This article appears in Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World, published on September 1, 2015. Given yet another heartbreaking attack in Paris, we are republishing this article today.
Adults and children alike on both sides of the Atlantic have tried to make sense of the murders at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, among other related attacks in January. In many instances, the violence is reinforcing the notion that love can overcome hate, that hope comes from community.
For Trudi Harris Dubon, the terrorist events led to a renewed sense of solidarity with the French, heightening her desire to become a French citizen in full support of the country’s values. A British woman who has lived in Toulouse for 10 years with her husband, also British, and their two daughters, Trudi had been planning to become a citizen for some time. Bureaucracy kept her from doing so, but the attacks sealed the deal.
A communications professional who splits her time between Toulouse and Paris, Trudi’s first task on the morning of the January 7 attacks at Charlie Hebdo was to make sure Paris employees at her company were safe and decide if a corporate communiqué would be necessary. “My next thought,” she recalls, “was that this felt like a particularly cruel and calculated attack on France, hitting at the heart of something that is held particularly dear to the French: freedom of speech and the broader notion of liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Solidarity with the French manifested itself on a deeply personal level. “The day of the attacks,” says Trudi, “I felt a huge pride in the French nation for its commitment to laïcité [separation of church state]. I wanted to be part of that nation, not just a long-term visitor. I wanted to be French.”
Trudi’s French citizenship means her girls will have it as well. They will be able to honor France’s value system as true citizens. “They see themselves as part French, part British – not as Brits living in France. I knew that if I took French citizenship, my children would be able to automatically take it too, instead of having to wait several years. I wanted them to be able to say ‘I’m French’ when it suited them. Few kids want to be different from everyone else in their milieu.”
So what does it take for a Brit to become a French citizen? Read on to find out.
Can you retain your British citizenship?
Most definitely. For all the above, I would not have decided to take French citizenship if it meant losing my British citizenship.
What goes into obtaining French citizenship?
The rules changed in 2013 so that now, the first thing you have to prove is a decent level of spoken French and that you understand enough to get by in society using the local language. I fully support this approach to integration.
What are the steps for demonstrating language skills?
This means an exam, in my case at the Alliance Française [an educational and cultural arm of the French government]. I found the exam to be far harder than I would have thought. They really do want a decent level to have been reached.
France is notorious for its bureaucracy…
Assuming you pass the exam, you have to wait until an appointment window opens online so you can arrange an interview at your regional government office. These online windows open every three months, and I missed the first opening by five minutes — that’s to say, when I logged on five minutes after the appointments went live, all of them had already been taken for the next 12 months. I think we can assume that my fears about bureaucracy were not misplaced — this will be a long and arduous process!
I do feel different. I feel very proud of my imminent bi-nationality. It means I feel at home in two countries, and relate to two (very different) cultures. I think this gives me an edge in business, but also an edge from a purely personal point of view. The lessons I have learned in France have helped me become a more rounded individual.
Any funny thoughts from a Brit about being French, given the historical differences?
Many many, but the thing that strikes me the most over and over is France’s elevation of ambiguity to an art form. The more ambiguous one can be in business, or even in general life, the better. Of course, we Anglo Saxons simply can’t tolerate it — for us, ambiguity is torturous, particularly in business. Every time I hear a French person start their response to me, following a question about what can or can’t be done, with a priori… [“in principle”] or normalement… [“in theory”], I simultaneously laugh, and a little bit of me dies! I just want to know: yes or no.