The pre-Brexit titre de séjour expires in a few months. In December I made my online application for the new card, created specially for Brits resident in France and last week was the next stage: a meeting at the Préfecture du Gard, our département.
So on a very wet day I drove the 90km to Nimes, leaving plenty of time for the inevitable going round in circles in the one way system in the centre of Nimes (must upgrade to the latest GPS system for my car…) .
Going to the Prefecture is an intimidating experience: the French are keen on the impersonal formality of their public offices. I have some bad memories of visits when we first came to France, directed to the Bureau des Etrangers, which in those days was a dark hole at the back of the Prefecture, with a bullet-proof screen between you and the official and the only communication was by an intercom system. A reminder that the area round the Rhône is Front National territory.
Communicating with the Préfecture is still a challenge: you have to send your messages via the internet and there is no such thing as phoning to ask a question. But once you get there and pass the security, things are more friendly these days. When I got my last carte de séjour two years ago, there was a certain amount of chaos in the entrance hall, but the staff in the Bureau des Etrangers, now a more standard room at the front of the building, were perfectly friendly. This time – thanks to Covid – things were even better. I was instructed to come at a particular time and the waiting area was almost empty, with proper space between those of us waiting.
I then heard my name: “Mme Filson Allen Frances” and advanced to the appropriate booth, where I was greeted cheerily. I told the woman how rare it was to hear my maiden name and how charming it sounded with a French accent. She smiled, and continued by checking my first name. She looked again and then called out loud to her colleague beside her: “This lady is called France (she pronounced my name as they do the country). If I had the authority I would grant her residence on the spot. It was clearly meant to be!””
I attempted a light exchange recounting how I actually got my name: my parents shared a passion for Italian culture and decided to call me ‘Francesca’. But then my father left for the Middle East and did not return till after the war, and on at my birth my mother decided on impulse she could not give her daughter a name from the country of Mussolini. I realised afterwards that maybe the woman had no idea who Mussolini was.
Anyway we were good friends by then and she quickly processed the additional documents I had had to bring – birth certificate, passport photos, proof of domicile. I had forgotten to bring a copy of the birth certificate (it was sitting on my printer tray). This is the sort of thing that can really be a spanner in the works, but no, she simply got up and made a photocopy herself. I was all set to have to have finger prints, but she said the ones from the last titre de séjour were stil on file.
I should receive the completed card by post in a few weeks, she said. And I left after less than ten minutes of processing. Phew, what a relief and how much I would have liked to go to a cafe to recover before returning home. So far the process has been easier than the first time I applied. The French Government has lived up to its promise to simplify the procedure, though actual performance depends on the particular préfecture you ware dealing with.
I noticed that pretty well all the reviews on Google Maps gave the Préfecture in Nîmes one or at most two out of five stars, with the usual complaints about rude, arrogant officials who don’t listen. I have to say that once I was physically in the building I could not fault the reception. Now I am one of the tens of thousands of Brits in France probably waiting for their carte de séjour. But we have until 1 October before it is compulsory to carry it. Would that it were so easy to negotiate the paperwork for French nationality (another story)!