Applying for French nationality is a long and stressful process and nothing strikes fear into the hearts of applicants like the prospect of an interview at the prefecture.
Even if you feel perfectly assimilated in France, proving it is another matter.
Readers’ experiences of this differ greatly, depending on the person doing the interview.
We look at two of the most common reasons for applying: naturalisation after living in France for five years (two if you have spent two years at a French university), and marriage to a French citizen.
Expect questions about your life and habits in France.
Several readers report being asked about work and retirement, home ownership, how often they return to their home country, whether they mostly spend time with French people, and whether they belong to any associations.
“She asked if we had assets in the UK,” said Claire Ferrant, 48, who moved to France in 2003.
“She seemed more concerned about UK property. When I said that we didn’t have property but I had UK savings, she didn’t seem interested.
“She asked if I was religious, which took me aback a bit.”
Questions that require more revision
Applicants are invited to study the livret du citoyen, a 25-page booklet covering key aspects of France’s values, history, geography and political system.
Answers to many of the questions you will be asked are found here, or in the charte des droits et devoirs du citoyen français (charter of rights and responsibilities of the French citizen) which you will have to sign at the end of the interview.
Common questions include:
Geography: name French cities, rivers, departments or bordering countries
Culture and society: what are France’s motto and symbols, what is laïcité and when was it introduced; name some French writers
History: name French kings and presidents; give the dates of the French Revolution and the world wars
Some grillings are more comprehensive than others
Cuban-American digital marketing entrepreneur and filmmaker Meagan Adele Lopez was asked to name living French writers, actors and singers, as well as French painters.
“Even my own lawyers were surprised by the amount of questions I was asked on culture,” she said.
“I think it was maybe because I am trying to make a career in filmmaking and marketing here that she wanted to see if I was integrated in that way.”
Ms Lopez, 40, who moved to Paris in 2015, was also asked to name all the French presidents (others were asked for three, or the first president of the Fifth Republic), and at least three current ministers.
Ms Ferrant was asked to name three French writers and a book by each of them.
You might also be asked follow-up questions on any of the topics – whether Napoleon was a king, for example.
Meg Fenn, 79, who moved to Tarn from the UK in 2001, said: “Questions included ‘What colours make up the French national flag?’.
“Easy, but I couldn’t remember which one is next to the flagpole, which was the next question.”
She says she made an appointment to hand in her dossier at the prefecture, and was surprised to be taken for an interview immediately.
“Because I hadn’t expected the interview then, I hadn’t mugged up on the booklet on French culture and history,” she said, but this did not prevent her from being successful.
This is no longer a risk, as all applications must now go through the online NATALI service.
Now only the interview will take place in person.
2. Citizenship through marriage
If you are applying to become French by virtue of being married to a French citizen, assessors will still want to check you are assimilated in the country, but they are likely to focus on personal questions.
Contrary to naturalisation ‘by decree’ as detailed above, the government website does not state that applicants should study the livret du citoyen.
You will be summoned to an interview with your spouse, and the idea is to prove that, as well as being integrated, you are in a genuine marriage.
“The questioning concentrated on how well I had adapted to life in France and specifically how well I had integrated into French society,” said one reader, who preferred to remain anonymous.
He applied in December 2018 and had an interview in Montpellier six months later.
“The interviewer was satisfied with answers concerning membership of local and national organisations and support of French charities.
“My wife was sent out of the room and I was asked a series of questions aimed at proving the genuineness of our marriage.
“For example, details about my wife’s family which a strawman husband would be unlikely to know.
“The process was then reversed. I was sent out and my wife was asked questions about my family.”