Say what you like about the French, but I think you have to admire a society with a bureaucracy so well developed. Now that's the real mark of an advanced civilisation, isn't it? At this time of great global economic uncertainty, I think it is reassuring to know that there is at least one country in the world where a clerical job can still be found (or created) for almost anyone with the power to push a pen around a form and to tut authoritatively and impatiently and with just the right air of simultaneous impatience and resignation.
You may remember the shocking revelation that C's marriage to me is not formally recognised in France. My marriage to her is all kosher, but as a French citizen, it turns out that there were one or two hoops that she failed to jump through that would have made the union fully legal on French soil.
It's okay though, after an approriately long period of tut-tutting and barely concealed disapproval at her marriage to an Englishman, it turns out that we can do a lot of this stuff retrospectively. All we needed to complete was the following:
-> A formal request on behalf of the bride and the groom requesting a certificate of no impediment from the French Embassy in Vienna. One form each for bride and groom, obviously. Doing them both on the same form would be completely unacceptable. Naturally, completing the form requires that you provide the full names, addresses and occupations of both sets of parents. Pertinent information, I'm sure you'll agree.
-> A form explaining what pre-nuptial agreement (if any) was being put in place and listing any children.
-> A certified copy of the groom's birth certificate.
-> An official extract from the official translation of the bride's birth certificate (which must be specially requested and must be less than three months old... because you know, birth certificates are subject to an awful lot of change over time.
-> Proof of the bride's French nationality in the form of a certified copy of the Father of the bride's naturalisation papers (a copy that must be certified by a specific French official, not just any notary, you understand). This had to be provided even though the birth certificate above contains an official statement on the bride's naturalisation status.
-> A certified copy of the bride's passport and French ID card.
-> A certified copy of the groom's passport.
-> The registration number by which the bride is registered with the French Embassy in London as a French citizen abroad (...but that's a wholly different set of paperwork to get that sorted, of course)
-> Proof of residence in the form of an original (not a copy, no matter how certified it is) council tax bill.
-> A certified extract from the original Austrian marriage register.
-> Another official form, completed by the French spouse, requesting the transcription of the wedding into French and its entry onto the French register. The wedding certificate we have is in both German and French already... but that's apparently not good enough and an official French copy has to be made.
-> Two A5 envelopes (no other size of envelope acceptable)
-> International Answer Coupons (your guess is as good as mine) to a value of 3 Euros 20 cents.
Thank heavens that the bureaucrats were big enough to waive the normal requirement to publish the bans of the wedding in the French Embassy in Vienna for 10 days (what would they do if someone objected?) and they didn't ask for us to have the pre-nuptial medical that is compulsory in a French marriage....although they may yet ask us to attend the French Embassy in Austria in person for inspection.
Given that we actually got married in June 2007, I'd like to think that the last 15 months of paper-pushing has kept at least two people in full employment in the French embassy and in the associated departments that certify documents and produce the official forms working solely on our behalf.
God love'em. By way of contrast, to make the marriage legal in the UK, we didn't actually have to do anything at all. We could, apparently, provide a copy of the marriage certificate to our local registrar, but it's really not necessary and so we didn't bother. The Austrian marriage certificate (written in German and in French, but not in English) was also more than good enough for C to get a new British passport issued in her married name.
...and we wonder why there are so many unemployed people in this country, eh? Think of all those paperwork possibilities we're missing out on.
Of course, once all of this essential documentation has been processed and approved by the relevant authorities and our marriage is fully recognised in France, I will be fully entitled, as the spouse of a French national, to apply for citzenship.
Now, I imagine there may be one or two forms to fill in, but I'd assume nothing too arduous and certainly nothing that's going to stop me from reaching that particular nirvana, let me tell you..... Did you know that when you finally get awarded your French nationality, you are obliged to attend a ceremony where you are formally handed your very own Citizen's Clipboard?*