Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Thursday, February 2, 2012

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!

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22 Comments:

Blogger Gwan said...

Just on the part about your Mum - I'm a British citizen by descent, and i wouldn't agree that I don't have a right to that (that's simplifying what you said, I know).

I understand your point about your Mum not having any connection to Finland, but it makes sense to me that I should be able to have citizenship in a country where my ancestors have lived since god knows when, where my parents have paid taxes, where members of my family still live, and to which (in my case) I do feel a cultural connection. I don't know that that's any less valid than someone just deciding to move to a place (simplfying, again, obviously).

My parents chose to move somewhere else, but I think it's a great thing that I have the option to go back if I choose - and my sister, in fact, has lived in London for years.

February 2, 2012 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

I wonder if you would feel the same if you were on the other side of that argument. I don't TOTALLY disagree with the rule change but I don't really agree with what you're saying here. Historically, the reason people were allowed to become citizens due to their relatives was in order to keep French blood lines alive. What is so different now? As for knowing the history portion of our citizenship test, all the reports of this on the American side (of which you made comparison) are that "knowing American history" is a gross exaggeration of the actual test. What you are actually expected to know about U.S. History in order to become a citizen is anything a 1st grader might glean from songs they learned about our country. That's not history, it's trivia.

I have to agree with Gwan here and say that I don't see how people who have ancestors in the country have any less of a right than you - having simply chosen to move to and live in France. What makes you different? Perhaps you personally are interested in French culture and language but there are many who have your same status who could give a rats ass.

Unfortunately for France it is rules like these that are going to lead to their eventual decline as a society. The fact is that if you don't have enough babies to keep the bloodlines alive you have to build it from the immigrants. It's basic anthropology. Elitism is bad for the growth of a people. Period.

February 2, 2012 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger commandrea! said...

I completely agree with everything you've said, although for my own sake (I'm up for citizenship availability in 2015), I hope that the fonctionnaires don't just arbitrarily refuse people. It shouldn't be prohibitively hard to get a visa to study or work in a country, in my opinion, but becoming a citizen of a country is a whole different ballgame.

February 2, 2012 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

I totally agree too that "becoming French is not merely an administrative step - it's a decision that requires a lot of thought"---it's just that all the people I know who've become French already feel that way, so the whole discourse feels condescending to me. I love France, of course I wouldn't take becoming French lightly! But then, I love languages, and I like history, so the thought of passing a French test + a history test doesn't freak me out that much.

But I don't agree that being American doesn't mean anything. Of course we all have a right to our own interpretations of our national heritage, but just because it's a young country of immigrants doesn't mean there's nothing to it.

I think it's important not to forget that all countries are made up of immigrants, not just the United States. Look at all the diversity in the last names of French people. I had a student once whose last name was "Lallemand." I mean seriously! It can be reassuring to think that Frenchness has always existed in such a pure form, but it never really did. Just think about all the regional languages there are.

A long comment for your long post... Interested in seeing the sample test!

February 2, 2012 at 6:05 PM  
Blogger Eileen said...

PS I would LOVE it if my students feared me and thought I was always right.

February 2, 2012 at 6:06 PM  
Blogger Sophia said...

We should remember that citizenship doesn't automatically mean one is accepted into society. The problems go way beyond who does or doesn't have a passport. A lot of immigrants in France do have citizenship compared to immigrants in say, Germany, because laws are more lenient and dual citizenship is allowed. This doesn't mean that they are on an equal page with "native" Frenchmen (or even someone like you, Sam, who is not native but likely enjoys certain "invisible privileges" based on your skin color and background). Racial/ethnic tensions and discrimination still persist. In Germany, Turks with German passports are often called "Passdeutsche" (Germans by passport, not by blood/ethnicity). Whether or not an immigrant has citizenship is certainly crucial for mobilization, but equally important are the steps societies take to make sure immigrants are fully integrated, like you mention Sam. However I would argue that France, which doesn't allow data to be collected on race, ethnicity, or religion, under the premise of strict secularism or laïcité(and the deluded idea of a "color blind" society where everyone is equal) is missing this crucial point. Without national or institutionalized recognition of difference, policymakers are prevented from addressing the main issues hindering immigrant integration, namely social and economic inequality and marginalization.

February 2, 2012 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger Sophia said...

p.s. In full disclosure, I am part of your mom's group in the sense that I have a German passport thanks to a German parent although I was born and grew up in the States. Though I've maintained strong ties, learned the language, and am currently living in Germany for the 3rd time, I see your point. Mostly, I find it hypocritical that certain EU countries allow the jus sanguinis (bloodline) citizenship when they often make it impossible or extremely difficult for those who have grown up in the country but have different ethnic roots to obtain the same document.

February 2, 2012 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger Sally said...

Making people have a "decent level of French" or knowledge of history before they get French nationality means that it excludes many people, e.g. those who have come to France to rejoin family members or people who initially came as asylum seekers/ refugees. Cuurently, the British government is trying to stop people coming to the UK unless they have a certain level of English. And this discriminates against "non white immigrants" (especially people from Asia, Africa) but not against Americans, Australians, or even well educated Europeans. Making people take tests and the like can sometimes be covert racism.

February 2, 2012 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger Jennie said...

"I find it hypocritical that certain EU countries allow the jus sanguinis (bloodline) citizenship when they often make it impossible or extremely difficult for those who have grown up in the country but have different ethnic roots to obtain the same document."

Totally agree! This is my main problem with certain immigration laws. It can be so incredibly easy to get citizenship in a country that you basically have no connection to simply because someone in your family (that you may or may not ever talk to/interact with) also had that nationality, regardless of whether you actually speak their language or know anything about the country. And yet people who do speak the language and know everything about the culture and history cannot get citizenship because of the nationality they were born into, or the color of their skin, or any other factor that the person has absolutely no control over.

And just like Sally said, a lot of countries use immigration laws as ways of keeping certain people out. It really is racism in disguise. Australia even had a white immigrant policy until the 1970s! But of course, it was simply called Immigration Restriction to cover up the fact that they were being blatantly racist. Luckily they overturned it and now welcome all nationalities to come here, and Australia has become the most multicultural country in the world.

I actually don't think the changes to France's immigration policy are all that bad (knowledge of language and history are always good, but how many French citizens born in France know the answers to that test or can even spell French words properly!) - except the one about not being able to claim any other citizenship while within French borders. They can't outright deny dual citizenship but they can claim that your other citizenship is not valid while you are in France, which is a tiny bit scary if you think about it.

However, the fact that the immigration changes are being made to pander to the far right and get more votes from the racists is what I have a huge problem with. The government is making it much harder to immigrate legally but doing nothing to stop illegal immigration, all in hopes of re-electing Sarkozy. Foreigners who abide by the law are the only ones losing out.

February 3, 2012 at 12:39 AM  
Blogger purejuice said...

always like your frenchie posts, thanks for this.

February 3, 2012 at 1:50 AM  
Blogger purejuice said...

always like your frenchie posts, thanks for this.

February 3, 2012 at 1:50 AM  
Blogger Madame K said...

As a Black woman who is due for her final citizenship interview tomorrow morning at 10:30AM, I take issue with your over-simplification of immigration issues. I need to chime in on a few things:

1.I take issue with the nonsensical mythology that “French culture is stable/constant, never-changing thing that must be protected” perpetuated by the right-wing racists. It creates a racially motivated “us against them” dynamic in the country. If this line of thinking continues, it will indeed tear this country apart.

2. Let’s not side-step the issue here: Your kids and my kids will both be “French”, but if the current racist ideology continues in this country, my kids will be considered not quite as “French” simply because their skin will be darker. Ugly, but dead accurate.

3. French culture isn’t being Americanized or diluted--- It’s being transformed, just like every other culture. Trying to stop this progression is about as useful as being mad at gravity. This evolution can't be stopped, nor should it be.

4. “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.”

Your own words are one big contradiction. Are you for cultural diversity or do you think we all need to assimilate? Even your own attempts to over-simply weren’t so successful. So perhaps there is a middle-ground?

5. Question: What does being “French” mean to YOU? And if my particular answer doesn’t match yours, does that mean I am/will be any less “French” than you?

6. Let’s be real here: Those young kids setting cars on fire and rioting out in the banlieues of Paris are constantly getting blamed for not being "French" enough, but they likely know more about what it means to be French than you and I ever will.

February 3, 2012 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Andromeda said...

Will the history test replace the CDI "requirement"? Lol. I know more about French cultural law and history than everyone else in my masters, and they're the ones with jobs because their uncle is the adjoint maire of wherever. Sigh.

I have always agreed the language requirement simply because it is in the constitution here, as opposed to the states. My entire PUBLIC elementary education was in French,
I'm not sure where that'd be possible here.

If their main concern with immigration is integration though, I do see why a history test was never implemented until now. What matters is what you're doing (or not doing) now.

Everyone loves to jokingly ask how many Americans could actually pass the citizenship test. It's a choice to ask for nationality, and the reasons for it are very personal and complicated. While I do think that a country has every right to implement whatever rules they want, it never seems like personal motivation is ever a large consideration in any country. While it's simpler for the government to just say yes or no based on a checklist, to really "deserve" it means something different to everyone.

February 3, 2012 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Animesh said...

An insightful post KSam. I recently saw a very nice docu called "Muslims of France" on Al Jazeera which nicely portrayed the situation in three parts (pre WW2, post WW2, and now). Unfortunately Al-J seems to themselves have taken it down now.

Your discussion of the projects reminded me of this article I recently saw on Human Rights Watch, about how the French police deals with minority kids. I wonder if C will have something to say about this: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/26/france-abusive-identity-checks-minority-youth

cheers, and keep up the good blogging :)
-A

February 3, 2012 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

I'm going to apply for citizenship after my 4th year of marriage next year. I'll have a lot of proof of my commitment to France, namely my integration into society by working/paying taxes/having my baby, basically everything France expects a good citizen to do (and basically everything you agree to do when you get married in France!) but what they focus the most on is the marriage. I had a lot of proof of my commitment to France to get my 10-year CDS but even then it wasn't a sure deal. I think that is the issue here, not the protection of the French langauge/French culture/etc. I consider myself (or Andromeda, the other bloggers, etc) as much of a threat to French culture as you are (which means not a threat at all..)because we're all looking to do the same thing here: make our lives, do a job we enjoy, have a beautiful family, enjoy the culture and the language, etc.
I think getting citizenship is something that we should all celebrate for each other since we've all been in each other's place. Other Americans are just trying to do the exact same thing you did in the hope of one day reaching the same level of comfort you've achieved, Sam.

I agree with you on the language/history/whatever tests which isn't the issue. The issue is when a perfectly good candidate gets snubbed on a technicality. If it were you in their place a few years ago when you were going for your citizenship, how would you feel?
And did you get your citizenship based on your PACS, or on a CDI? I was sure you got it once you were already living in Paris so it must have been for your job because you have to be able to prove a long line of "vie commune" when you get citizenship through marriage (and i'd assume PACS but I've never been PACS'd so I don't know). Hypothetically, if you and your partner were already separated and you'd been trying to get citizenship like that, somebody could have seen that "rupture" in your "vie commune" and used it to keep you from your citizenship, meaning everything you worked for here would have been over. For those of us who rely on our marriage/pacs/etc for citizenship, it's kind of a shame because we should be able to get it based on things like having a job, community contribution, contributing to society in other ways, our potential, etc. and not based on who we are or aren't living with/sharing a life with.

February 3, 2012 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This is such an interesting post. Italy is struggling with similar integration issues but has no integration plan the way France did. I look forward to more posts about this!

February 4, 2012 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 4, 2012 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

I agree that you should have notions of the main events in France's history ie: the kings, the revolution, the 5 republics, and things like that, but I just hope that the history test doesn't resemble a concours with obscure details that no person can know without a master's degree. Things like 'of these 4 painters, which one is the odd one out.' should not be allowed in a citizenship test because it's not the history of the country. In the same way that questions like "on what day of the Waterloo campaign did Bonaparte have porridge for breakfast?" may have a horrible way of sneaking into the test. I have horrible mental images of the citizenship test being full of questions like that.

February 4, 2012 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger eMerly said...

I really enjoyed your explanation of the different ways the US and France treat their immigrants. It would be nice if the US was more concerned with integrating people into society and making sure they spoke English (because as an american in France struggling to speak French, I know how much not speaking the language excludes someone) and it would be nice if France was more tolerant and not so rigid.

Basically, like most things, I wish I could take the parts I like about the US and the parts I like about France and combine them. But then I wouldn't be living in the US or France, it would be a whole different country.

This is an article about how difficult the French are on their students:
http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2012/02/03/prepas-l-excellence-au-prix-fort_1637985_

February 4, 2012 at 12:38 PM  
Blogger eMerly said...

and this is the article with teachers responding to the criticism

http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2012/02/03/professeurs-en-classe-prepa-nous-sommes-des-bourreaux-bienveillants_1638492_3224.html#ens_id=1559618

February 4, 2012 at 12:44 PM  
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