Friday, June 27, 2008

Fifty million Frenchmen... and me

Young readers of my blog won't recognize the allusion to an archaic Cole Porter musical comedy whose hit song declared—for reasons that are neither here nor there—that "fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong". Why not? From now on, with an additional Frenchman in tow (as of this morning at ten o'clock), the situation might change... for the better or for the worse.

By nine o'clock, we were some fifty or sixty future citizens gathered in front of the préfecture in Grenoble, waiting for the great oak doors to open. I had time to analyze visually my companions, who appeared to be largely from Eastern Europe and the Maghreb. There was a single African and a single Asiatic. Not only did I appear to be the only native English-speaking individual, but the fellow at the reception desk said that it was rare to see an Australian at such a ceremony. I told him—as I've informed others on dozens of occasions, whenever the question of dual Franco-Australian citizenship arises—that I would have been naturalized ages ago were it not for a stupid long-standing Aussie stipulation, only recently amended, that an Australian who decided to acquire a foreign nationality would be automatically deprived of his Australian birth rights. Tough typically-Aussie stuff, that caused us expatriates to hesitate.

Everything went over smoothly. A banal film explained the motto of the République: liberty, equality and fraternity. A few extra words concerned the republican theme of the separation between the state and religions. I knew this stuff off by heart, since these fundamental French principles are part of my everyday thinking and outlook on society in my adopted land.

I chuckled inwardly when I thought that foreigners in my native Australia, in a complementary situation to mine, are now liable to be asked, in a ridiculous cultural quiz, to name a famous Aussie cricketer and a billiards champion. The first correct answer was no doubt Donald Bradman. As for the other Aussie hero, I have no idea whatsoever. I didn't even know that Australia was a great billiards nation. In other words, there are few chances today that an ignorant Frenchman like me could ever become an Australian... apart from the fact that I'm already Australian, and have always been so, ever since my courageous pioneering ancestors invested their courage and energy in that great mindless continent, from the earliest days. But so what; I'm French, and tremendously proud to be a citizen of the grand République !

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