If you’ve been following my dual French-American nationality adventures since March 2009, you’ll recall that last December I had my naturalization interview at the Préfecture de Police, and was assured that, barring any problems with the French criminal authorities, I should have my French citizenship by April 2010. My friends were already talking about the party, but I’ve been in this country long enough to know better.
In the spring I received a letter which had been written by the Minister of Immigration on the 21st of January, processed at the Préfecture de Police on the 8th of February, and finally delivered to me by registered mail five weeks later on the 18th of March.
Here is how it started:
« Madame, Vous avez formulé une demande en vue d’acquérir la nationalité française. Après examen de votre dossier de naturalisation, j’ai décidé, en application de l’article 49 du décret n°93.1362 du 30 décembre 1993, d’ajourner votre demande jusqu’à régularisation de votre situation fiscale. »
Basically, it says « Madame, You’ve asked for French nationality, and after looking at your application, I have decided, in applying some French law passed in 1993, to postpone your request until you get your taxes in order. »
The rest of the letter went on to state that I had declared one amount in my 2008 French taxes under the box “total income”, but had written another (slightly larger) amount in my naturalization application, and therefore I needed to fix it. This was all a bit bewildering to me, as I thought I had filled out all of the paperwork correctly. It was the first year I did my own taxes because it seemed silly to pay my business accountant an extra fee to fill in three lines on the forms. Yep, three lines. Income, taxable interest, and deductions for charitable contributions. How hard could it be?
I continued reading the letter.
They gave me six months to send them proof that the situation was in order (ie: new tax statements from the FISC) in order to continue with my naturalization process, or I would have to start my application over from the beginning. About two seconds after I finished reading that last part, I was out the door with the letter and my 2008 avis d’imposition.
Luckily, that particular March morning there was no one in line at my local tax offices. One of the agents asked me to have a seat. Not sure where to start, I gave him the letter I had just received, and then showed him my 2008 statements along with the necessary documents showing how I made my calculations.
He immediately pointed to the “total income” listed on the tax forms and asked, “Why is this €800 less than what you have declared on the other forms?” I pulled out the statements showing the €800 in taxes I already paid through AGESSA (the office that handles writers’ social charges in France), and showed it to him.
“Ah. Actually, we take that out, not you.” I can’t recall why I had removed the charges I had paid. I either read it somewhere, or someone who used to handle my taxes did it before and I just copied, or it was simply confusion because I had declared under a different format in the previous years. In any case, it had to be amended.
“So how do I fix it?” He pulled out a new 2008 tax form and said to simply rewrite the three lines with the correct amount, fill in my name and tax ID number, and he’d send it in. Fortunately, it didn’t make any difference at all in the amount of taxes I owed, so I didn’t have to pay anything. Unfortunately, the agent told me I probably wouldn’t get the new, corrected, avis d’imposition for at least two months. Which in France means three months.
In the meantime, he wrote me a little attestation attesting to the correction and that the official forms were en cours. He signed and stamped it with the official little tax seal, and made two copies for me. These would come in handy if my tax forms weren’t ready before the six month deadline (after all, French tax season was coming, things could get busy). He then handed back my letter from immigration and, giving it a meaningful glance, said “et bon courage pour la naturalisation.” I thanked him and returned home, the whole thing done in about ten minutes.
April passed. May passed. June passed. As soon as the busy French tax season was over, I stopped back into the tax office and picked up my new avis d’imposition, officially €800 wealthier. I immediately typed up my letter of apology to the French Minister of Immigration, explaining why there had been a discrepancy, and enclosing copies of the documents so they could see what I was referring to.
In any case, I doubt they thought I was actually trying to scam anyone, as all of the information had been provided to them from the start. They probably just thought I needed to buy a calculator. Or perhaps they figured they didn’t need another French tax dodger. Who knows?
I had a French friend look over my letter. He made a few corrections (but had me leave in a few errors that he found “cute” so that it wouldn’t look too perfect), and I sent it off on July 21, 2010. I should mention that on the back of the letter I had received in March was a note that basically said if I didn’t hear anything from their offices within two months after sending in the proper corrections to my application, that the answer to my application was “non”.
July passed. August passed. September passed. Technically, I should have heard something by September 21st. I decided to give them an extra month in case they were all gone for vacation in August. October 21st came and went. Friends said I should go down to the immigration offices again and try to get an appointment to see someone. I couldn’t bear the idea of a silent “non”, I wanted to be able to make my case to an actual human. So I planned on going down to the offices as soon as I had time.
Then on October 26 my wallet was stolen from my bag when I was at the Cojean Café in Printemps department store with tour clients (two families with little girls can be a bit distracting, to say the least). Inside that wallet was my ten-year carte de séjour, set to expire in September 2011. I sighed and thought about how long it would probably take me to go through the whole renewal process for my carte de séjour if I didn’t get my dual citizenship before then, and resigned myself to starting that process from scratch rather than fight for a French passport. Strikes over pension and retirement reforms were causing disruptions all month, as many of you recall, and I started questioning whether I really wanted to be a French citizen, anyway.
On October 30, I got another letter in the mail from immigration. It had been a difficult month for many reasons I won’t go into here, so perhaps I was in a bit of a bad mood because the first thing I thought when I saw it was, “Great, now I’m being deported.”
I opened the letter. This has got to be the best opening line I’ve ever read:
« Madame, J’ai le plaisir de vous faire savoir que vous êtes Française depuis le 14 octobre 2010. »
It didn’t say “I'm pleased to inform you that you now have French citizenship.” Nope. It said “I’m pleased to inform you that you’re French.” And since October 14! Let’s just say that I am so happy and relieved that I’m not going to make any snide remarks on how long it took for La Poste to send me that news (I think they, too, were on strike all month).
So there you have it, Mesdames et Messieurs. They said I will be receiving another letter within the next six months informing me of the date of my naturalization ceremony. This time, I don’t mind the wait so much. :-)
* Bonjour, Je suis Française*
On January 13 I finally got to sing La Marseillaise and pose with Marianne in my beret for my French naturalization ceremony with about 40 other foreign nationals. It was actually a lot of fun and good-humored. The people who work at the Bureau of Immigration must be the friendliest bureaucrats in France! There were no oaths or solemn swearing of allegiance, only a few reminders about the fourth French Republican Value (after Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité): Laïcité. I also got a nice little form letter from President Sarkozy in my welcome package reminding me that, now that I’m French, I’d better follow the French laws. ;-)