Well Zut Alors, pass the snails and break out the Pastis, I seem to be French. Yes, finally the bureaucratic machine has satisfied itself that I might just about be appropriately Gallic enough and has graciously condescended to admit me to the ranks of les Français.
You might imagine that this would entail some grand welcoming ceremony at the local seat of government, complete with fanfares, regional wine tasting, swearing of oaths and extensive lists of dos and don’ts, and I believe that in most countries this is in fact the case. This being France, however, the good news is merely accompanied by a demand for yet more paperwork, translated into French at vast expense by someone on the prefecture’s list of approved translators (half of whom have either emigrated, gone out of business or been kidnapped by aliens since the list was drawn up, as I discovered when I was trying to get the last raft of certificates done).
In order to apply for passports, identity cards and other things French, they tell me, they will first have to issue me with an official French birth certificate, for which they require my parents’ marriage certificate “if possible”. I have little doubt that their definition of ‘not possible’ is limited to the event of my mother being the sort of trollop who ran around having children out of wedlock in the mid-1960s, and won’t include my not having their marriage certificate conveniently to hand and being unwilling to fork out £25 for a copy plus a further however much it is for the translation.
A scanned copy of the original, sent from Fortress ‘Rents in darkest Burgundy, proved dubious, as for some reason marriage certificates are ever so slightly bigger than A4, and vital details like serial numbers and official stamps are deliberately put at the outer edges where the scanner will cut them off. This is clearly a money-making scam on the part of the General Register Office, and quite annoying, especially when the official certified copy turns up in A4 format just to rub your nose in it.
Still, this further grinding of official wheels gives me time to refine my French habitudes and tone down any culturally unacceptable Britishness. I have to admit to a poor performance on this front so far, having sat down to a rather studentesque dinner of toast and Marmite with Heinz beans and grated Cheddar cheese on the very day the official letter arrived. Quel faux pas indeed.
Clearly I shall have to pull my chausettes up here, so I have drawn up a list of Top Five French Things To Do:
1. Drink Pastis. Frequently laced with that sirop stuff you cut with water and give to small children. I could find this particularly challenging following a youthful miscalculation involving ouzo, vomit and walking into a fireplace. Suffice to say that the mere smell of aniseed still makes me nauseous.
2. Listen to Johnny Hallyday. I actually tried this the other day, courtesy of You Tube. People drivel on about icons and major superstars, and I’m sorry but all I’m seeing is an increasingly raddled Elvis impersonator with dodgy facial hair and fashion sense stuck somewhere in the mid-50s. Fortunately he seems to have avoided the King’s Vegas jumpsuit phase as well as that famously embarrassing kark-it-on-the-cludgie stunt, but for my money he rather missed out on most of the musical talent as well. Mind you, someone who hired Jimmy Page as a session musician and counts The Jimi Hendrix Experience amongst his support acts has to be doing something right – evidently I’m just missing it.
3. Consume very tiny cups of coffee. Preferably in a down in one sort of fashion when they’ve just emerged from the bowels of the alien mothership-style coffee machine on the bar and are therefore scalding hot. I presume the build-up of years of oesophagal scar tissue means that you eventually don’t feel a thing.
4. Get overexcited and wave arms about. Very un-British behaviour, but having tried it during a blazing row with some chav from Marseilles who was trying to walk off with a pair of junk skis from a hotel’s garage I can recommend it as a thoroughly cathartic experience. I was a bit disappointed not to be able to put my hands on the phrase ‘piss off you thieving jeans-wearing snowblader’ in French, but the general shouting and arm-waving experience was most satisfying. We got the skis back as well, though that was a bit of an own goal as it meant we had to go to the effort of putting them in the bin ourselves instead of leaving it to the burglar, but never mind.
5. Eat andouillette. I’m sorry but that’s just wrong. I’m quite willing to admit that toast and Marmite with beans and cheese isn’t a proper evening meal, but I know what pigs keep in their lower intestines and that’s not a proper meal either. Not at any time of day.