At the moment there is a great debate taking place in France concerning the National Identity and what it means to be French.
Apparently the French no longer know what it is to be French, or what being French means and the government wants to bring this to the forefront of peoples mind so to help unite a country which is currently far from united in its traditional values: liberty, equality, fraternity.
This is not meant to be a political posting, I do not follow French politics with enough interest to allow myself to comment the political depths of the debate so everything written is my point of view as a British girl living in France.
France has a high proportion of immigrants notably from Northern Africa many of which are now second or third generation and live in the “banlieues” a name given for the rough, soulless council run, faceless apartment blocks on the fringes of town. These are places that the tourist never visits; where you don’t always feel safe walking in the day yet alone the night when cars are being burned. These banlieues are at the forefront of social unrest as immigrant families have been living here for years and years and have failed to integrate into the community after being kept on the fringe of society due to where they live. It is a vicious circle and the blocks were originally meant as temporary measures for many after the Algerian war and this is one of the problems dear Sarkozy promised to tackle as President.
There has been a lot of racial unrest in France over the years and this has been coming to a head recently as government takes steps to ban the Burqa.
Don’t forget that France has serious race discrimination problem in the pasts: In the second to last elections the National Front extreme right got though to the second tour which was worrying to the say the least!
So, it would seem that the underlying reason for the debate is to help unite people on a racial front and create a national identity that people are proud to adhere to and which units people en masse.
For me, this debate is largely taking place between the politicians and the media as not one French person I know seems to care about it, yet alone really debate the subject, and as the French love a great debate I conclude that their lack of interest in this subject means that’s its not of interest to them.
French actor Gérard Depardieu stated in an interview that he couldn’t care less as to whether he is French or not and didn’t care about the debate. He stated that he was a citizen of the World. Exact words:
« Ils peuvent me la prendre, je m’en fous. Ce débat ne m’intéresse pas. J’en ai rien à foutre d’être français ou pas. Je suis un citoyen du monde. Je ne m’intéresse pas aux questions politiques. Je n’ai jamais voté. Je ne suis que le spectateur de mon époque. »
So what does it mean to be French? I am not French although I’ve lived in France for nearly as long as I lived in the UK and for nearly all of my adult life, so surely I should have an idea on what all this being French means (even if I don’t officially have the nationality)?
According to TNS who analysed internet users contributions 5 main subjects were raised:
1. The debate itself (29% of general discussions)
2. Immigration (27% of general discussions)
3. Respect (19%) : Being French = respecting norms/rules
4. Sharing (16%) : Being French = adhering to values and sharing a common vision
5. Heritage (9%): Being French = sharing the same patrimony
There’s 58 pages of analysis, a whole website dedicated to the debate and a whole media circus surrounding the discussions. But what does it mean? Surely most of the above is applicable to other countries as well? I haven’t found anything in all of their research that truly defines what being French means.
Maybe they should ask the foreigners? They may get a better idea!! My take on what it means to be French (but of course, they won’t ask me because I’m not French and they couldn’t care less what I think):
1. security: possibility to have job security for life if you become a fonctionnaire or excellent employment rights for the common worker.
2. family values: French families have kept family values alive and enjoy sit down dinners at a table rather than in front of the TV
3. respecting each others values: loving a debate about politics and yet still speak to your family afterwards
4. equality: the affordability of restaurants, you don’t have to be loaded to be able to eat decent food.
5. quality: quality of life shared by all those that live in France – access to fresh food in markets, French countryside, culture.
Some other things thrown in for good measure in case they really have problems defining what it is to be French: :
6. either being so socialist that they’re almost communist or so far right that their extreme racists but no political middle ground.
7. having an opinion on everything, even stuff they don’t know about
8. bad drivers
9. don’t know how to queue
11. looking chic without any effort
12. consuming copious amounts of pastries and chocolates and staying slim!
So who knows what being French actually means? Hopefully France will move forward and will resolve some of its issues allowing future generations to live united and without unrest.
Oh yeah, and this debate that was launched in November has now been ever so quietly dropped as it wasn’t good for Sarkozy’s image… My my… looks as if it was a big waste of time. I’ll just send them my thoughts then!
To finish on a lighter note, the French have had great inventors inventing things such as hot air balloon, the battery, the electric iron, the sewing machine… the latest being ROLLERMAN – check him out!!!
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