How my nickname nearly cost me my French driving licence

How my nickname nearly cost me my French driving licence
Photo: AFP
You wouldn't think shortening your first name would be a big deal, but it left The Local's Europe editor Benedict McPartland (Ben to his friends) needing to visit the doctor to get a new driving licence. He explains why names are crucial in France.

I was forced to convert my British licence into French one not because of anything hideous and life-changing like Brexit but because I suddenly discovered my British one had expired (or at least the photocard licence had) when I went to pick up a hire car in Paris.

My forgetfulness ended up costing €450 because the poor British bloke who had to drive the hire car ended up crashing it into an old French couple and landing us an insurance bill.
 
 
Anyhow the main problem was that I needed to renew the licence as soon as possible as I was driving with an out of date photocard and wasn't sure of the legal consequences.
 
The DVLA, the UK body that deals with driving licence problems issued me a so-called “Certificate of Entitlement” that I printed and carried with me that showed I had a valid licence in case I was stopped by the police. 
 
I also used the certificate to hire a car abroad without any problems.
 
I thought I'd be able to just renew my UK licence online but the fact I was no longer a resident of the UK meant things were not going to be so simple. 
 
That meant delving into the world of French bureaucracy.
 
Transferring a British license to a French one would have been far easier if my British licence had not expired.
 
I had to get the certificate of entitlement translated into French which was no big deal although it did cost €52 plus an extra €15 to get it done immediately.
 
The big snag came when French bureaucrats had a breakdown over my first name because on my passport it's the full name Benedict but on my old driving licence it just said Ben.
 
In France, as I was told sternly at the préfecture de police, they don't shorten names on anything official.
 
So they rejected my application and told me I needed to prove that Ben and Benedict were the same person. They told me to contact the British embassy to get a letter stating I was who I said I was, but they were unable to help.
 
So I had to dig out any kind of document I had to prove my identity.
 
Luckily I had a few documents including a French work contract and payslip, a letter from the Pôle Emploi as well as a tax certificate from the UK that all used my name as Ben.
 
I sent them everything I had including a “certificate of honour” declaring that I swore on my heart that I am both Benedict and Ben McPartland.
 
It seemed to do the trick. Although I wasn't quite there yet. Even though the authorities now accepted who I was they didn't quite accept I was fit to drive. Because my photocard licence had expired they wanted me to visit a doctor to be given the all clear that I was in good enough health to get behind the wheel.
 
So, I had to make an appointment with a doctor whose name was on a list given to me by the prefecture. After my blood pressure was taken, my heart monitored, my eyes tested I was given the all clear by the medic.
 
Around a month later I was finally able to return to the prefecture to pick up my new French driving licence in the name of Benedict McPartland, of course. I also had to hand over my old British photocard licence.
 
But it felt good.

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