Becoming French

At the end of 2013 I submitted the paperwork to apply for French citizenship. Ten months later I received a letter telling me that my request had been granted, and in that very moment I became French. The following month I was invited to an official ceremony where I, and many other immigrants, received my certificate of nationality and a welcome letter from the French president, François Hollande. A couple weeks later, my French birth certificate arrived in the mail (yes, you read that correctly), which allowed me to obtain a carte d’identité nationale (ID card). Finally, this week, I got a text message telling me my French passport was ready, the cherry on the cake.

It’s done. The paperwork is done. The waiting is done. The fussing and worrying is done. I am French.

So how does it make me feel?

When you’re focused on the mechanics of things—of the doing—for so long, it can be hard to step back and feel anything else. For the longest time all I felt was anxiety and impatience. Was my paperwork in order? Will it go through? Will they lose something? How much longer will I have to wait? What if they ask me for something else? What if they refuse me?

Now that’s it’s done, I mostly feel relief. But do I feel any different? Do I feel French?

I do feel different. It starts with a great sense of accomplishment and merit. The feeling that I fought hard for and earned my place—my newfound status—and although I would never allow that to give me a sense of entitlement, it does give me confidence. Yes, I have an accent, but I’m not a foreigner anymore. I belong here.

But I do not feel French, and I probably never will.

I think I’ve always felt like the odd duck. Although in my youth I was very city-centric, my hometown San Francisco being the center of my universe, I can’t recall a time that I ever felt particularly “American”. In pre 9/11 days that wasn’t something we talked about much, and maybe that was specific to where I grew up. Maybe things were different in l’Amérique profonde. For us city kids, when we talked about heritage, we talked about our ancestors. We talked about being Irish, Mexican, German, Dutch, Salvadorian, Polish and Chinese (sometimes all at once). As Americans, we were anything but. We were everything else.

I’d like to feel French. There are so many things I love about this country, this language and this culture. But there are many things I don’t relate to. There are many things I disagree with. And no matter how many compliments I get on how good my French is, at the end of the day my language is English.

If anything, I feel European. That is something that I can truly identify with. The Europe of my mind’s eye reflects what I believe in, the values I hold dear, and both the complexity and necessity of this crazy mix of cultures living in such close proximity. This is my city now. I finally feel at home.