A recent night out found me at Carr's (a real Irish pub in the 1ème, owned by a real Irishman) with a group of international ex-pats. I struck up a conversation with a personable American guy whom I'll call Bill (not his real name) in which we were discussing the challenges of being self-employed writers, which we both happened to be, and attaining residency status in France.
Bill has been in Paris about 3 years and has a freelance writing niche that’s kept him pretty busy, but it was only about 6 months ago he decided that he definitely wants to stay here in France. Since then, he’s been racking his brains to figure out how to do this legally. He's been trying to look for a full-time job of some kind, but this is next to impossible particularly if you don't already have working papers (which you can't get unless you have the promise of a job).
As we were running through the options available to freelancers like us, I offered: "Well, there's always the old standby: marry a French national." To which Bill said, jokingly: "Yes, I haven't really tried that. Hmmm, let's see... what about one of these French girls right here?" (There were several young, attractive French girls in the bar at that moment.)
Which kicked off a lively debate between Bill and me about the potential effectiveness of "I need to get married. Will you marry me?" as a pick-up line. You have to admit it’s got a certain appeal; you just cut through all the B.S. and get right to the point. This idea of combining dating with residency status was kind of intriguing to me, and I wanted to make an experiment out of it. I bet Bill the kingly sum of the 2 Euros I had in my pocket if he'd actually go up to one of those women and try it out, but he thought he needed to be drunker first; in the event the girl in question decided to haul off and belt him one for his impertinence, he figured it would hurt less if he’d had a few pints in. I can’t say I blame him; this was risky business!
Since coming to Paris, I’ve met a number of women who ended up here simply because they met and fell in love with a Frenchman. They didn’t especially set out to do that; in fact, most of them met their French husbands back in their home countries where the men were either at school or working abroad. Some of those women don’t even particularly like France; they came here only to be with the one they love. But I know there are some people out there who do try and get around the complex immigration laws by marrying not for love, but for a residency card. In American, for instance, it’s a constant challenge for the INS to catch couples in the act when they marry just for the green card.
The thing is: I’m not the type who could do that—marry someone I didn’t love—no matter how badly I might want to move to another country and make it permanent. If I WERE that type, I don’t think I’d be “still single” at 45. Therefore, should I someday decide to make my stay in France permanent (something that I have not yet decided upon one way or the other), I think I’ll end up having to do it the hard way.
Nevertheless, the whole comical episode with Bill reminded me of the time 20 years ago when I was on vacation in Switzerland, where one night I met a cute Italian boy in a club. This boy wasted very little time in his approach to trying to sweep me off my American feet. We had a dance and a drink, then he went right for the punch line:
"You beautiful American. I marry you. I buy you big house, big car, beautiful clothes, everything."
"Why, are you rich?"
"No, YOU rich American. I marry you, I buy you things!"
"What, with my money? I don't think so!"
"No, no -- if I marry you, it be MY money!"
"Not where I come from, Pietro! In America, what’s mine is mine!"
I don't know if Bill ever got up the nerve to try out the "Marry me" pick-up line. But another girl who was within earshot of Bill and me confided to me that she once had a man offer her $10,000 to marry him so he could get American citizenship. In retrospect, she wondered if she should have taken the offer.
Maybe Bill will need to throw in a cash bonus to sweeten the deal. It will either work like a charm… or get him slapped even harder.