This post has been sitting on the blog back burner for a couple of weeks. Basically I want to become French. I have the phallic bread, the beret and the bicycle, I have lived here for 23 years. I guess it’s the time to make the hop.
It was time of year in France, when we turned our minds to ficsal matters – namely that most fastidious of duties – filling out the annual income tax declaration. Roughly 54% of French people pay income tax or Impôt sur le Revenu. Now I have no problem with paying tax – I look on it as my «subscription» to French society – a kind of membership fee. My annual income tax bill is more or less equivalent to one month’s net salary. As a «fully paid up member» of French society, I enjoy all the benefits that this brings, such as the excellent public services, health and education in particular. There is however, one benefit that I do not yet enjoy – the right to vote in national elections – that right reserved for «lifelong» members of this exclusive club called France.
As a citizen of the European Union I can currently vote in elections for the European Parliament – and thanks to EU Parliament legislation, I have, for the past ten years or so, been able to vote in local Mayoral elections. I would however now like my say at a national level, and in the much vaunted words of Thomas Paine «No taxation without representation.»
My personal interpretation of Mr Paine’s rallying cry is rather simplistic (even utopic) – all those people residing within a country and paying taxes should get the right to vote regardless of their national or ethnic origin. I don’t think that nationality should enter into the question. As long as you live somewhere and pay income tax, you should get the right to vote at all elections.
What does paying tax imply? First and formeost if you are paying tax it implies that you are basically honest – in gainful employment and declared as such – you are a fully paid-up member of the society in which you have chosen to live, therefore you should be entitled to all the benefits that this entails, including the right to vote.
Unfortunately it is not this way and it is perhaps a little too exclusive to link the right to vote to a mere financial qualification. What about people who don’t pay income tax? Will they be deprived of the right to vote?
If I want the right to vote at French parliamentary and presidential elections, I must obtain French nationality. I took my first faltering steps on this long administrative road on Monday May 13th – I had no classes on that particular morning and had nipped into town to make a dental appointment – on my way down to the dentist’s surgery, I happened passed the local Prefecture – (that place where the French get driving licences, ID cars, passports and documents of that ilk). The prefecture is also the place to pick up the necessary « nationality documents ».
Obviously, it is going to be too simple just to nip into the Prefecture for a fistful of forms – as with any Gallic administrative process; there is going to be a lot of queuing. First the queue for the ticket machine – I hit the correct colour bar on the tactile screen to obtain the correct colour coded ticket that will take me to the right queue and …
Now, I used to hate queuing, but nowadays I am fully resolved to the fact that obtaining what I want, or what I need will, require long hours spent standing in a long line with fellow members of the human race. The queue is possibly the simplest and most common expression of the French republican trypthic – Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
Liberty – you are free to queue or not to queue, though you have to queue to get what you need, but you are always free to leave the queue.
Equality – Black or white, rich or poor, we are all equal. We are simply people standing in line and waiting. This is our Lowest common denominator.
Fraternity (or brotherhood) – we are all in this together, standing one behind the other, the line unites us all in common cause. I strike up a conversation with the man in front and the woman behind – we complain vociferously to each other about queuing. We talk about the weather, we complain again about the relative lethargy. We complain about the “overpaid and underworked” civil servants behind their glass screens, who seem in no particular hurry to get the job done. We scan the long line of bodies making sure that no one is pushing in or getting served before their appointed time and – “joy of joys” – we all act as one long, sinuous beast to “catch” those opportunists who have just “nipped in” to drop off a form or make a query. “Can’t you see there’s a queue??!!” or “Wait your turn like the rest of us.”
So, you only stand hours in line if there is something that you want or you need at the end of the line. What limits your time in the line? I would say there are several factors.
First – the time / motivation factor. You ask yourself simple questions such as
“Do I really need this?”
“Is this worth waiting for?”
“I can come back another day.”
“There might be less people tomorrow.”
I have posed myself such questions in the past, and after hours of standing in line, I have given up just before the end (though I was unaware that he end was in view) – as an example of the previous case, I cite my standing in line for six hours to see Star Wars. It sa February 1978 – there were hundreds of people queuing outside Bromley Odeon in South East London to see the first Star Wars film. I was queuing with my friend Marc, who obviously had the “queuing knack ” – He can strike up impromptu conversations with fellow “standees” and despite the freezing cold weather, he is bright, personable and resolute. Marc gets offered cups of coffee, tomato soup and sandwiches and gets in to see Star Wars., I just grumble and go home. Not even Star Wars is worth waiting for. What about French Nationality?
What the hell, I’ll wait. Waiting three years to be French is no worse than waiting hours to see Star Wars.