This week I took E to renew his French passport. One our way to London, it suddenly dawned on me that it was almost exactly 5 years ago that I was taking the same trip with a baby only a few weeks old.
I remember being excited to go to London with him for the very first time. It was a lovely sunny day. I also remember that, while getting him dressed on his changing mat that morning, I accidentally let go of his head and he hit the table. He cried. A lot. I did too… I think it was more the shock for both of us but I remember thinking that I might have to have him checked at A&E just in case and cancel the appointment that was going to declare him French… (check out the over-reactive first time mum)
But we did go and he was fine.
The day was eventful and the experience rather stressful. This is the day I have discovered that London Transport are not fitted AT ALL for pram traffic! Also did you know that around South Kensington station, it is very difficult to get a sit in a coffee shop with a pram? This is why in between appointments at the Consulate I ended up sitting on a bench between fossils at the National History museum to feed my baby while munching on a tuna sandwich myself.
Yesterday was a different experience. I now had a 5 year old boy excited to be on a train to London, just with Mummy.
However one thing hasn’t changed: The Consulate.
I have been in London for 10 years now and live with a British husband, bringing up very much British children so it is a real shock to the system to step on French soil so suddenly, the minute you walk through a door. There is something undeniable about us French: we love to moan and complain, and a lot of us are very stingy with our smiles…
Yesterday I walked through the door greeted by an obviously not 100% French security guard, the slight English accent gave it away. He was smiley and polite. Kind even.
The receptionist, well there was no mistake to be made, he was French. Very elegant guy, nicely dressed and with a walk suited for a catwalk, lack of smile and all.
When I spoke to him to ask for my way, I was shown a rather elegant index pointing at rows of chairs. “You’ll be called” that’s all I heard from him. “Good morning, what can I do to help?” totally useless thing to say when you are on a schedule of 35 hours work a week.
Sitting in that room I was surrounded by sighs and confusion. A sea of people feeling awkward, not knowing where to sit exactly, who will call them and what to do with themselves.
The actual appointment on the other hand went really well and we were lucky to have a very lovely helpful lady, even if most of the time she spoke to me as if she was talking to the dumbest of people. I am ok, I can take it.
She pointed out that I was not registered on the French electoral roll with a first round of big election coming this Sunday. I am not voting. She didn’t like that.
It might sound totally unpatriotic but why would I when my life is in the UK? When I have no intention of returning to live in France for the foreseeable future? I don’t even feel the right to have a say in a country that I no longer know. Ten years is a long time to be living abroad. So no I will not vote on Sunday and this is my final answer, merci! Can I have my passport and ID card now?
Photo credit fdecomite