Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Born-again French

Yesterday I went to city hall to get a copy of le Petit's birth certificate.

French birth certificates fill an entire printed A4 page and seem startlingly verbose to an American. In addition to the full name, date, time and place of birth of the child, the parents' address, professions and their dates and places of birth are also listed. Dates are fully written out in text, so le Petit was born le douze juillet deux mille sept à vingt trois heures cinquante et une minutes. Whew.

It always gives me a little jolt to see my date and place of birth written out in French on an official document. Née le seize décembre mille neuf cent soixante seize à Seattle, Etat de Washington, Etats-Unis-d'Amérique. It is as if the all-knowing French bureaucracy was there at my mother's bedside taking notes. This little baby may look American, but she's really French; it will just take almost thirty years and marriage to a French citizen for our paperwork to catch up.

When I became a naturalized French citizen four years ago (without giving up my American citizenship, which remains important to me), I was issued a French birth certificate, where both of my parents names, dates and places of birth are listed. When I first held a copy in my hands, I read it over and over to try and assimilate all that it meant: I was truly French, my parents were now data points in some great database of la République Française, and twenty-eight years after the fact my birth was freshly recorded as if I were born in Paris yesterday.

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