New Flophouse Address:

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cultural Scripts

It still astonishes me that within the space of one working day I can hop on an airplane and wake up in another world. Travel times are so short that we have no time to segue gently from one scene to another.  Instead we are dropped abruptly into a play where the actors and the scripts are entirely different.  How we react depends on the individual.  Some are content to observe and learn.  Others bravely try to improvise.  A few become completely discombobulated and react with defensiveness and hostility.

I contend that it's not the big exotic things that shake us.  It's the rhythm of daily life that we find hard to manage in the beginning - the small but necessary  interactions that are required to fulfill our basic needs and desires. They are like miniature plays and we are actors who must insert themselves into a script that we know perfectly, imperfectly or not at all.  Only by becoming a hermit or by throwing ourselves on the mercy of cultural natives can we completely avoid them. Most of us are not rich enough or well-connected enough at our destination for that to be a realistic option.

Let's take, as an example, shopping for food.  In the three countries I have lived in for any length of time, the experience and the scripts are completely different. .  Here is how I have experienced the "shopping script" in France, Japan and the U.S.

France:  Enter store, pick up shopping basket, wander the aisles, select items, avoid eye contact with other shoppers unless we know them in another context, wait in line without talking to other shoppers, say "Bonjour" to the clerk, move quickly to bag the groceries that the clerk is passing through the scanner, pay by inserting credit card into device, say "Au revoir" or "Bonne journee" to the clerk and exit store with purchases. In this context it is entirely possible for me to participate in this play without anyone knowing that I am a foreigner since I don't look any different from the average female person (my origins are European), I am dressed in the same way and I don't have to say much so I am not betrayed by my accent.  Since I have been shopping there for a few years, some of the clerks do smile at me or give me a nod of recognition when they see me.

Japan:  Enter store, pick up shopping basket, wander the aisles, select items, avoid eye contact with other shoppers, wait in line, smile at other shoppers in line with me, say "Konichiwa" to the clerk who bows, scans the items and re-loads them carefully into my shopping basket, give my credit card to the clerk with both hands, the clerk bows and takes it with both hands, enter code, take basket, nod to clerk who bows again, take basket to another table to put items into a sack, exit store.  In this context I am painfully aware that I am a foreigner and a discordant note in this play since I don't look like anyone else in the store and my Japanese is limited.  I have the impression however that I am being treated with the utmost indulgence and that everyone is doing everything possible to make my experience pleasant and to avoid anything that might cause me or them to be embarassed.

U.S.:  Enter store, pick up shopping basket, wander the aisles, am asked more than once by a store employee if I need any help finding something, select items, make eye contact with other shoppers and nod to them, wait in line, smile at and talk with other shoppers in line with me, say "Hello" to the clerk who asks me how I'm doing today, scans the items and passes them to a second person who loads them carefully into a sack, insert my credit card into device, tap code or sign, take basket, say thank you to clerk who tells me to have a nice/good day, exit store. In this context I am, in theory, "home" but since it has been a few years since my last visit things have changed and I'm not sure what to do.  The device for the credit cards, for example, annoys me because I am not sure how to insert the card (don't laugh but I had to ask the clerk for help) and then I had to sign on a pad on the device.  I also notice that I am a bit disturbed to have someone I don't know walk up to me with offers of help and it takes me a few seconds to formulate a response.  And, finally, I realize that my "smile muscles" are rusty and I am afraid that my facial expression is more of a shaky grimace than a real grin.

What is really interesting is how any deviation from the script in any of those places causes the other actors involved to react almost immediately.  For example, if you do not exchange "Bonjours" with the clerk in France, she/he is quite likely to be very resentful. Not smiling back at another American can lead to a similar reaction.  And I don't even want to think about what would happen in Japan if you just slapped down your credit card on the counter though you might get a pass if you are obviously not Japanese. 

Are people just being unpleasant, lacking patience and discriminating against you, because you are a foreigner?  Not knowingly, would be my answer.  A cultural script is something that the natives have absorbed and learned as children and they don't necessarily even know that it's a script that can be very different somewhere else.  For them this is what "normal", "polite", members of the human race do, and the vast majority, in my experience, don't even recognize the play they are in and their role in it.  So, learning a cultural script for a particular context almost always has to be a matter of trial and error.  When you do it right no one notices because you are acting like a "normal person". When you do it wrong, the cultural natives let you know immediately.   It's a negative feedback system that may be pretty painful to the individual but is very efficient for the culture as a whole. 

However clumsy and ignorant we are in the beginning, if we stick around long enough in one place, we will find ourselves one day doing exactly the right thing and slipping into our roles without even noticing it. Sometimes I find the power of the dominant culture to mold and shape and change, really really frightening.  On other days I'm able to summon my powers of observation and look at it, wherever I am, with a certain admiration and take pride in my ability to play my part gracefully.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Flophouse in Seattle: Wood Houses

Many years ago when I first arrived in France, I heard my mother-in-law talking about "pierre et terre." (stone and soil)  These two things, according to her, were the only reliable and safe investments around since stocks, bonds and savings left a family at the mercy of the evil bankers.

I could not resist joining the conversation and the chance to say to her jokingly, "But, Maman, where I come from houses are made of wood."

Seattle has one of the nicest collections of old (100+ years) wooden houses around - from bungalows to the "Seattle Box.".  In the neighborhood where we are staying, Phinney Ridge, many of them have been lovingly restored and may, in fact, look better today than when they were first built in the early 20th century.  A good example would be the house we are staying in which belongs to my family here.  This is what it looked like about a hundred years ago:

And this is what it looks like today:

After I made my smart comment to my mother-in-law, my father-in-law (who was genuinely interested) asked me a number of questions about Seattle houses and how they were built.  I'm sorry to say I had no answers for him since I'd never delved into how they were constructed and had no idea what was under all that pretty paint.

Today I was able to rectify all that.  The house next door (the one to the right in the original photo) was recently purchased and is being remodeled.  That house is a mirror image to ours and the new owner graciously allowed me access to the site and let me take a few pictures.

Ground Floor with Bay Window


Concrete Footer and Supporting Post in Basement/Cellar

Many thanks to Hans for letting me have a look and for his permission to post the photos here. From the look of things this is going to be a spectacular remodel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Flophouse in Seattle: Welcome to America

The Flophouse is on the road again.  This time our destination was North America and our first stop was my hometown, Seattle.  We'll be spending a few days here recovering from jet lag and then we'll be heading down to the Willamette Valley in Oregon to work on the family farm.

The trip over was uneventful The fun only began when we got off the Air France flight and went through immigration.  It's always interesting to watch the elder Frenchling's reactions to things because very often what I consider 'normal' can be quite strange and exotic to her.  As we stood in line waiting for our passports to be checked my daughter called my attention to a video that was playing on screens placed strategically around the immigration area.   In the video were Americans of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds, families and individuals, saying, "Welcome to America."  And to her surprise, one showed a North African family with a woman in a headscarf.  "This is a great country," she said to which I replied, "Yes, baby, it surely is." :-)

We are now happily recovering from our jet lag in a house in the north of Seattle that belongs to the family.  The house is on a ridge overlooking what was (and perhaps still is) the Scandinavian part of town.  In my youth I remember that you were just as likely to hear Swedish or Norwegian as English when you strolled down the main streets.  The house also has a truly spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains.

But the very best thing about this house is the library,  After all the children had left, the family decided to turn the ground floor into a library and reading room complete with wall to wall bookcases, comfortable chairs, a couch and a small fireplace.  Here are a few photos:

There is a truly extraordinary variety of literature in the library and scattered around the house:  books, magazines, newspapers. It is impossible to be bored with such bounty everywhere you look.

I'm basically going to hibernate here until my body remembers that it's supposed to be sleeping at 2AM.  More later after I've had my coffee and finished the latest Malcolm Gladwell book.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Analyzing the Webs of Significance

Evidences invisibles: Américains et Français au quotidien
I first picked up Raymonde Carroll's Evidences Invisibles:  Américain et Français au quotidien about 10 years ago.  I had reached a point in my relationship with this strange tribe where I could no longer clearly see what remained of the American I was and the quasi-Frenchwoman I was becoming.  Carroll's book provided some relief.  I found her analysis to be sane, practical and above all, relatively neutral.  Be warned, if you are looking for ammunition to prove the superiority of one culture over another, you will not find it in her work.

A few weeks ago I went looking for my copy in order to re-read one of her essays.  Though I searched every bookshelf of my house (and there are quite a few), it was nowhere to be found.  A new copy arrived yesterday courtesy of Amazon and La Poste and I spent most of last night reading and remembering the person I was and why this book meant so much to me years ago and what it has done for me.

At the time my focus was on the essays - her exposure of situations where French and Americans meet and sail blindly past each other without any understanding of the cultural logic that practically forces all the actors involved to act in a certain manner.  She talks about different conversational styles, child-rearing, showing love and affection, friendship and how to seek (and get) information.  And she eloquently and empathically writes about the hurt and anger that ensues when misunderstandings about these things occur.   I agree with almost all of her analysis though I had and still have doubts about some of the details.  This is interpretation inspired by the work of Geertz and Bateson and like all explanations/translations we can and should have room to discuss and disagree.

This time around, instead of skimming through the introduction to get to the "good stuff", I took a leisurely and ultimately very rewarding look at the first thirty pages where she talks about her methodology and her motivations.   Here are a few of the pearls I gathered as I read late into the night.

What is Cultural Analysis?

For Carroll "Cultural Analysis" consists of:
"un moyen de percevoir comme 'normal' ce qui, chez des gens de culture différente de la mienne, me paraît, au premier abord, 'bizarre', 'étrange'.  Pour arriver a cela, il me faut imaginer l'univers dans lequel tel acte qui me choque peut s'inscrire et paraître normal, peut avoir un sens, et ne pas être même remarqué.  En d'autres termes, il s'agit pour moi d'essayer de pénétrer, un instant, l'imaginaire culturel de l'autre."
("a method of seeing as 'normal' something that I see in people of a different culture that I initially find 'bizarre' or 'strange'.   To do this, I must imagine a universe where this act that shocks me is normal, has meaning and may not even be noticed.  In other words, it means that I must try to penetrate for a brief moment the cultural imagination of the other.")
This is, I think, the simplest and most cogent explanation of this kind of exercise that I have ever read. Geertz expresses it more eloquently but Carroll places it well within the grasp of each and every one of us.  One does not need a PhD in Anthropology to use this tool.

Errors to Avoid

Carroll believes that, in order to see another culture clearly, we must avoid the temptation to unravel the historical, ecological, economic or psychological roots of the behaviour we are analyzing.  Some examples of poor answers to the question "Why are 'they' like that?":

"Parce que les Francais ne supportent pas l'autorité" (Because the French can't stand authority).
"Parce qu'ils sont capitalistes' (Because they are capitalists).
"Parce ce qu'ils sont catholiques (protestant/puritain)" (Because they are Catholic or Protestant/Puritan).
"Parce que les X manquent de protéines" (Because people of X culture lack protein).

Going one step further she argues that we should all watch our words carefully.  Any sentence that starts with "Americans/French/Indians/Chinese are..."  followed by an adjective is dubious at best since it says much more about us and our culture of origin than anything objective about the culture we are describing.  The same goes for any statement that suggests that something is lacking in the people of the other culture - phrases like "the French/Americans/Indians/Chinese have no sense of or do not know..." In those cases, Carroll says, the only 'lack' that we are complaining about is the lack of our culture in them.  We may find the 'lack' profoundly disturbing but the problem (if it is one) is all ours. Reproaching a Frenchman for 'lacking' the qualities of an Englishman is just downright silly once you think about it.

An Act of Humility

It is profoundly humbling to be reduced from a competent adult to a mere infant just by getting on an airplane and traveling a few time zones away.  Arriving, we learn to our horror that a child of five knows more than we do about how to navigate in this particular place.  I have always contended that it is almost impossible to do cultural analysis from within our own culture where we are safely part of the arrogant majority.

Carroll has another view.  For her the very act of doing the analysis is an act of humility.
L'analyse culturelle n'est pourtant pas un acte d'arrogance, mais bien au contraire un acte d'humilité dans lequel j'essaie de faire abstraction, pour un moment, de ma façon de voir le monde (la seule que j'aie appris à trouver valable) et de le remplacer brièvement par une autre façon de penser ce monde, façon que par définition je ne peux adopter (même si je le voulais), mais dont j'affirme la validité par ce geste."
("Cultural analysis is not however an act of arrogance. On the contrary it is an act of humility in which I try to disregard, for one moment, my way of seeing the world (the only way that I was taught is valid) and try to replace it, for one brief moment, with another way of looking at the world, a way that by definition I cannot adopt (even if I wanted to) but whose validity I affirm through this exercise.")
I try to imagine a world where cultural analysis (Carroll's method or another) was part and parcel of everyone's toolkit.  Would there be fewer misunderstandings?  Perhaps not.  When my 'normal' meets your 'normal', we can still clash.  Understanding is not agreement.

I also see a potential for abuse and a risk that the person doing the analyzing might use the information to manipulate others.  If I have a good idea of where you are coming from but you know nothing about me and what my cultural programming is, am I not in an uncontested position of superiority?  In the hands of the malevolent, that could be a mighty sword to wield.

Still, I think it is an excellent skill to possess - if only for peace of mind.  In my own case I know that, as an immigrant, this method has helped me to put aside some my own bewilderment and anger in the face of incomprehension and hostility.  With insight and understanding I can channel those feelings into an exercise of the imagination that makes me an active actor in my own integration into another culture. In the end, like Carroll, I do not necessarily want (and perhaps can never have) that particular world view for myself but it frees me to love my adopted culture for what it is and to accept its truth as being equal to my own.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Citizens, Governments and the Sovereigns of Cyberspace

This TED talk, Let's Take Back the Internet, just came out and if you are interested in citizen's right, free speech and cyberspace governance, have a listen.

Rebecca MacKinnon of the New America Foundation gives a frank but balanced talk about the relationship between citizens, governments and the internet service providers.  I won't go further and spoil the show for you but I will point out that Sarkozy has a slide all to himself.

In her talk, she mentions (and I found) the United Nations Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue. A real eye-opener for me.  Hadopi (called the "Three Strikes Law" outside of France) is mentioned in Section D, paragraph 49, where Frank La Rue says:
In addition, he is alarmed by proposals to disconnect users from Internet access if they violate intellectual property rights. This also includes legislation based on the concept of “graduated response”, which imposes a series of penalties on copyright infringers that could lead to suspension of Internet service, such as the so-called “three strikes-law” in France and the Digital Economy Act 2010 of the United Kingdom.  
Enough said. Enjoy the talk.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

EU Emigration to the U.S. - Low Numbers, High Impact

I just finished reading a very interesting paper, published by the Migration Policy Institute and funded by the European Union, entitled Scientists, Managers, and Tourists: The Changing Shape of European Mobility to the United States by Xiaochu Hu and Madeleine Sumption.  This is a good inquiry into current European immigration to the United States today.  While the numbers have greatly diminished since the 19th and 20th centuries, Europeans still make up about 10% of all immigrants to the U.S.

So, according to this report, who are the European emigrants to the U.S. in the early 21st century?

Let's just call them "The Well-Educated Professionals" who tend to work in skilled professions (science, math and technology, for example) and as managers and executives.   They are, in fact, the best educated immigrant group in the U.S. and their academic credentials surpass those of native-born Americans.
"Thirty-three percent of EU immigrants have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28 percent of people born in the United States and 26 percent of immigrants not from the European Union. PhD holders make up 3.5 percent of EU immigrants, compared to 1.7 percent of the non-EU immigrant population and about 1 percent of the US born population."
In the workforce, "EU immigrants make up 4 percent of life and physical scientists; 3 percent of engineers, architects, and surveyors; and 3 percent of social scientists, despite constituting only 1.2 percent of the US population... These trends differ somewhat by sending country: UK-born immigrants, for example, are particularly concentrated in executive and managerial work, while French immigrants dominate in teaching-related professions and the social sciences."

The work situation is even more favorable for EU immigrants as the result of bi-lateral social security agreements between the U.S. and 17 EU states.  Under these agreements a French or German who has worked in the U.S. can actually get credit toward government-sponsored retirement pension programs either in the U.S. or the home country.  This is also true of American citizens working in some EU countries.  I found this U.S. government website which outlines the Totalization Agreement that the U.S. has with France.

Interestingly enough, even the financial crisis did not really put a dent in the number of work visas issued to highly qualified Europeans.  “Extraordinary ability” (O-1 visa) issuances increased by almost 30 percent for German and French nationals, for example, and by 38 percent for Spaniards between 2007 and 2009."

Finally, Europeans are more likely than other immigrant groups to become naturalized in the U.S.  A whopping 60 percent of immigrants from the EU become naturalized American citizens as opposed to 40 percent of immigrants from other parts of the world.

This is a marvelous situation for the United States but I think it is fair to ask the question: Is this equally good for Europe?  I think it is.  When people move around they take their brains, experiences and talents with them.  Since many European immigrants do return to their countries of origin, Europe benefits from this "brain circulation."  I would imagine quite a few dual US/EU citizens are created from this exchange and through the inevitable bi-cultural marriages and families.  And let's not forget all the friends, colleagues and connections that an individual gains over a lifetime traipsing back and forth across the Atlantic.  You may disagree but I personally am 100% for any peaceful method that makes this world more connected.   

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Casting Errors

There is a strange phenomenon that I come across every once in awhile that makes me wonder if the universe really is benevolent.  All of us come into the world having had certain choices made for us:  our place of birth, our parents, our nationality, our first language and the very first culture we are exposed to.  This is all pure chance;  our very existence is the culmination of a series of events over which we have no control.  Sometimes, it seems to me, this cosmic crapshoot leads to a number of casting errors.

I'm talking about people I meet who I think are horribly out of sync with their culture of origin.  These are not necessarily rebels - on the contrary many of them go to extraordinary lengths to try to fit, but they don't.     The people around them are singing in the key of C but everything in their hearts wants to sing in C#.    It's not about political opinions or economic advancement or marrying the right person. I'm not talking about people with mental health problems either.  It's really more fundamental - something about their essence, character or basic personality just doesn't work in the world in which they have emerged.  They are out of tune and every single day of their lives they are confronted with a sense that there is something wrong with them.  This can lead to belligerent resentment or just discreet misery.

I've met people like this in all the countries I've visited or lived in.  People who are vaguely discontent, openly unhappy, quietly desperate or not at all "at home" where they are even if they were born there.  Most never consider that they might have other options - the world we are born into is, as far as most of us are concerned, the whole world.  Intellectually, we may be vaguely aware that people in other places do things differently, but we are not convinced that people elsewhere have radically different ways of thinking. Ways that are not better or worse than those of our home culture but they just might be a good fit if we ever dared to try them on for size.

It is so hard to take that mental leap.  It requires what in Zen is called a "beginner's mind," one that is open to all possibilities.  Just because we were born here or there, citizen of X or Y, does not mean that this is the best place, the right language, or the appropriate culture for us.  Whether we are happy or unhappy, at home or not in our culture of origin, until we open ourselves to the idea that there are other worlds that might suit us better, we are all captive nations whatever our nationality or culture of origin may be.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Immigration and the French Far Right

I put this post off for several days.  Why?  Because, to be brutally honest, I don't like the French Far Right very much.  I don't like their grandiosity, anti-immigrant rhetoric and extravagant promises -  "simple" solutions meant to appeal to fearful people.  I don't believe for a moment that they have any interest in wielding power.  They are more of a political movement that seeks to influence the major parties.  To that end they are succeeding remarkably well.

I realized long ago that I am invisible to these people.  Eric Hoffer once said, "It is the true believer's ability to 'shut his eyes and stop his ears' to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy.  He cannot be... baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence."

Having firmly fixed North African footballers and women in burkas in their heads as the face of  immigration (undesirable in their view) in France, they experience a moment of cognitive dissonance when they meet me:  a working woman immigrant of European origin and a Roman Catholic to boot.  More than once I have had the surreal experience of being surrounded by French citizens at a dinner party who are loudly complaining about how France is going to hell because of immigrants stealing jobs, refusing to integrate, and becoming a burden on French social services.  When I raise my hand and quietly point out that one of "those people" (me) is sitting at the table with them,  they inevitably reply, "Oh, we aren't talking about you."  Really?  How extraordinary.  Frankly, that is all the proof I need to consider these people and their sympathizers pure and unrepentant racists.

Le Front National (The National Front).  Their program for immigration can be found in two places on their website.  Their tracts can be found here and I would call your attention to two that I think sum up quite nicely their overall attitude:

LE FIASCO DE L’IMMIGRATION CHOISIE ! (The Selective Immigration Fiasco!).  In this one they come out swinging against selective immigration programs arguing that they increase unemployment, lower wages for the French worker and open the door for waves of immigrants to enter the country through other means.  Pretty classic and you can hear the same "chanson" on the American Right.

DOUBLE NATIONALITÉ : IL FAUT EN FINIR ! (Dual Nationality:  Time to end it!).  Their feelings  and action plan on this subject are quite clear - they would abolish it.  Of course, they do not tell their adherents just how difficult a task this would be and how it is not entirely up to France to make this decision.  There are other countries involved and for such a law to be effective France would need to negotiate with other nation-states.  For a very good discussion on this topic from a legal standpoint see this post, Pour en finir avec la binationalité, by Maitre Eolas, a French lawyer.

Their program for immigration can be found here.  Again, they are quite clear as to how they feel about immigration and what they would do if they ever got into power.  In all fairness the site says that this is their program for 2007 and an update for 2012 will be coming soon.  However, from what I have gleaned from Marine Le Pen's recent interviews, I doubt much will change. I will let you read their 2007 program at your leisure so you can form your own conclusions.

My conclusions are pretty clear:  these people are not my allies and their policies are detrimental to me and to my family.  Taking a larger view, I believe they are doing real damage to the cause of controlling immigration and the integration/naturalization of the foreign population here.  I have talked to other long-term residents who have decided to put off applying for citizenship because of Le Pen's standing in the polls and her views against dual nationality.  No one wants to go through the bureaucratic process of becoming a French citizen, only to be forced to choose and lose later on.  As for integration, if an immigrant has the impression that, no matter what he or she does, he is not welcome and is even viewed as the ultimate source of evil things,  it doesn't make any sense to try to integrate into the receiving culture.  To quote Hoffer again, " A minority that preserves its identity is inevitably a compact whole which shelters the individual, gives him a sense of belonging and immunizes him against frustration.  On the other hand, in a minority bent on assimilation, the individual stands alone, pitted against prejudice and discrimination."  The louder the Front National gets and the better they poll, the more insecure we feel and the more likely we are to cling to our national communities where we are safe and accepted.  It is really that simple.

That concludes my series on immigration and the French political landscape.  Quite a diverse field of opinions and positions.  We'll see how this all shakes out in 2012.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

European Blue Card - The EU Job Market

Another great question came in via email from Yahaira who asked:

What industries will be especially interested in foreign workers?

Since one of the pre-requisites for applying for a Blue Card is landing a job and having a work contract, this question is highly pertinent to our discussion. 

I think the best place to start is with an organization called CEDEFOP:  the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training.   This is an EU agency with the following mission:
To ensure economic and social development it is essential that vocational education and training meets the needs of the citizen, the labour market and society. Building on a rich tradition of VET systems in Europe, governments and social partners devise policies for modern and innovative VET, which is a key element for employment, social inclusion and the competitiveness of the EU.
Cedefop is the centre of expertise to support the development of VET and evidence based policy making. It provides advice, research, analysis, information, and stimulates European cooperation and common learning. Its networks allow the centre to keep abreast of recent developments and to cooperate and share information.
Their website is a gold mine of information about the EU job market.  Here are a few of their publications that should be of interest to anyone looking for work in the EU.

Future Skill Supply in Europe:  Key Findings (2009). Available in six languages.  This is an analysis of the EU job market trends up to 2020.

Skills Supply and Demand in Europe:  medium-term forecast up to 2020 (2010).  A must-read for anyone inside or outside the EU who is or will be looking for work.  Check out Table 5 which gives the employment trends by industry for the EU-27.

Skills for Green Jobs (2010).  This is an analysis of new and emerging skills requirements coming out of the move toward "Green" (environmentally friendly) industries.  See Table 1 for examples of "upskilling" - from Construction Worker to Energy Auditor and so on.  This paper is the result of a collaboration between CEDEFOP and the ILO (International Labor Organization).

Guidance Supporting Europe's Aspiring Entrepreneurs (2011). This is a policy paper about how economic actors can better support (through education, training and by creating an innovative mind-set) entrepreneurial activity in EU countries.

The above is just a few of the gems that can be found on their site.  Have a look and bookmark the site since it is regularly updated with new information, studies and projects.

Hope you find this helpful and thanks again to Yahaira for the question.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Playing for Change - Satchita

Another great video released by the people from Playing for Change.

I loved this one because this is music you can dance, dance, dance to... :-)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bastille Day 2011

I got up this morning ( and a beautiful morning it is too - the sky is clear and the sun is shining) and decided not to spoil this day, Bastille Day in France, by writing about the Front National.

If you are visiting from out of town check out this site to learn more about some of the festivities planned for the day (and night):  The Fireman's Ball, the parade on the Champs-Elysées, and the fireworks.

Two of these events have a special meaning for my family.  A long time ago my father-in-law, the Frenchling's grandfather, (now deceased) had the honor being the Fire Chief of Paris for a few years, just before he retired from his life-long career in the French Army.  We still have a picture of him, looking splendid in his uniform, leading the firemen down the Champs-Elysées on another Bastille Day long ago.

I learned a great deal from my father-in-law.  Not only about some of the more interesting happenings of the 20th century (World War II, Indochina and Algeria) but also how deeply and profoundly the French feel about their country.  Listening to him, I saw that acknowledging the greatness of another country does not in any way call into question the greatness of my own.  Love (or patriotism, if you prefer) is not diminished when it expands to encompass other people, other nations.

A very happy birthday to the French Republic!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Immigration and the French Right

Time to finish up our discussion about immigration and the French political landscape.  Today let's talk about the party in power, the UMP - Union pour un mouvement populaire (The Union for a Popular Movement).

The UMP is yet another party that was created relatively recently (2002) and is the successor to another political party called the RPR (Rassemblement pour la Republique), founded by the Gaullist Jacques Chirac in 1976.

This is the party of Nicolas Sarkozy, the current president of the Republic.  I was living in Tokyo during the last election that pitted Royal (Socialist) against Sarkozy (UMP).  He was an odd duck even then.  You might have noticed that his last name is not very French.  He is the son of a Hungarian immigrant and a Frenchwoman.  I recall, from my discussions with my friends and colleagues in the French ex-patriate community in Tokyo, that he was seen as an outsider, a "law and order" candidate who was going to set France on a new disciplined path with more practical, business-oriented policies.  People had very high expectations.  Today, many of the people I talk to feel that he has not fulfilled his campaign promises.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and do something I never thought I'd do - I'm going to defend him.

When I look at the international context in general and the European context in particular, I think he has done a good job of navigating the ship.  For example, France did not entirely escape the effects of the world financial crisis but she and her people suffered less than many other countries.  Was that entirely to his credit?  Well, imprudent policies could have made it much worse.  He brought France back into NATO, a decision that was not very popular but did get France more say in the organization (the French military got the Lisbon command, the NATO rapid reaction force.)  He was widely praised on the international stage for his actions when France held the EU Presidency.

We, all too often, forget that no national leader is simply free to do as he wishes. Sarkozy and all the European heads of state operate under some serious constraints and must always take into account the web of agreements and interests and laws that make up the EU and the wider world.  Sometimes Sarkozy can snap his fingers at the EU and the world (kicking the gypsies out, for example, or running up the national debt) and sometimes he can't.  With all that in mind, I think he has done a more than adequate job of promoting French interests and projecting French power in the world.  Please feel free to disagree if you have a different take on it.

The UMP stand on immigration.  According to their Project 2012, this topic is at the head of the list.  Let's follow the links under the section "Les défis de l'immigration" ("Challenges of Immigration"):

"Faire divorcer idéologie et immigration" ("Separate ideology and immigration") which calls for Europe and other countries (G20, for example) to act.  France is, they say, a country that has been, by its very nature and tradition, very welcoming to immigrants.  However, France retains the right to think about immigration policy in the context of her own particular needs and interests.

"Découvrez les propositions" ("Discover our proposals") takes you to a page where you can download their political program for immigration which consists of 5 points:
  1. Une réponse globale et concertée à un défi mondial (A united global response to an international challenge)
  2. Une Europe qui assume davantage ses responsabilités (A Europe that assumes its reponsabilities)
  3. Une politique de fermeté et de clarté contre l’immigration illégale (A clear and firm policy against illegal immigration)
  4. Une responsabilisation de tous les acteurs pour adapter l’immigration de travail à nos besoins (All actors taking responsibility for adapting economic integration to France's needs)
  5. Une affirmation permanente de l’équilibre des droits et des devoirs (An unyielding commitment to balancing rights and responsibilities)
From my read, I conclude that, if the Sarkozy remains in power, things will go from bad to worse for the "sans papiers" and that the UMP would really like to kick the entire topic upstairs to supra-national and international organizations.

Is this going to be enough to counter the rhetoric of the Far Right?  Tomorrow, we will finish up our series with a look at the Front National, the party of Marine Le Pen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

European Blue Card - Update July 11, 2011

More updates and information.

Sweden:  To answer Rock's question - no, I didn't find anything specific about Blue Card implementation in that country.  If anyone has more information, please feel free to provide a link in the comments section.  There is one article here that talks about Sweden's workforce needs and agreements with Europe and non-EU countries which says:
Work is currently underway to implement the Blue Card Directive (Council Directive 2009/50/EC of 25 May 2009 on the conditions of entry and residence of third country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment) into Swedish legislation.
Nonetheless, I was able to find a number of good resources for non-EU citizens wanting to work there.  Have a look at this website run by the Swedish Institute called the official gateway to Sweden which has some good general information about the country and a section for people interested in applying for a work permit.  The Swedes are very well-organized:  the site provides information in at least six languages and the process is simple and clear and can be found here.  I also really liked the tone of the website which is very welcoming with an entire section devoted to persuading you that Sweden is a great place (I believe them) to live and work.  It's called "3 Good Reasons to Work in Sweden."

Austria:  This link comes from arvind (thank you!) .  This article is called Criteria based Immigration to Austria (Red-White-Red Card).  This Red-White-Red card is available to people who already have an EU Blue Card.  They say:
With the EU Blue Card regulations, Austria transforms the provisions of the European Blue Card  Directive (Council Directive 2009/50/EC) into national law. This directive harmonizes the conditions of entry, residence and labour market access of highly qualified third country citizens and their families within the EU...
The EU Blue Card is issued for a period of two years.  Holders of an EU Blue Card may apply for a RWR Card plus with unlimited labour market access if  they have been employed for at least 21 months during the previous 24 months according to their
I think there is more information here but I'm unable to get the Google translator to work and I don't speak German.  If anyone has better luck, please pass along the links.  This is a very interesting development because this status is in addition to the EU Blue Card and it offers some very attractive residency and work terms for high-skilled immigrants.  To me, it implies that they are actively seeking Blue Card holders for Austria and they want them to stay.

France:  Now that the "Loi du 16 juin 2011 relative à l’immigration, à l’intégration et à la nationalité" is at "Le décret d’application/Promulgation" stages,  I'm going to start watching the OFII (French Office for Immigration and Integration) official website because they appear to be the government agency responsible (a "guichet unique") for "professional immigration."   Their site is available in English but there seems to be less content so I would use the French site instead.  

Another very good site I'm watching (and I really recommend it) is called "For the Promotion of Economic Migration." This is a government website for employers in France who want to recruit people from abroad.  They even offer a service through the OFII where an an agent will help the employer with the recruiting and work permit/residency process.  I've never used the service and can't vouch for its efficiency but, if you are looking for work with a company based in France, and they seem reticent about the bureaucracy involved in hiring you, direct them to this site.  It might calm their fears about the process.

That's all for now.  Again, if you have more information about Blue Card implementation in EU countries, send me a mail or leave a comment.  I'll publish another update as soon as I know more.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Taxi Blues

I knew we were in trouble when the taxi driver refused to say "Bonjour."

My elder Frenchling and I were off to the clinic last week to get her severely impacted wisdom teeth removed.  I had reserved a taxi the night before but our usual company lost our reservation and we had to scramble at the last minute to find a local taxi.

I am not sure what set him off.  Her might have heard my daughter and me speaking English before we stepped into the car or he might have detected my accent when I greeted him and gave him the address.  In any case he clearly had us pegged as foreigners and waves of hostility radiated from his place in the driver's seat.

As we pulled out onto the avenue de Paris he began to talk.  From what he said I gathered that he was not only unhappy about us but he was irritated because we were not going very far, just across town, which meant only a modest fare for him.

"Je ne sais pas d'ou venez-vous, Madame, mais en France...." ("I don't know where you are from, Madame, but in France....") he repeated over and over and over.  Needless to say I did not inform him where I was from since I had no intention of discovering how he felt about Americans.

Instead, I decided to kill him with condescending kindness.  I thanked him for picking us up and for educating us about France. "Really, sir," I said, "After nearly 20 years in this country, I had no idea things worked that way here."  Then my daughter spoke up and he quickly picked up from her accent that one of these "foreigners" was, in fact, French.

By the time we pulled into the clinic parking lot, he was very quiet, my daughter was mortified and I was  feeling rather ashamed of myself.

This was a young man (mid to late 20's), clearly not well educated, doing a job that has little or no status.  His French was native but he made many grammatical errors and his accent was light years away from standard Parisian French.  Perhaps he had other problems.  Maybe he had had a bad experience with tourists.  Or, it may be that, on that day, after picking up what he thought were two foreigners living well in his country,  some of his anger and resentment at his own situation spilled over onto us.   And I made it worse through a complete failure of empathy.

"Quel connard," my daughter said as we entered the clinic.

Nope, I thought, just another human being having a very bad day.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

European Blue Card - Recognition of Academic Credentials

Following my series on the Blue Card, I have had a couple of very good questions posed by readers.

Now I am not an immigration expert or attorney and I don't have any personal experience with this topic since I came to France as a foreign bride and not as a student or worker.  What I can do is point you to some resources on the Net that might help.  Be very careful - the information on the Net is not always reliable and, even when it comes from an official government website, it can still be out of date or even incorrect (government workers are human beings and like everyone they make mistakes).   So please double-check any information you get off the Internet with a reliable professional or with someone from an official immigration office.

Question - What foreign universities are recognized by the French or other EU states? (Oleg)

That is a darn good question.  Here is what I was able to find out.

According to the France Diplomatie website in an article called, "Find out about studies abroad: diploma recognition in the EU":
Le traité sur l’Union européenne prévoit dans son article 8A la libre circulation des citoyens. Cette libre circulation se traduit notamment par le droit d’exercer une activité salariale ou indépendante, et le droit à la formation des jeunes et des étudiants dans les pays de l’Union européenne et les pays signataires de l’accord sur l’Espace économique européen.
L’exercice de ce droit à la mobilité est souvent lié à la reconnaissance professionnelle ou académique d’un diplôme acquis dans le pays d’origine ou dans un autre pays européen.
(The EU treaty, in article 8A, allows the free circulation of (EU) citizens.  This free circulation means the right to work as a salaried worker or as an independent, and the right to training/education for young people and students within the countries of the EU and those countries that have signed an agreement with the Espace économique européen.  This right is often linked to the recognition of professional or academic qualifications acquired in the country of origin or another EU country.
They go on to say that more information is available from an organization called the ENIC-NARIC network which can be found here (réseau ENIC-NARIC).  I checked it out and found a wealth of information.  On the site the left sidebar has a country list and you can click to find out the points of contact, lists of recognized universities and the procedures in each country for getting your credentials recognized.  There is also a very good article here called "Framework of Qualifications in the Europe and North America Region."

Hope you find this useful and thanks again for the question, Oleg.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A World Among Worlds - Papua New Guinea

To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening. To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency. But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life as locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes.
Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthopology (1983)
 I had a hit today from a blog that I did not recognize and I decided to go have look since it sounded interesting.  The site is called tubuans & dukduks and it is authored by a young person from Papua New Guinea.

This is a really good, well-written, informative blog.  To have the chance to discover something something entirely new (I knew nothing about PNG) and have a really good time in the process, well, that just made my day.  There are two posts so far that I especially like and might be of interest to you:

The first is called PNG Independence 1975 - Were We Ready?  that captures the ambivalence that people in a newly independent country can feel years after they achieve autonomy.  Are things better or worse as a result?  Was this a good idea?  Would things have been different if it had been delayed?  I'm astounded that they can talk about this openly.  This is not true everywhere.

The second is called French Firm Poaches and Patents PNG's "Bilum".  I read it twice since the story has all the elements of a first-rate culture clash between two  geographically distant peoples who know very little about each other and may, in fact, be oblivious to their shared values.  The way I read the story there are no clear angels and devils.  The French non-profit that patented the name and the product did not seem to have understood that they were dealing with a "poached national cultural-identity unique to Papua New Guinea" and seem a bit startled that the PNG people would take exception to their actions.   I think a close analogy would be the way French people sometimes react angrily to California vineyards calling their product "Champagne."  The French are very protective of their cultural heritage and do, in principle, respect the right of others to protect theirs against commercialization.  However, like all principles, this one is not always observed by everyone all the time.  Read the post with an open mind and be aware there are some fairly inflammatory anti-French sentiments expressed in the comments section.

I hope you enjoy this blog as much as I do.  Bon weekend!

Immigration and the Center in French Politics

As we arrive at the Center of the French political landscape we start to hear words like "common culture", "civilization" and "heritage".  Nationalist rhetoric tends to send me running to the bookshelf to retrieve my copy of Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson.  What is intriguing is that this nationalism is embedded in a larger project called "Europe".  The boundaries that define "we, the people" now include other Europeans which is extraordinary when you consider European history up to and including the events of the 20th century.  Anderson quotes the French writer Ernest Renan who wrote:
Or l'essence d'une nation est que tous les individus aient beaucoup de choses en commun, et aussi que tous aient oublie bien de choses.
(The essence of a nation is that individuals have much in common and also that they have all forgotten many things.)
I think we are seeing the forging of a new identity that requires a kind of collective amnesia on the part of all Europeans.  This is not a criticism - I like to think I, a fairly nationalistic American, am not that big a hypocrite.  It is more of an observation relevant to our discussion because it has an enormous impact on the debate over immigration in EU countries.  The framing of the debate is less and less about French or Germans versus foreigners (though some of that still exists) and more and more about "Europeans" versus "Third-country nationals" or "non-EU foreign nationals."

Let's start with MoDem - Mouvement Democrate (Democratic Movement).  This party is a successor to another party called the the Union for French Democracy (UDF).  MoDem was founded in 2007 as a center/center right party more or less aligned with the Right.  If you look at their founding principles they are for limiting state intervention.  The State, they say, can not be "all powerful" - it exists primarily to defend the rights of actors in society and to be their advocate and partner.  Article 12 defines their vision of Europe as "L’Europe des peuples et des citoyens, active et solidaire, où les Etats nationaux, détenteurs d’un patrimoine commun de civilisation, défendent ensemble leurs intérêts et leurs valeurs est le modèle de ces libres organisations. Sa construction est donc non seulement une nécessité mais un devoir."
(The Europe of people and citizens, active and unified, where the national states, possessors of a common heritage and civilization, defending together their interests and values is the model of these free organizations.  The construction of Europe is not simply a necessity, it is a duty.")

Being pro-Europe, however, does not make them anti-immigrant.  Figuring prominently on their website, are the writings of Fadila Mehal, a Frenchwoman of Algerian origin.  She clearly speaks out against discrimination, violence against immigrants, and for integration.

Le Nouveau Centre (The New Center) was also created in 2007 when a disagreement arose during the creation of MoDem.  There was a split and former members of the UDF decided to create their own party.  They are allies of the President, Nicolas Sarkozy. I was charmed to see that their value statement mentions Tocqueville.  Like MoDem they are pro-Europe.

Their leader, Hervé Morin, published his views on immigration in this piece on their website.  He says, "La politique d’immigration ne doit pas être une politique de stigmatisation..." (Immigration policy should not be a policy of stigmatisation...) and "doit, pour être efficace, impérativement s’inscrire dans un cadre européen" (and must, in order to be effective, be built within the framework of Europe).  He goes on to argue that a common European policy on immigration must have three pillars:  better border control, an analysis of Europe's real needs in terms of "arms and brains" and EU aid for development.  From this, I conclude that M. Morin is probably in favor of the EU Blue Card.

So the center parties have a more nuanced approach to immigration.  Against discrimination and extreme views but for a defense of European values and a common EU policy.

Tomorrow we'll have a look at the Right, the party of President Sarkozy (the UMP).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Immigration and the French Left

I have always been an admirer of the American writer, H.L. Mencken, professional curmudgeon and literary critic.  How could I not love a man who wrote, "No matter how long he lives, no man ever becomes as wise as the average woman of forty-eight."

Mencken wrote a lot about American politics.  His essay,"On Being an American," is a wonderful read.  I've never found the equivalent here in France and I've often wondered what he would have to say about French or American politics in the early 21st century.  If he were here to see the recent trials and tribulations of the Socialist Party, I would like to think that he would reiterate the advice he gave to the American people about politicians:
Their  primary error lies in making the false assumption that some politicians are better than others... I propose that it be renounced and contend that its renunciation would greatly rationalize and improve our politics.  I do not argue that there would be any improvement in our politicians;  on the contrary, I believe that would remain substantially as they are today, and perhaps grow even worse.  But what I do argue is that recognizing them frankly for what they are would instantly and automatically dissipate the indignation caused by their present abominations, and that the disappearance of this indignation would promote the public contentment and happiness.  Under my scheme there would be no more false assumptions and no more false hopes, and hence no more painful surprises, no more bitter resentment of fraud, no more despair.
Politicians, in so far as they remained necessary, would be kept at work - but not with any insane notion that they were archangels.
Back to our discussion.  Today let's talk about the Socialist Party and the Green Party and their respective stands on immigration.

PS - Parti Socialist (Socialist Party)
This party has been around for a long time.  In 2005 they celebrated their 100th anniversary.  In recent memory they provided France with someone whom I think was one of France's greatest presidents, Francois Mitterand.  Unlike the Far-left parties they embrace capitalism while being very critical of it.  Reform is the order of the day, not a complete tear-down of the present system.   Their statement of principles can be found here.    I did not find a clear stand on immigration in that statement so I looked around the website.  I didn't find anything that gave me a clear picture about their stand on migrants.  If anyone has a link, please feel free to leave it in the comments section.

Europe Ecologie les Verts (The Green Party)
Like the NPA this is a very new party that was founded in 2010.  They have a political agenda called "Projet 2012' which they summarize in five main principles:
  • Vivre mieux en préservant l’humanité et la planète (A better life that preserves humanity and the planet)
  • Une économie écologique et solidaire (An ecologically and socially friendly economy) 
  • Vivre ensemble dans une société ouverte et réconciliée (Living together in an open and fraternal society)
  • De l’oligarchie à la démocratie réelle (From oligarchy to real democracy)
  • Un monde de paix et de justice (A world of peace and justice)
Not much there to disagree with but my initial reaction was "please show me the fine print."  How exactly do they plan to achieve all this?  I read their entire brochure and did not find anything about international migration, its social and environmental impacts.  That was rather disappointing especially for a party that has pretensions to operating on the international stage.

Finishing up our tour of the French Left, I have to say that the only party I found with very clear policy statement and concrete ideas about immigration and immigrants is the Communist Party.  Again, if anyone takes exception to that remark, I am open to receiving more information.

Tomorrow we'll move more toward the center-right and talk about MODEM (Mouvement Democrate) and Le Nouveau Centre (The New Center).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Immigration and the French Far-Left

Reading Arun with a View's posts about Marine Le Pen sparked my interest in finding out more about the different French political party platforms.  It is one thing to follow the commentary on the Net, it is quite another to go straight to the source and actually read what is being proposed in their own words.  Since I can't vote here, I've never done this which, in retrospect, seems foolish.  I may not be a citizen but what they have to say, and what they wish to do, has a direct impact on my life and the lives of others here, be they citizens or residents. Eric Hoffer was very wise when he wrote:
It is necessary for most of us these days to have some insight into the motives and responses of the true believer.  For though ours is a godless age, it is the very opposite of irreligious.  The true believer is everywhere on the march, and both by converting and antagonizing he is shaping the world in his image.  And whether we are to line up with him or against him, it is well that we should know all we can concerning his nature and potentialities.
So, with that in mind, let's have a look at what these parties are saying about a subject that I think is of interest to readers of this blog:  Immigration.  If anyone reading this blog belongs to one of these parties, and feels that I am misrepresenting the party line, I invite you to tell me so.  I am not one who believes that ignorance is bliss.

Let's start with the parties on the Far Left:  The NPA and the French Communist Party.

NPA - Le Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (the New Anticapitalist Party)
This party was launched in 2009 during the financial crisis.  At that time, they said:
Cette société capitaliste est à bout de souffle. Les gouvernements successifs remettent en cause l’ensemble de nos acquis sociaux et démocratiques.
This capitalist society (France, I presume) is drawing its last breath and its governments are challenging our social and democratic rights.
They received a lot of media attention in the beginning when people were deeply afraid of how the financial crisis was going to impact them.  They seem to draw less attention now that people are calmer and less fearful.  I believe they tap into that well of suspicion that some French citizens have about capitalism and globalization.  They are right when they say that the hard won social rights are being degraded by governments (Left and Right) and they do not believe that the establishment Left wing parties have done an adequate job of defending those rights.  It is not easy, however, to get a clear of their actual program.  Their website reveals much action, less reflection.

Their platform on immigration is hard to discern.  On one hand they are clearly on the side of the "sans papiers" (illegal immigrants) and they defend vigorously the right of every immigrant to be treated decently and with respect.  However, I could not find a policy statement about immigration in general though I did find an excellent must-read article on their site entitled "Pourquoi l'immigration n'est pas un probleme." (Why Immigration is Not a Problem).  I will take them at their word and conclude that they are pro-migrant.

PCF - Parti Communist Francais (French Communist Party)
Yes, America, they still exist.  They have been around since 1920 and I advise you not to hold your breath waiting for their demise.  They have a large membership and they continue to be influential even though the last time they actually participated in a government was back in Mitterand's time.  Their newspaper l'Humanite is available on-line and they have an excellent website.

Their political agenda is available in a series of tracts here and I call your attention to this one in particular,  Ce Que Nous Voulons (What We Want) which was prepared by the three parties that make up the Front de Gauche.  On page 8 they echo what we heard from the NPA:  L'Immigration n'est pas un problème (Immigration is not a problem.)  They write:
La haine des étrangers, la chasse aux immigrés défigurent notre République : il faut en finir !
Les flux migratoires se développent dans le monde, ils mêlent des motivations diverses. La France ne doit pas les craindre, elle ne doit pas mépriser l’immense apport humain et matériel qu’ils lui ont déjà apporté. Non, la présence des immigrés en France n’est pas un problème.
(Hatred of foreigners, the hunting down of immigrants, disfigures our Republic:  it is time to end it!
The migratory flows are increasing in the world for many reasons.  France should not be afraid of them nor should we despise the great human and material contributions that they have already brought us.   No, the presence of immigrants in France is not a problem.)
They go on to say that they understand that zero immigration is not realistic and they would reinstate a unique 10-year residency permit, allow family regroupment, and regularize all the "sans papiers" on French soil.  They would also reverse all the immigration laws passed by the Right since 2002 and institute a new nationality code that would be based on jus soli and would make it easier for foreigners to become citizens after 5 years of residency.  

I don't think they could be clearer or more concrete in what they propose.  I was, quite frankly, very surprised to read the above statement since I have always had the impression that they were anti-migrant in the name of protecting the French worker.  

Tomorrow, let's move toward the center and examine the views of the Socialist Party and the "Greens" (Europe Ecologie les Verts). 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bac 2011 - The Results

Early this morning, all over France, students congregated in front of their high schools to find out the results of last month's bac exams.  The schools post the names of the students who succeeded on a big board inside the school.  I found this a bit odd.  If the student's name is on the board, he/she passed.  If it is not, then the student failed.  This means that everyone knows who passed and who didn't.  Failure is public.

I passed by my Frenchling's school around 11:00 and all I will say is that most appeared both relieved and happy.  It's over and they passed and life can move forward.  Not everyone was so lucky.  I talked to a neighbor and some of her students did not and will have to go to remedial classes.

My daughter went out to celebrate with friends and she reports that some of the results were strange.  For example, one of her classmates was the star of the philosophy program at her school and not only got the top grades but was sent to the national competitive philosophy exam.  He barely passed the philosophy portion of the Bac.  Hard to know exactly what happened but there were several cases like that that had my daughter shaking her head in disbelief.

If I may, for a brief moment, be the proud mother?  My daughter passed and did quite well - a good score and a "Mention Bien."   I won't embarrass her here by disclosing her grades in each subject but I will say that she got the maximum score on the oral English exam which had me grinning all day long.

In another two years we will have to go through this again with the younger Frenchling.  I'm not sure I'll survive it a second time.  :-)

Selective Immigration: Points-based versus Employer-driven Systems

Now that the EU Blue card is off and running in Europe, this seems like a good moment to talk about the two formal systems of selective immigration around the world.  Almost all states and super-states that have decided to compete for the pool of highly-skilled talent have implemented one or the other.

Points-based:  Canada was the first to implement such a system with Australia and the UK being more recent adopters.  Based on a questionnaire or a calculator, the potential migrants answers a series of questions and is assigned points based on his/her answers.  Naturally the migrants gets more points for desirable qualities like being in the right age bracket, showing academic achievement, and having a profession useful to the destination country.  The Work Permit site has calculators on-line so a potential migrant can actually assess his/her chances of getting a work permit or residency from the comfort of home.  These tools can have another purpose - if you are interested in getting a sense of your personal competitiveness on the global labor market (or even your home market) running your skills and personal data through one of these calculators can give you a good idea of where you sit relative to other people.  I ran my data through the Australian Skilled Immigration Calculator which asked me questions like:  are you under 50? Is your English at least at 'Competent' Level? Do you have a post secondary education?  I was also asked to refer to a Skilled Occupation List which shows what professions are of interest to them.  Once you clear the basic requirements questionnaire you then go on to answer a number of specific about your work experience, language skills and so on.  Very well designed and quite transparent - they actually tell you how many points you will receive for each answer.

Critics of such systems point out that the criteria are pretty narrow and certainly don't take into account people whose experience or professions falls outside the norm.  I got the impression from the Australian Skilled Occupation list that they were primarily interested in Finance, Engineering and IT.  Does that means philosophers and poets need not apply?  

The other method is called Employer-based.  The European Blue Card definitely falls into this category.  Here selection is based on the migrant's employability.  Employers make the selection and the state provides the residency/work permit.  This is great for business but is it good for migrants?  I think it is good in the sense that the migrant has a job immediately and does not end up working at a fast-food outlet when his qualifications are more oriented to the healthcare sector. On the other hand, the migrant may be tied to that employer for a certain period of time and can't seek work elsewhere if things don't work out with the sponsoring company.  This can lead to something that is not quite slavery but does resemble a sort of indentured servitude since the migrants are not really in a position to complain about work conditions and salary.  The U.S. has such a system as do many other countries like Spain, Norway and Sweden.

There is a lot of debate about which system is better.  The Migration Policy Institute recently published a report outlining some of the advantages and disadvantages of both systems.  They argue that a points-based system can lead to "de-skilling" with immigrants being forced to take jobs in other sectors or to stay unemployed because they can't find work.  This can mean that integration into the destination country culture becomes more difficult.  Employer-driven systems do seem to help integration but, quite frankly,  they also encourage businesses to seek cheaper labor from abroad.  These foreign workers are very vulnerable to being treated unfairly since the employer holds all the cards.  These systems also reduce the power of labor in the destination countries since businesses can bypass hiring locals in order to reduce costs and degrade overall working conditions for everyone.

The MPI proposes alternatives to these systems which amount to creating hybrid systems (best of both worlds).

I think they miss the point.  The way the debate is presented implies that the choices are between allowing governments to decide who gets in based on their ideal for future residents/citizens or allowing businesses to drive immigration based on business interests and economic considerations.  Neither takes into account the interests of labor, both foreign and domestic, overall.  One has the impression that labor organizations don't even have a seat at the table when such things are negotiated.  I suspect that this situation has arisen because labor organizations can be fairly parochial and generally only look at or concern themselves with the condition of native workers within their own countries or super-states.

Since they have had limited success in keeping foreign labor out (which is highly unrealistic), this strategy seems fatally flawed.  I think we need more international labor organizations that can address labor issues at a global level to ensure that workers get a fair deal in all countries.  It will be messy, it will be hard, but  it's worth doing and it's in the interest of all working people all over this planet.  Failure to do this means that governments and business win by default.

It's an old song, "Workers of the world, unite!" but, let's face it, big business and finance went global long ago.  It's high time for labor to go back to first principles and do the same.  Not to stop globalization but to make sure that it's a good deal for everyone.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Tea Party and the Front National

If any of you on either side of the Atlantic are political animals, you might find this interesting.

Arun with a View wrote this post about Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right party in France, the Front National.  Madame Le Pen is the daughter of the rather notorious Jean-Marie Le Pen, a figure who has generated much controversy on the French political scene for his rather extreme views.   You may recall that he managed to make it to the final round of at least one French presidential election - something that profoundly shocked my Left-leaning friends here and both amused and pleased my Right-wing friends since it virtually assured Chirac's election.

Marine Le Pen has taken up the cause and is doing well.  The elder Frenchling has been following her closely and is very impressed.  Or I should say she was impressed until Le Pen attacked dual nationality. I think I can now safely say that she will not be voting for the Front National anytime soon.

Arun with a View ends his posts on Le Pen with a very provocative statement which broadens the scope of the discussion to the United States.  He (she?) asks:
"BTW, mutatis mutandis there is no significant political difference between Palin and Marine LP. Or between today’s Republican party and the France’s Front National. French frontistes would be at home in the Tea Party and Tea Partiers in the FN. If anyone disagrees, please explain why."
Excellent question and I was very pleased to read in the comments section, a very thoughtful reply by an American blogger who does a fine job of outlining what he sees as the major differences.  I'll let you read it for yourselves - my only comment is that I agree with much of what he says though I think he underestimates Sarah Palin.

For those of you who might want to investigate further and form your own conclusions, I offer you two resources.  The first is a link to the official Front National website where they outline their program for France by theme:  immigration, culture, foreign policy and so on.  The second is a link to the Tea Party mission statement.  

Before I leave you to go about my day, I would be remiss if I did not note that today is Independence Day in the U.S.  If I calculate correctly the nation is celebrating its 235th anniversary.  

Happy Birthday, America, and I wish I were there to see the fireworks. :-)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

European Blue Card - Update July 3, 2011

More news is coming in.

The Netherlands:  Many many thanks to arvind who left this link in the comments section -
Invoering Europese blauwe kaart.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the Google translator actually gave me a coherent translation.  Check it out.  At the bottom of the webpage are links to the Foreign Credentials validation service and a Customer Service guide explaining how to apply for a work permit.

Romania:  The Guide of Foreign Workers in Romania (English) and Guide du Travailleur Etranger en Roumanie (French) link to this Ministry of Foreign Affairs webpage where I followed another link to the Visa and Consular Affairs service.  It looks like (not entirely sure of this) you would need to get a work authorization (Blue Card or other) from the Romanian Office of Immigration and then apply for a visa/long-stay permit from your local Romanian consulate. I think your best course of action if you are interested would be to write or call the local Romanian embassy or consulate (here is the list of Romanian missions abroad) since the link to the Romanian Office of Immigration does not seem to be working.

France:  Vie Publique reports that the  "Loi du 16 juin 2011 relative à l’immigration, à l’intégration et à la nationalité" has been published in the Official Journal.  The next stage is "Le décret d’application" stage where they determine how it will be implemented.  The last stage is "Evaluation."  There was nothing more I could find on the government website so I turned to the Internet and I found this article by a French lawyer.  He is saying that the implementation will be via a short-term work permit, a "carte de sejour", which will have a little note on it saying "carte bleue européenne."  He also says that the terms for applying are as follows:

1. The worker must possess a legal work contract good for at least one year.
2. The annual salary for the position must be equal or superior to 1.5 times the average salary of reference (not sure what that means, if it's 1.5 times the SMIG or if they have another way of calculating this based on the sector).
3. The worker must have a diploma showing at least three years of study at a university recognized by the French state or have at least 5 years of work experience at a comparable level.

I don't want to be pessimistic about this but, if the above is true, it's going to be tough going for applicants.  I personally don't know many French companies that would hire a foreigner with a guaranteed one-year contract.  What about the usual 3-month trial period, for example?  I also wonder about who is going to be evaluating people's diplomas or work experience.  My own experience has been that my university degree has been both under and over-valued in many situations and it all depends on how well the evaluator knows the American university system where the quality of the schools is highly variable.  I can also see some cultural issues when it comes to work experience.  I once had a recruiter here in Paris who said that when evaluating American CVs he had to remember that (especially in IT) Americans tend move around a lot and it's normal in the US to have a year here or two years there which is something that French companies don't seem to like much.

But, let's be optimistic.  The law has been passed, it is on the books, and that is already a big step forward.  I'll keep you posted.