New Flophouse Address:

You will find all the posts, comments, and reading lists (old and some new ones I just published) here:

Friday, April 29, 2011

French Education - A View from the Inside

The other day we were having yet another dinner-time debate and the topic turned to the education system here in France.  After listening to much moaning and groaning, I challenged the Frenchlings to stop complaining and start thinking about what they would change if they had the power.  I told them that I would  publish their ideas and experiences on this blog.  The first installment comes from the younger Frenchling.  

Hello. I am the younger ‘Frenchling’ (although I don’t care much for the term), and my name,  for the purpose of this article that is, after all, going on the Internet, is Blackcatgirl.

For those of you familiar with my mom’s blog, you will know that I am a Franco-American girl, who is bilingual in French and English (I’m currently working on being trilingual, as I have an large interest in Japan), has lived in the US, Japan, and most of her life in France. I’m currently doing an OIB (Option Internationale du Baccalaureat).

I am mainly a fantasy writer. Given even a small subject, phrase, word, whatever, and I’ll make up a story like zap. But, I have unfortunately almost no experience in other kinds of writing. Hence, my cameo on my mom’s blog. It was her idea.

Probably because I have been educated in the French educational system, and so we come to the subject of this article. You will be treated to an overview of exactly what I think is wrong with the French system, from the perspective of someone who has spent almost ten, long, years, in it.

So, my main issue is that they do not encourage us to think for ourselves. Sometimes I think they don’t want us to think at all.  For example, in French, we started doing dissertations. It goes like this: they give us a quote from a famous nobody, and we have to answer, and comment on it.  But here’s the catch.

You’re not allowed to disagree.

Oh, you can if you want to, just don’t expect a good grade. You are expected to argue, in a first paragraph, for, and in the second, against, the idea given. And in the conclusion, you have to say something along the lines of ‘But this person remains right.’ My sister, who has to study 8 hours of philosophy every week, tells me it is pretty much the same in that subject. I am not looking forward to it.

On the subject of philosophy, my mom recently asked my sister what she was studying, to which my sister rattled of a long string of long dead philosophers.

My mom asked her if she was studying Peter Singer, to which my sister replied, ‘Who?’ My mom was appalled.

It turns out, my sister is studying no contemporary philosophers at all. Nothing shocking, nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing thought-provoking. In fact, her teacher made a speech at the beginning of the year about how much he hates contemporary philosophers.

It's the same in French History-Geography, just mindlessly learn by heart and spew it back on paper during a test, and you’ll be guaranteed a good grade. In French dissertations, it’s a bit better but you still have to agree with the given quote (see above point.)

Two exceptions are my English Literature and English History-Geography classes.   In those classes, I am called upon to think. In History essays, I have to make a point (like, who was most wrong in the American Revolution), and argue for it. In literature, same thing. I have to draw my own conclusion from the text, to analyze and think about it.

I see every day how new educational methods are being discovered, that have amazing potential.  Just today, I read an article about a school in New York that teaches through video games. And let’s face it, that would be fun.

And yet, France sticks to its tired old methods. It does have several things going for it, such as math which is taught at a higher level. But they aren’t teaching us to think outside the box, a fact I find profoundly disturbing. Any idiot can memorize a bunch of tired old texts and spit them back out. I think a genius is one who can think, argue, and be creative. For I believe that thinking creatively,  logically, is the greatest tool a person can have to help solve world problems.

To give the French system a break, it’s not entirely their fault. Every time they try to pass a reforme, students riot, often without knowing why. They don’t think, they just see a chance to get off school, which in all fairness is incredibly boring (from 8 to 5, four to five days a week). If they knew how to look at all the facts, instead of mindlessly following, they would be able to draw a proper conclusion, whether or not the reform is bad, and act accordingly.

So, to sum up, I think some serious changes are in order for the French educational system. They should encourage creative thinking, through more debates, stop forcing us to adopt the same views as people regarded as ‘famous’, or whatever, and start making us thinking.

For thinking, creating new original solutions is, in my opinion, the best way to solve world issues.

And it wouldn’t hurt to make it more fun along the way.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SIJI - Yearning for Home

This music video was released two years ago by the artist, Siji.  He says:
The concept of the video was to shed light on my constant longing for my ancestral homeland Nigeria where I grew up. It was crucial for me to convey the sense of nostalgia we immigrants come to feel when far away from that which we affectionately call “Home”. For even though we have come to make our new homes away from home, there forever remains a deep sense of longing for that which we left behind.
I think he does a wonderful job of conveying that complex cocktail of emotions that migrants feel about Home. I loved the music - the lyrics, the images and his voice - and I hope you will too.

SIJI - "Yearning For Home" Music Video from SIJI on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Who I am depends on...

Where I am...

In India I was a foreign manager from headquarters in Paris.
In Japan I was an expatriate gaijin project manager from Europe.
In Morocco I was a green-eyed fellow-student from the U.S.
In Canada I was a problem, "We'd like to see your French papers, Madame."

In France I am an immigrant.
In Europe I am a resident third-country national.
In North America I am a citizen of the United States of America.

Who I am with...

To my French family, I am a foreign bride married to their son/brother and mother to two French girls.

To my American family, I am their daughter, sister, aunt who happens to be married to a foreign man and lives abroad as the mother of two American girls

To my French friends, I am an American.

To my American friends, I'm still an American... more or less.

But to my friends in the Flat world, I'm just another one of those "people who move around" - a cultural relativist, international misfit, existential migrant.

This is my tribe.  ;-)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Measuring Assimilation in the U.S.

"Assimilation" is a word I have learned to use carefully.  For one thing, it is a word that is often used as a weapon to justify ungracious behaviour.  "If they would just learn the language, they would be treated better," - as if mastery of a particular language were a pre-condition to humane treatment.  If that were true we would have all the justification we need to snob tourists.

For another, it is a word that is highly dependent on context and is both used and interpreted differently depending on where all the participants to the conversation happen to be coming from.

So I greatly enjoyed this study from the Manhattan Institute that attempts to put some clarity into the debate in the U.S.  The author, Jacob Vigdor,  sets a very clear standard and then uses explicit criteria to make meaningful measurements about the degree to which the foreign-born differ (or don't) from the native-born.    The report lists three types of assimilation:  economic, cultural and civic.

Economic:  Basically this is labor-force participation.  How do the foreign-born contribute and in what sectors?  Assimilation is low if workers from a particular national origin cluster in a particular rung of the economic ladder or in particular industries. Low economic assimilation can be true of high-paid workers as well as people in lower paid occupations.  What is being measured is how that participation differs from that of the native-born.

Cultural:  In the report language is a criteria among others used to measure integration.  Religion is not a factor - intermarriage with a native, marital status overall, and the number of children, are.

Civic:  This is measured through naturalization and military service.  The report says (and I agree) that this may be an even stronger indicator of overall integration than cultural assimilation because "the choice to become a naturalized citizen, or to serve in the United States military, shows a tangible dedication to this country."

This report which was published in 2006 is not intended to be the definitive word on assimilation and the author is clear that he is not making a judgement about people's personal choices or coming down on one side or another on the assimilation debate. He freely admits that, in some cases, "Assimilation may not be necessary for immigrants to make net positive contributions to society. Assimilation may even be undesirable under certain circumstances. For example, immigration may have the most positive net impact on economic growth if immigrants are economically distinct from natives."

What he does aim to do (and I think he succeeds brilliantly) is to raise the tone of the debate and help Americans clarify their thinking in order to make sober, well-reasoned decisions about policy in our democracy. And that, mes amis, is what being a citizen is all about.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Playing for Change: Groove in G

I think this is the best Playing for Change music video I've seen yet.  All the musicians are fabulous but the guys from Spain and Japan are particularly good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Countries of Immigration are also Countries of Emigration

I thought we could have a little fun today and shine the spotlight on some of the countries where immigration is a hot topic and where the rhetoric has a tendency to turn nasty.   How quickly some of us forget (or perhaps we never wanted to consider) that countries of immigration are also countries of emigration.

I suspect we don't want to think about it because it touches our amour propre (pride).  French, Canadian, UK and US citizens like to think of their countries as preferred destinations and not places people leave.

Here are a few interesting facts:

France:  In 2010 there were 1.5 million registered Frenchmen and women living abroad out of a population of 63 million.  It is estimated that this number would top 2 million if unregistered French citizens abroad would stand still long enough to be counted.  To put this in perspective this means that there is a population of French people equal to the population of Marseille and its surrounding communities who do not live in France at all.

UK: In 2006 it was estimated by the IPRR that the UK population living abroad was a whopping 5.5 million out of a population of 62 million. In 2009 alone the number of people leaving the UK for 12 months or more was estimated at around 368,000 with 140,000 of them classified as "emigrants".

USA: The Association of American Residents Oversees (AARO) counts a little over 5 million American civilians (excluding military) living abroad. As they point out on their website,
"If all these Americans were placed in one state it would be the 17th most populous state in the U.S.! "

Canada: 2.8 million Canadians live abroad according to this CBC News article which notes that, "For the Canadian-born population, the exit rate was estimated at 1.33 per cent, which translates into 500,000 Canadian-born leavers over the 10-year period."

For even more information on emigration rates for these and other countries I highly recommend that you consult the excellent UNDP "Integrative Map of Migration Data" where you will find emigration and immigration rates and other eye-opening statistics by region.

"But, but, but," you might say, " There are many MANY more people coming in than going out!"

And your point is?

Look, 5.5 million UK citizens, 5 million American citizens, 2.8 Canadian citizens and 2 million French citizens are still living in someone else's house.  You can call them many things: guests, ex-pats, global citizens, even "international misfits" but the fact remains they are living somewhere other than their country of origin.  They are all migrants.  And I contend that a British physicist in California or an American IT manager in France is not any different from a Puerto Rican chef in New York or an Moroccan telecom engineer in Marseilles.

So what I would ask of all the people out there who are filled with fear and angst and anger against those "people who move around" is to take a moment to consider this:  there is a strong possibility that one day you (or perhaps your children or your grandchildren) may be closing up your house, packing your bags and hopping on a plane to settle in a new land.  It may be for a few months, or a few years, or a lifetime (who really knows these things anyway?)

Keep that image in mind every time you are tempted to lash out.  If you stay home, treat others as you would one day wish to be treated if you happened to be a stranger in a strange land.  If you depart, pray that the people of your country of destination have internalized the immortal words of Francis Bacon:
If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Come into my garden...

And since we're exploring the garden theme and we have already seen Tokyo in all its glory, let's take a trip through another garden - the Flophouse garden in Versailles.

We'll go out through the kitchen....

And I'll take you on a tour....

Hostas and Celandine

No Spring would be complete without muguet

Peonies and Potatoes

Herbs and Dahlias
And then we'll have a beer on the terrace in the sun.

Definitely blooming in Versailles.....

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Love where you're from but bloom where you're planted

In my recent explorations around the blogsphere, I was delighted to discover the reflections of two French expatriates who left the Hexagone a few years ago for Seattle.  It is both wonderful and slightly painful to read their impressions of the city of my birth.

There is a saying, "You can't step into the same river twice. "  The city they describe is both deeply familiar and sometimes shockingly strange.  Does every migrant dreaming of the home he left behind experience this strange dissonance?  This disconnect between what he remembers and the reality that people and places don't stand still for you?

The first time this happened to me was on vacation a few years after I had moved to France.  I flew in from Paris to the local airport and my brother drove me into town.   When I saw that they had torn down a large sports stadium that had been a prominent part of the city skyline since I was a small child, I was filled with such rage.  "How dare they do that," I thought, as though Seattle were a part of my personal patrimoine requiring my permission before they so much as clipped a hedge or painted a wall.  Even now, as irrational as it sounds, I deeply resent any changes to my city.

I love where I'm from.  Seattle is a gorgeous city, nestled between two stunning chains of mountains, with the ocean and lakes all around and miles and miles of ever green forests.  People are friendly, polite and have a strong sense of civic duty.  It is a tolerant city where people of many different persuasions rub along together quite harmoniously.  It is large enough to have a fine public farmer's market, several universities and many hi-tech companies but it still small enough so that the rhythm of life is slower than in the huge cities like New York, Tokyo or Paris.

"So why don't you go home?" ask my friends.  The only answer I can give is that I also love where I am.

Think of me as a young sapling from a temperate rain forest of the New World who, after being uprooted and spending many years acculturating, finally grew enough roots to find the soil of the Old World rich and warm and nourishing.  

I'm from there but I bloomed here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Of Creeds and Tribes

When I first met what was to become my family by marriage here in France, I was rather startled to be questioned closely about my religious beliefs.  Since I had the impression that France was very much a secular country, it never occurred to me that religion would be an issue.  It was and it turned out to be the first point of convergence between my country of birth and my adopted country.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and at least part of my education was in religious schools.  When I first arrived at a large public university in Seattle and asked my first question in class, I addressed the professor as "Father."  This comes as a big surprise to my French friends who assume that because I'm an American that I must be a Protestant Christian.   I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding on both sides about the cultural space religion occupies in both worlds.

To understand religion in the U.S. one has to think "diversity."  There is no one sect that has a majority and there is a little bit of everything and something for just about anyone.  My own family in the U.S. is a collection of Catholic and Protestant Christians, Mormons and other faiths.  My friends in Seattle were, in no particular order, Christians, Mormons, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists and so on.  Most of my American friends and quite a few members of my family are converts to a religion other than the one they were born into.  Religion is important in the U.S but I will go out on a limb here and say that I have the impression that the particular creed one follows is not so significant.  It is having a faith and being part of a community of believers that matters. There is no one faith that can claim to be more culturally American than any other (the era of the WASP was over long ago).

Since this was all I had ever known, imagine my shock when I arrived in France and discovered that, for the very first time in my life, I was in the religious majority.   My family by marriage is Roman Catholic as well as the majority of my friends who were baptized in the Church even though relatively few of them actually attend services.

Every day I live here I am struck by how that religion is an integral part of French culture.  It is so much a part of everyday life that the average French person doesn't even notice how it manifests itself.  From the church bells that ring on the hour in my mother-in-law's village in the Limousin to the weather report that gives not only the chance of precipitation but also the Saint's Day.  At my daughter's public school in Paris, the school handed out a flyer from the local church which said that someone from the church would be present after class one day a week to take the children to Catechism classes if their parents wished.  All Saints Day (la Toussaint) is a public holiday as are Good Friday, Easter, Whit Monday, and the Ascension. Catholic schools in France are educating over 2 million students in 2010/2011.

Most of my friends do not go to church but almost all of them have had their children baptized.  When I asked them why, the reply was revealing:  "It's tradition," they said.  It's the ritual:  choosing the god-parents, going to the church with the extended family and the big party after the ceremony with special candies given out to the guests.

Of my friends who are practicing Catholics, the questions I get when they discover I was also raised Catholic are quite interesting.  Having only experienced the Church in France they are genuinely surprised to discover, for example, that American Catholics also baptize their children, go to Confession, get Confirmed, attend Mass on Sunday and so on and that the rituals are exactly the same.  Members of my family who have attended church here in Paris have no trouble following the Mass even though they don't speak a word of French.  The only differences I've noticed are, of course, the language (unless the Mass is in Latin), sitting versus kneeling, and the presence of a national flag -  in U.S. Catholic churches I've visited there is usually an American flag prominently displayed somewhere.

One more difference and I think this one is key.  Roman Catholicism came to America relatively recently through Irish, French, Spanish, Mexican, and German immigrants and so American Catholics are keenly aware that the Church is international.

Most of my French friends seem less aware of the global nature of the Catholic Church and perceive the French Church as being something very unique.  That is both true and untrue.  It is unique, I think, in the sense that it has traditionally been so deeply embedded in the culture and has had enormous influence in shaping that culture. I contend that you can not erase a thousand years of influence by proclaiming one day the separation of church, state and culture.

That influence can be seen even today in ways that are immediately obvious to someone coming from another country.  But the core rituals, the beliefs, the structure are exactly the same and do not differ from the U.S. or any other country where Roman Catholics live their faith.

Welcome to globalization!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A T-Rex Talks about Language

These come from a hilariously funny site called Dinosaur Comics.  Please note that the author, Ryan North, has done his research. On his site, under the comics, you'll find his commentary and good links.

And may I add that I love this guy's attitude.  On his site he says, "Man, comics are meant for sharing! TOTALLY GO FOR IT. You don't need permission to post the comics on your site or anything like that."  Now that is a generous spirit.  Check out his site.  It's a breath of fresh air and funny as hell. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Citizenship by jus sanguinis? Not So Simple....

Over 2000 years ago Aristotle wrote that neither blood or place of birth should make one a citizen.  It was the act of ruling and judging or being ruled as a member of a political community that made citizens, not an accident of birth.

Clearly Aristotle's argument did not have much influence because today almost every nation on this planet allows for the automatic acquisition of citizenship by blood (jus sanguinis).  However, this right is interpreted differently by different countries and depends on a number of factors of which the most important seems to be the gender of the citizen-parent.

It may be a surprise to Americans and French but historically acquisition of citizenship by jus sanguinis was limited to children whose fathers were citizens.  Women who married foreign men were stripped of their citizenship and disqualified from transmitting that citizenship to their children even if they remained on French or U.S. soil.

Jus Sangunis in France:  A Long Road to Equality

The Civil Code of 1803 which instituted jus sanguinis in France was restricted to children of French fathers.  The man was considered the head of the house and so citizenship, like the family name, followed the father's line, not the mother's.   This led to a rather disagreeable situation:  most people born of foreign fathers in France were not French citizens and so could not be drafted into the army.  Given the events of late 19th century Europe, this was a terrible state of affairs from the point of view of the French State. This was rectified by a law passed in 1889 which allowed for double jus soli - a child born in France of a French-born non-citizen parent became a French citizen automatically.

Nevertheless, it was not until 1927 that the laws were changed to allow Frenchwomen to keep French citizenship if they married a foreigner and to pass their citizenship along to their children.  Again, this was a question of state interest.  Between 1914 and 1927, 120,000 Frenchwomen became foreigners because of marriage to foreign men.  During that time only 60,000 foreign women became French due to marriage with French men.  This meant a net loss of 60,000 citizens in a little over a decade.

Post World War II saw new restrictions limiting the right of Frenchwomen marrying foreigners but in 1973 a law was passed eliminating all discrimination against Frenchwomen.  And that is where the situation stands today.

The United States:  Not Quite There....

In the U.S. the situation was less clear but it appears that principle of "dependent nationality" was also enforced.  In 1897, Secretary Sherman wrote “By our statute an alien wife of an American citizen shares his citizenship.  By the usual rules of Continental private international law, a woman marrying an alien shares his status...”

In 1907 it was made official when Congress passed the Expatriation Act which clearly stated that a female U.S. citizen automatically lost her citizenship upon marriage to an alien.

Some relief was provided in the 1922 Cable Act.  Loss of citizenship was no longer automatic but a woman still lost her United States citizenship if she married an alien ineligible for citizenship.  In addition, it was assumed that she renounced her American citizenship if she lived in her husband's country for two years or if she lived abroad for five years.  A woman who became a naturalized citizen of another state could not transmit her citizenship to her children.  Given that naturalization was often automatic in the husband's country, the end result was that the woman lost her American citizenship and could not transmit American citizenship to her children. (If this were still true I would have lost my American citizenship years ago!)

A number of acts between the 1930's and the 1990's gradually eliminated the automatic loss of citizenship for women married to foreign citizens.  American women acquired the right to transmit U.S. nationality to their children born abroad in 1934.

The law is still unclear about American women who marry foreign men and choose to become naturalized citizens of their husband's country.  Since 1990 the State Department answers such queries with this note which says that being naturalized in a foreign country is grounds for losing citizenship if it is done with the specific intention of renouncing U.S. citizenship.  So theoretically one can become a dual citizen as long as the intention is to keep U.S. citizenship and the U.S. State Department acts under the assumption that a U.S. citizen acquiring citizenship in another state wishes to keep his/her U.S. nationality.  For those of us who are U.S. citizens contemplating naturalization in our countries of residence this is an awfully shaky post upon which to hang our hats.  (May I state for the record here that I have absolutely no intention, now or in the future, of renouncing my U.S. citizenship?)

Interestingly enough, the transmission of U.S. citizenship by jus sanguinis is not gender-neutral and is unfavorable to American fathers of children born abroad.  In 1790 American law was clear:  children born outside the U.S. to American fathers were automatically U.S. citizens.  Today, the situation is not so simple.  In 2011 the American father of a child born out of wedlock must prove that the child is his and agree to support the child until age 18.  In addition he must have resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years and two of those years of residency must be after age 14.  The only requirement for an American woman in the same situation is that she must have lived continuously in the U.S. for one year at some point in her life.

I have no explanation for this.  Contemplating the legal history of citizenship transmission by blood in both countries, I am struck by how often these law have been changed or re-interpreted depending on the times and, quite frankly, the requirements of the state.  It does make you wonder what might happen in the years to come depending on which way the political winds blow.  Transmission of citizenship by jus sanguinis is not a given - it is a hard won right which none of us should take for granted.

In writing the above essay, I have relied heavily on two very good books:
 Citizenship Today:  Global Perspectives and Practices edited by T. Alexander Aleinkoff and Douglas Klusmeyer (2001)  and The Politics of Citizenship in Europe by Marc Morje Howard.  For the latter I have written a review for Amazon which can be found here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Sakura - 品川区 Shinagawa City, Tokyo

And Nature shows her gentler side.  The Sakura (Cherry Blossom Time) has arrived in Tokyo.

These photos were taken by Koichiro Yamamoto, a former colleague.  He has kindly agreed to let me share them with you.



Sunday, April 10, 2011

Synchrony - Culture through Rhythm

Before the Renaissance, God was conceived of as sound or vibration. This is understandable because the rhythm of a people may yet prove to be the most binding of all the forces that hold human beings together. As a matter of fact, I have come to the conclusion that the human species lives in a sea of rhythm, ineffable to some, but quite tangible to others. This explains why some composers really do seem to be able to tap into that sea and express for the people the rhythms that are felt but not yet expressed as music.
Edward T. Hall, The Dance of Life
Right after Clifford Geertz, the anthropologist Edward Hall has had the most influence on me and my understanding of culture - not just cultural differences but culture in its own context.

Some of his most intriguing ideas were revealed by his research in proxemics - how a culture handles space between individuals, and synchrony - how we use space to communicate and sync with each other.  Our bodies move in harmony with others according to codes we learn through our culture.  "Rhythm," said Hall, "is basic to synchrony."

And I can think of no better illustration of synchrony than this remarkable video about the people of Baro produced by Thomas Roebers:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Citation du jour/Quote of the day

In addition to being a co-author of this blog, Jean-Jacques Auffret has a personal project he calls "Citation du jour/Quote of the day."  In his words:
It consists in sending a quote every day to interested people through a free-subscribe mailing list (Google Groups list or email me). If you like this, please make the community grow by forwarding your favorites quotes to whom you think they might inspire. Quotes in italic are a best-effort translation
The quotations are wonderfully diverse, come from many sources and are usually translated personally by Jean-Jacques from French to English or vice versa. I say "usually" because today Jean-Jacques pulled a fast one.  Here is what he sent this morning:

Marie, levez-vous ma jeune paresseuse:
Ja la gaie alouette au ciel a fredonné
Et ja le rossignol doucement jargonné,
Dessus l’épine assis, sa complainte amoureuse.

Sus ! debout ! allons voir l’herbellette perleuse,
Et votre beau rosier de boutons couronné,
Et vos œillets mignons auxquels aviez donné,
Hier au soir de l’eau, d’une main si soigneuse.

Harsoir en vous couchant vous jurâtes vos yeux
D’être plus tôt que moi ce matin éveillée :
Mais le dormir de l’Aube, aux filles gracieux

Vous tient d’un doux sommeil encor les yeux sillée.
Ca ! ça ! que je les baise et votre beau tétin,
Cent fois, pour vous apprendre à vous lever matin. 
Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)

And people complained because there was no translation into English. So JJ sent a follow-up e-mail:  
As I anticipated, I receive lots of complaints about lack of translation for today’s quote.  So here is a quick (and dirty?) one, omitting all the gory details that poets ridiculously insist on stuffing their production with.
"It’s springtime, Marie, let’s do what people usually do during that season."
If you would like a bit of inspiration and amusement with your morning coffee and e-mail, click on the above link to subscribe.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Citizen Orange

Those of you who regularly visit my site have probably deduced that I am pro-migration and that I am firmly on the side of people "who move around."  It would be inconsistent with my personal history and experience to be anything else.

The rhetoric coming out of the U.S., the U.K. and Germany about migration and assimilation is both ill-informed and quite frightening even to those of us who do have papers and are legally living in our countries of residence.  I doubt that many of the people screaming "total immersion and assimilation" or "English/French/German Only!" ever had to struggle with such difficult and emotionally complex topics in their own lives.  Having no direct experience with being migrants themselves, they then compound their ignorance with a failure of imagination and of empathy.

Citizen Orange is a U.S. based site that I discovered very recently. They do not speak for migrants (migrants can speak for themselves quite nicely), they simply offer a forum where migrants can speak out, find allies and exchange information and where non-migrants can learn something about the migrant experience.  From the Citizen Orange website:
This does not mean that we cannot relate to the migrant experience through our common humanity. We constantly strive towards understanding and empathy through Citizen Orange and our daily lives. It just means that we will not profess to speak on behalf of migrants. Citizen Orange is not the place to look for a space representative of the migrant voice. If you are searching, look through our blogroll for answers, or in a community near you. Citizen Orange is not the migrant voice, but we do seek to support it and amplify it through our efforts. 
Much of the content is U.S. centered but even if you are outside the Americas you will still find useful information and good reads about Human Rights, Assimilation,  Global Citizens, and International Migrant Discrimination.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Not My Weekend?

This Saturday, somewhere between the suburban train station and the RER A line in La Defense, someone unzipped the back pocket of my backpack and took my wallet.  I lost all the usual things:  money, credit cards and, of course, my French residency card.

Like all unfortunate events, there was a silver lining in there somewhere.  If I hadn't had my wallet stolen that day, I would never have:

  • Seen how calm and competent my elder Frenchling can be.  She had the presence of mind to calm her mother down and then grab the first soldier she saw (there are patrols in the station) and ask what to do.
  • Met three very professional and helpful soldiers who took the time to walk us personally up to the nearest police station.
  • Talked with a very nice policewoman at the La Defense police station who gave me the list of all the information I would need and advised me to go to the police station in Versailles.
  • Visited the police station in Versailles where another very charming and quite funny policewoman took down my statement and did her best to make me feel better. (And, yes, I was feeling like the world's biggest imbecile.)
  • Then I went to the Prefecture this morning to report the loss.  Stood in line, talked with other foreigners, read the Declaration of the Rights of Man that was posted on the wall, and when I finally arrived at the window, I  was taken care of with sympathy and efficiency.

Over the weekend I had a lot of time to reflect on what happened and I've decided that the universe is sending me a sign.  I am convinced that the universe does not want me to be a resident of the French Republic, it wants me to become a citizen.

When I was on the train platform staring at the empty space where my wallet had been, I realized that the only thing in it that I really cared about was my residency card - the proof that I live and work and have friends and family here. It was the only official evidence I had that I belong and I feel its loss keenly.

To the above, I add all the help and kindness of strangers over the weekend and my conclusion is this:

It is high time I asked to join this strange tribe.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bodies in motion: Dancing around the world - The Big Picture

From The Big Picture 40 stunning photos of....

And one more from the Flophouse Archives:

Younger Frenchling dancing on the beach in Brittany, France

Bon weekend!