Last week, we received a note asking us to renew our registration to the French Consulate expat list.
Our consular I.D. card is still good until the end of 2012 (election year in France). But going through our I.D. cards (the Belgian residence permit, the Consular I.D. card and the French I.D. card), we realized that we no longer had a valid French I.D. card (since March).
In France, the I.D. card is the only valid identification... And you have to carry it with you all the time, just in case.
And it’s no use to try to show your (valid) passport nor your (lifelong) driving licence either. I know. I’ve been through a couple of identity checks.
Since we had to go to the Consulate to renew our registration, we decided it would be a good idea to renew our I.D. cards as well.
I googled the French Consulate website to make sure we’d have the right papers and pictures with us because they make you wait an awful long time and Popeye is a very busy man.
I found some old I.D. pictures for Popeye (who hasn’t aged too much, I have to admit). But I was smiling on mine. This is strictly forbidden now. I have a hard time to understand why but it is not good at all to start thinking when dealing with the public services.
I went to the nearest camera store to get my picture taken. Since I haven’t been feeling too good lately, I do look awfully tired. I knew I was not supposed to wear make-up. I thought I’d look a little bit better if I wore a red scarf over my shoulders with matching earrings (not showy but red).
Popeye got home around noon and off we went to the French Consulate in Brussels.
Getting into the building is hard enough (worse than airports, just imagine) but once you are inside, you think that nothing worse can happen.
Wrong. There was a lady at the ‘welcome’ desk. She took one look at me and I understood right away that I was in trouble. Funny how many (fake) blond and oldish women are disturbed by grey short hair.
She took one look at my ID pictures, shook her head in complete disbelief. You see, she didn’t like my earrings. So she gave the pictures back to me. I couldn’t help but say: ‘I’m not wearing an Islamic headscarf, am I?’. Bad move.
Popeye looked at me, looking real mad! Oh, oh! Then he gave her his pictures. Not the legal size, thank you. Ah, ah, ah. Maybe he should have been wearing a tie. (I kept my mouth shut but no one can prevent me from thinking.)
We left. And then I heard something like: ‘I hate it so much when French people act stupidly when they are in a foreign country! And this is what you just did in front of the clerk. She was doing her job after all.’
Foreign country? We were in the French Consulate, for goodness sake, i.e. we were in France! And I had been polite even if a little bit sarcastic. Men are so different from women. Bad day anyway.
We went back to the picture store. No earrings. No scarf on my shoulders. Still no tie for Popeye.
And yesterday, we went back to the Consulate with pictures, our old I.D. cards, without forgetting all the papers mentioned on the consular website.
Popeye almost had to get his clothes off before being allowed to get in. I was already inside... (I had learnt the tricks the day before but as I said, men are different from women.)
And then my good friend, the charming blong clerk, started sniggering: ‘Some people do love to get undressed, don’t they?’
‘I imagine you are not aware you are talking about my husband, are you?’
My turn. Fair backlash.
She turned very red. But when we showed her our pictures, she inspected them very carefully. I guess her job is really boring. Alas, the pictures were obviously totally in line with the instructions.
We then went to the waiting room and we waited and waited until our number was called.
We met with another clerk. She was a quite nice young lady. We started renewing our registration. Just imagine, we had been summoned because the first time we were there in 1998, they had forgotten to ask us about our height and our eyes color.
The eye color stuff really bothers Popeye a lot. You see, when it’s sunny, his eyes are green. When it’s getting dark, they turn to brown.
The cat had got my tongue. I had learnt my lesson. I did not ask the clerk whether or not it would be possible for him to have two consular I.D. cards - one for the day, one for the night. But it did go through my mind.
‘Dear Franz Kafka, I’m writing this letter to you to let you know that bureaucracy has changed since you wrote The Trial, etc. It’s a lot worse.’
Renewal of the registration - Over.
I.D. card renewal - Next.
The pictures were allright.
Then the young lady asked: ‘May I see the copies of your birth certificates, please?’
Birth certificates? The cards only needed renewal. They were not our first I.D cards. We are getting old and I.D. cards have been mandatory ever since we were 18.
We had our passports but no birth certificates. I was waiting for Popeye to say something, which he did - more nicely than I would have, I admit.
‘Why do you need our birth certificates? The website does not mention it’s mandatory for renewal.’
‘The website was not updated, Monsieur. I’m sorry but there is a new law. We have to make sure you are French.’
Popeye looked at me, quite appalled. Weren’t we French? Our old cards came from this Consulate.
And then the girl added:
‘It won’t take long. It says here that you were born in France.’
‘Sir, we need your birth certificate, that’s all.’
I.D. card renewal - To be continued.
Once we were outside, we looked at each other in total disbelief.
And then we remembered what our dear friend N. had told us a month ago. She’s French, born in France but her parents were born in Algeria when Algeria was French. Their birth town archives have been destroyed during the independence war. No proof they were French. But they’ve always had French I.D papers without any problem.
Last month, N.'s sister could not get her passport renewed. Yes, this is what I wrote: ‘renewed’. Because she could not prove her parents were born in French Algeria. Both her grandfathers have fought Germany as French soldiers. To no avail.
Not funny. Not funny at all.
When I got back home, I checked our I.D. file. There they were. Copies of our birth certificates. Yes but they were 11 years old. You’ll think that they should be good. I’m not sure any longer.
So I went to the French Government website and applied for new birth certificates. I wrote Popeye’s name and surname and then one question popped out: ‘Were you born in France?’ Our family name is so Frenchy/French. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.
And then an instruction popped out on my screen. ‘If you were born in France, click here’, which I did and found myself on a completely new page.
Georges Orwell was laughing loud and clear over my shoulder so I did not try to stay on the previous page... I was so sure that the following question would be: ‘Are your parents French?’
We were upset and critical when the so-called National Identity Survey was launched by the government. We felt so much better when they stopped it, under many pressures, especially from the Civil Rights movements.
They stopped the survey. But you have to ask for I.D. papers to realize that a new law has been voted anyway, a very shameful law.
This is France once more.
The country of the Declaration of the Rights of Men. My dear, dear country.
But are we really French, after all?
*Good Night, and Good Luck*