My husband and I, even when we first met more than 30 years ago, both said how we loved France and would like one day to live there. Dreams, perhaps, but it was always there at the back of our minds.
In the 1990s, our successful entertainment and corporate hospitality company was suffering from the recession and we called it a day and moved to the south coast with our then seven-year-old daughter.
We set up and ran a local freesheet paper and renovated a 250-year-old house. A steep learning curve on both the computer and the renovation front. All the time we were renovating, we talked about moving to France, but how?
We realised that our daughter would soon be too old to make the move. So we put the house on the market and a year later (1999) arrived in Brittany for good. We rented for six months while looking for property and wondering what to do with ourselves. Our daughter settled to life year so quickly that, when she had her 12th birthday party only four months later, she was talking to her friends in fluent French.
Ours had progressed little and we were finding it frustrating, learning as much as we could at home but having little opportunity to use it. The one thing we missed most was going to the pub and mixing with people; we had tried the local bar, but there were only a few farm workers.
So my husband suggested opening a pub, so that we could learn French from the customers. I jumped at the chance and found a rundown bar in a small village on the river Blavet. We opened as an English pub, because we didn’t feel confident enough to try to run it like a French bar, and any differences or mistakes would be accepted as “Bof, les Anglaises!”
We enjoyed our time there, but the main motive of running it hadn’t happened. We weren’t learning French; all our French customers came in to practise their English and 80 per cent of our customers were English: we hadn’t realised how many English lived in the area.
Running a pub is hard work, as anyone who has done it knows, and we eventually decided to sell and give ourselves a rest (in the time we were there, we had installed a new fosse septique, a new kitchen, central heating and a wood-burning stove, to say nothing of extensive decorating throughout the property and taming the 3,000 square metres of wild bramble and gorse that was our garden.
All this while selling bread early in the morning to being up until late at night running the bar. Since selling the bar, my husband is retired, but I now work, providing dinners and buffets for holiday makers at quality gites in the local area.
We have lived in France for 11 years now, and have no intention of returning to England. In fact, we’ve been back only once, seven years ago, for a four-day break to where we used to live. We enjoyed going back to our local pub, being treated like long-lost friends by people we’ll never see again. But our home is in France and we want to be as much a part of it as we can. And for that reason, and others, we want to become French citizens.
When we first arrived, we applied for our carte de séjour, which served as proof of identity when we didn’t use our passports. However, the carte de séjour no longer exists for EU citizens, and now our passports are out of date.
As we have no need of them, we haven’t renewed them. So we find ourselves without valid ID papers. My husband does have a French driving licence, which is OK for a cheque, but no official papers.
I have nothing and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to cope with the usual amount of red tape that is simple if you have a valid ID card. Our daughter, who is now grown-up and living in Nantes, also has an invalid passport and during periods of unemployment (not many) she is unable to claim benefit because the old passport is not valid and her French driving licence is not accepted.
We all want to be accepted here and not be the odd ones out, so we are all going to apply for dual French/ English nationality. Why dual identity? Well, we are not French and never can be; even with our daughter’s perfect accent and
language, there will always be things about us that are not French.
Being tall and fair, I’ve been asked many times if I’m English, Dutch, German or Scandinavian. And with dual nationality, any little faux pas can be attributed to being English. I also think some French people would think it would be cheek to just take their nationality, but I think they might respect our decision to want to be a partly French citizen.
It will be interesting to see what happens to our applications over the next 18 months to two years (which is how long they will take), also to see who obtains it first. In theory, it should be our daughter, because she was brought up
here. But one has to apply to the local prefecture, so there may be difference in timing between Vannes and Nantes.
It’s going to be very exciting and very frustrating, but we have become inured in sundry dealings with officialdom to being told to come back with more bits of paper. The only part I worry about is the interview to see if our French is