Our blogger explains the hurdles she jumped to turn her French-born child American and why getting out of Paris can make life easier for Americans in France.
My second-born’s US passport arrived in the mail last week. At 9 ½ months of age, she is now “officially” an American.
Theoretically, having been born of an American parent, she was American at birth. But realistically – administratively – a foreign place of birth, in spite of her American mother, means only that one had the right to American citizenship, not that she was automatically “American” per se.
What does that mean? Well, it means that she was considered French from the moment she popped out, but in order to “make” her American too, I had to go through the process of transmitting my citizenship to her.
It means that had I chosen not to go through the process, the United States would never have known of her existence – until, perhaps, she decided sometime after her 18th birthday to pursue the second nationality on her own. Sounds confusing, I know; like all things governmental, immigration laws can get messy.
Citizenship transmittal, however, is a fairly straightforward procedure (unless, like me, you’ve relocated so many times that you no longer remember when, exactly, you were stateside). It consists basically of her father and I (and her) appearing before an American Consular Officer and signing official documents to the effect that, yes, indeed, one of her parents is a real American who lived on American soil for a certain period of time. That, and paying the (rather hefty, in my opinion) corresponding fees.
Et voilà. All done. A mere two weeks later, a package containing her passport, new Social Security number, and very attractive Consular Report of a Birth Abroad arrives on my doorstep.
Never mind how difficult it was to get a decent passport photo of a squirming baby. Forget how hard it was to find a photo shop down here that could make one conforming to the American specifications in the first place. My little baby is now as American as apple pie. Or tarte aux pommes, as the case may be.
Difficult to contact
So why, exactly, did I put it all off until now, nearly a year after her birth? Because three solid months of calling the American Consulate in Paris resulted in zero, zilch, nada. Also rien. No appointments available (due, they said, to the overwhelming demand for visas after the implementation of the new biometric passport law), and none at all before we would be making our move to the South of France.
“You have until she’s 18, you know”, was the response I got once I – finally! – managed to get a real person on the phone one day (and this was no small feat, as the only available phone number is answered 24/7 by an answering machine that tells you to call back later).
Yes. I do know. But since she didn’t have her own French passport (until recently, French children were included on that of a parent), since my husband did not yet have one of the newly-required biometric passports (because they were not yet available), since not having the new passport meant that he had no choice but to apply for a visa for a visit to the United States, since not a single visa application appointment was even available until May (it was January), and since all of this meant that my nursing baby could therefore not accompany me to the states in case of emergency…
Well, let’s just say that I had no wish to wait until she was a teenager to pursue the matter of her American citizenship.
Americans stay in Paris
And now I’ve discovered a secret: in stark contrast to the Brits, who all seem to be here in the south, Americans tend to stick to Paris. Approximately 120,000 Americans (says the Department of State) call Paris home at any given time. And only one Consulate – a Consulate which, I might add, has extremely limited hours and follows all American and French holidays – for all of those people adds up to, at times, a severe wait for services.
But for the approximately ten (o.k., I exaggerate…but not by much) of us who live in the southern boonies? Well, our consulate is in Marseille. And I now know from experience that American Services at the Paris Consulate and American Services at the Marseille Consulate are like jour et nuit.
For starters, not only was an appointment available immediately (in August!), but my calls were always returned. Sometimes – hold on to your seat, now – a person actually answered the phone in Marseille. A real person!
All of it seemed too good to be true, really, and as we loaded up Kid #1 and Kid #2 for #2’s big day, I fretted for most of the 2 ½-hour drive to Marseille that something would go wrong. It had to. It had been all too easy.
But, no. We arrived early and, since no one else was waiting (this, alone, was enough to give me a giggle-fit), they took our case immediately. On top of that, there was a special room just for children, complete with toys and books.
The workers were helpful, efficient, and exceptionally friendly. The toilet didn’t smell bad. Even the guard at the front gate was sweet. Thirty minutes after our arrival, it was over. Kid #2 was well on her way to American-hood. And we were on our way to the Château d’If.
So why am I writing this? Because as I look at her passport, for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on, it perturbs me to no end that in spite of the fact that I gave birth to her, I nurse her, and I am the American, but her American passport bears her father’s last name.
And that doesn’t seem quite right, now does it?
But at least I can now take my own baby out of the country if I need to.