My last French passport was issued in 2003. It was an old-style version, with the ID picture glued on the second page and no biometric microchip, and it expired in 2013. In 2009, I became a Canadian citizen and I applied for my first Canadian passport. I’m currently travelling with my second Canadian passport, renewed in 2014.
Technically, I don’t really need a French passport. Canadian citizens don’t need a visa to go to Europe and both passports, French and Canadian, are easy to travel with few visas required. Yet, I don’t like to let documents expire and renewing my French passport has been on my to-do list for several years.
The French embassy in Ottawa doesn’t renew passports. You have to show up in person to the Consulat général de France in Toronto to drop off the application and have your fingerprints taken, then you have to pick up the document in person as well—and of course, this has to be done during the consulate’s inconvenient business hours.
Every few months, passport applications can be dropped off at the embassy in Ottawa by appointment only. I registered several times online as required, but I was never called to schedule an appointment.
This year, I decided to try to renew my passport in France. Technically, I’m not supposed to because I live in Canada, but my mum wrote a letter stating that I live with them. It’s a fairly innocuous lie, my own address is irrelevant for a passport application.
So I went to Nantes’ main city hall and picked up a passport renewal application. The process is fairly easy: all I needed was a standard picture (taken in a photo booth), my French carte d’identité (the citizenship card), the letter my mum wrote, and a proof of address from her.
“That’s it?” Feng said. “No references needed, no long form to fill in?”
“That’s it,” I confirmed. “But I’m pretty sure it won’t be as easy as it seems.”
The busy main city hall accepts passport applications by appointment only and most slots were booked, so I was sent to one of the many district city halls, where you can drop off the application anytime during business hours.
Last Friday, my mum, Mark and I walked all the way to the mairie de Doulon, in another district. The employee checked my application and there were two issues: my mum, who had stated I lived with her, didn’t have an acceptable piece of ID with her. Besides, the employee claimed that I couldn’t keep my expired passport, and I didn’t want it to be destroyed because above the sentimental value, it has my initial permanent resident visa and it is part of my Canadian immigration records.
“Ce n’est pas très grave,” I said. “I will come back tomorrow with my mum’s ID.”
I’ve been dealing with the French administration for years, I had fully expected a document or a signature missing.
“You could come back later today,” the employee suggested. “Oh no, wait. By the time you’re back, it will probably be 4 p.m. It will be too late, we close at 4:30 p.m.”
“So tomorrow morning,” I said.
“No, it’s by appointment only.”
“Can I make an appointment, then?”
“To make an appointment, to have to go to the main city hall, they manage our schedule.”
“Okay… so I’ll be back on Monday morning.”
“Sure. Monday morning.”
On Monday morning, I crossed the city again, looking forward to finally get something done. Forty minutes later, I reached the massive front doors of the tiny district city hall. Five women were walking down the stairs—the employees, the same ones I had seen on Friday.
“We’re closed!” one of them said.
“Closed? But you said I could come back on Monday morning!”
She shrugged. “Summer schedule. But you can drop off your application at the main city hall. Although you do need to make an appointment…”
I was fuming. I walked back to the city centre and decided to stop by the main city hall and see if something could be done. Like, you know, taking my complete application.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said. “I was wondering if, by any chance, you could help me. I’m coming from the mairie de Doulon, I wanted to drop off my passport application, but the city hall was closed.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“This city hall is open all day. See, it says right here.”
She showed me the paper listing all the district city halls and their business hours.
“Yes, I know! I checked too. But it was closed.”
She gave me a doubtful look and dialled the city hall number. Unsurprisingly, no one picked up the phone at the mairie de Doulon.
“Unbelievable…” she sighed. “They aren’t supposed to close, not even at noon!”
“Alright,” she said. “Is your application ready?”
“I… I think so,” I said.
“Go through this door. Then straight. Then right. Then push the second door on the left. Ask for M. Marchant and see if by any chance he can take your application.”
I did just that. I never found M. Marchant (maybe he was on a long lunch break as well?) but I apologized profusely to the employee behind the desk and she decided to—gasp!—squeeze me in and take my application. She spent ten minutes making copies of my documents, took my fingerprints and I was good to go.
Next step, picking up the passport before we fly back to Canada.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed.