A few weeks ago I completed another step in my French immigration process with an appointment at the Agence Nationale de L’Accueil des Etrangers et des Migrations (ANAEM).
I arrived at 8:30 a.m. and was the last in line of about 40 immigrants. We filed in the main door where our appointment letters were reviewed by the receptionist before being shuttled upstairs to wait in another line where our passports were analyzed and our identities confirmed. After we were led to a large conference room and awaited the unknown.
A charismatic young Frenchman who seemed genuinely happy that we were invading his country (each year 100,000 foreigners move to France) offered a brief presentation. I seemed to be the only American, definitely one of the few English speakers. I knew because reading materials were distributed in French and English and only a handful of us requested the English version. We then watched a 15 minute film about La France and her people. (I used to wonder why Fred referred to objects in English as “her” or “him” as opposed to “it”. He was translating/transferring the “la” or “le” article from French. Another thing, which I’m sure is obvious to many of you, but I realized only a few weeks ago is Notre Dame = Our Lady. With all the Our Ladies of Guadalupe around California you’d think I’d have figured it out earlier, but I think that I’m expecting things to be different so the obvious is sometimes lost on me. Sorry for the digression).
After the film, we were rotated through a three step process. Mine went in the following order:
Step One: Administrative interview. The agent confirmed my paper work was in order (checked my temporary carte de séjour) and presented me with an integration contract (“Contract d’accueil et d’intégration”). In signing the contract, I agreed to (a) attend a full day of civic training on French culture, customs, politics, etc.; and (b) complete free French language courses. I didn’t have to sign the contract. I was told that it is looked upon favorably during the immigration process. In my case it probably wouldn’t have made a difference because I'm married to a French citizen. However, I definitely wanted the free language classes, and I figured if I signed a contract then I might actually complete them! According to E!, that’s how Oprah lost all the weight. She signed a contract with herself. (Don't laugh Melinda).
I’m working towards a permanent carte de séjour, similar to a green card. During my interview, it was explained to me that I can apply for French citizenship in one year. From what I understood, the requirements are (1) marriage to a French citizen for at least 2 years; and (2) hold a permanent carte de séjour for a minimum of 1 year. I believe the requirements can be satisfied in 2 years if the second year of marriage and the 1 year carte de séjour ownership run concurrently if any of you are relying on this information for your marriage of convenience. Caveat emptor: The information was explained to me in Franglish and I’m not licensed to practice law in France. [*Please see comments because law has changed.]
Step Two: Language Exam. I was provided with a written exam to assess my French language skills to determine how many course hours I'd be assigned. The options were 200, 400, and 600 hours. I tried to get the most hours because I’m greedy, plus I desperately need them. I speak like a Hopi Indian. Only in one verb tense. If something happened yesterday or is going on tomorrow, you won’t hear about it from me. Plus, Phillippa already went through the process and learned that if you get assigned a full-time schedule that the French government will pay you while you attend classes if you can produce recent pay stubs. [Correction: Please refer to Phillippa's comment. It's getting bad. Now I don't even understand things when they are explained to me in English!]
Armed with this inside information, I was ready to take advantage of the French system that I’d heard was so vulnerable to abuse. Apparently, it’s a talent with which the French are born. Not something that a foolish American could acquire in a few months. I was assigned 200 hours, part-time. I practically begged for more, but she said that I was a “false beginner” – at the top of the beginner tier. I guess that’s good, I’d hate to think that a semester of French at San Francisco Community College, some immersion courses at Alliance Française, 2 months of classes at Lutece Langue, 6 weeks of private lessons, and 5 years of dating/marriage to a Frenchman were all for nothing. It’s nice to know that this all paid off and I’m the top dog of beginners. It’s official: I’m slowwww! Anyway, she said that the free courses only go to intermediate so by the time I’m finished with my 200 hours, I’ll have “peaked out” in the public program and could go back to paying for lessons.
Step Three: Nudity. You know the French, they just can’t help themselves. Just kidding. This is a serious matter. I had my lungs checked. I had to go in a closet, strip from the waist up (just like old times at the Lusty Lady), go into the x-ray room, have my womanhood smashed against an ice cold x-ray machine, in the presence of two ice cold technicians. Thereafter, I met with a nice doctor who reviewed my x-ray, asked if I smoked, I told her not intentionally, only passively while eating in restaurants or walking down the street.
I also had my eyes checked. I stood on the mark and read the first line as instructed. The problem is I tried to do it in French. The second letter on the first line was a “U” (“ew”), which I mistakenly pronounced as an “E” (“eh”). The doctor appeared concerned and stopped me. He thought I was nearly blind (especially since I had on my far-sighted glasses to aid my performance). I explained the confusion and defaulted to English. I wanted him to write me a prescription to bring back to the language room: “Dear Language Exam Administrator: The half-wit standing before you cannot say the alphabet in French. Not even one letter. Please assign her the maximum 600 hours. Paid.”
I was finished by lunch time. Just as everything is in France. In all seriousness though, I think the process is fairly straight forward and for all that is said about French bureaucracy, it seems to be much easier to become permanent here than it is in the U.S. Just ask my maid back in Orange County.