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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pledging Allegiance: Plural Nationality

As many of you know I am an American citizen by birth and inclination and a long-term resident of the French Republic and the European Union.  Citizen, legal resident, third country national.  These three terms define the allegiance, duties, responsibilities and rights I have to my country of origin and to my country of residence.  Over the years I have contemplated becoming a French citizen but I have always hesitated.  I have written several posts over the years about my ambivalence toward pledging my allegiance to another nation-state.  All jokes and smart remarks aside, I take this question very seriously. I will not become a French citizen to avoid paperwork or to simplify my life here - to do so would be, in my view, an insult to the French, a people I esteem highly, and a outright lie if I did so with questionable loyalty to France in my heart.  I will also never become a French citizen if it puts my American citizenship in danger.

So with all these questions in my mind, and because I am a curious person who thinks too much (according to my very practical French husband),  I decided to delve into the subject of citizenship in general and dual nationality/citizenship in particular.  Perhaps if I understood better the roots of citizenship and the implications, and the arguments for and against dual citizenship, I can arrive at a decision that I can live with.

(For the purpose of this and the other essays I will write on this topic, I will use the terms "citizenship" and "nationality" interchangeably.  I am aware that there are differences but in general conversation - and what is a blog if it is not an informal conversation? - they mean the same thing.)

There has always been ambivalence to the idea of plural nationality/citizenship.  In addition to questions about loyalty and duties, protection of property and persons, there are also arguments about fairness.  Is it "fair" that by an accident of birth (or the judicious choice of a spouse) dual or plural citizens have the right to live, work and vote in two countries which gives them an undeserved advantage over people with only one?

For the majority of nation-states (and a goodly percentage of nation-state citizens) it would be a simpler and better world if every individual had exclusive allegiance to one country and held only one nationality/citizenship at a time.

Here are a few examples of how some States (and supra-national States) have acted to limit it:  


The 1963 Convention on Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality  (Article 1) said that those who were willingly naturalized in another state could lose the nationality of their country of origin.  This was amended in 1993 and the 1997 European Convention on Nationality rather grudgingly admits that, as a result of many factors, plural nationality exists as a fait accompli in today's world and sets down rules to accommodate it.  Nevertheless, I interpret this document as something less than a whole-hearted endorsement of it even between EU member states.


The German state has generally been hostile to the idea of dual citizenship. The constitutional  court of the Federal Republic of Germany had this to say in 1974:
It is accurate to say that dual or multiple nationality is regarded, both domestically and internationally, as an evil that should be avoided or elimination in the interests of states as well as in the interests of the affected citizens...
A 1999 poll indicated that 63% of Germans were against the idea of dual citizenship.  More recently, the Germany Nationality Act of 2000 allowed children whose German citizenship was acquired by jus soli to hold dual citizenship until the age of 18 at which point they were asked to choose one and renounce the other.  A quick search on the Web shows that the debate continues....


The United States of America discourages but does not prevent a U.S. citizen from holding dual citizenship.  Here is the official State Department policy:

A person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship. 
Intent can be shown by the person's statements or conduct.  The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. Government efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has a stronger claim to that person's allegiance.

In Japan dual nationality is officially forbidden (I've heard that there are exceptions to this).  The Japan Ministry of Justice has this to say (and they seem to be quite serious about it by actually requiring proof of renunciation of the other nationality):
A Japanese national having a foreign nationality (a person of dual nationality) shall choose either of the nationalities before he or she reaches twenty two years of age (or within two years after the day when he or she acquired the second nationality if he or she acquired such nationality after the day when he or she reached twenty years of age). If he or she fails to choose either of the nationalities, he or she may lose Japanese nationality.

Marine Le Pen of the Front National in France (Far Right) has declared more than once in interviews that she is against jus soli and dual nationality and would suppress it in France, if elected.  
Oui, je crois qu'il faut changer le code de la nationalité, qu'il faut supprimer le droit du sol et je pense qu'il faut supprimer la double nationalité.
And to my French friends who might argue that it is unfair to quote a politician from the Far Right on this issue, I would counter that given her level of support (23% in a recent poll), it is not inconceivable that her position on certain topics like nationality and immigration will be influential even if she does not win.  As someone thinking about becoming a French citizen, this kind of comment makes you think twice...

With all this discouragement and outright animosity on the part of States one might expect that plural nationality would be in decline.   Much to the chagrin of policy-makers the reality is that the number of dual (or plural) nationals is increasing.

In my next post, we'll examine why.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Data is Beautiful

This is so incredibly cool, I could not resist sharing it with you.

Aaron Koblin is an artist inspired by data and his projects brings together technology, art and people-generated input in a way that warms this old IT lady's heart.  One example is the Wilderness Downtown Project - it's an interactive video where you enter where you were born and the program generates a video for you with pictures and maps and music.   He currently leads the Data Arts Group at Google.  You can read more about him and his projects here.  If you want to see and hear about his work directly from him, just watch this Ted Talk.
Bon weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Open Culture - la Mission Civilisatrice

I've been meaning to write about the site, Open Culture, for some time now. This site, founded in 2006, is, as far as I'm concerned, THE place to go to find free cultural and educational media. Their mission is simple:
Open Culture brings together high-quality cultural & educational media for the worldwide lifelong learning community. Web 2.0 has given us great amounts of intelligent audio and video. It’s all free. It’s all enriching. But it’s also scattered across the web, and not easy to find. Our whole mission is to centralize this content, curate it, and give you access to this high quality content whenever and wherever you want it.

It's all here and it's all free - no gimmicks and no problems with Hadopi.  Everything on the site has been created or made available by folks who want to share.

There was some talk here in Paris this week of "civilizing the Internet."  I'd say, with sites like this one, "civilization" is a alive and well on the Internet, Mr. Sarkozy.  It just isn't in a form you and your friends like.
Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.
John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When the Political becomes Personal

I walked into a bar/restaurant recently and, as I ordered my coffee (black no sugar) I tuned into the conversations around me.  I think it was the woman shrieking "menteuse" (liar) that caught my attention.

The crowd at the bar was discussing recent events and they were both drunk and angry.

I've talked a little bit about the dark side of being an immigrant and this moment, in this bar, in this place perfectly captures the fear and loneliness of being caught in a foreign world that is sometimes friendly, mostly neutral and, once in a blue moon, actively hostile.

You have learned to grow an extra layer of skin and you stay calm but the knowledge that you are, oh so vulnerable and outnumbered, makes you fearful and angry.  And you wonder how it will go with your next encounter with the bureaucracy since passion is leading people past rationality and into a dark realm where the individual is secondary to scoring points against the national of an offending (and offensive) nation.

These are the moments where "immigrant rage" comes to the fore.  You can't win against the many, you can't reason, you can't even be a part of the conversation with the native-born caught in their own emotional web of angst and anger.  All you can do is submit, stay silent, pay the bill and prudently remove yourself from the situation.

And, yes, that makes you very angry indeed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Leave Blossoms Wherever You Go

One of the critiques of Global Citizens is that we are shallow-rooted residents of many places.  Since we have an "out" people fear that we pass through places like ghosts in a limousine, gliding along until the next adventure and the next Third Place.

Perhaps there are people like that out there.  I personally don't know any.  On the contrary my experience has been that once you have lived in a country and made connections,  you care deeply about  that place even if you are called to leave it.  A perfect example was the earthquake and tsunami in Japan which had me frantically emailing friends to find out if all was o.k.

My corollary to the "Bloom Where You're Planted" is "Leave Blossoms Wherever You Go."  However long you stay in a place, leave it a little bit better for your having been there.  Do something useful and constructive for the benefit of the people around you.  Volunteer. Be the best possible ambassador for your country by learning about the place you find yourself, by making a difference however small, and by sharing with people how much you love where you are from.

When we came back to France from Japan we found a lovely apartment here in Versailles.  The apartment was grand, the garden was a mess.  A lot of moss, a few dahlias, a couple of struggling roses, no worms, no birds, no life.  It was a veritable desert.

Three years (and a lot of compost, love and sweat) later this little piece of earth has been transformed.  This year, for the very first time, the roses bloomed.  Here they are in all their splendor:

No immigrants, these roses were here when we arrived.  They just needed a little pruning and some fertilizer to shine.  As for the rest of the garden, my neighbors have deemed it "magnifique."

If we do it right, we Global Citizens can be a force for good in the world by treating every place we find ourselves as a garden that we can transform and leave richer and more fertile than we arrived.  For our own benefit surely but also for our neighbors and friends so that even if we leave for distant shores we will be remembered not only for what we are but for the good things we left behind.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The DSK Affair - Empathy

None of us, I think, are ignorant of the recent events which have monopolized the headlines of all the major newspapers this past week.  The facts are few - the interpretation of those facts are multiple.  I would not presume to judge the guilt or innocence of any person on the basis of newspapers, Internet articles and blogs.  As one rather wise journalist put it, those who know what is really going on are not talking while those who have few facts feel free to speculate without limit.

As someone who sits squarely on the fault line I refer to as "The French-American Divide" it is personally quite painful to read the words of those who take this as a fine opportunity to demonize the Other.    It is tiresome to hear the same old trite stereotypes being trotted out: the French are this, the American (or Anglo-Saxons) are that...  I note that those who have the nastiest things to say are usually people who are in no position to make these kinds of distasteful and often outrageous statements as they have little or no experience with the other country or culture.

I am a fervent, almost radical, believer in free speech and the right of every person to express himself as he sees fit.  We have the right to be wrong.  We even have the right to be disagreeable idiots.  However, this is not conducive to building a better world and does not increase cross-cultural understanding one iota.  On the contrary we regress when we should be progressing toward greater understanding which is absolutely essential as our world shrinks ever smaller.

In the midst of all this anger and angst  the only answer I have is a plea that everyone step back and take 30 seconds to use their human capacity for empathy.  As human beings we are graced with the ability to imagine what another person might be thinking or feeling and to put ourselves in that person's shoes in order to better understand the prism through which that person thinks or acts.  We do it all the time with the people we love.  We do it far too little with the people we despise or fear and yet it is probably with those people that we have the most need of it.  Let me be very clear, empathy is not about making excuses for bad behaviour nor does it imply that we will magically change our minds and our opinions.   It is nothing more than a thought experiment where we imagine how the world (or an event) might look to someone who is not us.

So I would ask all the parties involved to try looking at the DSK affair through the eyes of the Other.  For better or worse our two countries are tied by centuries of common history.  It has never been an easy or simple relationship.  At times we have literally spilled blood for each other.  In other eras it has felt more like we were trying to draw blood from each other.  We gain so much when we are respectful toward each other, when we take each other points of view seriously and when we disagree thoughtfully and compassionately.  We have everything to lose when we forget that nothing that is human is truly foreign.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Playing for Change - Three Little Birds

More magic from the Playing for Change folks.  Check out those stairs in Rio.  Very cool.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Flophouse in Germany - Fast Trains

The Flophouse found itself in Mannheim, Germany this weekend. 

We were outbound on the TGV (the French fast train) from Paris.  Due to a technical glitch the departure was delayed by 30 minutes and when we finally pulled out of the station, the train actually lost power and stopped dead on the tracks.  Eventually the magicians at the SNCF got it moving again and the rest of the ride was uneventful.   A mere 3 hours later we were in the center of the city.

The first stop (and our first priority) was lunch.  We ate some excellent Thai food at a chain called Yam Yam.  I was in heaven - service was fast, food was tasty (could have been spicier) and the Thai beer was very welcome after sitting in a hot train for the better part of the afternoon.

Then we were off to the University of Mannheim for one of the simplest and classiest graduation ceremonies I have ever experienced.  It started (and ended) on time. O, miracle. The speakers were brief and modest.  A very talented string quartet played Mozart.  There was just enough champagne at the reception after for us all to become quite gay but not enough to fuel serious misbehaviour.

The rest of our time was spent walking around the city, having dinner and dancing until 3 AM.  Mannheim is a lovely city.  Nothing garish or overtly touristy - just quiet elegance.  The city has a fascinating layout which is very similar to what you find in Seattle with numbered streets intersecting named streets (5th and Seneca, for example) - a grid system which makes it very easy to navigate.  Our hotel was on N6 and even after copious amounts of beer, it was impossible to get lost.

But the very best part of the trip was inbound (Mannheim-Paris).  For the very first time in my life I got to ride a German fast train and it was stunning:  spacious, comfortable, big windows, fabulous service.  We sat up front (seats 94 and 96) in the first car and I was floored by the fact that there was nothing but clear glass separating the driver from the passenger side and we could see the engineer and the cockpit which resembled something out of Star Trek.  Here's a photo I pulled off the Net:

Oh, was I impressed and I wasn't the only one.  Quite a few folks came up from the other cars just to get a peek.  I may have to plan another trip to Germany (maybe to Frankfurt) just so I can do it all again. :-)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

First Round - Bac 2011

My elder Frenchling had promised me a piece about the French education system but that turned out to be over-optimistic since she is preparing for her final tests for the French Bac.  The first test is for "Arts Plastiques" (not sure what the English term is) and this is what she will be submitting for a grade.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Richness of Wrongness

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of ErrorKathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, makes a very eloquent case in her book and her TED talk for the benefits of living in a world "rich with error."  It is only, she argues, by exploring and making mistakes that we learn and grow.

I think most of us would agree with this on a purely intellectual, thought experiment, ideal world, level.  Unfortunately our emotions are frequently in conflict with the contents of our heads.  We are afraid to be publicly wrong.  Many of us grew up in worlds where to be chastised for being wrong is to be downgraded to a mere child and to experience humiliation at the hands of people more powerful than we are.

THAT is exactly what we are afraid of when we cross cultures for the first time.  And we are right to be a bit cautious because crossing the cultural divide is guaranteed to put you on the "path to wrongness."

Why?  Because outside of our native cultures we are all cultural incompetents in the beginning.  Coming to Tokyo for the first time you learn fast that a 8-year old child in Japan knows more about swimming in Japanese culture than you do.  Furthermore, she can read.  You, on the other hand, are now a 40-year old illiterate.  This is a bit destabilizing for an adult.  

It is also liberating once we get over the shock.  The moment you admit that you are incompetent in this context, you can relax and start learning as a child learns - by trial and error with a sense of wonder and curiosity.   As Schulz says, "Sometimes we want to be the toddler in Times Square.  We travel to feel like a kid again: because  we hope to experience the world as new and because we believe the best way to learn about it is to play in it."

And that is where we come to what I think is the very best part of crossing cultures. As you gradually become culturally competent, this new world really does become your playground.   Once you are comfortable with another culture, you can start to play with it, to have some fun.  Because you come from the outside you can see possibilities and opportunities that the natives don't see because they don't have sufficient distance from their own culture to be flexible and challenge the rules.  

Every migrant is an amateur anthropologist and a quiet rebel against his adopted culture(s).  We are the people that drive the natives crazy with "Why?' questions.  Since we learn about the target culture from the ground up, we are keen observers and imitators. This experience is cumulative - the more cultures we experience, the faster we find our feet.  We get very good at being consciously incompetent.  We know that we don't know.