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I Belong Here… And There Too

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Five days after the big ceremony, I still have to pinch myself from time to time. I. Am. Canadian. God, I love it.

A lot of people around me are quite curious about it. Can I get dual citizenship? Yes I can, I didn’t lose my French citizenship. How long did the whole process take? The citizenship process took 11 months, but I had been in Canada for almost five years before that. Do I feel different? Well, yes and no. I feel like I achieved something. I am what I am, a bit of this and a bit of that I guess.

This got me thinking. I was born in France, of French parents, so I am French. No-brainer here. But because I left the country right after graduating from high school, little by little, I lost my French identity. Obviously, I adapted to Canada — this was bound to happen. But I also lost it in a very practical way. For example, as a French, I was covered by the French health care system and had a health card (carte de sécu). Well, because I stopped living there, it’s not valid anymore. I’m not sure what the requirements are to keep your health coverage in France but my card stopped working sometimes in 2006.

I used to vote in France. Well, basically, I would go to the French embassy in Ottawa and fill up the papers to give my father my proxy. I believe that voting is both a right and a responsibility and I was happy to do it. I vote for the presidential elections. I vote for something else, can’t remember what. And then next thing you know, it was the municipal elections, and then the European referendum on the Constitution, and then the regional elections… and then I got lost. I didn’t know the candidates, didn’t live anywhere in France and frankly, I couldn’t have cared less who was winning. I just didn’t have an opinion because. I had lost the taste for French politics.

I slowly started to remove all my French IDs left in my wallet to make some room for the Canadian ones. A carte de sécu for an Ontario Health Card, a carte d’identité for a permanent resident card, a carte d’électeur for a library card…

Eventually, all of my IDs expired and I didn’t renew them. Dealing with the French consulate in Toronto (since the embassy in Ottawa is now basically useless) was too much hassle. I was left with only one piece of valid ID– incidentally the most important one: my French passport, issued in 2003, and valid for 10 years.

Meanwhile, I had obtained all my Canadian IDs as I had many rights as a permanent resident: full access to the job market, social benefits and health care. The only things I couldn’t do were voting and applying for a Canadian passport.

I loved the irony. I had no status in France but I had a French passport, and my life was in Canada but I couldn’t vote nor have a passport.

It became less funny when, last year, the French administration suddenly remembered I existed. My parents received a letter for me: I was called for jury duty. But not just any jury duty: a several month-long murder trial jury duty.

Shit, or rather, merde. What the…?

Well, because I never really “moved” to Canada, I never informed the French administration that I had left the country. It’s a bit of a grey area here. If you move later in life, when you have a job, property etc. obviously you have to deal with taxes, closing bank accounts etc. But in my case, I went to work to Hong Kong right after I graduated from high school and attended university in France while I was traveling and while later I was in Canada (and yes, I graduated in case you are wondering). That’s it. I have never really worked in France (except for a few very temporary positions) so I didn’t have to pay taxes. I have never rented a place, my official address is still at my parents’. I had no belonging, no properties so I didn’t move officially. I simply started spending more and more time abroad till the day I became a permanent resident in Canada.

So apparently, I had no rights to health care, benefits etc. in France (sounds logic) but I could be called for jury duty. Weird.

I sent a letter explaining that I was now living in Canada, working, and that I wouldn’t be able to attend a several month-long trial. I do take my duties seriously, but I would have had a hard time completing this one.

It wasn’t a problem since I never heard from them after that. But it got me thinking. What did having French citizenship mean to me? And how about Canadian citizenship?

I’m glad I became Canadian. I chose this country as my new home and I plan to fulfill my duties as a citizen. I don’t mind being French either and I will always be European, at least to a certain extent. But I don’t care about Bastille Day, I can’t sing La Marseillaise, I don’t vote anymore… I don’t even speak French on a regular basis…! I’m certainly not using my rights as a French citizen (although I do complain from time to time) nor fulfilling my duties. Weird.

How about you guys? Expats, immigrants, newcomers, new citizens? How do you deal with having dual citizenship, or living abroad? Do you still vote back home, celebrate holidays etc.?

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