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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Always a Resident. Never a Citizen

This subject comes up every time I have to renew my French residency permit. I just received my third 10 year Carte de resident which means I am entering my third decade of association with this strange tribe. Inevitably I am asked (at the prefecture, at work and at home) why I don't just apply for citizenship. After all, they say, it would save me a lot of paperwork. To which I reply, "Let me see if I understand the reasoning here? You are suggesting that I should become a French citizen so I don't have to deal with your bureaucracy once every 10 years?" And we all have a good laugh.

Occasionally the conversation takes a negative turn. “Perhaps it is not interesting to be a French citizen?” And then I must summon all my powers of diplomacy to soothe hurt feelings and ruffled fur.

Because it’s not rejection – I love France. If I didn’t have the deepest respect and love for this country and its culture I would have never have raised my children here.

But I love being an American citizen. I am often asked if I suffer here because of anti-Americanism. Not really. I realized long ago that the French preoccupation with the U.S. is actually quite a compliment. There is an entire industry, armies of intellectuals, which study and critique the U.S. When people here meet me for the first time they are never neutral about me or my country. Love it or hate it, they are positively obsessed by it. Which I personally find rather fascinating and it makes for great if sometimes heated conversations every single day.

And regardless of the country I live in, I am passionately attached to my country of origin. Nearly 20 years of wandering has not changed one whit my deep and abiding love for the US of A. As an American living in France, I can revel in my status as Exotic Beast and enjoy a high level of intellectual stimulation. If you balance those two things against the rather tepid arguments from my French friends and family about the benefits of becoming a French citizen, the status quo wins hands down. I am simply having too good a time and enjoying the show way too much to want to trade in my residency papers for a passport.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your comments. Just passed my 5-year anniversary. That means four trips to Mont-de-Marsan, photos, pages of bank account stuff, social security stuff, etc., etc. and each time I pose for my Carte de Sejour photo, it is the most bland shot imaginable. My way of saying "stick it, Napoleon" for all the trouble. Your comments about staying American really makes sense. Thanks. I will play the game for a while... (Mike, Dax, France)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thanks for stopping by, Mike, and for your comment.

I get a lot of hits on this particular post and I've always wanted to know what people were thinking after they read it. So thanks for the feedback and the best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to take so long to respond, Victoria. Really enjoy the intellectual content of your blog. I'm going to change my mind a little. I will put myself in the shoes of the French officials in Mont-de-Marsan and wonder what I would require from strangers to permit them to live in France: photographs? bank accounts? tax statements?, etc. etc.? Yes, I would ask for same things. Maybe I should mellow-out and be less critical. After all, I am living in "their" country, studying "their" language, following "their" laws, and trying to understand "their" culture. Guess I need to get beyond "their" vs "my" stuff and integrate more. I once saw a sign in the office of a Florida tax collector, which read "We don't care how you did it up North." Maybe that sums it up for me. Yes, integrate more, Mike. Change your mind; change your world.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

I'm delighted that you are enjoying the blog, Mike. On my side it's a real labour of love. It's a pleasure to hear that others find it interesting as well.

To integrate or not to integrate? A hard question and one that I think can only be answered over time. Once the process starts however, the question changes to "how far will I go to integrate?' That's a more complicated question because you can't really what your hard limits are until you feel things you deeply care about slipping away. I learned though bitter experience that one of my hard limits was passing my language along to my children and I was not going to bow to pressure to turn my household into a "French only" zone. I know someone who is going through something similar. The condition for acceptance by the French family is to live in a "religion free" zone - something that will cause enormous agony to this individual. I'd call that a hard limit indeed. Figuring out what yours are is a deeply personal journey but you're right - the only way you will know is by opening up and integrating more. All the best to you.