Battling for dual nationality in France
After nine years in Paris, Aoife Drew is determined not to let bureaucracy stand between her and a vote
It’s Murphy’s Law. After years of procrastinating, talking about it, telling people I would do it, imagining it, taking the slags from Irish friends who say I’m a traitor, I decided to tackle the mountain of paperwork needed to obtain French nationality, my own personal Everest. And the very week I have my official interview, Marine Le Pen announces she wants to do away with double nationality.
True, she’s not in power. Yet. Although with one in four people voting for her in the recent elections, she’s probably the most popular woman in French politics. In fairness, she’s probably not that worried about a random Irish woman staking a claim on her right to vote in France. But after all I’ve been through to get it, I’ll fight her with all my strength if she tries to take it away from me.
Why? Well, being typically Irish, I just like fighting authority. Just for the hell of it. I am not an activist, or hugely politicised. In fact, I’ve never voted, in Ireland or in France. I left Ireland when I was 25 and during the seven potential voting years prior to that I was far too busy doing things that seemed far more interesting than voting.
In fact, like most sane individuals, I am allergic to administrative procedures, in any shape or form. This may be a symptom of having fought, warrior-like, with French bureaucracy for some years now.
I have dealt with Parisian officials who wouldn’t let me put a fada on an “i” in my son’s birth cert because the fada doesn’t exist in French (they won that particular battle). I have been told by an official at my local Mairie that I could not keep my maiden name when I got married (I won, given that the year of my year of marriage was 2006, not 1946). When I was in the throes of giving birth, the midwife said she couldn’t find my details in the hospital computer system and refused to accept information from Monsieur, so during contractions I had to scream out my name and address. (Really, there are no winners in that scenario).
For this particular ordeal, I duly did my French language test (a truly dismal afternoon of listening to Junior Cert-like recordings of people ordering croissants and orange juice in French and ticking off multiple choice answers), gathered my parents’ birth certs, marriage cert, babies born in France certs, electricity bills and pay slips. The whole shebang. For my interview I even had a few bars of the Marseillaise ready.
Of course Monsieur forgot to bring any identity papers to the interview. I know, I know, it’s my own fault for not preparing everything for him. But you would think (hope) that 36 years of insider dealing with the beast that is French administration would maybe prepare a chap for that kind of situation? Nope.
Eventually, in one of his pockets he found his driver’s licence that has been through the washing machine spin many times. We were skating on thin ice. Yet amazingly, the lady dealing with my file let us off.
Yes, you read correctly. A French official let us off.
As part of the interrogation procedure, she asked if we were members of any associations. Both of us looked at each other and giggled nervously because we were inwardly dying to respond something juvenile and flippant like “Al-Qaeda” but managed to keep composure.
All this hassle just to shove a piece of paper in an urn? Why would I put myself through the pain?
Well, Irish people living abroad can’t vote. At first, I didn’t really care, but then I clocked the French reaction when I informed them of the Irish emigrant’s plight. “You mean you can’t go to the consulate and turn in a vote?” Nope. “You can’t send your vote in the mail?” Nope. “You mean you are disenfranchised?” Mais oui.
Not being able to vote kind of throws the whole egalité thing out the window, and I admit I like my egalité as much as the next woman.
I know the future of France doesn’t hang on my vote. But that’s not the point. If I can vote a big NON for Marine Le Pen, that’s good enough for me.
In one year, I will know if I’ve been let into the double nationality club and there’ll be a ceremony to which myself and Monsieur will be invited. Maybe I’ll get to use those few bars of the Marseillaise, after all.