French citizenship changes
There's been all kinds of hubbub on FB and twitter lately about the new rules for applying for French citizenship, including the history test that future candidates will have to take starting in July 2012.
I understand that these new rules scare people, but on the other hand, I sort of think it's normal that someone getting French citizenship should have a decent level of French and have at least some notion of France's past. We'd expect exactly the same back home for someone wanting to become American, so I'm really confused why Americans here think those rules shouldn't apply to them in France too.
I have to agree with the new decree that "becoming French is not merely an administrative step - it's a decision that requires a lot of thought". My mother recently became a Finnish citizen, and I actually don't really agree with it. She was only able to get it because my grandmother had to give her citizenship up years ago in order to become American. So they had a short window where those people could get it back, and so could their children. But my mother has never lived in Finland. Sure, we go there every few years and we celebrate Finnish holidays, but she knows very little about what is actually going on in Finland at this moment. Yet last week she was able to take her new passport and vote in the Finnish presidential election. Doesn't really seem right to me.
But then again, this is a topic I'm very passionate about. Some of you might remember a huge post I did a few years back on my old blog about the differences between French and American immigration policies. Unfortunately I can't find it now though, so I'll try to sum it up here.
Basically, during the high days of immigration (usually timed after major wars = loss of much of the country's young men), there were two ways of going about bringing these people in. One was the Anglo way of accepting their immigrants with open arms, letting them keep their own culture and language and turning it all into one big melting pot.
The French however had already gone through this. They had already spent several hundred years trying to integrate various regions of people to unite France as one. This meant breaking them all of their habits, their culture, their language, etc, until they all ate, spoke and breathed French. Much of this can be credited to Jules Ferry, who made school mandatory and free for all children. He realized that this was the only way they could take all of these immigrant children and literally make them French.
The effects of this can still be seen today in the French school system, ie their use of rote learning and "the teacher is always right". All of those kids grew up thinking there was only one right answer to anything (leaving no room for critical thinking) and to fear their superiors - en gros, he was grooming an army of fonctionnaires. Haven't we all ran into a fonctionnaire who just shrugged in the face of an inane rule? It's highly likely that they were just doing what they were told and had never actually thought about whether or not it made sense. It's what they're bred to do.
This method actually worked very into the late 60's/early 70's. Up until that point, immigrants were forced to integrate into French society, living amongst the français de souche. But all of the sudden there was a huge influx of Maghrébins looking for work and the government decided it was a good idea to stick them all in high rises outside of the city. This was where they went wrong - these immigrants were no longer forced to adapt to French life. Instead, they congregated amongst themselves in these cités, continuing to speak their own language and guard their culture. In return, the French population blamed them for it and criticized them for their so-called "refusal" to integrate. And the fight has been going on ever since.
I can't help feel bad for the young people who live there - they are usually born and raised in France, yet because they have foreign names & a different skin color, they get told to go "home". Oftentimes these kids have never even been to their parents' country of origin and many don't even speak the language. Can you imagine how that would feel? No wonder they rise up and riot every once in a while, just to make their voice heard.
Anyways, now I'm getting off-track - but all of this is why the discussion of French identity and what it means to be French is such a hot topic, especially with the Americanization of the world that seems to be taking place (even in France). I get why they are fighting to avoid that and to maintain their identity. Look at what it even means to be American? Besides some general notions of "freedom", it actually doesn't mean anything at all.
I remember back to my early days in France, which is really the first time I was exposed to Americans who had grown up outside of the midwest. I remember being shocked when talking about how different our childhoods had been - our Scandinavian traditions versus a friend who'd grown up in an Italian-American family in NYC versus another friend who had grown up with Chinese traditions in California. There was zero consistency between the three, yet we were all American. And yes, that cultural diversity is also one of the great things about our country, but France's strong identity also makes France what it is, and I support their efforts to not dilute it.
I was planning on publishing one of the sample tests here, but I've been long-winded as usual, so I'll have to put it in another post. Stay tuned!
Labels: Becoming a Frenchie