The pleasures of dealing with the French administration

There are only two things that are sure to send me into a whirl of anxiety: car maintenance and French bureaucracy.

In the case of car maintenance, it might just be inherent weakness on my part. For no reason whatsoever, the thought of having to put oil in a car makes me feel really stressed. It’s irrational. French administration though is known around the world for being if not the pit of hell, at the very least the hellmouth, and with reason. If you thought that only expats have trouble dealing with French bureaucrats, let me dispel that myth right away. Fully fledged French citizens like myself are more cursed than most as the fonctionnaires’ relentless need for paperwork follows us around the world and threatens our peace of mind indiscriminately. I am bracing myself as we speak.

Part of it is my fault. I thought I had all the time in the world and after Badgerman and I got married three years ago I delayed having our marriage certificate transcribed into French. I then promptly forgot all about it and it’s now coming to bite me in the backside, with added pain and suffering.

At the present time the only piece of official ID I own is my British driving license. As luck would have it, my French passport and ID card both ran out last July around the time I gave birth to Little Girl and my mind and body just weren’t in the right place to sort it out for a while afterwards. I already knew how painful it was going to be and I chose to bury my head in the proverbial sand in order to stave off the inner panic I could feel rising. Unfortunately this tactic is not going to get me anywhere now if I want to be able to take Little Girl to France to see her grand-parents over the summer. So I am faced with the task of getting our marriage certificate and Little Girl’s birth certificate transcribed as well as renewing my passport and ID card and getting a passport for Little Girl, all at the same time. Oh the fun to be had, I cannot wait.

This would be a pain under any circumstance but this stress is compounded by a bizarre practice of the French for confirming ID. To get around the fact that my out of date paperwork is under my maiden name and therefore unusable, I need to provide an extract from my birth certificate. Unlike Britain, you are not given an official document upon your birth, which you then carry around all your life and produce to confirm who you are when needed (what do you do if you lose it by the way?). That would be way too simple. Instead, the official document is held at the mairie – local council – of the town where you were born, which could be anywhere in France and its colonies, in my case, one of the many Parisian ones. You have to request a copy of the original document directly from the mairie, which they send to you in the post within 72 hours (or not at all as the case may be, and that’s how my previous attempt was thwarted). The cherry on the cake is the fact that this proof of ID needs to have been requested within the last three months. This is where I simply lose the plot. You see, I already have a LOT of these birth certificates. We are talking at least ten. But none of them can be used because they are ‘out of date’. The information on them is exactly the same, apart from the date on the official mairie stamp. ‘Why would the information be different if it is a copy of a birth certificate?’, I hear you ask. MY POINT EXACTLY.

Today I went online to order one from the mairie and started to feel really uncomfortable. Do they keep records of who asks for these things? Because if they do, they might start to wonder just how many times I have changed my name and how many passports I am trying to acquire, for all the times in the last few years that I have requested this same bit of paper.

Once I have all this stuff, I need to take myself and Little Girl to the French Consulate in London having pre-booked appointments. I was advised today that I need to book FOUR separate appointments to sort out all the paperwork, because lucky me, they are all dealt by different departments. I am already hyperventilating at the thought of all that could go wrong.

how I feel every time I think about French bureaucracy

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4 thoughts on “The pleasures of dealing with the French administration

      • Sophie Le Brozec says:

        Fortunately I am British and our marriage certificate is in French as is our daughter’s birth certificate, so that has been less of an issue so far. Problems may come with baby number 2 who will be born in the UK! As my husband is the French one I make him deal with French bureaucracy for the family and I deal with British bureaucracy 🙂 That said, getting our 5 year old daughter a French passport from the UK was relatively easy recently (as all the necessary papers were in French) and a whole lot cheaper than a British one! (I’d still rather pay more and have less paper-work hassle though!)

  1. It’s nice to know us foreigners are not alone in our paper pain.

    Apparently you can now request a plurilingual birth certificat from the mairie, but seemingly not online. Not from Montpellier anyway. I want to apply for a British passport for my son before his is 16 and the price goes up so am in the throes of passport paperwork as I type.

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