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.
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…
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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Wednesday 16th of October 2019
Thank you Nadine for sharing your story. it is so beneficial to read it as i just validated my visa Yesterday :).
Mary Ann Klein
Sunday 11th of August 2019
Hi Nadine, very informative thanks! Maybe you can help with my queries? I am 65 years old and am living in Brittany with my French husband, married since March 2019 but officially together for almost eight years. We arrived in France from South Africa in May 2019 and have been renovating ourselves flat out. My first OFFI appointment is end of August. I have a smattering of French (actually. less than) and have has no time in the three months to go to lessons. Will do so when we have renovated enough to relax!! OK, long story short, I have no vaccination records. These were all done as a baby/child a LONG time ago! Will an official letter from our Mayor re proof of address suffice for POA? The "Hospital Records" they request is that the same as Drs records? I have those but I have not been ill enough for hospital. I am retired and will not be working. Many thanks for your information!
Sunday 25th of August 2019
Hi Mary, I wouldn't worry too much about the vaccination records. I didn't have mine either and it wasn't a problem. Of course, it does depend on who you see on the day! But I'd just explain your situation and hope they'd be understanding. Best, Nadine
Thursday 1st of August 2019
Good day! I register at the OFII site upon my arrival in France and its been a month now but still no email or call from them with my 1st appointment. How long did it take for you before they give you the appointment? Merci
Friday 2nd of August 2019
Hi Ien, from memory it took well over a month before they got in contact. I wouldn't worry, they are always running behind! It would pay to follow up after 2 months if you still haven't heard anything though.
Saturday 16th of March 2019
Hi Nadine, I just read your blog and it happens to me last March 5,2019. I had my OFII appointment and got my residence permit certificate. And next step was to attend my AFEC in BIGANOS for my french Lesson program on March 25, 2019. My question is, does this AFEC or french lesson appointment given by OFII is really a mandatory or I can have my own private french lesson. I was quiet anxious what am I supposed to do as I have no freaking Idea at all. I would really appreciate if you can give me more information/ Advice about this matter. Thank you so much.
Thursday 21st of March 2019
Hi there. No, it's not mandatory, you can 'opt-out' and go the private route instead if you wish. It just costs a lot more! And if you go the private route, you have to prove your level of French with an exam that you'll have to organize and pay for yourself. So it's complicated, but not impossible!
Thursday 24th of January 2019
Hi Nadine, thank you for your posts about OFII! My husband and I are from the US and have our OFII appt. next week! Did you receive news about taking the Civic training the same day as your OFII appt., or like you mentioned above, was it sent in the mail to you a couple days or weeks later?
Sunday 27th of January 2019
Hi Tatum, good luck with your OFII appointment! From memory (it was a few years ago now), the OFII civic training appointment was advised by mail. Exactly how long after my OFII appointment I'm not sure.. But don't be concerned if it takes a while (as all things here seem to do ;-) )