Cédric Pellegrini* for Alochonaa
What does it mean to be French?
I was asked to bring a ‘French touch’ by writing about the French identity, which I understand as ‘How does it feel to be awesome?’.
Well let me tell you that, no matter how much I love my country, life in France is not “La vie en Rose” (life through rose tinted glasses) and being French is a paradox between a brilliant history and a not-so brilliant present.
I left France in 2012 when it became more than clear that my degree in Ecology was pointless, and would not lead to any future career in France. Honestly if you’re expecting to work in France, you should invest in either being a doctor or a gravedigger – people will never stop dying. My case is not an isolated one, recent graduate students tend to leave France, for their future is blurry and the salaries on offer are unattractive in relation to the amount of effort put into studying.
The paradox of being French
Being French in France
France remains for most foreigners, one of the most attractive countries in the world. I’m not even being arrogant (a common French trait) – it is a fact. In 2012, 83 million tourists came to France, which makes France the most visited country in the world (sorry to disappoint you United States, but you only received 63.3 million tourists).
Everyone wants to visit France because of its amazingly rich culture. For those who have traveled to France, you will know what I am talking about – each region offers a uniquely rich experience. I am not afraid to say that we have the richest culture in the world, relative to the size of the country. If you think I am bias, take a 2-hour ride from Nice to Toulon (South-East of France), and I dare you to tell me it wasn’t worth the ride – different landscape, different dialect (although barely spoken today) and different culinary specialties…
I agree it is too easy to say we are the best, so here is a very simplified explanation of why the French culture is so diverse. This cultural richness has been shaped, reshaped and reshaped over time. Geographically, France was, is and will always be the cross road between Western and Eastern Europe, Northern Africa and Northern Europe. Travel long enough around France, and you will discover evidence of hundreds of different ethnic groups, which once inhabited France.
As you may, or may not know, France was not always called this, and its boundaries have only been fixed since the end of WWII, in 1945. Prior to this, France was the stage for a nearly 3 thousand year long ballet, where Gallics, Romans, Celts, Greeks, Egyptians and many more danced one after the other. France saw many battles and wars over the fertile and rich land, and what was left behind were a group of people willing to fight to protect their land with pride.
Here we have “pride”. Pride, which is perceived by many as French arrogance… Come on guys don’t be so jealous. I haven’t said half of what we should be proud of yet… and I won’t. I could enumerate for pages why France is amazing and how much I love my country, but I would rather you see for yourself, so book a ticket and in 26 hours you will know what I’m talking about.
« If you want to kill a French man, shoot 10 cm above his head to kill his pride » Belgian joke
Wait a minute…
If France is so amazing, what are all those young froggies doing in Australia and Canada? Well it is time for another very simplified, and biased version of the French history since the end of WWII.
After 1945 Europe needs to recover from the war, and enters into 30 years of full employment, demographic and financial expansion. I think it would be accurate to compare this France (1945-1980), to the Australia we know today; a rich country for many opportunities on offer. However you know how we French people complain all the time? In May 1968 a revolution starts in Paris, where students express discontent against imperialism and capitalism. As a result France installs a broad set of social assistance that is slowly going to ruin the country’s economy, and establish the culture of going on strike. Today, the contemporary France has one of the best social welfare systems and health care facilities in the world, however it suffers from severe unemployment and a total lack of trust from its people.
The judgment I express upon the French governments who have ruled since 1945 are hard, but I mean it. They have made France the b*tch of Europe – and worse one who pays to be abused… What I mean by this is that we have so many different social welfares available, that almost anyone can come to France, and will somehow receive free money without having to work.
I have to admit, it was great to have free education and cheap access to culture; on the overall, I think children born in France receive a high standard of education and reach the age of 18 with a broad sense of world knowledge – well above the average 18 year old. But, guess what…there’s nothing but ‘chômage’ after school (yes unemployment in so rampant in France that we gave it it’s own name!). As of February 2014, 24% of 25 years old and younger, are registered as unemployed in France – no wonder why Australia is invaded by hordes of young Frenchies every year.
This exodus from France is for me the sad reality of being French; we have a brilliant past but no future.
Being French in a foreign country
“Omg your accent is so cute” = Any English speaking girl
However I guess being French in a foreign country has its perks. We use and abuse the cliché that gives us golden tickets to ladies panties. How many times have I heard ‘French men are so romantic!’… OK STOP! French is a romantic language, I agree, but just like Italian and Spanish are also romantic languages. Romance has nothing to do with love; it comes from the world ‘roman’, which means, ‘Latin’. Sorry to destroy this myth that French is not the language of love, it is a Latin language nothing more.
“I can totally see you wearing a beret and eating a croissant at a café” = Anybody not French
STOP!!! Croissants are not French, they are Austrian! In baking terms they are Viennoiseries, which come from Vienne, the capital of Austria. It is believed that the croissant was invented to celebrate the victory of Poland and Austria against the Ottoman Empire in 1686. It was then introduced to France by Austrian bakers who opened a “Viennoise bakery” in Paris between 1837 and 1839. Don’t be ashamed of not knowing that croissants are not French, most froggies think they are.
Clichés are funny to hear, but it is sad when people actually expect you to be like this. Think about it, how do the majority of French people behave in a foreign country? We stay with other French people, we don’t want to speak English (we often blame the French education system for this, but really that’s another topic..), we smoke a lot, we complain all the time, we don’t respect the law and worst of all I meet way too many French people who actually steal food from stores. True story, a company refused to rent me a vehicle because I was French, and they were fed up having to deal with French people who return the vehicles damaged and dirty.
So NO, being French in a foreign country is not easy when it comes to finding a job and getting serious. I wouldn’t say we are bad workers but our habit to complain all the time and our helpless level in foreign languages surely turns away many employers.
Globalization or how to kill the identity of a country
“Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” – National Motto of France
Liberty, equality, brotherhood, oh how amazing those three words sound like. Sneaky Marianne (the symbol of the French freedom and Republic) you are putting it quite deep into our… well you got what I meant. Lucky us to be raised in a free country where equality and brotherhood rule our lives…*Laughing Out Loud*. If someone knows any country where everybody is equal please let me know about such a country – because it’s certainly not France.
I feel bad about this French motto because in 2014 everybody is able to know everything about any country; therefore everybody knows that such values are obsolete and utopic. Let me ask you a question: “When you don’t know about something, does it exist?”
My point is that, during the era where communication was not as know it to be now, we were able to think that out country and government were doing their best to satisfy liberty, equality and brotherhood. Honestly, look around you, look at this unraveling world; inequality, corruption, selfishness and censorship. If a country wants to be completely honest, in reality this is the motto they should choose. Men not make the rules and laws anymore, the market does – money and greed determine everything.
By now you should be asking me what the point is with being French. The point is that France keeps on teaching us values that cemented its greatness 50 years ago. I was a lucky kid; I went to a good school and traveled a lot when I was young. By the age of 16 I began to realize how obsolete and rotten the French education system was. Change is impossible in France because the average French person complains all the time, but refuses any change that could require any effort from him. Therefore we stick to a model that is completely outdated, and further puts us behind the growing powers in the world, who passively accept their inequalities and lack of freedom. Guess what, you cannot evolve and make everyone happy. Everything is made from trade-offs and france seems to be a country that refuses to admit this.
Next time you go to France, enjoy being a simple tourist because the underlying reality is not worth living. Being French is a paradox; we have a great culture and a brilliant history; however we are raised on decaying foundations which won’t last much longer if nothing changes. I blame globalization for making people too aware of their situation which leads to a society with a severe lack of landmarks in their lives. Landmarks that used to be given to us by the Catholic church..but that is another topic..
*Cédric Pellegrini is a recent graduate in Ecology and Conservation from Griffith University, Australia.
** Cédric offers his unique opinion on French identity based on his personal experiences of being French in a foreign country. Any comment or critique is more than welcome and open to debate.
***Alochonaa.com is not responsible for any factual mistakes (if any) of this analysis. This analysis further is not necessarily representative of Alochonaa.com’s view. We’re happy to facilitate further evidence-based submissions on this topic. Please send us your submission at firstname.lastname@example.org
Categories: Europe, France, Globalization, Identity
RIGHT OF REPLY
Cédric my friend, I started to read your article with great pleasure and curiosity.
All starts well, you talk about the beauty of our country, our history, our culture, etc …
But my eyes went dark when I started reading several untruths, simplistic shortcuts, analysis of situations : partials situation biased and oriented.
To restore some unfounded or exaggerated stereotypes I agree.
But taking minority facts without analysing as a whole, it is not serious, not fair.
It is a method and an analysis which belongs to populists and theses of “Front National” (French extreme-right political party).
Finally, what is the goal of this text if it is only to point out the negative aspects of France of today and make a caricature, negatives exaggerations and amalgams of minor actions, which are only a small part of the reality.
You denounce clichés, but your text is written under the influence of the French cliché grumpy, embittered and depressed. Afraid of difference and the other rather than seeing it as an opportunity, an open mind.
You denounce the French of foreign origin who claims not to like France, but your text reflects a similar sentiment.
Obviously everything is not “life in pink”, obviously there are things to resolve, we must fight profiteers. But not forgetting that the silent majority of unemployed do not do it take advantage to the system. Furthermore, immigrants and unemployed are two qualifications that have no relation to each other! You should also know that immigrants are fleeing mostly a difficult situation and do not come here to steal the bread of French.
In short, you talk with affirmation of a reality that you do not really know (I think) and that you have taught you via TV reports and alarmist propaganda of modern means of communications (twitter, youtube, Facebook,…).
A French who will read this article will not be influenced. He will agree or not but will retain its own opinion. However, what bothers me is an Australian (or other) that does not have a real knowledge of France, will take this negative and truncated article to the truth of the French current situation. And that is sad and unfair !
We must fight profiteers, yes! But be also outraged against the powerful bosses, bankers, politicians, looking all day long to divide the people in order to create a smokescreen and to further increase their dividends and golden parachutes. I have nothing against the rich, I would dream of being. But we do not enrich themselves by starving people and making up hatred between them. But this is not the subject (hmmm almost) I digress.
You talking about events of May 68 as the cause of unemployment in France today.
But what shortcut as simplistic as false.
All is not good or bad, it’s true. But do you know that the current economic crisis is not Franco-French?? It is much broader than that!!
If I follow your reasoning that would mean May 68 in France has created today’s crisis in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, USA, and more! it does not make sense!
If there had not been social struggles in the history of our country, today:
• We have only 2 or 3 weeks of paid vacation per year only
• Social security does not exist and health reserved only for those who have enough money
• The minimum wage does not exist. There would then be as in Germany, fewer unemployed but a larger number of poor . ( German will also establish a minimum wage soon)
• Women do not have the right to vote
• Women do not have the right to abortion
• The price is very different from what it is today , even if progress remains to be done.
• Protection of the environment would be even more catastrophic than it is today (even if the situation is worrying )
• … And more , I could add tons more.
As its name suggests , social movements are struggles . Sometimes you have to ask “a lot” to have “a little” . Because if you directly request “a little” , you have “nothing” !
Another point, you speak of immigrants who come to France to have children, not work and only receive welfare benefits.
Yes, it is true, it exists. But in a small minority. Foreigners come to France to work for the most part and doing jobs that the French do not want to (construction workers, public works, cleaning,…). That is the reality!
And these people live in our country and consume! Therefore contribute to make the economy work.
As in Australia and in most nations, France immigrants are a very good deal for the country’s economy: they receive from the state 47.9 billion euros, but they pay back 60.3 billion. Suffice to say a positive balance of 12.4 billion for public finances, which, however, is that the money from much larger transfers.
Finally, concerning the French who live in Australia.
Stop exaggerating and generalising. Some have bad behavior, it’s true. But it is wrong to believe that this is a generality. Some backpacker behave badly yes. But not all the others. And stop believing that it is only the French! German, Italian, English, and others are blameless?? Bullshit is universal, do not forget that!
It is true that the French have often less good than the other level of English. But it can also be natural to get together French, when we are so far from home and family. It’s reassuring! You do it as you Cedric! And it is not a lack of respect for Australia! This country which welcomes us, we all agree that we love and respect it. But this is not a reason to reject our origins. This is not an identity competition!
There are idiots everywhere. Must be corrected. But I refuse amalgams.
And I’ve never felt any animosity from an Australian to me because I’m French. Again stop the caricature!
In conclusion, I would say:
France is a beautiful country, unique scenery, fabulous culture, rich history.
But France also has problems to solve this is true. Starting with a little optimism. Stop to the gloom, Stop to the defeatism, Stop to the fear of others, alarmist caricatures, populism and culture of fear.
And yes to living together, tolerance, social progress, mutual aid, solidarity, success and positivity. EVERYONE WILL BE WINNER !!!
I LOVE FRANCE, I LOVE AUSTRALIA!
Cedric, I know it’s more awkwardness than wickedness.
Because I know you and know you’re a good person.
Everyone is free to think and express themselves. That’s the debate, and I know you never will refuse. It is a quality that you have!
My name is Dylan and I’m Australian. I know a bunch of french people. In my opinion Australia is better than France. I would assume that I would like the average Australian more than the average French person. However, the only people that I currently don’t like are a couple of Australian’s and I’ve never been to France (SO WHAT DO I KNOW?). Judging people as a group is racist, but I’ll be the first to admit that I can be racist sometimes. For example 7% of Americans (USA) claim to have been abducted by aliens or know someone who has been abducted. Excuse me for being a little judgmental but that is just sad. But lets face it, the United States must have a bunch of smart people otherwise they wouldn’t be known as the superpower of the world.Overall I would say that people within a country can be very different, so don’t group them all in the same category. Cedric should know this quite well as Australians in the city are different to the more traditional Australians (traditional = increased swearing, increased alcohol consumption, etc.). I like both types of people.