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Please No Smiling


Seriously, I love Canadians, but they have a thing with pictures. See, in France, we still have old fashioned automatic photo booth, 4€ for a sheet of four pictures, ready in minutes. Smile, laugh or look either pale as a ghost or red-faced, your picture will be just fine. You can use it for your passport application, your driver license or any other official documents.

But in Canada, it’s different. Your health card or your driver license’s pictures are taken on the spot by an employee and digitally included in your cards. Alright. Easy enough. Now, things get a bit more complicated for passports, citizenship cards or immigration documents. You have to get your picture taken at a photographer. The requirements are very specific… The photos must measure between 35mm x 53mm finished size and between 25mm and 35mm from chin to crown. The the name of the photographer or the studio, the studio address and the date the photos were taken must be stamped on the back of the photos. The photos must show a full front view of the person’s head centered in the middle of the photo; have a plain white background; have a plain white signature strip (no more than 10mm and no less than 6mm deep) at the bottom.

And most important: you can not smile. Ever. A neutral expression with no teeth showing with normal skin color has to be maintained. Look sad, just to be on the safe side (two pictures cost about $15).

Looking happy on an official picture for whatever application may makes the person who process it smile. God forbid. It is also well-known that a smile can change your face. See these bad guys on America Most Wanted? None of them smile on their mugshot. That’s why they are the bad guys. As an applicant, I’m a potential bad gal. So no smiling. How flattering.

I feel like smiling though. I’m applying for Canadian citizenship. Finally. I meet all the requirements: I have been in Canada for a minimum of two years and I lived there for at least 1,095 days for the last three years. I haven’t been charged or convicted of anything. I speak French and English. I’m that close to be Canadian… minus the one-year citizenship application’s processing time.

Calculating for how many days I had been in Canada was my biggest challenge, once I managed to have the size-specific non-smiling pictures taken. See, I first came to Canada in 2002 for a while, and then in 2003, and then stayed there for a year in 2004 as a tourist on an extended visa, got a working holiday visa later that year and was granted permanent residence the following year. Got it? Me neither. I had to scramble everything down, writing cryptic dates and arrows to connect my jumps across the pond. Turned out that I only had to count from my working holiday visa. An eraser, anyone?

I also had to subtract the days I was absent from Canada. Problem is, I always get a stamp on my passport when I re-enter Canada, but of course it is not stamped when I’m going to France or leaving Canada. So I always know when I came back but not when I left. I remember very clearly that when I got my permanent residence and was told I could apply for citizenship, I promised myself to write down every single minute I would spent outside Canada. Which, of course, I never did. So I had to rely on family, friends, old emails and Feng:

— In 2005, did I leave on the 30th of August, or on the 31st?
I don’t know, I can’t even remember what I ate last night!
But was it right before the Rolling Stones concert or a couple of days later?
Oh wait, I think we went to the fair right after, so it must have been the following day.

I’m glad I didn’t have to justify how I remembered the date.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to calculate my “time spent serving a sentence“. I think the incentive of not to have to calculate an extra thing was enough for me to behave in society.

The bottom of my application states: “I understand the content of this form. I declare that the information provided is true, correct and complete.” And while I did fill up the form correctly and honestly, I’m not sure I can declare that I understand it. The questions look easy enough: name, date of birth, first time applicant (yes or no), place of birth etc. But no matter how easy Citizenship and Immigration try to design the forms, there are always some ambiguous questions. Here how the fact that there are three different cases for names explained:

  • Print your surname/last name and given name(s), as they appear on your Record of Landing (IMM 1000) […]
  • The name on your citizenship certificate will be the same as the one shown on your Permanent Resident Card, unless you have legally changed it after arriving in Canada. […]
  • If you have not legally changed your name, you may still request that the citizenship certificate show a different name . […]
  • If you have used another name in the past, or are known by a name other than the one you listed above, print it on the application form. […]

So basically, I have to write down my name and has to be the one I actually use. Unless I changed it legally. But eh, even if I didn’t change it legally, we are still good and I can write it down anyway.

Right. See what I mean by ambiguous?

Oh well. It’s in the mail now. Wait and see

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