles vies, then played a short video about France’s culture that extolled such virtues as the right to assemble (which in the light of gilet jaune might require a re-edit).
The ceremony wrapped up within a crisp 45 minutes with an invitation to sing the Marseillaise.
“The lyrics are included in your folders,” the staff reassured us. “Don’t worry, we won’t cancel your citizenship if you don’t know the words.”