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Bermudian polyglot achieves French citizenship

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Joie de vivre: Tiffany Smith-Richol and husband Dino Richol enjoying a visit to France to celebrate Tiffany receiving French citizenship (Photograph supplied)

When Tiffany Smith-Richol applied for French status, officials in the country could not remember a Bermudian doing so before.

The island was not even listed in their digital system; it had to be added.

When Mrs Smith-Richol, the wife of a Parisian, finally received an e-mail confirming her success, she felt relief. The entire process took her five years, including three months just waiting to find out the result of her application.

“You have to be married four to five years,” she said. “You have to have a French diploma that certifies that you speak French. You have to prove that you live with your French spouse through official documents, and you also have to go through a long interview.”

Some spouses of French citizens fail in their bid because they do not speak the language well enough.

“Language is a big part of French identity,” she explained.

The interview in Paris was one of the most daunting parts of the application, but her interviewers were friendly enough.

“People often say that the French are not friendly,” she said. “That is not true. They are friendly, especially if you show that you appreciate their language and culture.”

During the meeting French officials quizzed her about herself and attempted to verify that what was on her curriculum vitae was correct.

Mrs Smith-Richol said: “You must be familiar with French history and culture. You cannot just know about Paris, you have to know about other parts of the country such as Bordeaux, Martinique and Marseilles. You have to really prove your affiliation with France.”

The interview went smoothly, with none of the questions catching her out.

“However, even though you feel that an interview went well, you do not know exactly what the result will be,” she said. “You have to just wait to hear the result.”

Pierre Guillement, French consular officer in New York, hand-delivered her citizenship papers.

“He was already scheduled to come to Bermuda to meet French citizens who live in Bermuda for updating their documents.

He insisted on delivering my French nationality documents and letter signed from the French president in person as opposed to shipping it.

When she found out she had succeeded, it was time to celebrate. She and her husband, Frenchman Dino Richol, immediately booked a trip home to Paris.

“We wanted to surprise his family,” she said. “However, they were not surprised at all.”

She met Mr Richol when she was living in Paris, studying French language education at La Sorbonne University, several years ago.

“Friends introduced us,” she explained.

They married seven years ago in the City of Light, and moved to Bermuda shortly after. They now have a one-year-old son, Ethan.

Brexit was part of her motivation for pursuing French citizenship.

“Now, I am part of the European Union again,” she said. “French status gives me a third passport. That is helpful, because we go back to see my husband’s family in Paris, frequently.”

At some point she was asked if she wanted to relinquish her Bermudian status.

“I’m proud to be Bermudian,” she said. “I was born and raised here. I’m descended from several generations of Bermudians, so definitely no.”

Five year process: Tiffany Smith-Richol, left, with Pierre Guillement, French consular officer in New York and Nicole Haziza, honorary consul of France in Bermuda, as Mrs Smith-Richol received her French citizenship, and a letter from Emmanuel Macron, the French president (Photograph supplied)

“He was already scheduled to come to Bermuda to meet French citizens who live in Bermuda for updating their documents,” she said.

She has been interested in language and culture since her teens.

“At age 15, I went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic,” she said. “I found myself interpreting for the other Bermudians. I was able to do that just with my high school Spanish.”

Later, she went to the University of Puerto Rico to become a Spanish language educator.

“Instruction was in Spanish,” she said. “It was not a bilingual university. My first year was difficult.

“I had to translate everything, and stay up late at night learning everything. They just threw me in because I was the only English speaker in a Spanish programme.”

When she went to France to study French language education it was much easier. Coping skills she learnt at the University of Puerto Rico stood her in good stead.

Today, she speaks English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and is brushing up on her Mandarin.

She found French to be one of the hardest languages to learn due to the pronunciation, writing and the many grammar rules and exceptions.

Mrs Smith-Richol insists she does not have a favourite language. “I dream in all of them,” she said.

She grew up in a monolingual household. She is the only polyglot in her family.

After receiving a master’s in languages, civilisation and literature from the University of Versailles, she became certified to teach English as an additional language.

She taught languages in Paris in private schools, and obtained a second master’s degree in Paris.

She and her husband travelled extensively before eventually settling in Bermuda.

Now, they are raising their son Ethan to be bicultural and bilingual.

“I speak English with him and my husband speaks French with him,” Mrs Smith-Richol said. “I also sprinkle some Spanish in.”

She said it was hard to say if they would ever move to France to live.

“For now, I am enjoying my job at the Bermuda College,” she said.

She teaches a number of classes in French and Spanish including beginner’s French, conversational Spanish and Spanish for healthcare professionals.

She and her husband have begun the process of applying for French citizenship for their son.

Now that they have been through the system, she felt it might be a little easier for people coming behind them with the ground work having been laid.

Mrs Smith-Richol was open to talking to other people interested in seeking French citizenship.

For more information e-mail tiffanysrichol@gmail.com

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Published June 05, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated June 06, 2024 at 8:12 am)

Bermudian polyglot achieves French citizenship

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