When you live in this country, rants are commonplace. Why? Because a segment of the French population is intolerable, and that’s the truth. It’s almost as if they go out of their way to make your life miserable. For those of us who have been living in France a long time, we know why the gilet jaune (yellow jacket) movement gained momentum last year. We know why schoolteachers were on strike this week along with policemen and women, SNCF (train employees), retirees and countless other unions, employees and citizens. We know why there is so much anger. In a word? Contempt. Le mépris. To be treated disrespectfully and with an attitude of disdain by officials, civil servants, bosses, employers: anyone with power over you.
So where do I start? With the rant or the bread? The bread, I guess. I’m making a loaf or two this weekend. Here’s an old post I’m reposting:
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to put all the troubles of the world aside and bake some bread: dense, delicious, high-fibre rye bread. I saw the above photo, and decided it was something I kneaded (pardon the pun) to do. Not just to eat, but to make. There’s something very satisfying about making bread: mixing, kneading, letting it rise then punching it down and letting it rise a second time.
Making your own bread isn’t that difficult. Thanks to Paul Hollywood’s recipes below, he’s made it user friendly. It’s important to buy good quality organic flour, not the industrial stuff. This recipe calls for rye flour and white flour. It also calls for treacle. Treacle! I don’t even know how to say that in French. (Just looked it up, it’s mélasse, as in molasses.) Is treacle and molasses the same thing?
Anyway, sometimes it’s time to turn off the toxic news, listen to some music or a good podcast, and bake some bread. When the going gets tough, bake bread!
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I applied for French citizenship (Brexit made me do it.) I started the long, heavy and costly administrative process a year ago. Last week I believed I had reached the end of the process. I believed that it would conclude in a positive outcome. Wrong!
2nd addendum: Brexit was scuppered in British Parliament on Saturday October 19, it may never go through. Which means that all my efforts to obtain French citizenship will have been unnecessary.
Last week I had my interview at the Prefecture de Police. This is the final step before they send your dossier to the Ministry of the Interior (or the Prefet, who knows where they send it) for the final decision. In a small, airless booth at 9:30 in the morning, two women bombarded me with questions for 45 minutes, but I was totally prepared. Weeks before, I had studied up. You can find a sampling of some of the questions on the internet. I did my homework, searched for the answers, created a PowerPoint presentation for myself with “flash cards” and memorized the answers. It seemed that they asked me every single question I had prepared for:
- name the five major rivers of France
- name all the presidents of the Fifth Republic
- what year did the French Revolution start, when did it end, who was the King, what happened to him, and what was the end result of the revolution?
- what is the motto of France? (Liberté Egalité Fraternité). What does that mean, exactly?
- What is laïcité (secularism) in France? When was the law? (1905), and what does laïcité mean exactly?
- How many French departments are there and name five of them.
- Name the five overseas’ departments. (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyanne, Reunion, Mayotte.)
- Why do you want to become French?
- Name the mountain ranges in France. (Alpes, Pyrénées, Vosges)
- What are France’s border countries (Germany, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, Italy)
- Who built the Chateau of Versailles (King Louis XIV, the Sun King).
etc, etc. There were a lot of questions.
At the end of the interview, I was told that everything was completed and the final step would be to send my dossier to the Ministry of the Interior. I felt triumphant as I ran out of the Prefecture in search of the nearest café to stand at the counter and knock back a triple espresso.
And then Monday of this week I received a Kafkaesque email from one of the women who had interviewed me. “It has come to our attention,” she wrote, “that there are some important elements missing from your dossier.”
Huh? They’re just realizing this NOW?
Translated from French: “Your situation – regularized on French soil since 2012 – requires the production of a Canadian criminal record because of less than 10 years of regular, recognized presence on French soil.”
I didn’t know what that meant. I had to read it several times. It was unintelligible to me in French. I translated the message into my language. It was unintelligible to me in English.
I’ve been living, working and paying taxes in this country for three decades. But they’re claiming that I arrived in 2012. At first I thought it was a mistake, that they had confused me with another person who has the same name as me. But no, I contacted the woman for clarification and this is the story they’re sticking to. I have tax records, pay slips, phone records, bank records, my career summary issued from the French Social Security office showing the years I worked, the names of my employers and the points I have collected for my retirement fund. I even have two old Cartes de Séjour (official residence card) – issued from that same Prefecture! – confirming my existence and presence on French soil. But they’re claiming that I arrived in 2012. It’s like two decades of my life in France have been erased. And what about my income tax contributions (a lot!) No gratitude whatsoever? I feel indignant.
When I continued to protest via e-mail, I received a terse, final response. Here’s the dismissive, utterly illogical and condescending manner in which French government employees talk to you (translated into English):
Even if indeed your entry in France dates from an earlier time, and even if you possess a European community residence permit, your regularized entry was only recognized in 2012 by the French State. The official date, therefore, is 2012. Because your presence on French soil is less than 10 years, the criminal record of the country where you resided six months earlier (Canada) is therefore required. I urge you to send us this Canadian record as soon as possible. If not, your file will be closed as a non-case and without follow-up.
But I didn’t reside in Canada six months earlier! I haven’t resided in Canada since the early 1990s! And I have no idea where the date 2012 comes from, plucked from the air? (Yes, I do know. Someone made a mistake and they don’t want to admit it.) When I asked, I was told it was the date their computer spat out. That date is completely arbitrary.
Do they realize that to obtain a Canadian criminal record you have to have your fingerprints taken? And that no police station in France does that? Other than getting myself arrested, I cannot find a way to get my prints done. I had a long telephone conversation with a helpful person at the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) in Canada who told me that my best bet would be to go to Belgium to get it done. And then I have to mail my ten fingerprints in black ink on white paper to an agency in Canada who, after checking, will snail mail the results back to me. I also have to provide the Prefecture with more documents: my latest tax returns again, my payslips, my phone slips, employer certificate. I did all that in August, and yet, two months later they want them all over again.
I actually feel like throwing in the towel and abandoning my request for French citizenship. I’m reminded of this true story: my boyfriend at the time was friends with an Algerian couple who owned a successful bar-restaurant in Paris’s 19th arrondissement. Their three grown kids moved to Montreal, got good jobs, eventually bought houses and settled down. For decades the Algerian couple had been applying – unsuccessfully – for French citizenship. For decades the Prefecture de Police had had them jumping through hoops while demanding tons of documents, each time rejecting their dossier. Meanwhile, their kids in Montreal got married and were having kids of their own. The parents went over every summer and loved it there. Their kids said to them – come and live here, it’s a great country. You’ll be close to us and your grandchildren.
The parents, close to retirement, said OK. They put their business up for sale and began planning their new life in Canada. And then one day out of the blue they received a letter from the Prefecture de Police announcing that they’re being fast-tracked for French citizenship. “Not interested,” they wrote back. “You can keep your French citizenship. We’re moving to Canada.” Today they’re happy Canadian citizens. Why are they happy? Because no one treats them with contempt.