Passport woes and a miracle

passport miracle 020914


French expats blogs all have at least one thing in common. Actually, strike that, blogs from French expats AND from expats living in France, all have one thing in common. They all contain at least one post bemoaning French bureaucracy, be it the post office, the embassy, the social security people; whatever the problem, if you need official paperwork done, you are a little bit in the merde.

At least, it strikes indiscriminately, so don’t go thinking that being French is in any way a protection against uptight bureaucrats, convoluted paperwork and red tape. Hells no! Now I can add my own story (another one!) to the long list of disgruntled blog posts that festers within the depths of the internet.

Instant French Failure

Last April, I sent out Luciole’s British birth certificate to the French Consulate to be transcribed into French so she would officially exist on their records. I thought I would be clever and also sort out her passport in time for our August holiday. I had all the documents at the ready; all I needed to do was to book an appointment with the Consulate to deposit the paperwork. Let’s just say I failed at the first hurdle.

I absolutely do not understand the thinking behind it but you cannot just post the bundle of paperwork over to them; you have to present yourself in person at the French Consulate to give it to them. As Luciole is a baby, I didn’t have to bring her (small mercies indeed), but I did need to go myself and represent her as her parent and carer. So far so, well, as good as it was going to get; there was not a single appointment to be had until mid-August. That’s right, you could not get a Consulate appointment between April and August, so that pretty much not just closed that door but slammed it right in our faces. I’ll spare you the exact words that came out of my mouth at that point.

UK Passport Delays

The next best thing was to get Luciole a British passport. The UK might have its bureaucratic nightmares but its nothing compared to the French system; you can send things in the post! As Badgerman is British, there was no issue of eligibility to cause any trouble, we just needed to get it all out in time. I posted the forms at the beginning of May using the special Post Office passport delivery service. About two weeks later, I received a text message saying that the paperwork had been received and that as it was a first passport (as opposed to a renewal) it would take a minimum of 6 weeks for it to be created and sent out. This gave us a deadline of 31st July at the earliest. As we were due to go away on 4th August with a weekend in between, you can imagine my state of mind…

All the while, the Passport Office was making the national news’ headlines because there were huge processing delays due to a surge in passport requests. Throughout June and July, the subject cropped up every week, doing nothing for my heart rate. There was only a small chance that we would get this passport on time, and I was already thinking about our options if we had to delay our holiday departure.

So I got together with some friends and we prayed about it. I rarely talk about my faith on here because it’s not what the blog is about but hey, that’s what we did. Can I just say at this point that my expectation about getting this stressful thing resolved was pretty much nil and the content of the prayer itself was not remotely spiritual. It was very much a case of ‘God, I don’t know if you can do anything about this, but if you could put Luciole’s application at the top of the pile, I would be really grateful, thanks’. It was mid-July, we’d heard nothing for a month and I was preparing to face the inevitable.

On the Friday (we are talking 2 days later), I got a surprise text telling me they were processing her application and that we would receive her passport within the next 7 days. This was confirmed the following Monday morning when my counter-signatory ‘person of good standing’ friend texted to say she’d just had the Passport Office on the phone checking things were in order and they confirmed it would be on its way within a day or two. And so it did, it turned up on 24th July, a whole week ahead of schedule! And exhale…

I’m happy for people to put it down to coincidence or good karma, whilst I am really on the cusp of calling it a bit of a miracle. In any case, I’m immensely grateful to God and to whomever put my girl’s application at the top of the pile, when 30,000 others were delayed. There was even a Passport Office workers strike over staffing and pay on 28th July, and they were still talking about it on 11th August. Whereas I was able to relax and celebrate birthday parties without a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over my head.

And so now, we are a truly bi-national family. Badgerman holds both nationalities, I am French, Little Girl is French and Luciole is British; not complicated at all!

Success at the French Consulate

The front cover of a contemporary French biome...

My French nemesis? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Against all odds, yesterday was a good day.

I’ve been feeling quite stressed the last few days leading up to yesterday’s trip to London to apply for French passports for me and Little Girl.

This said, even though I wasn’t looking forward to it, it wasn’t the prospect of travelling on the train alone with a baby I was dreading; I did it all last month to arrange the transcription of my marriage certificate and Little Girl’s birth certificate and it worked out fine despite the fact that there was a bus strike and I ended up taking the pushchair on the tube (which is do-able if your pushchair is lightweight and you have strong arms).

Why the stress then? Well, when I went to the Consulate in late June for the transcriptions (feeling even more stressed), I discovered that the paperwork they held for our marriage bans, which was supposed to speed up the process, had been destroyed because it was over three years old. I am not sure why they don’t use a storage facility like everybody else instead of destroying fairly recent paperwork but I’m sure they have A Very Good Reason. Not that I asked; it’s usually better not to antagonize those in control of the outcome of a strategic administrative request by asking awkward questions.

In any case, in order to validate my transcription request I now needed to produce a full original copy of Badgerman’s Acte de Naissance, requested within the last three months (as opposed to, say, an extract from the same Act, which I had with me at the time, fat lot of good it did me). This is what I mean when I say ‘if you think you have all the paperwork you need, think again and bring triplicates!’.

Once back at home, we sorted out the request for the birth certificate, which had to be signed and faxed over directly to the relevant Mairie, and we waited. And waited. It’s only when nothing arrived after two weeks that I realised that their form lacked one important piece of information: a contact number in case anything goes wrong…

So this is why I found myself this morning feeling very stressed and going up to the Consulate facing the very likely rejection of our passport applications due to incomplete paperwork.

The initial reaction from the Consulate officer was as expected: he could do my passport under my maiden name but not do Little Girl’s at all. I explained the situation with the outstanding paperwork (I may have grovelled a bit) and lo and behold, after a short wait whilst he checked our status, this wonderful wonderful man came back and said that he would be able to do my passport under my married name AND do Little Girl’s one too, as long as we forwarded Badgerman’s acte de naissance when it arrived.

I would like to think that it was my natural charm and candor that clinched it, but I suspect it had nothing to do with me at all, and that kindness was to be found at the French Consulate after all. I wish I knew this man’s name to add him to my Christmas card list.

Incidentally, I got home and the acte de naissance had turned up with the morning post. And to top up this most successful day, the French Market was in town and I bought some merguez for a true taste of France.