Monday, September 15, 2014

Naturalization interview

Wow.  I can't believe it has been a month since my last past.  I don't know where the time has gone!

Shortly after returning from our Italian vacation I received a letter (FINALLY!) from the préfecture with my convocation for my naturalization interview.  And on Friday morning Lionel and I headed off to the préfecture for said interview.

Ever since I received the convocation I've been googling, reading blogs, reading forums and doing as much research as possible into what all it would entail to ensure that I was fully prepared.  And experiences were very mixed...people reporting anything form 10 minute long interviews to one and a half hours.  People being asked a series of rather simple questions about their life, job, studies to people going through a complex series of interview questions covering everything from their personal and professional lives to the culture, history, politics and geography of France.  People only having oral interviews to having a combined oral and written interview requiring them to write essay responses to some of the questions.  So, in the end I had no idea what to expect and I, naturally (as I am crazy like that), prepared for all possible eventualities.  I know my French history pretty well, but did a quick revision of some key dates and themes to make sure the information was fresh in my brain.  I also did a quick review of the structure of the French government and other French politics. I looked up information on the structure of France, memorizing the names of as many regions and departments as possible as well as the number of each.  I memorized all of the presidents of the 5th Republic in order, the names of a decade worth of prime ministers and the term limits of different governmental positions.  I revised French geography and the names of rivers, mountains and parks.  I tackled pop culture making sure I knew plenty of actors, singers, soccer players, movies, songs and bands.  Because, while I know a lot of this information, when I get nervous and get put on the spot, information has a tendency to take a brief and inconvenient leave from my brain so I wanted it all to be as fresh as possible.  I also prepared notes for answers to more complicated questions that I had seen people repeatedly reporting having encountered - what is laïcité and how is it applied? what is democracy and what does it mean to you? what does "citizenship" mean to you? etc.  And of course I thought long and hard about my response to the inevitable question of why I am applying for French citizenship.

And so, on Friday morning I walked into the préfecture quite nervous but also quite sure that I had done everything possible to prepare for this interview.  I knew that at that point my future and the future of my application would depend entirely on my ability to stay calm enough to answer the myriad of questions and on the temperament of the fonctionnaire in front of me.  So, imagine my surprise when my experience was far different from anything I had expected or read about.

In the end the entire interview lasted only 25 minutes.  When our names were called Lionel and I were brought into a room and the fonctionnaire conducting the interview immediately put us at ease. She was very kind and all smiles (shocking!).  She handed us some papers and had us read through all of our information and verify that everything was correct, then I/we had to sign some documents...the récépissé for my request, a declaration of communauté de vie, simple stuff.  She checked our ID, handed me back our originals (except the originals dealing with our état civil), explained the next steps in the process and then asked if we had any questions.  Once that was over (whole thing took about 15 minutes) she asked Lionel to leave.  It was my time to be put on the spot and I started to get nervous again.  But for no good reason.

My part of the interview only lasted about 10 minutes and she pretty much only asked me simple questions:

My date of birth.
My date of entry into France.
My studies in the US.
If I had done any studies in France.
My work.
Lionel's work.
If I belonged to any clubs or associations.
The composition of my group of friends - French, foreign, mixed.
How Lionel and I met.
What we like to do on the weekends and in our spare time.
Why I originally came to France and why I have stayed.
My reasons for requesting French citizenship.
Whether or not I planned to keep my US citizenship (and then she told me I should verify that the US would allow me to...I told her I already knew it wasn't an issue).

And that was that.  She also asked a few other questions, not for the interview, but out of personal interest I suppose.  She was curious about how my parents felt about me living in France and she was curious to know if there were a lot of other Americans in Bordeaux.  I told her I hadn't encountered very many for the moment and she told me that they don't get very many...usually only one or two a year.

Overall very simple.  Much, much quicker than I expected, and much easier too.  I fully expected at least one or two questions pertaining to history, culture, politics or geography but didn't get anything (since they got rid of the multiple choice questionnaire they had supposedly integrated these kinds of questions into the interview).  At lot of people online also reported having been asked these kinds of questions, so I was very surprised when I didn't get a single one.  I also expected Lionel to have a separate interview as well with some basic questions about our lives to ensure this is not a fake marriage.  But no.  Nothing.

Now that the interview is over (of course, because like I said I'm crazy like that), I can't help going back in my mind and wondering if I should have said more, less.  Were my answers adequate? Should I have given a longer answer for my reasons for requesting citizenship?  I had prepared a 3-point answer in advance covering my personal reasons, my appreciation of the values of the French Republic complete with examples and somewhat more practical reasons, but in the end I didn't use everything I prepared because I feared it sounded too rehearsed and because I experienced some lingering nervousness that caused part of it to momentarily float out of my mind.  Will that come back to bite me in the ass?  Why oh why didn't I remember to bring up my appreciation of la laïcité? And why didn't I go into detailing using all of my carefully thought out examples? Should I not have told them I intended to keep my US citizenship?  But I am such a horrible liar she would have known it wasn't the truth.  Do Lionel and I not have interesting enough hobbies and activities?  I just don't know what to think.

Additionally she kept throwing me off by telling us more than once that in about a year, when my application is accepted (not "if" but "when," she repeatedly said "when") we would receive a letter to come back to pick everything up.  She made it seem like she was sure it would be accepted, constantly saying when you receive your acceptance letter, when your request is accepted, etc.  But then the interview was so short I can't help but wonder if they hadn't already decided they would reject me and so didn't want to waste their time.  Just enough to make me feel like it was still up for consideration...

I really need to stop analyzing this so much or I will drive myself crazy.  After all, I have to wait a year before I can have any hope of an answer.

We also still have the police interview for their investigation into our communauté de vie.  They should be calling me soon to schedule that.  And once that is done all I will have to do is to worry and to wait.

6 comments:

  1. Haha, you are totally overanalyzing. :) I know it's nerve-wracking, but there is no reason they would refuse an American who has a job, is married to a French citizen and who speaks French. And it is an excellent sign that she was saying "when" and not "if" - that means she approves, and her opinion of you is one of the key parts of the process. So now that you passed that, you should be good to go, finger in the nose.

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    1. I know. I know. I have a tendency to overanalyze. Thanks for the vote of confidence! I hope you're right!

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  2. It will go through without a hitch! Your interview was more involved than mine - mine (about 10 years ago) went like this: "Do you have a job?" "Yes, I'm a legal secretary." "What type of government does France have?" "A republic." "Who is prime minister?" "Raffarin."

    Then he called my husband in, and told him how I was very motivated to get my French citizenship. LOL

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    1. Oh I hope you are right! I know they've made the entire process more complicated than it was 10 years ago, but that said I'm still surprised by how simple it was. I know that back in 2012 they instituted short questionnaires about French culture, politics, history, geography etc and then shortly afterward they got rid of them, instead planning to incorporate these questions into the interview. Fine with me either way. I figure it is only right to make sure that someone asking for citizenship knows at least a bare minimum about the country. What shocked me was the complete lack of any questions along these lines. At least in my case. It seems that even you, 10 years ago, got a few of this sort of question, even if very, very basic. But whatever, I suppose I can't complain as long as it doesn't come back to bite me later. All that really matters in the end is their final decision!

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  3. Hello. I am an American citizen as well. I applied for naturalization based on the number of years living here, at the Nice prefecture, on Nov 14. All my docs were OK and I received a récépissé. Today, Nov 24, I received a call from the local police office. I made another rdz for this afternoon. I thought I was going to be fingerprinted. When I got there, I was asked some more questions about where I live, where I work, where I was born, my date of birth, why I wanted to get the french citizenship....I gave them a copy of my French language certification, formation civique and another class I attended back in 2008, about living in France. The police officer told me everything was OK and he was going to send my file back to the prefecture...I was really happily surprised at how fast this first phase of the process went. Now I wonder....how long will it take till I hear about their decision? I have heard of people who got their naturalization in 5 months! Michele, have you had your rdz with the police yet? Cheers.

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  4. so did you get it? hope you have a passport! How long did it take?

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