Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A little corner of France in Ireland!

As I have mentioned in the last post, the past couple of weeks have been quite busy and slightly stressful. Since we can't go on holidays to visit my parents this year (thanks Peanut!), they have kindly offered to take Marie so that she wouldn't miss out on the fun, sun and swimming pool. I had assumed that they wanted to take her for a couple of weeks but since my dad is now retired, they decided to take her from mid July until the end of August.

I was a bit wary of letting her go for that long (selfishly I have to admit) and I also felt a bit bad that she would miss her little brother's arrival. But after talking to her and explaining to her that she wouldn't see her little brother until a while after he was born and asking her what she wanted to do, it took her the whole lot of 2 seconds to decide that she wanted to go on holidays. Newborns, as she remembers from her little sister, are 'boring' as they only 'sleep, eat, poo and cry' (her words not mine). So it was agreed that my dad would come and pick her up mid July and fly back with her. And then my mum & dad would bring her back when my mum took her holidays at the end of August.

There was only one slight problem though, her Irish passport is about to expire. In itself, it might not sound like a big problem. I mean all you need to do is fill in the form, get it signed at the garda station and send it off. Unlike last year, there are no strikes in the passport office, so you can get it back within 10 working days. Unfortunately, it's not that easy for us. Some of you know that Mr Foodie is not Marie's biological father, although he is for all intents and purposes her dad. She calls him Daddy and loves him as such. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we haven't heard from her biological father since last summer. We don't know where he is and the last known number we have is the one of his ex-girlfriend. Since we don't know where to find him, he can't sign the passport form and since he is considered as her guardian, both signatures have to be on it. I discussed it with a garda friend who explained to me that unfortunately, the only way to go was through the courts. I have had my fill of them, I have been in and out of court over Marie and I've had enough to last me a lifetime. So I'd rather stay away from them. That and the fact that by the time we realized that her passport would be out of date for the summer, the case would probably not have been heard until they come back from their summer holidays, in September. So too late for her to go.

So I looked into getting her a French passport. She is after all a French citizen hence entitled to a French passport. And it turns out that in France, only one parent's signature is required to get a passport or an ID card, no questions asked. I have to say that finding this bit of information out made me jump for joy.

Then started the process of gathering the documents needed to request it. We had to order her french birth cert twice but eventually, we got both copies within a day of each other. Then came the fact that she had to come with me. The French Embassy operates on a very French schedule. It is only open to French citizens from 9.30am to 12 pm, the afternoon being dedicated to visa requests. You can only call them between the hours of 2pm and 3pm unless you have a real emergency. And if you manage to get a hold of somebody on the phone before 2pm, they ask you to call back within the dedicated hours. So I decided to keep Marie out of school for a day, so we could both go and get the passport.

My car has refused to start since the snow last year, and I have since let the insurance policy lapse, not renewed the car tax (since it's off the road) and not bothered with getting it NCTed (that would be the equivalent of an MOT in the UK I think). On a daily basis, it's not a problem. We walk to school (10 minutes up and 10 minutes down) unless it's raining heavily when the neighbour (who also drops her son to school) gives Marie a lift. Mr Foodie is usually home by 4pm so any shopping, etc can be done after he gets home. We have been using only the one car for the past few months and it has worked for us. But on the occasions that I need to go somewhere during the day, it does take a bit of organising. So we arranged for the girls to stay over at Mr Foodie's mum & dad's so that I could drop him off at work (leaving the house before 6am) and then went on to collect Marie and drive to the embassy. I think I went there 8 times in 13 years (4 times to vote, twice for my own passport, and twice to make the girls fully fledged French citizens) and certainly had never gone there from where we live now. So the GPS went on and we made our way. Marie was slightly nervous and so was I. What if they started asking questions about her father, what would we do if they refused to issue her passport, how devastated would she be that she couldn't go on holidays etc... I had explained to her that we had to go and get her passport and that without it, she wouldn't be able to go on holidays, so she was aware of how important this was.

We got there without getting lost (which with my sense of directions is quite an achievement). And after queueing up for a bit, we got seen to. I decided to also get her an ID card. You see, an ID card is valid for 10 years and allows you to travel within the EU and it's free too. Which means that the ID card would expire after her 18th birthday, by which time, she will not be considered a minor anymore (hence sorting my visiting Papi & Mamie for holidays / passport requests problems for the next 10 years). She got fingerprinted, measured, her eye colour was noted, her picture was taken and the ID card and passport requests were sent. The girl behind the counter did ask if I had a letter or a copy of her father's ID but I quickly explained the problem and she said that it wasn't compulsory anyway. So, after we came out, we both sighed a big sigh of relief. Half of the problem was solved. All we had to do now was wait for the embassy to send me a text to let me know that the passport was ready to be collected. The girl said that if I didn't hear from them by the end of the week it meant that there were no problems with the request. I immediately called Mr Foodie to let him know how we got on, as well as my mum and dad who didn't waste any time booking the flights that very same afternoon.

A week to the day later, I received the text. Her passport had been issued, and was ready to be collected. I was extremely impressed at the speed the request had been processed, especially when you know that the passport gets printed out in France. It left Dublin on the Tuesday, the following Thursday was a bank holiday in France (and most companies would also be closed on the Friday) and the following Monday was a bank holiday in Ireland. So it really took less than 3 working days for the passport to get printed and flown back here. A weight was instantly lifted off my shoulders. All the stress and worry of the past few weeks wondering would she be able to go or not, would I need to go back to court etc just dissolved. It took a little more organising so that we could go back and collect it. Marie had to come with me, as she needed to get fingerprinted again to ensure she was really the passport holder. We went to collect it last Friday and you could see the delight on her face when we stepped out of the embassy. She too was extremely relieved and even let out a small squeal when we closed the door of the consulate. She turned around, beaming and announced proudly: 'It's official. I can go on holidays!'

It feels strange to me to see her name and picture and written below the words nationality: French. I don't know why but I have always considered her to be more Irish than French. Probably some kind of unconscious reaction to the fact that her biological father didn't want me to speak French to her. I subconsciously suppressed her Frenchness. But, in the past year (since her father vanished really), her French has come on so much that she is able to hold a conversion on the phone to my mum and dad, she speaks mainly French to her little sister and she wants to learn more. And she will. What better way to do so than go away for a few weeks and be completely immersed in the language, and the culture! So roll on the holidays! I just wish she would stop asking me everyday how many days are left until she goes...

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