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Should I adopt a French name?

Connexion reader Sally Hales comes face to face with the amount of paperwork she will have to furnish

1 April 2011

Well, I caused a few comments when I attended a drinks party after my article in the January issue of The Connexion. I was immediately told that I needed a valid passport on me at all times, especially if I was stopped by the police. I thought a driving licence was enough and it hadn’t been a problem when I was last stopped, a few years ago. Also last summer I gained the first speeding ticket in my life, which I only discovered two weeks later when it arrived in the post.

I paid it straight away at the Trésor and then sent the form off with a copy of my UK driving licence. I was also told by a partygoer that, without a valid passport, I wouldn’t be allowed back into the UK. My reply to that was, “I don’t want to go there”.

My trip to the prefecture was painless enough: I asked for a French driving licence and to become French. I was duly given a ticket to see someone for the permis de conduire, then told to return to the desk for a ticket to see someone about the demande de naturalisation.

Getting the permis was a piece of cake: just fill in the form and return it. But the French nationality became more complicated by the second. I made a mistake of asking to be “dual” nationality and the charming lady told me that she could only make me French. Seeing my puzzled look, she explained that she is in France and has no jurisdiction on anything to do with the UK and that, were I to become French, I would remain British, too, a fact that was picked up by another Connexion reader in her letter in the March issue.

I also read the response about getting a carte de séjour, in which a reader said he had obtained one from the police station, which according to the lady at the prefecture is not available to EU citizens. She was adamant that I could not have or apply for one. She was also willing to accept my out-of-date passport for the application, but later told me that I could not live in France without a valid passport until I was French.

Feeling rather foolish and confused, I then asked what was required and we went through an endless number of certificates and justificates that must be produced not only in English, but translated into French by an approved translator.

The bright side was that copies of your parents’ birth and/or death certificates were accepted, but the rest had to be original copies from the General Register Office (GRO) in the UK. Then not only did we need proof of my husband’s previous divorce, but also that of the original marriage. Some 30 years down the line, we have neither.

Then, because I was adopted as a child, while I have my adoption certificate, I am also required to have the certificate of the judgment that decreed I could be adopted in the first place. So far that’s seven or eight certificates I need from the GRO. Luckily because we have been here for more than 10 years, we don’t need to apply for a casier judiciare étranger, which is basically to establish that we’re not criminals of any sort. Strangely enough, refugees don’t have to provide this, either.

The administrator handed over the three applications and pointed out that, when everything had been filled in and all the documents found, then we must make an appointment with her and hand over €55 each, for them to “look at” the dossier. Of course, our daughter must take hers to her local prefecture in Nantes.

On returning home, I went through the papers. It seems as if there is a global application form for wherever you come from; parts of it don’t relate to EU residents at all. Moreover, when applying for French nationality, you can also take the opportunity to have francisation du prénom or francisation du nom, which means you can change your name to almost anything you like. If your name is Alan, then you can become Alain, or Maria becomes Marie. My own name, Sally, translates as “dirty” or “salty”, depending on how it is pronounced.

My husband could change John to Jean and our daughter might find this tempting: during her time in school when they read the register with the surname first and without pronouncing the “H”s her name translated to “comfortable in bed”.

I can see that, for some people, it might be a good idea, but I’m going to stick with my own name, even though it’s not the one I was born with. Or should I use Susan, my
birth name, and then become Suzanne? Actually at this point I think the French would get very confused, almost as confused as I am trying to fill out the forms. I think I understand everything, but before I submit them I’m going to have to ask someone French to check them out, although it’s so complicated the chances are they won’t know, either.

Then we come to the traduction. I was given a name and number of someone who was authorised to produce said translations, and duly telephoned her. She was very friendly and assured me it would be no problem and we chatted about this and that. Then I asked how much it would cost. She cheerfully responded that each certificate would cost €30. I was horrified: I need 11 translations. She told me people had said that she was the cheapest they had found.

So far it is going to cost about €800 even to apply, let alone become French, as there are all sorts of other criteria involved, such as income and our means to live in France, which we have been doing for nearly 12 years. Let alone the dreaded chat with the prefecture about our knowledge of all things French. We have a long way to go. I returned to Vannes to collect my driving licence. I took my invalid passport, birth certificate and proof of domicile just in case: she copied all of them and took my English driving licence.

Well, that’s one step forward. I’ve received my French driving licence only six days after I applied and, even better, it didn’t cost a euro. So now I have a valid form of identity, although looking at the photo on it, I don’t think they’ll believe it’s me.

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