Please No Smiling

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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


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Thank goodness I was born here, I don’t think I would have been able to fill out those forms properly either! 🙂

    Good luck, bonne chance!

    O Canada!
    Our home and native land!
    True patriot love in all thy sons command.

    With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
    The True North strong and free!

    From far and wide,
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    God keep our land glorious and free!
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

    Ahem, I had to google the words, I couldn’t remember them.

  2. Hey I hope you’ll get it ASAP and over with this hassle of filling in forms. I know it can be very tedious as I was helping my hubby to fill in all the papers when he was there for training couple of years ago.

    Good Luck Zhu 😀

  3. @Sidney – Yes, I will. I’m lucky!

    @Cori – Oh, I’m good with O Canada, I went to a lot of hockey games 😉 Although I sometimes mix it up with the Star Spangled Banner for the same reason! 😆

    @shionge – Should take about a year I think. I’m okay with that, I mean, I still have my permanent residence so it’s not a huge deal.

  4. Congratulations! I hope your application with be processed very quickly. However, I thought you have to live in Canada over 5 years to apply for citizenship.

    I didn’t smile in my passport photos and it’s black and white. I just want to say that it is so easy to apply for citizenship in Canada. It’s as if it’s giving out like candies. On the other hand, it’s so difficult to become citizen of an European country.

    By the way, did you study anything for the citizenship test? Now you will become dual citizens of France and Canada:)

  5. Salut Zhu,
    Ouuuuch ! My head hurts just thinking about all this calculating days living in the country !
    Yes, most of us don’t have calculators in our head, and probably don’t give hoot a about counting them. But, that’s what gov’t wants…
    On my side when I redo my passport, I have to go to a photographer that does foreign passport photos. And yes, the Consulate is PICKY about it. But, no requirement to have that neutral look that everyone wants. We can smile , so go figure…

    In the end is what matters and you will be so proud when you are finally a citizen.

  6. Really, I didn’t know that a neutral look with no smile has to be done. I suppose it’s not that neutral at all, since humans aren’t by default emotionless on their faces. But anyway, I wish you the best in this one.

  7. @Bluefish – I didn’t think getting the Canadian citizenship was that easy… I haven’t study for the test yet, I have apparently plenty of time!

    @barbara – Yep, calculating was a pain. It’s my fault too, I should have written down all the trips I took… but after a few years I got lazy.

    @Annie – Straight from the application, but yeah, the CIC is funny 😆

    @SilverNeurotic – Well on the other side, getting a new citizenship is kind of cool 😉

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – And trust me, it is very hard NOT to smile. I tend to at least look happy… which isn’t good for Canadian pictures. Oh well.

  8. All that and you can’t even smile for the picture?? I’d be sticking my tongue out just for giggles…but then they’d probably deport me back to Cuba for that…so maybe I’d just think about sticking my tongue out (just for giggles).

    Best of luck to you! Let us know what happens!!!

  9. It’s the same for passports in France now: strict non smiling photos, no glasses on. Just look as though your plane wasn’t gonna make it to your destination and you’ll be fine.

    Congrats on your application. How long will it take you to say “I’m Fr… err I’m Canadian”?

  10. @Aiglee – i’m sure you will! Time goes by so fast… I can’t believe I’m already applying!

    @Scarlet – It was hard not to smile. And frankly, no one looks good without a smile on his face!

    @The American Painter – Merci!

    @Shantanu – I seriously think the bureaucrats who set the specs for photos should be fired.

    @Frank – 😉 Well, for now I’m mostly teaching French… not sure if that means bettering the country! Thanks for your visit!

    @Celine – I have been smiling all along, I had to re-do the picture twice! 😆

    @宝茹 – I know, pictures are a rip-off here.

    @Froggywoogie – Me, French? Oh non monsieur, not since the last election! 😉

  11. they didn’t ask for a sneer? a visage d’sneer would look great on a wanted poster. that’s how i’d like to be remembered; either that, or with crazy eyes. if i’m going to be an outlaw, one i want to look the part.
    i suppose all canadians should look neutral. if you smiled, you’d be mistaken for australians or *gasp* texans. if you look interesting, you must be from singapore. wink and you’re british. puff your cheeks out and you’d look russian. unless you’re a figure skater, then you’d look romanian.
    it’s best not to smile.

  12. Yep! Same with US Passports. I had to get a new passport just a month or so ago, and no smiling allowed. My problem with it, is that in the photo I always look seriously pissed off. Of course it usually matches my condition when I go through customs….

  13. Hey Zhu,

    LOL LOL LOL ok, I prefer the European way (at least we get to smile here lol)!
    Too many specifications to take a picture; plus I don’t understand why they would want a I-have-been-incarcerated-so-I’m-sad-kinda-picture!

    Girl, the process of getting the citizenship is long and hard in any country. A friend of mine applied to the Portuguese one and she had a terrible time to apply only…but fortunately, she will be Portuguese this year, in December :D!

    Excellent Post! I like it when you write about the cultural differences between Canada and, well, Europe :D!


    • Just make sure you follow the requirements and you’ll be fine! Have your picture taken at a shop, don’t try to do it at home with a digital camera 😉

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