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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Le Parisien

Taking another detour today.  Years ago in a movie theater in Paris I saw a publicity that had my spouse and I laughing hysterically in our seats.  It was very short and it was a play on common stereotypes about Parisians.  

The other day via Benjamin Pelletier (Gestion des riques interculturels) I followed a link to this article about cultural stereotypes in advertisements,  Clichés : à quoi reconnaît-on un Français dans une pub étrangère ?, and there it was.  Just as funny today as it was a few years back.  Enjoy and vive la pub!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Americans Abroad: A Desire to be Counted?

In closing I would like to reiterate the need for the U.S. Census Bureau to count all Americans, including private citizens living and working abroad.  Not only will such a policy provide an accurate census, but it will allow Congress and private sector leaders to realize how to best support U.S. companies and our citizenry abroad. 
The Honorable Benjamin Gilman, House of Representatives, New York

On July 26, 2001 at 1:30 PM the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Census (Committee on Government Reform) met in Washington to examine the question:  Americans Abroad, How can  we count them?

The question itself shows that there was already a consensus around it.

In the rooms of the Rayburn House Office Building in the nation's capital that day were a wide variety of actors - government and non-government alike.  There were U.S. lawmakers and speakers from the State department and the U.S. Census Bureau. There were also representatives from the major American political parties (Democrats and Republicans Abroad) as well as  the American Business Council of the Gulf Countries and the American Chambers of Commerce (AmCham)  as well as American Citizens Abroad, the Association of Americans Resident Overseas and the Federation of American Women's Club's Overseas.  Nearly all spoke in favor of including Americans abroad in the U.S. census but for different reasons.

Domestic Politics:  U.S. citizens living abroad have the right to vote in U.S. elections and they do so through their last U.S. state of residence. So, for example, my last U.S. residence was in Seattle, Washington and I vote in that state in local elections and through that state in federal elections (Congress and President).  This will be the case regardless of how many years I remain outside the United States.  However, that virtual presence in the U.S. only counts for voting purposes and does not count for apportionment (the number of Congressional seats alloted every ten years to each state by population).

If Americans abroad were counted in the U.S. census for apportionment purpose, who would benefit the most?  Those state that have the largest numbers of American citizens living abroad who claim that state as their last state of residence.  Some obvious winners would be California, New York, and Utah.  These states would gain population and therefore might win seats away from other U.S. states that have populations that are less globally mobile.  This site has an chart that shows the changes in Congressional apportionment between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.  In 2010 12 seats changed hands. Native population growth, immigration, and internal migration from one state to another account for these changes.  Adding Americans abroad to the count would mean adding another variable and there would clearly be winners and losers.

Diaspora Politics:    U.S. citizens abroad are a very diverse group but the most visible are those who belong to certain kinds of organizations:  business, for example, or groups that represent American citizens abroad in the homeland.  Here were a few of their arguments and interests :

Raise the profile of Americans abroad in the homeland:  As long as Americans abroad are not "legible" to the American government and the homeland, it is very easy to ignore them or (much worse) paint a picture of them that is rather unflattering and then pass laws that intentionally or unintentionally hurt them.  A count would provide real information as to their numbers and just what they are up to over there.  Participation in the national census would hopefully dispel some of the suspicion and reveal a population of patriotic Americans still bound to the homeland by ties of love and loyalty, and doing good for America by doing well wherever they may be.  "The conduct of the census will respond to the patriotic desire  of the American community around the world to be counted, to be measured, to be seen in its proper proportions as a dynamic part of our society.  It will reveal the importance to our economy and to our society of our overseas citizens."

Provide benefits and services to the American "domestic abroad":  Once the numbers are known, then steps could be taken to prevent the erosion of services to this population and offer the possibility of adding others like access to Medicare.  It would also make it easier for consulates to protect and aid American populations abroad.  Once a count is made staffing could be adjusted accordingly.  Exclusion yet again from the census one speaker said, would "demean our citizenship and our contribution to America, and also, deny us our rightful allocation of Federal revenue."

Improve the global competitiveness of the U.S.:  U.S. businesses abroad are an American presence abroad.  Americans "on the ground" are necessary to promote American products and to generate jobs back in the homeland.  Knowing where this presence is would make it easier for the American homeland to support their efforts and thus help reduce the trade deficit and generate jobs back in the United States

In addition, I would add that having this population counted, recognized, and legitimized would make it much easier for organizations like American Citizens Abroad, AARO and FAWCO to represent their members.  Today, ACA and others say they are the "voice of American abroad" (roughly estimated today at 6 - 7 million).  This would be much more plausible if some quantitative data existed to bolster their claims.  If it could be shown that American abroad were not just a few Americans temporarily outside the U.S., but a real community of millions of people who vote, pay taxes and support American interests, then lobbying efforts (for or against various homeland initiatives) would take on an entirely new dimension.

This proposal in 2001 to count Americans abroad was a happy conjunction of many different interests both domestic and diaspora alike.  Why did the planets align in 2001 and give impetus to this initiative?   Hard to say but one reasonable assumption would be that the American population abroad grew and reached some sort of critical mass at the turn of the century.  In a globalized era with more and more international migration, Americans (like many other nationalities) took the opportunities opened up by globalization and went abroad to live and work as private citizens.  With millions of visitors each year  coming to the US temporarily to travel, to study or to work, there were more chances for an American to meet and marry a foreigner and then choose to leave the US with his or her spouse.  Looser jus sanguinas citizenship laws made automatic (or "accidental") Americans of the children of U.S. citizens born abroad. The global reach of the US military (bases and engagements in various places) meant that some of the troops had a taste of life outside the U.S. and decided not to return to the U.S.   All these things swelled the ranks of American abroad.  It is unfortunate that this emigration has not been the study of more research.  Having better data about it would would give us a lot of insight into American immigration/emigration.

Here is what we do know:  Once installed abroad some Americans did not like to be treated as "semi-citizens" with fewer rights, fewer benefits, almost no representation, and zero political power in the homeland.  To add insult to injury the image of Americans abroad was (and is) terrible.  Some of the homeland rhetoric around this population still paints them as unpatriotic Benedict Arnold's who abandoned the US in order to evade taxes or to engage in frivolous, selfish, and un-American activities.

This desire of a growing American population abroad to matter (to count for something in the US)  dovetailed with the desire of some U.S. states to tilt the homeland political representation apportionment game in their favor.  And that is why I think calls for Americans abroad to be included in the U.S. census were seriously considered in the summer of 2001 in a hearing dedicated to that purpose.

That is my analysis based on the research I've done.  Please do argue with my conclusions. I know that some of the people who worked on this issue back then read the Flophouse.  I invite them to give their perspective on it, either in the comments section or via email.

Starting from the premise that Americans abroad should be counted, the next question was how to do it.  As we saw in the first post in this series, attempts by the U.S. government to count this population throughout the 19th and 20th centuries all ended in failure.  In the next post we'll look at the responses of the U.S. government (State Department and Census Bureau) to this proposition.  As we shall see there are some serious challenges to defining this universe.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Flophouse Pumpkin Pie

The Lovely Leila, spouse of blogger Ovid (Overseas Exile) was on Facebook the other day asking about classic American Thanksgiving Day recipes.  I promised her a recipe for pumpkin pie and since I actually made some yesterday, I thought I would describe the process.  What follows is how I do it and does not presume to be authentic (how it's done back in the home country).  Like so many things migrants do it's a make-do-with-what's-available here and don't go crying over what you had there.

The result, oddly enough, is a much better pie than the ones I used to make in the U.S.

Update:  And this note from my father in Seattle explains why.

Victoria Marie

Were you not aware that the  vast majority of the "pumpkin" sold canned 
for pie making is actually a form of squash and not pumpkin?

So that a pumpkin pie make with real pumpkin is actually a rather 
different taste than one made from a canned product.

In the U.S. I always bought canned pumpkin.  Here in France this is not exactly a standard item at the local supermarché.  So, in years past I've had to go to the market to buy whole fresh pumpkins. (You want the whole pumpkin, Madame?  Oui, Monsieur...) This year my very own garden here in Versailles produced two lovely French pumpkins (potiron rouge vif d'Etampes).

Prepare the pumpkin:  Take the pumpkin and cut it into thick slices, removing the seeds and the string but leaving the skin.  Put the pumpkin slices on their side on a cookie sheet.  Put them in the oven at 180 degrees and cook for one hour.

Take the pumpkin slices out of the oven and let them cool for about 10 minutes.  Then remove the skin and run the cooked pumpkin through a blender or a robot.  At this point it should look like thick soup.

Prepare the crust:  This is the third time I've tried to make pie dough in my robot and I still can't get it right. Save yourself some hassle and just buy a pâte brisée (pur beurre) at the supermarket.

Prepare the filling:  This is loosely based on the recipe in the Joy of Cooking.  In a big bowl mix together:

2 cups worth of pumpkin sauce (what you made in step 1)
3 "bricks" (20 cl) of crème légère fluide (12% mat. fr.)
Roughly 3/4 cup of brown sugar and white sugar (use more white sugar than brown).  For a sweeter pie add more white sugar.  I personally don't like it that sweet and usually reduce the amount to 1/2 cup.
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
Two pinches of ground nutmeg
One pinch of ground cloves
2 - 3 eggs

This makes roughly 2 pies.

Cooking:  Pour the filling into the prepared pie crusts and throw them in the oven at 215 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then turn the heat down to 180 and cook for another 45 minutes.  Pies are done when you put the tip of a knife into the middle and it comes out clean.

Serving:  Delicious served warm with whipped cream.  Just as good served cold with whipping cream and a splash of whiskey.  Not just for dessert either - cold pumpkin pie makes for an outstanding breakfast.

And what about pumpkins for Jack O' Lanterns?  Well, you can't use the same pumpkin for both so you have a decision to make.  This year it was easy since the ones I grew weren't really suitable for carving so we bought one at the store and I carved it while my French spouse "helped." (Don't you cut yourself!  Is that really the knife you should be using?  The teeth are too small.  The eyes are too big.  You should use a battery-powered candle and not one with a real flame.  It should go on the front porch and not right next to the door...)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Americans Abroad: The Story of the Census

"Would it not be a great satisfaction to the king to know at a designated moment every year the number of his subjects, in total and by region, with all the resources, wealth and poverty of each place...
Would it not be a useful and necessary pleasure for him to be able, in his own office, to review in an hour's time the present and past condition of a great realm of which he is the head, and be able himself to know with certitude in what consists his grandeur, his wealth and his strengths?"

Marquis de Vauban

This was the enticing argument a French noble placed before the French king Louis XIV in 1686 in support of the creation of an annual census.  Note that nothing whatsoever was said about the benefits that might accrue to the people.  At that time, there weren't any - the census, and other schemes to make resources in a realm legible, really had no other purpose than to make it easier for the state to exploit them.  This fact was not lost on the peasantry and resistance to being counted was rife. Whether is was a census taker or a taxman, an agent of the state was seldom welcomed with open arms and sometimes they were even "disappeared."

In a modern state the census has other purposes as well.  It is a means by which the state can gather statistics and do research in order to (one hopes) better serve the population through social programs or economic planning.  It is also, in some democratic nation-states, a way to apportion representation.  How many seats a region has in one chamber of the national parliament is based on census data.  Something that makes the census an integral part of the democratic process.

The U.S. Congress is composed of two houses:  the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The first is fixed with 100 members, two senators from each state.  The second is also a fixed number (435 members) but the alloted number of representatives in different regions changes based on the rise or fall of population.   Since 1790 census data is what determines how many representatives each district gets and keeps until the next one and then the cards are reshuffled once again.  This is actually mandated by the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 2).

In the original US census in the late 18th century this is what was deemed worthy of counting:
The six inquiries in 1790 called for the name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions:
Free White males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country's industrial and military potential)
Free White males under 16 years
Free White females
All other free persons
All these people were counted and yet not all were given the same weight for the purposes of determining representation:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
Times changed and the census in 2010 bore little resemblance to the one conducted in 1790.  However, the basic purpose remains:  this is how political representation is allocated and that makes it a very serious exercise indeed.

Counting people within a national territory as large as the United States is a daunting task.  Counting Americans not living within that national territory is an even larger challenge.  According to the excellent study by Karen Mills (US Census Bureau):  "Only twice in the first 100 years of census-taking began in the U.S. in 1790 were separate counts of the American overseas population reported in the decennial censuses."  The first was in 1830 and the second in 1840.  After that there was a 60 year hiatus until Americans abroad were once again on the radar of the state in the early 20th century.  Who was counted?  It was primarily Federal employees or US personnel on merchant vessels.  It wasn't until 1960 that an attempt was made to count civilians living abroad.  It was a voluntary census and does not seem to have been very successful.  Another attempt was made in 1970 and was also unsuccessful.  The only numbers that were reliable and used for apportionment were military and federal employees.  Here was the count for those populations:

US Armed Forces:  1, 076, 431
Civilian Federal Employees:  67, 993
Dependents of both Military and Civilian Employees:  436,574

What happened with the civilian count?  Though the US Census Bureau tried to get the word out through churches, schools, chambers of commerce, local media, embassies and the like, the response was very poor.  Mills speculates on the reasons for this:

1.  Many Americans abroad didn't get the word.  If they lived in remote areas it's quite likely that they didn't even know there was census.

2.  Dual citizens may have been unsure as to whether or not they should participate.

3.  Many may have simply decided not to participate at all.  No desire on their part to be counted.  In any case, participation was strictly voluntary.  Even today Americans outside the U.S. are not required to register with the local US Embassy, much less stand up and be counted.  Many choose not to.  Why is that?

I can only speak for myself here but the short answer I would give is that there is no perceived benefit to doing so and some suspicion as to what registration will be used for.  I did register when I was living in Japan and then found my email inundated with travel advisories for places I had no intention of going.  It was interesting to read but not terribly useful.  In general the only reason I ever go the US Embassy in any of the places where I've lived (all modern democratic nation-states) is to renew my and the Frenchling's US passports.  That has meant a trip about every 4 or 5 years.  Now that my daughters are adults that will diminish to about once every 10 years.  (At this time, I do not even know who the US Ambassador to France is though I'm dead certain there is one.)   Other than that, as a long-term American resident of another developed country, my perception is that there simply aren't many services at the local embassy that fit my needs.  If that perception is erroneous, I am more than happy to be corrected.

So the 1970 and 1980 attempts to count American citizens abroad were complete flops and the numbers  simply weren't useable for apportionment except in the case of US military personnel and Federal employees.

That means that right up to the present day if the American president or Congress asks the American equivalent of the Marquis de Vauban, "So, what is the extent of our realm and the subjects (citizens) abroad and their resources in this globalized world?" The answer would be, "We have no idea."  Only guesses, estimates, and speculation.

Is that the end of the story?  Not quite because in 2001 the question of counting American civilians abroad came up yet again and this time it was at the request of Americans abroad themselves.

We'll talk about that in tomorrow's post.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Hijab and Integration

Several interesting links up on Andrew's blog Multicultural Meanderings.

There is, of course, the continuing controversy over the Quebec Charte des valeurs.  Identity politics are a nasty business and this fight is no exception.  Thus far, at least one of the casualties is the perception of women as strong and capable and able to discern their own interests and desires. Adults able to decide for themselves what they want and how they should dress.  In this article there are claims that women who choose to dress a particular way (the hijab) are "crazy" and "manipulated."  As a feminist may I say that this kind of discourse is not helpful to women anywhere as it portrays us as gullible infants easily swayed by men into doing foolish things.

May I also respectfully point out that having the government tells us what to wear isn't fundamentally any different from having our menfolk do so.  One patriarchy (the state as "Papa") is picking a fight with what they perceive is another patriarchy (migrant men) over the hearts, minds, and bodies of women.

This is, alas, a political strategy that seems to be bearing fruit if the polls in Quebec are accurate.  This argument over symbols (religious and cultural) serves no one except those who wish to make political hay.  

Quebec (and other places) are trying to judge what is inside someone's head by what he or she wears on their bodies.  It's matching insides to outsides - always a perilous undertaking fraught with error and misunderstandings.  If one thinks it is possible to see a "message" and make judgements about a woman based on what she wears, then it follows that all women everywhere can be judged that way.  So then, what does it mean, mes amis, if a woman wears a short black skirt, a tight blouse and high heels?   What "messages" is she sending?  And are we allowed to treat her differently because of how we interpret her intentions manifested through her fashion sense?

Do we really want to go there?  For that matter, weren't we there a few decades ago?

The hijab/burka has become a symbol in two levels.  In some minds it stand for a degradation of women's rights and is something that women should be liberated from for their own good.  For others it is about integration:  a sign that a woman and her family do not wish to be a part of, and don't share the same values as, the culture of arrival.  If I may be so bold, I believe this says very little about migrants and a great deal about the insecurity of the culture in Quebec and France.  The French-Canadians (and the French too) seems to have lost faith in their ability to embrace migrants and convince them that the values they find on arrival are worthy of emulation and respect.

When a few women migrants (and it is is a very few) wearing hijabs can send an entire culture into a panic, that's not a good sign, is it?  It reeks of fear.  And perhaps I was incorrect about the power of women since these women, just by being and putting on a few more clothes than the average native, are causing such a fuss and provoking such extreme emotions.  Clearly, we are dangerous creatures and who knows what we might do if we were allowed to dress ourselves without guidance.

Here is what I know as a woman and a migrant - integration almost always comes eventually but it takes time. Yes, the culture of arrival competes with the culture of origin in one's head.  It can't work any other way - a migrant does not simply drop to her knees and start genuflecting to the superiority of native culture the moment she gets off the plane.  Stepping out of one world (a world that may have been the whole world for most of that migrant's life) into another is just as scary for the migrant herself.  In some cases a very few things about the former life are held as precious, not because there is no desire to integrate, but because they are the things that keep us from losing our minds as we sense that we are losing important parts of ourselves.  The whole process of detachment and re-attachment happens differently with each individual and some land harder than others depending on where she came from and what the new culture requires.

When the receiving culture screams at us, "Not good enough!" and demands further sacrifice - integration on their schedule, not ours - it has precisely the opposite effect.  No one likes to be forced into anything or told that their culture of origin is "bad" or talked down to as if she were a small child.

Because if that is the vision we get of the native culture - abusive, intolerant, controlling, quick to judge, slow to accept - then we really have to wonder why we would ever want to be a part of such a society at all.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Labor Brokerage State

Imagine a world where if you wanted to work abroad, your government was there to help.

Such is the nature of a labor brokerage state.  It's an old idea with a new veneer.  When states feel the pinch of labor shortages, other states have been more than willing to seize the opportunity to send a portion of their population abroad to fill that need.  This is just as true of the 21st century as it was of times past.   The bracero programs between the US and Mexico meant a flow of experienced farm labor for US agriculture.  During the 1950's and 60's Germany signed agreements with Italy, Turkey, Morocco, and other countries for low-skilled labor to work in their industry during economic booms.

The example before us today is the Philippines.   In Migrants for Export Robyn Magalit Rodriguez describes an entire state apparatus built to market that country's labor to the rest of the world and to facilitate the ability of its citizens to work abroad.  Having worked in my time for both temp agencies and multi-national consulting companies,  I had a sense of déjà vu as I read.  The difference, of course is that  my country was never involved in my seeking and gaining employment abroad.  It required a mental leap to consider a situation where the home country takes the place of the temp agency/consulting company.

The very start of state intervention, says Rodriguez, is the authorization to leave, also known as a passport.  No migrant goes very far without papers and what is usually required is a passport issued by the sending country and a visa issued by the receiving country.  Behind every passport are breeder documents which are issued and/or validated by the government.  That is the very first level of control over the movement of any country's people (there are exceptions to this but it is generally the rule).

An American, a Canadian, a German, a Filipina and a Brazilian are all required to ask for permission to leave the country.  Perhaps you find that characterization a bit strong.  Freedom to leave one's country is enshrined in international law, you might say, and no country can deny you that right.  My answer would be to suggest that you go and look at your country's passport issuance procedures and find all the ways they can decide to legally deny you those documents you need to travel outside your country.

In general countries trust other countries to issue valid papers that do not require intense scrutiny or extensive investigation on the arrival side.  Too many people moving about the world and not nearly enough resources to check the documents behind each and every passport.  "International migration, in other words, relies on relations of trust between nation-states secured through process of 'authorization'."

Making it possible for citizens to leave is not the same as encouraging them to do so.  To my knowledge the French Republic does not invite its citizens to seek employment outside of Europe.  The US certainly does not do this either.  And neither engage in global marketing campaigns to extol the virtues of their workers with an eye toward finding them jobs elsewhere.  The Philippines does.

In fact the Philippine government has an entire agency devoted to this task.  It's called the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).  Like private temp agencies and consulting companies this agency performs the following services:

Market research:  The POEA actively scours the world for opportunities for its workers.  It's not just about a potential receiving country's labor needs, it is also about the immigration laws.  The anti-immigrant rhetoric of many governments be damned, there are almost always loopholes.  If the local laws don't welcome one kind of labor, Filipinos can be retrained in what that market allows and needs.

Business opportunities:  They also keep a keen eye on potential biz ops.  In a 2007 POEA report, Rodriguez says, "the US Marines relocation to Guam is identified as a potential source of jobs..."  Canada was another example, with companies like Microsoft establishing subsidiaries in that country. If Microsoft in the US isn't hiring because of US immigration law, then perhaps Canada is a better bet.  Same company - different location.

Marketing:  The POEA has a marketing branch which produces glossy brochures that explain all the advantages of hiring Filipino labor.  Included in these brochures are assurances that Filipinos are modern, skilled, English-speaking and have a good work ethic.  There are direct-mail campaigns targeting certain industries abroad and even exhibits at international trade fairs.

All the above could be and are done by the private sector but there is one area where only the Philippine government can act:  government to government negotiations and accords.

Bi-lateral Agreements:  The Philippines has signed a surprisingly large number of bi-lateral agreements and memorandums of understanding with countries (clients) all around the world.  It's not just countries in the Middle East but also nation-states in Europe and North America.  Many Canadian provinces have such agreements (Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba) and the POEA website has announced a new MOU with Saskatchewan signed on October 7, 2013.

None of this activity is top secret.  In fact the Philippines is quite transparent about what they are doing and why.  A good place to get a feel for how this works is to look at the POEA annual report which reads very much like the annual report of any business - there is even a financial statement at the very end.

As I said before this is not a new idea.  States have always had reasons to encourage short or long-term emigration.  It serves all kinds of purposes from reducing the local ranks of the destitute and unemployed (and thus reducing the likelihood of social unrest), to raising or maintaining standards of living back home through remittances and investment from abroad.  Sending states have always recognized that emigration was "politically beneficial and economically profitable" (Green & Weil 2007).

But what the Philippines does goes far beyond simply providing the necessary documents and then waving good-bye and saying "auf Wiedersehen".  This is emigration as a state-sponsored enterprise with every citizen a potential overseas worker, and leaders of the country as managers of a global employment agency.

Because the state is so involved there is a certain expectation that the government look out for its overseas work force and protect them when necessary.  Easy to promise, hard to do.  When a migrant is physically present in another state, all kinds of things can happen and the sending state (be it a powerful state like the US or Canada or a less powerful one like the Philippines or Mexico) has only limited means at its disposal to enforce agreements and ensure that workers (their citizens) are treated fairly.   Some horrendous things have happened to Filipino workers in foreign countries.

The 2011 POEA report talks about Worker Protection and about policing local private recruitment agencies and providing repatriation services for overseas workers who need to come home.

But they also mention enforcement of Republic Act 10022 signed in 2009 which was written with the protection of overseas workers in mind.  It says:
"In the pursuit of an independent foreign policy and while considering national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination paramount in its relations with other states, the State shall, at all times, uphold the dignity of its citizens whether in country or overseas, in general, and Filipino migrant workers, in particular, continuously monitor international conventions, adopt/be signatory to and ratify those that guarantee protection to our migrant workers, and endeavor to enter into bilateral agreements with countries hosting overseas Filipino workers."
"Deployment of Migrant Workers. - The State shall allow the deployment of overseas Filipino workers only in countries where the rights of Filipino migrant workers are protected. The government recognizes any of the following as a guarantee on the part of the receiving country for the protection of the rights of overseas Filipino workers:
"(a) It has existing labor and social laws protecting the rights of workers, including migrant workers;
"(b) It is a signatory to and/or a ratifier of multilateral conventions, declarations or resolutions relating to the protection of workers, including migrant workers; and
"(c) It has concluded a bilateral agreement or arrangement with the government on the protection of the rights of overseas Filipino Workers:
Provided, That the receiving country is taking positive, concrete measures to protect the rights of migrant workers in furtherance of any of the guarantees under subparagraphs (a), (b) and (c) hereof."
This is a social contract enshrined in national law between emigrants and the state.  Filipino labor migrants are "heroes" who sacrifice something to work abroad (not unlike the way the Portuguese government portrays its emigrants) and they are expected to send back remittances to support the home country.  In exchange, the Philippine government provides the necessary documentation (passports), training, opportunities, and finally, protection while abroad.

Is this a good deal for the Philippine state and citizens alike?    Rodriguez is skeptical and she uses a frame and language I would describe as "anti-globalization" to make her points.  Fair enough but I would have liked her book better had there been a bit more of the migrants speaking for themselves.  The question I asked myself at the end was simply this:  If there are that many abuses and this represents sheer exploitation on the part of the Philippine state and its clients, why do Filipinos and Filipinas continue to work abroad in large numbers?  Are they simply deluded poverty-stricken pawns being gently coerced into something resembling modern indentured servitude or are they actors with agency and an agenda of their own?  

I can't answer that question. In all fairness to Rodriguez the book was not intended as a exploration into the motivations and feelings of Filipino migrants.  Her job, as she saw it, was to describe the history and the functioning of the state apparatus.  And yet, with the language she uses, she is making value judgements about that system from her perspective as an American academic.  Like so many Americans, she may be the child of immigrants but she is not one herself.  That is something that needs to be taken into account while reading her book.

That said, I liked this book and I will add it to my international migration reading list.  However, I will also go looking for other books that provide the Filipino migrant perspective. Would they agree with her assessment or do they have another?  As James C. Scott says,  "Every subordinate group creates, out of its ordeal, a "hidden transcript" that represents a critique of power spoken behind the back of the dominant."  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

EU Political Parties

Arun posted this a few days ago and I'm passing it along because I think it's of interest to non-EU Flophouse readers.

The political landscape in the EU is very different from that of North America.  Lots of different parties and a very wide spectrum of opinions and positions represented.  Like many things, direct translation is not easy and may not even be possible.

If you were a Democrat in the US, what party would you most likely want to belong to in France?  If you were PRI in Mexico, what party would interest you in Greece?  If you were NDP in Canada in which UK parties would you find the most common ground?

One way to try and figure it out would be to take each EU country and all the major political parties,  look at each party's positions carefully, and then try to map them to whatever political party you belong to in your home country.

Too much work?

I agree.

As Arun points out there is an easier way.  It's called the EU Profiler and here is how it works.  The wizard asks you a series of questions and, based on your responses, gives you the parties within each EU state and shows you which ones are closest to your opinions.  Pretty nifty.

To my astonishment I ended up in the center left.


Here is the direct link:  EU Profiler.

Amusez-vous bien....

Oh and if you have a moment, drop a comment with your results - home country party affiliation and what the EU profiler told you was a close match.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Lot of questions vie email and Facebook about Saturday's post about my appointment with the plastic surgeon on Friday.  An 18 month wait seem to confirm some idées reçues about "socialized" medicine.

The thing to remember about the French healthcare system is that it's a mixture of public and private.  Most doctors do not work exclusively for the public system.  Some are completely independent and others have a mix of hours at public hospitals, private clinics, and their own practices.

There are two different payment systems here:  state insurance (Assurance maladie) and private insurance companies (mutuelles).  The latter are usually offered as part of a job package (not unlike in the US).  The way it works is that the private insurance is meant to pay for extras that the state insurance does not cover.  A good example would be hospitalization.  Basic state insurance will cover 100% a hospital bed in a room shared by one or two other patients.  If you have private insurance, however, the mutuelle will pay the difference and you can get a private room.

So everyone, regardless of income or status, gets the basic stuff covered by state insurance.  That means that breast cancer treatment is entirely covered - surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, tamoxifen, follow-up appointments, PET scans, MRI's, pain meds - and you never EVER see a bill or have to think for two seconds about how something will be paid for.  Just show your Carte Vitale (state insurance card) and everything is taken care of automatically.  It is incredibly efficient and I am in awe of their ability to provide this kind of cost-effective quality care with a minimum amount of bureaucracy.  Think of it as an "All care, no costly BS" system.

Extra stuff, however, will cost you or the mutuelle, extra.

So what happens with breast reconstruction?

First thing to get clear is that breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is covered by French state insurance.  It's not an extra - it's part of the basic state plan.  That said, the questions are:  how it will be done, when it will be done and where the surgery will occur.

The first question will be answered by me and my surgeon.  There are different options but what it looks like is that I will have to have implants.  I'm just too darn skinny and there isn't enough laine around my middle to use to make two breasts even though I'm not shooting for much here.  I have no desire to look like a Baywatch girl;  I'm thinking more along the lines of an 18th century coupe à champagne designed, they say, using the breast of the Marquise de Pompadour (or Marie Antoinette) as a model.

The when and where are equally complex.  Essentially, I have three options:

1.  The cancer clinic where I have been undergoing treatment now for nearly 2 years.  This was my first choice.  They know me and I know them.  I trust them.  My mastectomy went as well as could be given the circumstances and I still remember the kindness of the surgical team as I went under and the excellent aftercare given by the staff.  These people saved my life.

I can have the surgery done there but it will take 18 months at least before it can happen.  That's the news I got on Friday.  But that's not the last word.  There are other options.

2.  A private clinic that charges reasonable rates.  By "reasonable" I mean one where the bill will not go over what the French state insurances pays and what my private insurance (yes, we have one) will cover.  That's going to require some research and will take time.  There will be paperwork.

3.  A private clinic or plastic surgeon who has an excellent reputation but has fees that will far surpass my coverage.  This would also require research and a cold hard look at the state of our finances.  What is it worth to me and to my spouse to have this done?  5,000 Euros?  10,000 Euros?  20,000 Euros? Who knows.

Now that I am well-rested, well-fed and my head is in a better place, I can start thinking about what I want to do next.  Option 2 is the most realistic and I will start working on that this week.  I can ask both my GP and my gynecologist at the Franciscans here in Versailles for referrals.  If anyone reading this has a plastic surgeon they know and love here in France, please pass on the name.  I'd also really appreciate hearing from any Flophouse reader who has had breast reconstruction. How did it go?  Are you glad you did it?   I'm reading the material they gave me at the hospital and sounds like a lot can go wrong.  Scary, and all for something that is, strictly speaking, not necessary surgery.  Yvonne (Considering the Lilies) posted this photo.  This woman chose not to have reconstruction and instead used the space for a pretty incredible tattoo.  Something to think about...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Day at the Cancer Clinic

Yesterday morning early early I set off in a cloud of serenity for my 6 month contrôle at the René Huguenin/Insitut Curie cancer center in St. Cloud.  These follow-up appointments are very important - there are tests to see if the cancer has returned but it is also a chance for me and my oncologist (a goddess among women) to touch base and see how things are going.

My serenity was tested almost immediately.  I usually take the train from the Gare de Montreuil here in Versailles to St. Cloud.  It's a good 15 minute walk to that train station and for reasons that I will go into later I used to find an alternate route that would allow me to leave from the Porchefontaine train station which is only 2 minutes away.  It was not to be.  I arrived at my train station only to discover that all the trains to Paris had been cancelled due to technical problems on the line.  So I turned around and walked up to the other station where the trains were running normally.

I arrived in St. Cloud right on time and went in to register with the front desk and get the show on the road.

Walking into the center is like coming home.  It is a surprisingly cheerful place.  The walls are painted a bright yellow and the floors shine.  It has a particular smell which is not unpleasantly antiseptic and the waiting rooms are warm.  In a few short minutes, the chill in my hands and feet went away and after getting my fiche de circulation at the front desk I walked up to the first floor to get my blood work done.

Coming back downstairs for the consultation, I noticed a large group of women in the main hall.  They were dressed in long black skirts and had small caps on the back of their heads.  It had the feel of a cultural compromise - though they were dressed much more modestly than Frenchwomen they had on sheer black tights and black heels under those skirts.  The age range was from young adult to quite elderly and they were speaking a language I didn't recognize.  Just outside the clinic was a group of men also dressed mostly in black who were smoking and talking.  It was blatant segregation by sex - the women were inside and the men were outside and they did not mix.  But it was clear that they were together even though they occupied different spaces.  I watched the body language and I didn't detect any angst or fear so much as a kind of solidarity and concern.  Something was going on but it didn't have the air of a catastrophic event.

My consultation went very well.  The test results were not ready but there was a very thorough exam.  My oncologist has the most wonderful gentle hands and when she runs them over my shoulders and chest, it never feels invasive or uncomfortable.  Sometimes she even closes her eyes and just feels and at those moments I feel such peace - like a person and not a patient.  She also listens very well.  I've been having a lot of joint pain in my hips which could have any number of causes including age. It's not that I am writhing in pain - it's more like something that slows me down.  An almost constant ache which makes it hard to walk sometimes and saps my energy to get out and do even small things.  We had talked about this at our last visit and she remembered.  This, she said, was worthy of further investigation and she put me down for an MRI.  Just to be sure.

We also talked about life.  How was I doing?  Not to miss a moment to evangelize, I told her about some of the activist work I'm doing and why I'm doing it.  She was very interested and gave me her email address so that I can send her the published articles Lynne Swanson and I wrote.

In spite of not having the test results, I left her office around noon feeling pretty good.  Since my next appointment was much later in the afternoon, I walked down to one of my favorite churches for the 12:05 mass.

The church is called St. Cloadald (St. Cloud).  Born in 522, he was the son of a king and renounced the throne in order to become a monk and later a priest.  There has been a church or a chapel on this site since 560, they say, but it wasn't until Queen Marie-Antoinette that it was decided to build a church (not a chapel) there.  The stones were laid, some of the walls raised and then came the Revolution.   Work stopped until Napoleon II restarted it and the present church was finished and consecrated in 1878.

I've visited many times but each walk through yields something new.  There is a fresco at the entrance which asks that we pray for Marie Antoinette.  At the back of the church is the chapel where the relics of St. Cloud were regathered after the revolution.  One side of the chapel is a fresco that tells the story of St. Cloud and the other side are a few words about a visit from the bishop of St. Cloud, Minnesota in  the US in 1922.  Going farther into the church, there is a statue of Jean d'Arc and there are always candles burning there.  At the very back, to the left of the altar is a chapel to Mary and almost always a few people praying regardless of the hour.

The Mass itself is always wonderful.  Go to Mass anywhere in the world and it's always the same ritual in the local language or Latin.  There are, however, small variations according to the inclinations of the local priest and parish.  The prelude to this Mass is a singing of the Psalms.  The Mass itself is a mix of French, Latin and Greek - mostly sung which is not always the case in all Catholic churches.  This linguistic mix is, from my experience, quite common in the French church.  For example, we almost always use the Greek for the Penitential Rite:

Κύριε ελέησον Kyrie eléison (Seigneur, prends pitié, Lord, have mercy)
Χριστε ελέησον Christe eléison (Christ, prends pitié, Christ, have mercy)
Κύριε ελέησον Kyrie eléison (Seigneur, prends pitié, Lord, have mercy)

And the Latin for the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei):

Agnus Dei
qui tollis peccata mundi
miserere nobis...

The rest is in standard modern French which, honestly, I find less elegant than the English used in anglophone Masses.  "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...."

No Catholic parish anywhere in the world is required to use the Latin/Greek but I like the ones that do. If a community can be said to unite the living, the dead and the yet to be born then using the same words in the same language as the generations before is one way to make the past live in the present.

After Mass I picked up a sandwich at the local bakery and went back to the clinic to wait.  Two hours later I was ushered into yet another consultation room for a meeting with the plasticien (plastic surgeon).  This visit was not nearly as rewarding as the time I spent with my oncologist.  

What I retained from my chat with the surgeon was that, yes, I could have reconstruction but the only real option is implants - I simply don't have enough flesh on my tummy and my back to do otherwise. Concerning the implants, I must choose between silicon or another kind and the surgeon gave a brief overview of the pros and cons not one word of which penetrated my tired brain.

After that I was given the bad news which is that I am now on a waiting list and the earliest available appointment is one year from now with the surgery to be done 6-12 months after that.  That means an 18 month to 2 year wait.

I left her office with a pile of paper to read and a sense of discouragement. As I walked out of the clinic in a deep depression I discovered the reason for that large group of migrants I saw earlier.  A woman, about my age, with a walker and a bandage on her shoulder being helped out of the clinic and placed gently in the back seat of a waiting sedan.

At that moment I did not feel like a "fortunate" migrant.  I cursed my own culture which is not one that places a lot of value on solidarity at home or abroad.  One that is radically individualistic and places a premium on independence and not needing or asking for help from others. There were over 40 people at the clinic just sitting there and talking - all for one lone woman.   Not fair, I know, to make comparisons but in that moment I was painfully conscious that I was tired, hungry, bewildered, and alone.

When I finally made it home an hour later the first order of business was food and the second was rest.  That made things brighter.   And then my mother-in-law called from Amiens to make sure I was alright.  That made things even better.  By the time my husband arrived at about 9:00, the world was right once again.

It was quite the day.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Culture of Migration

"Each act of migration itself creates the social structure needed to sustain it."

Every person who leaves his home country to cast himself on a distant shore has a mental model in his head of what that act means.  There is a context around it in the country of origin that he cannot ignore and this can inform his feelings about what he's doing and provide justifications and arguments for why.

An American who leaves for Paris, for example, probably knows that Americans have been going to Paris for hundreds of years.  In fact, anyone who knows anything about American history will have read that even one of the founding fathers of the nation, Benjamin Franklin, was a long-term resident of the Hexagon.  Those with a creative bent are surely aware that many great American writers and artists came to Paris at one time or another and stayed for a time or permanently.

Out of this migration, which goes back to the American revolution, a kind of archetype has arisen, the American in Paris, which conjures up visions of Ernest Hemingway, the American boy from Illinois who transformed himself into a hard-drinking, dashing novelist and war correspondent living in gay Paree.   There were many others:  Josephine Baker, Henry Miller, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Baldwin...

This is a migration path that was traced long ago and kept open by generations of Americans right up to the present day.  And given the popularity of books written by and about Americans who live here, it is still something that captures the imagination of people in the homeland.  All this is part of the context around which a decision to leave the US and come to France is made.  It's inescapable.

And yet, the US does not have a culture of outward migration (emigration).  It's a country people come to, not a place people leave (or so we tell ourselves).  In the American discourse around migration it's OK to talk about immigrants (in fact that is one of THE most important elements of the national narrative) but it's not OK to talk about emigrants.

I just finished a very good book by Caroline Brettell about another country that does have a strong culture around emigration.  The book is called Anthropology and Migration:  Essays on Transnationalism, Ethnicity and Identity and it talks about migration from an anthropological viewpoint using a population that the author has studied extensively:  the Portuguese.

Not a very well-known group in the US but one that is very visible in France.  If you live in an apartment building in a community around Paris that has a concierge (called a gardien today) chances are good that she is from Portugal.  When we needed work done on the chimney of our house, our Serbian contractor found us a Portuguese mason because, he said, they are the best.

How can the Portuguese be said to have a culture of migration?   Barttell traces the history of Portugal  and shows how powerful symbols and archetypes have created a positive context around Portuguese emigration.

When the Portuguese think about their emigrants their views are informed by allusions to the great Portuguese explorers and their contributions to the Age of Discovery.
"Portuguese emigrants are symbolic transformations of these navigators, for they have carried on the tradition of the Portuguese explorers - a tradition of reaching out beyond the shores of a small country situated at the margins of Europe."
Discovery led to colonization.  One of the infamous BRIC's is their child, Brazil - a very successful country with one of the world's largest and fastest growing economies.  Ties between Portugal and Brazil remained strong even after independence in 1822.  In the 19th century the Portuguese who left for Brazil were called brasileiros: "a term applied to a native-born Portuguese who emigrates to Brazil, makes it rich and then returns to Portugal to display his wealth."   This archetype had both positive and negative connotations but was widely spread via popular culture at the time.

In the 20th century Portuguese writers and poets took that archetype and a new one,  the franceses (the Portuguese in France), and portrayed them as heroes who suffered hardship for the sake of the homeland:  "Glorificam a Terra na amargura da distancia." (They glorify the homeland in the bitterness of distance.)

This does not mean, however that the government of Portugal always endorsed or approved of the emigrants.  Under Salazar emigration was controlled though not very effectively.  Many Portuguese slipped out of the country and made it to France where they were helped by the French authorities.  Here are the words of one migrant who left in 1965 for France:
"While we were waiting on the French side for trucks to take us to Paris, we were caught by the police. Ten of the men fled, among them the man who was to become my brother-in-law...The rest of us stayed and the police were very nice.  We showed our identity papers, and the police gave us temporary passes for France."
The Salazar regime is long gone and Portugal is now part of the European Union which means freedom of movement between European countries and no more problems with papers.

Today there are Portuguese communities all over the world but one of the largest is here in France. In the period between 1950 and 1969 France was the final destination for a whopping 43.5% of Portuguese migrants.  They came to work, brought their families, and settled in. The numbers of new migrants have risen and fallen over the years but in 1990 they were still one of largest immigrant populations in France:  650,000 strong.

They are both visible and accepted.  When the French talk about the immigrant "problem" they are generally not referring to the Portuguese who are both Christians (Catholics) and fellow Europeans.

And yet they do engage in patterns of behaviour that in other migrant groups would be controversial.  They do not, in general, become French citizens (though their children do).  Many attend Mass in Portuguese (not French) and send their offspring to Catechism in that language.  They often return to Portugal on vacation and send their children there for the summer.  Many retain very strong ties to their towns and villages back home and they send a steady stream of donations and remittances back to support local foundations, parishes and family members.  Some parishes back in Portugal even mail copies of the parish newsletter to former parishioners living in the Hexagon so they can be kept up to date as to what's happening at home.  The idea of return is strong in this community.  Few come to France with the idea of permanently settling here even if that is what actually happens over time.

Barttell paints a very interesting picture of this community.  Portugal is not a country people leave today because they are starving or are suffering oppression.  They are not the misère du monde. It's more a case of relative deprivation.  "Often it is neither the extremely poor (who have no money for the passage and no social networks abroad) nor the richest who pioneer a migration stream, but those with some but not great resources." The Portuguese see friends and family leave for France and then come home with enough money to buy things like houses or land or to acquire status through donations to the church and participation in community events.  Whatever work they do and what they earn and how they are viewed or treated in France, their frame of reference is Portugal.  Bartell sums it up this way:  "Portuguese are travailleur in France, to be petit bourgeois in Portugal."

The Portuguese government is involved in its diaspora and makes it clear that the Portuguese abroad are still part of the nation which is defined as something much broader than mere territory. It's an "imagined community" that knows no borders and the Portuguese are um povo peregrino (a wandering people).  "The emigrant is a pilgrim, a journeyer, and emigration is Portugal's national rite of passage" and "Wherever a Portuguese goes he carries the spirit of Camões and Vasco de Gama."  

One example of government influence is the Instituto Camões which is run by the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and exists to promote their language and culture all around the world.  Another example is the L’accord-cadre franco-portugais de coopération éducative et linguistique which was signed in 2006.  Among other things this agreement promotes French in Portuguese public schools and Portuguese in French public schools.  Demand for the latter is said to be increasing at a rate of about 5% per year.  When there are issues about Portuguese language education in France, the mail goes straight to the top - the Portuguese Ambassador to France and the French Prime Minister.

Does all this represent a country of emigration simply trying to make the best of a bad situation?

Depends on how you view emigration -  good, bad or neutral for a country.  In times past emigration was viewed as dangerous because population and a fixed national territory firmly under the control of a strong state meant power.  If these things continue to be the standard by which a state is judged (and judges itself) to be "successful" then any outbound flow of people, however small, will diminish the nation.

In a globalized world redefining the nation to include its emigrants and passing jus sanguinis citizenship laws are insurance against that.  It's not that people have left the nation, they have simply relocated their sovereign citizen selves, and by extension a part of the nation itself, somewhere else.  They and their children are still Americans, Germans, Chinese, French, British, all contributing to the rayonnement of the homeland abroad.

Personally, I think this is a very smart strategy for nations in a globalized world.  Using symbols and national history to tie the global migrant to a nation is, I think, a very worthwhile enterprise.  The Portuguese are very fortunate in that their history lends itself to a positive narrative about migration.  Other diasporas don't have that history and some even have governments that don't seem to care that they are losing influence and people.  Their view of the nation is too tightly bound with territory - something that makes less and less sense as we march into the 21st century.

These governments could do worse than to look to Portugal for how it might be done differently:

"If the emigrant is a vehicle through which the Portuguese can think about their attachment to their homeland,  if the emigrant is a vehicle though which the Portuguese can find their roots in their past, if the emigrant is a vehicle through which the Portuguese can represent their ecumenical and tolerant spirit, then the emigrant is also a vehicle for the expression of greatness - for the extension of thought beyond the boundaries of a small country wedged between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean at the very edge of Europe.  The emigrant unbinds the Portuguese nation and Portuguese culture."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Transplanted Women and the Transmission of Culture

Arun Kapil very kindly passed along an article I'd been looking for by Gabrielle Varro about Franco-American couples in France that was published in the July 1993 edition of Hommes et Migrations.

Gabrielle Varro is a CNRS researcher in anthropology and sociology who has studied bi-lingualism, immigration and the sociology of mixed-marriages.  In 1972 she worked with an organization here in France called the Association of American Wives of Europeans (AAWE) on a study that became a book called The Transplanted Woman:  a Study of French-American Marriages in France.  I read that book years ago and am still trying to get a copy of it at a reasonable price. 

What is so interesting about French-American marriages and families?  Certainly if you are in one, it is of personal interest to you (and to me).  But why would someone want to make that a subject of serious research?

Because we can learn a lot about bi-national, bi-lingual and bi-cultural families by looking at this particular mix.  Consider the following:

1.  No developed/developing country dynamic.  Both France and the US are developed countries with high standards of living.  A woman or man who moves in either direction to join a spouse is probably not going to see a huge rise (or fall) in his or her standard of living.

2.  A different category of migrant:  Because the standards of living are so close, it's very unlikely that a French spouse in the US or an American spouse in France will ever be accused of marrying a national just to get a Green Card or a Carte de Resident.  When asked "Why are you here?" the answer, "Because I married a Frenchman or woman" is considered more than satisfactory by the natives.  (Though as an answer to a home country national's question, "Why did you leave?" it can provoke interesting and sometimes hostile reactions.)     

3.  Powerful cultures:  Both countries have a certain cultural "rayonnement."  French culture is widely admired the world over.  American culture is perhaps less attractive but certainly prevalent all over the world.  So there is some equality on the culture and the language front.

By excluding those things as factors, other things come to light.  Perhaps the most important of these is the relative power of each person in that marriage.  Is there inequality in spite of the relatively equal status of their appartenances étatiques?  And how could the power dynamics of such a relationship be measured and studied?

Varro decided to look at both the couples and the children of such marriages.  These are households with at least two cultural and linguistic possibilities.  The choice of language, the number of visits allowed to the other country, certain cultural values, and even religion show the rivalry that occurs in the molding of the identity of a bi-national couple's offspring.  Varro chose to focus on two variables:  language and religion.

Let's think about that for a moment and consider some concrete examples.  What happens to a Franco-American couple where the American woman is a Protestant Christian and her French husband is Catholic?  Perhaps the two can agree to disagree at the time of the marriage but when the children are born the questions begin:  In which church will the child be baptized?  Where will they send the child for religious education?  In the case where they cannot agree and decide to do nothing, who can be said to have "won" here?  It's not obvious and it's not a decision that can be made unilaterally.  The American woman may be deeply unhappy about the final decision but gives in for diverse reasons.  One of the reasons I have seen is that it is very difficult for an American migrant woman here to face down not only her French husband but his entire family who may not be particularly croyant but do expect a baptism at the local church, to be tapped as godparents, and to have a big party complete with the distribution of dragées.  For someone raised as a church-going Southern Baptist, that is not a small concession.

On the language front is a very similar battle.  It is very rare for a French spouse in France or an American spouse in the US to refuse outright to have the children learn the language of the other spouse.  However, that does not mean that they want the same weight given to the two languages.  By word and by deed there can be a subtle undermining of the non-native spouse's efforts. It can be something as simple as a withdrawal - not hindering but not helping either - a refusal to make it a common project.  This sends a message to the children that learning the other language is "nice to have" but Papa (or Maman) doesn't think it's very important.  And, alas, Papa or Maman ( Mom or Dad) are backed up by an entire nation of people who think the same way and see no good reason why a child raised in France or in the United States should be learning another language at the same time and at the same level as the official one.

In 1991 Varro followed up her original research and sent out a questionnaire to 89 Franco-American couples living in France and their parents. She also sent it  to 171 of their children aged 18 or older and  their spouses and 60 of their children.   Four generations.   The results were published in the 1993 article Couples Franco-Américains en France:  Genèse et devenir d'une mixité.

About that second generation -  the children of the original Franco-American couples living in France -    Varro makes this observation about them and their American mothers:
"Le bilinguisme des enfants représente pour les mères américaines le seul compromis acceptable dans une situation qui, sans lui, risquait de voir disparaitre leur langue d'origine" 
(The bilingualism of the children represents for American mothers, the only acceptable compromise in a situation where, without them, their language of origin would disappear.)
That's a very true statement but the question is why is it so important?  Of all the things that an American mother could pass on to her children while living abroad why does English matter so much?  Does it really make a difference if an 8-year old French/American child can read, write and speak English fluently?   The French public school could care less and may even be hostile to the idea (especially with very young children).  It is perfectly possible that the English can wait until the children are older and I know Franco-American families who did this with perfectly good results.  

I'm going to speak from my own experience here and say that it mattered very much to me.  In retrospect, it was a reaction to many things and had as much to do with me as a woman migrant as it did with my children.  

Guilt:  a certain residual guilt reinforced by my compatriots back in the homeland that I was something less of an American because I married a Frenchman and lived in his country.  So some of it was a signal that I was not less, and to prove it and my loyalty to the homeland I went to extraordinary efforts to pass on this one thing - pure, unaccented, standard American English.  

Pressure:  That came from family and friends back in the US.  The grandparents wanted to be able to speak to their grandchildren.  All very normal.  But there was stress associated with that expectation.  When I sent the Frenchlings home I always braced myself for comments about their English.  Would they pass?  It was definitely wrapped up with the sense that I was being judged as both a mother and an American.

Identity:  There were times over the last 20 years when the pendulum swung too far for my own comfort in the direction of assimilation.  I didn't feel like "me" anymore and it was frightening.  To be able to speak English in my own home made me feel better.  A place to retreat and regroup when things weren't going so well.  

Something extra:  English, like French, is a high-status language.  Like all parents I wanted to give my Frenchlings something extra - a language that is spoken all over the world - with nearly no effort on their part.  It was a gift that I believed would serve them well.  Not unlike making children start piano lessons when they are young and malleable.  "You'll thank me for this when you get older."  

Power:  And finally there was the question of power.  To be able to pass on my language was a way of showing that I was an equal partner in my marriage with equal influence over the children.  That my culture and language mattered just as much as his and this would be reflected in part of me being included in the making of them. 

What does Varro have to say about all this?  Well, though I and other Franco-American women in France may have aspired to language and cultural equality in our bi-national marriages, the reality is that the battle is not and never was an equal one.
Dans le cas des couples residant en France, l'avantage revient au père Francais car les enfants parleront de toute manière la langue du pays de residence.  Leur bilinguisme est certes une "victoire" pour la femme transplantée, il signifie qu'elle a réussi à transmettre une partie importante de son identité, mais il est difficile d'evaluer le prix subjectif de ce qu'elle a "donné" pour l'obtenir.
(In the case of couples living in France, the advantage is to the French father because in any case the children will speak the language of the country of residence.  Their bilingualism is surely a "victory" for the transplanted woman, it signifies that she has succeeded in transmitting and important part of her identity, but it is difficult to evaluate the subjective price of what she "gave" in order to get it.
L'homme a obtenu que les enfants soient elevés dans sa religion (catholique, le plus souvent) mais lui, par contre, n'a pas du "donner" sa langue, puisque les enfants sont, non pas anglophone, mais bilingue avec le francais dominant.
(The man won the right to raise the children in his religion (usually Catholic) but he did not have to "give" his language because the children are (not English-speakers) but bilingual with French as the dominant language.)
This is what I refer to as the "home court advantage."  The native spouse does not have to do anything in his or her own country to transmit his language and his culture.  Not much effort is required here.  But for the foreign spouse it is a battle that is waged over years and has uncertain results - children with varying degrees of competence in the other language, though most are bi-lingual in some sense.  But even if they are bi-lingual, the language of the country of residence will most likely be dominant over the other one.

What happens in the third generation?  Varro looked at language transmission from the second generation to the third.  In two cases out of three the effort at bilingualism (English/French) had disappeared.  Only a third of the grandchildren were being raised bi-lingual.  


I recommend without reservation Varro's work.  I have scanned the article and will happily send it to anyone who would like a copy.  Hopefully I will be able to get a copy of her book soon so I can re-read it.  She has another article that I'm looking for called Americans in Europe, a Sociolinguistic Perspective. Probes in Northern and Western Europe in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language n° 133.   If anyone knows where I can obtain a copy, I would be most grateful for the information.

 Just a few final observations and questions here from my read of this article:

1.  American and French culture and language are not any more powerful than any other culture or language in the world.  "Language loss" will occur just as it does for any other migrant group over time.

2.  The assumption that having an American or a French parent means that the children will speak the language well and receive all the "important" cultural goods wherever they happen to be living is simply not the case.  Relying entirely on the migrant parent to shoulder this responsibility (or placing unrealistic expectations on him or her) will yield uncertain results.  

3.  Gender matters here. France or the US,  where the father is a native and the family is living in his country, the transmission of the mother's culture and language can be much more difficult.  The lack of relative power comes from the dual status of migrant women - they are women and foreigners. Coming from a developed country does not overcome the basic inequality of women in these marriages.   It would be interesting to know if this is globally true - even of other countries which have more egalitarian societies.  I would also be very interested in hearing from American and French men who are living in their spouse's countries.  What is their experience?

4.  Since both countries transmit citizenship via jus sanguinas (blood) there can be a complete divorce here between culture, language and citizenship.  Under both countries' laws it is entirely possible for someone to speak no English (or French), to know nothing of French or American culture, but to still be part of the nation. 

I would not argue from the last fact for more restrictions in citizenship laws.   What I would argue for is more attention and services for these countries' diasporas.  There is clearly a desire on the part of American men and women abroad (and I assume French as well) to transmit at least the language to their dual-national children.  Knowing that this is not an easy task for American and French migrants alike, funding for language and basic civic classes would be very helpful and in the best interests of the homeland as well.

And perhaps services like these would make some Americans abroad more willing to swallow the bitter pill of double taxation.

Just a thought.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pinktober in Paris

Last Sunday I had the immense pleasure of walking in the Odyssea march against breast cancer.

October is often referred to as "Pinktober" among us breast cancer sufferers/survivors.  Lots of manifestations all over the world to raise awareness and money for research into better treatment options.  The marchers/runners/walkers dress in pink (not my favorite color) to show their support for the cause.

It is a cause that is more controversial than you might think.  As one blogger put it, "cancer isn’t cute. It is a mortal illness. It disfigures. It kills."  There are also criticisms of just how useful raising awareness is (mammograms don't necessarily mean higher survival rates).  There is also some anger on the part of those facing Stage IV (late state breast cancer) because the research (and the money) tend to be devoted to treating and curing the earlier and more easily treatable stages .  Very little, they say, goes to the treatment of breast cancer that has already spread and is complex to treat.  Scorchy over at The Sarcastic Boob is boycotting the events and will not discuss them on her blog.

And I just read this extraordinary post up on Considering the lilies - lessons from the field called Booby-trapped this October.  Read it and you won't be able to look at those pink ribbons in quite the same way ever again.

I'm aware of all this and even agree with most of it.  Nonetheless, last year a group of people marched for me and others and they even sent me a picture when I was doing chemo.  This year I'm just so grateful to be able to walk and to have my hair and fingernails back.  So to celebrate being alive, and in the spirit of service and of giving back, I agreed to be "pinked" and to get out there with the other 30,000 people that Sunday at the Chateau de Vincennes.

We had a wonderful time.  I participated in the 5 km walk with a group of Franco-American women.  the organizer of our group came with ribbons for our hair and flowers for our lapels.  A few minutes into the march a women's percussion group called Zalinde was performing and they were HOT!   To give you some idea of their style, here is a video of one of their performances:

I was dragging at the end and it took me two days to recover  - deep deep fatigue.  I now know my limit and it is 5 km.

Still, I'm very glad I went and I want to thank all the ladies I met, and the organizer of our group, for making it such a special and festive occasion and for giving me the opportunity to be a "fashion victim."

Friday, October 11, 2013

France/US FATCA IGA Signing Postponed

"My government isn't working.  What shall I do?"

"Have you tried turning it off and on?"

One of the consequences of the U.S. government being firmly in the "off" position right now is that the signing of the France/USA FATCA deal was cancelled.  At a press conference in Washington French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said:

"We were supposed to sign the French-US convention implementing FATCA which, unfortunately, must be delayed at the request of the Americans because of the shutdown and the working conditions at the US Treasury."

I suspect that regardless of who may or may not have been available to put pen to paper, the timing was terrible.  France is a big win for Treasury and their victory would not have garnered much attention with all the brouhaha over the shutdown.

What we can safely say, however, is that there is an FATCA IGA coming soon to theaters near to us in France.  But we still don't know the particulars though we are all pretty certain that it's a Model I agreement (see comments on yesterday's post).  

Yesterday, a Flophouse reader did leave a link to an intriguing story in Les Echos,  Le modèle d’accord intergouvernemental français enfin prêt pour signature.  The authors claimed to have inside information about the negotiations.  The French government had three objectives, they said:  reciprocity (the French want information from the US), the legal security of French financial institutions, and the protection of personal data.   Here are a few of the details they say are in the IGA:

• Les diligences à respecter devraient être établies par le Trésor public plutôt que selon les règles de l’IRS. Cela devrait permettre une approche par ligne de métier ;
(The procedures to follow should be established by the French Treasury rather than according to the IRS rules. This should allow an approach by line of business.)

• Exclusions des produits d’épargnes (livret A notamment), des caisses de retraite, des produits d’épargnes retraites, et des FCPE. Le PEA reste inclus dans le périmètre FATCA ;
(Exclusion of the proceeds of savings (notably the Livret A), pensions, retirement savings and the FCPEs.  The PEA remains within the scope of FATCA;)

All this to be confirmed as soon as the US government gets turned back on and has the time to boot up.

Last word.  Something that I and others (French citizens at home and abroad and legal residents of France) have been very frustrated by is the lack of transparency by the French government about these negotiations.  There has been almost no information forthcoming about it and precious little attention paid to the impact on private citizens (not banks).

We are very aware that this IGA is going to have an enormous personal impact on us and our families.  And yet even today all we can do is sit and wait and stew and speculate.

But there is more than one way to skin a cat.  

The United States has something called the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Anyone can petition the US government for information pertaining to a particular topic and, unless it is top secret for one reason or another, it is usually granted.

James Jatras of Repeal FATCA has submitted an FOIA request for:
"copies of records in connection with negotiation of IGAs with the governments of Canada, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The request covers “all departmental records (paper or electronic) concerning communications (emails, paper correspondence, or records of in-person meetings) between Treasury officials and officials of the three foreign states indicated above relevant to negotiation of IGAs with such foreign states, as well as departmental records concerning worldwide implementation of FATCA that may be relevant to the IGAs with any of the three foreign states indicated."

I humbly suggest that we file another FOIA asking for exactly the same data about the IGA negotiations between France and the US.   

What do you think?