So about this big ceremony...
The naturalization ceremony yesterday was nicely done, in a room specially decorated with mirrors on which parts of the Rights of Man were inscribed, as well as various other images of democracy in France. There were 40 of us in this particular ceremony, which was the second one of the day (every Thursday, there are 2 ceremonies, each with 40-50 new French citizens).
Because there were so many of us, they gave us our folders with our sacrosanct document -- the official letter with the date of our naturalization as citizens of France -- as we passed our way into the Salle Marianne. They dated mine from the date they received my original application and package of documents, which was early last October 2012. We were told to keep this in a safe place, but never to have it laminated with permanent plastic covering because that actually invalidates the document!
The dossier also contained instructions on how to go about applying for your passport and optional Carte Nationale d'Identité, which I plan to get just to have a valid form of photo ID I can take to places like the bank, so I don't have to carry my passport around Paris. You can make an appointment to do all of this using the Internet now, so you don't have to stand and wait in a long line. Once I get those ID documents, Georges and I will go together to the Mairie of the 9th arrondissement where we live, so we can register to vote in this district for the 2014 election (Georges wants to change his voting district now that we moved to the 9th): the important election next year is for the Mayor of Paris, and since that's a pretty big deal -- Jacques Chirac was Mayor before he became President, so you see where it could lead -- we both want to vote.
We were also given copies of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, created in 1789, and some other documents about the rights and duties of being a French citizen. We were shown a short video (which I had already seen on the Préfecture's web site) and then two women each gave a short speech. I have no idea who these women are, actually, so I'll just call them Mme. Fonctionnaire #1 and #2. They both smiled more than most fonctionnaires normally do; this is probably the most fun part of their job, because everyone is happy and there's no anxiety being in a government building -- for once!
Mme. F. #1 also read, towards the end, a list of the countries represented in that room, by way of showing the diversity of people who have come to France and decided to apply for citizenship: in addition to the U.S.A. (ahem!), there were people from Canada, Moldavia, Vietnam, Belarus, and at least 20 other nations. Impressive!
The document in the foreground of the above photo is a very nicely printed sheet that was on every chair, with the history and words of the national anthem of France, La Marsaillaise. And as the last act of the ceremony, we all stood up and sang it together (that's Georges' voice you hear louder than mine, because he was closer to the camera's mic):
Finally, and surprisingly soon, it was over. It was a bit anticlimactic, if you really want the truth. However, some of my expat-turned-French friends have told me they didn't even have a ceremony in their town in France, while those who became French more recently have had one. I asked Georges and he believes the whole ceremony concept for naturalized citizens is relatively new in France; before that, new citizens just got their documents in the mail or went to their local préfecture to pick them up as a matter of routine. I know in the U.S. the naturalization ceremony is kind of a big deal because they want the new citizens to take an oath of loyalty to the United States, but we didn't have to do that here in France. Luckily, my two countries (wow! I have TWO countries!), at least in a general sense, have similar values and government structures, and they also have a history of being allies, so I don't ever foresee a situation where I would have to choose loyalty to one at the expense of the other.
The big photo opp at the end:
And Marianne watched over it all.
We headed home afterwards, right back into our normal daily life of figuring out what to feed everyone for dinner, and arguing with Le Garçon about how much computer time he is permitted. We didn't have champagne since we already popped a cork on the day I found out my citizenship had been approved. It's just been a busy week all the way around in our house: Le Garçon's 12th birthday on Tuesday, my ceremony yesterday, and today the Older Son and his girlfriend signed a lease on their new apartment. So it was a special day, but also a very ordinary one at the same time.
Do I feel any different? Well... yes and no. Mostly what I really feel is relieved, and FREE. I have the security of knowing my future life in France is assured and with a lot fewer hassles than I would have had, if I'd just stuck with the 10-year residency cards for the rest of my life. Renewing a passport is a whole lot simpler than having to re-prove yourself and your marriage every 9 1/2 years. This was always my primary motivation for wanting dual nationality: making my life and our life together much simpler in a country that, for all that I love about it, is still rather difficult to deal with sometimes -- even for those who are born here.
I also think it's pretty cool, if I can be permitted to use such an overused Americanized expression, that I CAN have two nationalities, that this was even possible. It wasn't something I'd ever necessarily set my sights on, all those years when I dreamed about living here; I just dreamed about the LIVING HERE part, not the legalities of living here. But now, it's all done. I'm set.
Otherwise, I don't know that I feel suddenly different at all, now that my legal status here has changed. And I thought about why that is, perhaps because I expected that I might feel different. I'm happy to be able to say I'm French, but my American-ness will always be at the forefront (much like my American accent gives me away constantly as "not from here" no matter what it says on my passport). Maybe that's how it is for everyone who emigrates to a new country, especially as an adult; of course they take their original country and culture with them, and bit by bit they absorb and integrate parts of the new country and culture. While they are translating from one language to another, they are also translating their two cultures within themselves. And it happens so gradually that you don't even realize when or how you've changed. For me, I think I became "different" the moment I got on the plane and moved here in 2006, because the very choice to do that is what changed me the most. And ever since, I've continued to integrate France into ME, probably even more than I've integrated myself into France.
I remember the last scene from the BBC miniseries version of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, where the film version of Mayle is summing up how he and his wife had been changed or transformed by living in France. He said that a truffle, if stored in a box of eggs, will permeate the eggs with the scent and taste of the truffle. He said that's what it was like for he and his wife: "We weren't translated; we were permeated. France was a truffle in our egg box."
Well, I don't like truffles (or champignons of any kind, really). But I feel much the same about the effect France has had on me.
I may be lost in translation sometimes -- quite a lot, actually -- but I am also forever permeated.
Merci, la France.