I was cautiously optimistic about the civic training I had been ordered to attend as part of the OFII process to obtain a visa in France. After the disjointed, somewhat embarrassing experience of my first OFII appointment and medical in Bordeaux, surely the civic training was going to be a walk in the park in comparison. After all, I just had to show up, learn a thing or two about French culture and walk away with another tick on my visa application. Right?

The civic training, “formation civique”, is something you may or may not be ordered to do as part of your visa approval process here in France. It depends on a few factors including whether you are already employed in France, how long you intend on staying; and other, seemingly unidentifiable measures.

There are so many things I love about France. The bucolic town we live in, the beautiful villages, the welcoming people I’ve met, the amazing landscapes and beaches, the weather… I could go on, but you get the idea. However, among the few things that rub me the wrong way is the French bureaucracy. The administrative processes in France can leave me feeling exasperated (on a good day), to wanting to run for the hills (on a bad day). Having lived in France for 8 months, I thought I had a realistic expectation of what the civic training would entail.

The following account of the OFII civic training is personal to my own circumstances and experience.

OFII appointment. Civic training day, France.

Arriving on the appointed day, I had my pre-prepared introduction ready “Bonjour, je suis Nadine Maffre. Je veins pour la journee de formation civique??”. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to utter anything other than a passing “Bonjour” before being directed to sit at a waiting table. I greeted the other students tentatively as I gleaned everyone was chatting easily in French with the fluency of natives! This was an immersion class for people new to the country – why the heck was everyone else fluent?!

The OFII letter had instructed me to arrive promptly at 8.45am. It wasn’t until a full hour later that we were seated at our desks ready to start our introductions. The hold up was largely due to my English translator being absent. Oh, joy. The aforementioned letter had also advised that a translator would be present for me. I half expected that this wouldn’t eventuate – especially after my first OFII visit where the only translation available was in Arabic. I wasn’t too fazed, as I thought my comprehension had improved a fair bit. But as it turns out, my Rosetta Stone software hadn’t quite got me up to speed with the historical and legal terminology I was going to need for this training! Luckily, the tri-lingual Arabic translator was incredibly kind in offering to translate for me, seeing as the rest of the class were fairly comfortable with the French language (it turned out that most of my fellow students had arrived from French speaking countries, or had already lived in France for a number of years).

This is when they announced there would be a test at the end of the class. Filled with the fear of failure, I sat poised with my pen & paper.

We officially started our training at 10 am with the explanation of the French motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, and fraternity). After an hour or so of learning about equal rights and the separation between state and church, we stopped for a 15 min break. Afterwards, we launched into French history. We learned about French rulers, development of the language, and defining events of the past. Maybe I should have paid more attention to history in school because I actually found the little I could understand* very interesting.

*It was a constant monologue from the ‘professeur’, meaning I missed more than half of what was being said while my translator did her best to keep up.

We paused again for lunch at 12.30 pm. Lunch was provided (and attendance ‘obligatoire’), but being vegan I brought along my own meal. My tentative explanation of “je suis végétalien” elicited not-so-subtle derision from the table. Let’s just say I’m surprised I wasn’t deported there & then! Seriously, you could park a giraffe at a table of lions and it would have been more inconspicuous than I, eating my (hastily put together and not overly appetising) pasta salad and banana while they chowed down on eggs, soup, cheesy gratin and Nutella filled cake…

Civic training day, France. OFII appointment

Lunch spanned an hour and a half, and then it was back to class to continue our learning. The afternoon session largely focused on how laws are passed, an overview of the French legal system, and the differentiation of laws and principles. We also went back over a summary of liberté, égalité, fraternité and what that means in a practical sense before stopping for another break at 3.30 pm. We then converged on the classroom just before 4 pm for a few final words, our test, and to complete a satisfaction survey.

Oh and that test I was so worried about? It turned out to be a false alarm. They didn’t even bother checking it before handing over my certificate of completion.

Overview of Civic Training Day #1

I did learn a few interesting tidbits, punctuated by a whole lot of downtime. The majority of what was talked about was ‘common sense’ to me, but I realise that they have to cater this training session for people arriving from all over the world. So, while it may be obvious to me that a wife is allowed to seek employment without her husband’s permission, it may be news to someone else.

If anything, I learned that the French administration is the way it is due to multiple layers of law and procedure that are deeply rooted in the country’s past. I have a feeling that this knowledge and new-found understanding will help me again in the near future…

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The OFII Civic Training Days are part of your French visa approval process. Find out what the "formation civique" entails.