Just as “whelk war” with France is – perhaps – narrowly averted, I am unpatriotically heading to an outpost of the Fifth Republic in Manchester to take the French language test that is a prerequisite for citizenship. After 18 months of trying to become French, I am perhaps two-thirds of the way: close, but no handshake from a man in a sash. It’s a slow, bureaucratic business, but a stroll in the Tuileries compared with the cruel, expensive and idiotic process of becoming British.
Conflicting commitments and, I admit, a little complacency mean I will be taking the exam without a second’s preparation. I am hoping that 27 years of speaking French with my husband will help me scrape through. The exam is not particularly hard, unlike the notorious Quebec French language test, which another native speaker recently failed. I just need to manage reading and listening comprehension, conduct a general conversation, and write a short essay on a set current affairs topic.
The problem is that – and I hope I am not shattering any illusions about long-term relationships here – our domestic conversation, and thus all my current French consumption and output, is extremely repetitive. We rarely discuss books or music, and I refuse to debate politics, because my spouse relishes a devil’s advocate argument just for fun. Our main foray into current affairs is me screeching “Éteins!” (turn it off!) when he happens on Boris Johnson while channel hopping.
So, like every inadequately prepared exam candidate ever, I will be hoping one of my pet topics comes up. They are:
Domestic heating and insulation: types, cost, aesthetics and recriminations.
A thing a blackbird did that is of no interest to you but that I will relate nevertheless.
Here are some reasons it is OK to have an alcoholic drink on this, a weeknight.
Where did all our money go?
No, you snore.
With a life this Britishly prosaic, do I even deserve to be French? Wish me bonne chance: I’ll need it.