Monday, June 29, 2009


We can now legally move.

I went up to the Mairie Thursday afternoon. I took with me the folder in which we keep: a recent bank statement; our French taxes; copies of both of our passports; our cartes de séjour; and the traduction officielle of our marriage license. (We just keep this folder lying around; you never know when, in the course of French life, you're going to need these documents.) When it was my turn at the counter, I explained to Madame la receptioniste that we were, malheursement, moving out of the village, and that I needed a certificat de démenagement.

We knew we needed this because Nathalie, our responsable at the moving company, mentioned it in her list of items that we would need to give the movers so that they could waft our household goods through French customs. Two inventories, signed and dated; two affidavits stating that we are not exporting either firearms or Picassos; and a certificat from our town hall stating that we have stated that we are moving. Now, usually at this point in our conversation, I would explain to you all about the history of this particular piece of paperwork, how it started, what it signifies, its relation to some broader themes in French culture. But today, reader, I have nothing for you. It may be the fog of moving, or the fog of age, or just fog, but I am at a loss as to the meaning of this piece of paper.

But back to Madame la réceptioniste. She nodded efficiently when I explained what I needed, and listed the documents she would need in order to make me a certificat. A pièce d'identité for each of us; an official document showing our local address; another document showing the address to which we were moving.

I had the pièces d'identité--that's child's play to anyone initiated into French bureaucracy--and handed them over. To show our local address, I handed Madame the bank statement. She paused.

Don't you have a copy of your rental contract? Clearly the bank statement was not the document normale.

I didn't. I decided not to go into all the irregularities of our rental contract--how we actually rent from Jules' daughters, who live outside of France, and how, really, if you read the fine print closely, we don't (in the strictest of French legal terms) rent at all, we just borrow the house and, out of gentilesse, pay some of Jules' bills for him--and tried, instead, our French taxes. This was printed in red ink on pink paper, with a sketch of Marianne in the upper left hand corner. It looked very, very official.

She nodded. It would do.

And now, a justificatif stating your new address?

Justificatif is one of those words that I doubt I would be able to pronounce correctly and at speed if I spent the rest of my life in France. So I said to Madame, I don't have a justifica...(it's always along about the fifth syllable that my willing suspension of disbelief that this could actually be a meaningful word gives out) but I do have a carte de visite that shows our new address.

I showed her the business cards that I had printed up last week to hand round to our friends here. It lists our names and our American street address and phone number.

She frowned. She shook her head.

Where exactly are you moving, Madame? It clearly beggared belief that I could be moving to a place that did not provide stacks of justificatifs.

We're moving to America, I said.

Her face cleared. Ah, she said. Les Etats-Unis. Bon. Of course, that explains the situation, her attitude suggested. They probably haven't developed justificatifs there.

She took the carte de visite--up til now, she'd left it sitting between us on the counter--and began to read it. She got to the name of our town and asked what it was. I told her it was the name of our town.

Then there was a two-letter abbreviation after that. C'est quoi, ça?

C'est l'état, Madame.

C'est quoi, un état?

C'est la section des Etats-Unis où on habite, I said, hoping that that would work.

She asked me to write out the name of the state. I did.

Friday morning, Madame called to tell me that my attestation was ready to be picked up. I resisted the temptation to say that I needed a certificat, not an attestation. I decided to roll with it and see if, this time, they turned out to be the same thing. (I know it sounds loopy, but once you've had to write down the number of paper clips that you are taking out of the country, you don't take anything for granted.)

On my way to collect the girls from their last day of school, and buy sandwiches for the movers who were wrapping everything they could reach in several layers of newsprint and stuffing it into boxes, I stopped in the village. Madame was at the desk. She handed me an envelope.

I opened it.

République Française, the paper says across the top, above the date, and just barely above the coat of arms of our village. Then, in bold capitals: Certificat Administratif.

I the undersigned, the mayor of this village, certify that Monsieur Mari, (and then his birth date, and nationality) and Madame Marron, son épouse (and my birth date and nationality, and have I ever mentioned to you that even though I did not take C's name, I am listed on every single French document we have under his name? Because that's the way it is in France. C'est comme ça. To continue:) have told us that they are moving out of the Commune, and will therefore no longer live at their current address, from the 15th of July, 2009. And that they will, henceforth, reside at: and then our American address.

All impressively official and bureaucratic, and our mayor's name and title below, and his signature (with a flourish; wouldn't you assign a flourish if you were the mayor of a small French village?) and a stamp showing Marianne looking unusually like the State of Liberty--pointy crown, torch, toga and so forth.

And so we have one more document to add to our dossier, one more piece of the paper trail of our French life.

I wonder if I could get a Moving In Certificate from our mayor in America. It might provide some closure.


  1. Ah, the famous Certifcat de Changement de Residence.

    When one is registered as a French(wo)man "abroad," or a "non-resident" of France, with the French Consulate in the USA, one must procure that document from a French Consulate to get back into the country from the USA with one's personal belongings. It starts the clock ticking on a one-year window of opportunity for the Customs House Broker to clear the shipment made by the Freight Forwarder to a port in France.

    In our case, it was procured on 3/4/2008, our stuff was loaded into a 20' container on 3/17/08, was received, cleared French Customs, was trucked from Le Havre to Le Blanc, and was unloaded into the house on 4/25/2008. Since then, the one year window has closed. But, the good news is, from the States, we took out the first doc in only Le F's name. Come the second week in October, I will take one out in my name and send the last dribbling bits of our "personal effects" as "loose freight." Then, and only then, will we become full-fledged, fiscally-domiciled, residents of la belle France!

    I do hope that your return trip to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave will be smooth and that your reunions with family and friends will be heartwarming. It's a bit like moving through Alice's Looking Glass, it kind of swallows one up whole and the ride with Mr. Toad starts up right away! I also hope that you will soon get some R&R and a great Chinese dinner with a wonderful fortune cookie at the end!

    Bon voyage, Mme Marron!

  2. Wow! That much paperwork to move? But really, when you think about it, there is a lot of paperwork here too...just different papers and different people.