Friday, 30 December 2016

Our daughter is over 15 and we just got the formalities for her birth completed!

I love the way the title of this post sounds like a tabloid headline. Unfortunately, the little story it contains may seem long and tedious in parts, so please remember that it represents a routine type of occurrence in the international lifestyle. And yes, it is long and tedious.

When we got married, in a small village in the French mountains, we were still British and American respectively, and not French as well. On that occasion, we were presented with a little booklet known as the 'Livret de Famille'. The French state came up with the idea of a Livret de Famille in 1871 because it had just lost a whole bunch of important documents in a fire. Lots of people found themselves with no proof of their marriages or the births of their children and like anyone else who belatedly realizes the importance of backups, the state decided it would be a good idea to distribute copies of the evidence around the place, specifically to the most interested parties. It was such a good idea, in fact, that a penalty was imposed for not keeping the Livret de Famille up to date.

Ours therefore repeated the information from our own birth certificates, confirmed our marriage, and provided more than twenty blank entries for the purpose of recording the births and deaths of the fruits of our unions. Such was life was back in 1871.

In due course, the traditional stork arrived bearing a little bundle, not to the little French village, but to a pleasant suburb of London, for reasons I may explain some other time. The bundle received a British birth certificate and we figured it would be soon enough to get the Livret de Famille filled in when we got back to our village three months later. The Americans, we thought, could safely be allowed to wait even longer. Maybe I'll tell you about them some other time as well.

The trouble started when we got back to the village. The mairie said they could only fill in the Livret de Famille for children who were born locally. If a child was born in London, it was the job of the French Consulate to fill it in. The French Consulate said, reasonably enough, that they could only fill in the Livret de Famille for children of French nationality who had been born in London. Nobody, it seemed, was willing to fill in the entry that had to be filled in under pain of sanctions. We let it go, even though we suspected it would come back to haunt us. When we tried again, some years later, after we had all became French, the French Consulate of London admitted that it really only recorded the births of French children born in London who had been French at the time of their birth.

There is some justice in the fact that they were the ones who had to deal with us when the haunting began five years later. We were in London again for a while and had taken our daughter out of school for half a day to try to renew her French passport. The first one had been issued by a nice chap in the district office near our village, who said she should be in the Livret de Famille really, but he could see our difficulty. Now, the French Consulate began to see our difficulty also. They couldn't possibly issue a passport to a child who wasn't in her parents' Livret de Famille. They couldn't possibly write her into the Livret de Famille . They couldn't possibly argue that she couldn't have a passport. Perhaps we should fill in an application to get them to put her in the Livret de Famille and see what happened.

What happened is that a few weeks later, they sent the application back, assuring us that they still couldn't put her in the Livret de Famille but perhaps if we sent the application to France's 'Home Office' in Nantes? We figured out a way to buy French postage for the return envelope while living in the UK and sent our paperwork off to Nantes. Two months later, I called them up to see how they were getting on.

In the first place, the office in Nantes assured me that they never had anything to do with filling in Livrets de Famille. At that point I insisted, which is a verb describing the usual approach of a French citizen who hopes to get somewhere in their relations with the administration. Recognizing the ploy, the person on the other end of the phone admitted that writing our daughter's name in the Livret de Famille might conceivably be their job. Of course, a few months later, they send our paperwork back on a technicality, and we sent it back to them, which is why nearly a year has gone by since we first tried to renew my daughter's passport. It's almost exactly fifteen years since we first tried to fulfill our administrative duties with respect to the French state.

Our daughter's entry in the Livret de Famille is a pretty mundane thing in ordinary black pen, with a nearly invisible stamp. Need I emphasize that the temptation to do the obvious occurred to us quite regularly over the last fifteen years?

Oh well, now we just have to go through the rigmarole of applying for a passport all over again.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Lala Land

This is where we are - Lala Land, Helsinki. We like Helsinki: it's cold, the food is good, the hotel is great and there was a Crocs shop. Now we have to go, so I'll explain about how we didn't really escape the Brexiters in a bit.


So the barman in the hotel in Helsinki is from a little village in Kent, but he's been living in Finland for 9 years. He turned out to be a perfect example of the obliviousness people can display to the way their lives are shaped and supported by institutional underpinnings.

Our barman is a Brexit supporter. We found this out because we started off commiserating with him on the grounds that he was surely going to have to start Finnish residence or citizenship proceedings. He said he wasn't going to do that and doubted he could pass the language test anyway. Well yeah, Finnish has a reputation! So we asked him if he was going back to Kent and he said, oh, no, he was staying right where he was. It's not like they were going to kick anyone out of Finland, really they weren't.

Huh? They might not send the deportation van round on the day Britain formally leaves the EU. They don't need to. Let's just start with what we all know: this man has an employment contract that depends on him being an EU citizen. If nobody does anything, his employment contract will become.... 'non-legal' the day Britain leaves the EU. Perhaps his boss, who knows him, will not want to fire him. Perhaps the Finnish government, despite no doubt having better things to do, will pass a law saying that existing contracts with British citizens are valid. What then? Not many people stay in the same job for ever these days: those contracts might be good right up until the moment he wants to change jobs or gets fired. Or promoted, even. At that point, without some sort of Finnish immigration proceedings, there is no reason to suppose he will be able to enter into a new contract. There would be nothing to distinguish him from someone who arrived from Britain a few days ago, and the whole point of Britain leaving the EU is to curtail the freedom of movement of people. The movement of Eastern Europeans to Britain principally, but by the inevitable law of reciprocity, people like him. If Finland wants Britons like him, they will have to create a whole new administrative underpinning form them, or assimilate them into the immigration systems they already use for non-EU citizens.

What would happen otherwise, they day he decides to go and visit his dear old mother in Kent? When he tries to return 'home' to Finland, he will have to go through immigration as an 'Outsider'. 'How long are you staying?' 'Oh, I live and work here,' will not be an acceptable way for that conversation with border control to go. Without a work permit, there will be nothing to distinguish him, a person who exercised bona fide treaty rights, from a Briton who has no expectation of entitlement to live and work in Finland.

Even worse, all over Europe, all those databases which are programmed to treat the nationality code 'GB' as 'One Of Us' will flip over to 'Treat As Outsider'. Without some form of immigration proceeding, this can affect Britons in Europe in every part of their administrative lives: health, social security, education, legal rights, and in a way that is often completely automated and gives them no recourse through interaction with a human being.

It is true that few politicians, in Britain or the rest of the EU, want this outcome. It is also true that they are going to have to do time-consuming political and institutional work to save the rights of a greater or lesser number of people, depending on the state. Britain has proposed sorting out the issue of Europeans in Britain and Britons in Europe early in its departure negotiations. It is easy for Britain to propose this, because immigration to Britain falls within their jurisdiction. In the past, the EU has not had much to do with immigration policy of non-EU citizens in the member states. It is not clear to me that they have any standing to negotiate on this topic. It might be up to each member state individually to decide what provisions they want to make for Britons. We don't know yet.

Whether the EU decides collectively or the member states decide individually, it's almost certain that the most Britons in Europe (or Europeans in Britain) can expect is form of accelerated, and possibly easier than usual immigration procedure. Whether they will waive their usual language or culture test, their fees, or any of their administrative red tape is a moot point. Most of us are not counting on it. It seems quite possible to suppose that they will take the opportunity to repatriate anyone who has a criminal record, looks insolvent, or has failed to learn the local language after nine years. We consider that so likely that as we parted we automatically wished our barman luck in getting to grips with Finnish at last.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Operation Escape Christmas

The Brexit Grinch
Ruins your life, not just your Christmas 😢
Hi y'all. This is going to be one of those live-blogging thingies.

When all your Christmas presents for the foreseeable future consist of packets of paperwork, expense, bureaucracy and uncertainty as you struggle to save some shreds of the rights you cared about and had based your life around, (thank you, Brexit Grinch), it puts you right out of the mood. Consequently, we are attempting an escape to Finland. What Christmas is really about is Midwinter, so where better to go than the Arctic Circle (nearly).

There are no guarantees of success here, what with strikes, winter weather, technical problems on the London Underground, human error, etc, etc. Let's see how this goes.

Booking a trip: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Darned expensive, but since I often organize our trips myself, I have some insight into what I'm paying for. They made it easy.

Compulsory holiday insurance: ⭐⭐✩✩✩
I wouldn't trust these clowns to fork out a cent, but at least they didn't charge us much either.

Procedure for obtaining a child's leave of absence for the last half day of term: ✩✩✩✩✩
I followed the application instructions, submitted a request over a month in advance and received no response, so I assumed there was no problem. That's how it's always been in the past. In the middle of the afternoon the day before our departure, I received a letter saying the request was refused! WTF!!! If they told me even one week ago, I could have arranged a car pickup from the school. Too late now. I emailed them to tell them it was no longer possible to adapt our plans and requested an explanation. But I already know what the explanation is. This is just the kind of efficiency and regard for the impact of decisions that Brexit Britain is teaching us to expect.

Success in getting across London to Heathrow: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Clockwork. One hour and a half of clockwork. Go TFL!

The Heathrow airport 'experience': ⭐⭐⭐⭐✩
Yeah, right? Actually, I like airports, though not as much as train stations. Security was security with no extra badness, just a little light exhibitionism. Come to think of it, I don't like T3 that much. Are there really so many people who like perfume? So we went to the pub, got seats, got beer....

The flight actually succeeds in leaving London: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I think it was 10 minutes late, but it arrived early so who cares.

The Finnair 'experience': ⭐✩✩✩✩
God, but flying is just the suckiesr form of transport. It would be bad enough without turbulence, but there was turbulence. Also the food. We did not expect much, but since we paid 10 GBP per meal, I thought it would be at least as good as when the food was free. Instead, it was so spectacularly bad it was almost a work of art in its own right. Next time we come to Helsinki (next summer) we plan to do by train and boat. Never mind if it takes a week.

The flight actually succeeds in reaching Helsinki: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✩
Because it wouldn't really count as an escape if it didn't. As mentioned above, it was early, but it loses one star because the passengers shouldn't reaaly feel that relieved.