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.

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