Monday 19 May 2008

signing the letters and cutting the costs...

It turns out that we're not legally married in France. Well, that's not strictly true: we were married in Vienna, and Austria, Britain and France are all members of the European Union, so our marriage is fully recognised across Europe and presumably therefore across the rest of the world. Except in France. In France, although my marriage to C. is also recognised, her marriage to me is not considered binding enough for them to issue her a new French passport in her married name.

The reason? Bureaucracy. France is the country that places great store by paperwork and there are large swathes of civil servants whose jobs seem to consist entirely of pushing red tape backwards and forwards to each other, for a fee. Now, I can understand the need for a certain amount of paperwork: before we could get married in Vienna, we had to produce a number of pieces of documentation proving that we were who we said we were and that there was no impediment to our marriage. That only seems sensible, and we got those with very little trouble from our local registry office, and that was more than good enough for the Austrians. We thought that was going to be good enough for everyone, but apparently we were wrong.

The French have certain special requirements around marriage, and one of the reasons that we didn't get married in France in the first place was the sheer logistical complexity of needing to have at least one partner resident on French soil for 40 days. Amongst the other many hoops that you have to jump through to be allowed to marry in France, you must produce a pre-nuptial medical certificate proving that you have been checked by a doctor.

Austria just seemed easier, and it was an excellent choice and a lovely day.

In the process of changing her name, in due course, C. applied for a new French passport and identity card. It was at this point that the problem arose: to be considered legally married in France, C. was supposed to have published the banns at the French embassy in Vienna (which naturally attracts a fee). If we wanted to have our marriage fully recognised in France, then we were going to have to present all the paperwork from the wedding itself to the embassy whilst also going through the whole application process retrospectively, possibly including presenting ourselves in person in Vienna, and maybe needing a medical.


As a result of all of this, I received a phone call at 08:05 one morning last week whilst C. was away in Paris.


[long, garbled string of French]


[long, now slightly irritated sounding garbled string of French. The penny drops that this call may be for C.]

"Ah, I'm afraid that she's not here at the moment...."

[I'm cut off by some very terse language from a now slightly annoyed sounding frenchman, from which I deduce that this is the French embassy in Vienna and that therefore this must be about the legality of our marriage. I'm mildy irritated that this man has a) rung a number in the UK this early and b) that he seems surprised that I'm speaking English to him. The cheek! I begin to dredge through my brain for the appropriate words.]

"Ma femme est a Paris"

[The man on the other end of the phone is encouraged by my use of French to speak a little faster and ends on an upward note, indicating that he has just asked me a question and now expects some kind of a reply.]

"Elle retour a [I mentally call off the days of the week...lundi, mardi, mecredi, jeudi...] vendredi...?"

[The frenchman is placated by this, and speaks a bit more but is obviously winding down. I say "OK" a few times in what feel like the appropriate places. He finally hangs up. I realise as soon as I put the phone down that C. isn't in fact going to be back until Friday night, so make a mental note to let the phone ring out to the answering machine until she's back, just in case...]

Of course, all of this makes the possibility of me applying for French nationality (to which I am entitled through marriage) all the more enticing. I imagine it'll be a cinch with barely any paperwork or petty bureaucracy at all....

And, of course, I imagine that the French simply can't wait to have me.....


  1. Pourquoi quelqun voudrait une passeport francais?

  2. c'est vraiment la question.....

  3. Can C. apply for a British passport?

    Also, apparently the Dutch are very partiuclar about marriage paperwork as well. My friends who just moved over there had to actually fly back to the States at one point to get some sort of uber-notarized version of their marriage certificate. And they had to turn over their American driver's licenses for the remainder of their residence in Amsterdam.

  4. J - she's a dual national, so she's got both passports... although currently it's one in one name, and one in another, which is a touch confusing all round.