Two years ago, my wonderful husband gave up his career to care for our daughter.
She was not quite six months old at the time. I'd been offered a great job, and he agreed that becoming a house husband would be the best thing for our family.
For two years, this gentle and patient man looked after our baby. He changed nappies, pureed food, bathed, dressed and played with our little princess while I was at work. He pottered around the garden with his little side-kick, he took her shopping, to the park and even to a few mothers' group meetings. And he got more and more homesick because my great job was in Singapore, meaning we were far away from friends and family.
At work, bored and missing my family, I began planning the best family holiday possible to reward my lovely man (and myself, of course). I organized some home exchanges, the first in my dream destination: Provence in France. As time went by, the plans got even grander, involving a month cycling through the backroads of Provence, along the Rhone Valley to Geneva where we would stay with my former housemate. I added Italy to our itinerary as well as Holland.
But the French government had decided our holiday is unsuitable. They have denied my husband a visa. A consular official called him yesterday and said she was not convinced he had strong enough ties to his home country. The French government believes my husband, if allowed to visit France, will abandon his wife and child for a life of washing dishes and evading the law.
My daughter and I, meanwhile, are in France. The customs officer who issued our visa stamps barely looked at us, busy chatting with her colleague when we were at her station.
She didn't really need to look at us because our passports are an acceptable color. My husband's passport is not.
In the eyes of France, my husband's Vietnamese passport makes him nothing more than an illegal immigrant waiting to happen.
My husband and I tried to jump through all the hoops the French government held up. We were in northern Thailand when we realized he needed to apply for a Schengen visa to visit Europe. There are 25 countries in the Schengen zone and you are supposed to apply for the visa with the first country you visit or the country in which you will spend the longest amount of time. In both cases, for us, this was France.
To fulfill the very complicated visa application requirements, we booked and paid for our flights to Paris, we booked hotels and we asked our home exchange families to prepare paperwork for us. My husband added photocopies of my passport, our daughter's passport, our daughter's birth certificate, bank statements, travel insurance documents and a letter from me explaining our family holiday plans. The documentation was much more than he needed for an Australian tourist visa or the Singapore residency visa, both of which were granted without any problems.
My husband boarded an overnight train to Bangkok to lodge his application with the company the French Embassy outsources its visa processing to. The company took the documents and the visa fee and told my husband he was not eligible to apply for a visa through the embassy, he needed to apply for the visa in his home country.
And my husband flew home to Vietnam to apply for a Schengen visa. My daughter and I took the flights we originally organized. Cancelling them to wait for his visa would have been too much of a strain on our tight budget.
My husband paid another visa application fee and handed over another thick sheaf of documents supporting his application. My daughter and I were not required to provide any paperwork before getting our passports stamped at the customs station at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris.
And then he got the call. Rejected. He is not good enough for France. Our family is not allowed to take a family holiday in France. We are not permitted to travel together through this country.
I got the news about my husband's visa yesterday just before my daughter and I visited Aix-en-Provence. My view of France soured immediately. The cobblestone streets, the terracotta buildings, the Juliet balconies, the fountains and the statues of Aix did not seem charming. Every single thing I saw in Aix seemed racist, narrow-minded and anti-family.
Even though I have been dreaming, plotting and planning a holiday in France for more than a year, I don't want to stay in this country. My daughter keeps calling for her daddy, and her daddy is not welcome here. That does not make me feel welcome either. Rather than marveling at French fields and enjoying French food, I will be spending the next few days searching for cheap flights to get me out of this anti-family place.