Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Monday, October 31, 2011

La Toussaint

Our apartment building is almost deserted.  Friday night and Saturday morning we watched our neighbors pack up to leave town for an extended weekend.

Some national holidays in France are tied to the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church and its Holy Days of Obligation.  Next Tuesday Roman Catholics everywhere will be celebrating All Saints Day which is known in France as simply as "La Toussaint".

La Toussaint is actually two feast days in one:   la Toussaint  (la fête de Toussaint) is November 1 and All Souls (la fête des morts) the following day.  The former is indeed a national holiday here with everyone given the day off to go to Mass (if Catholic) or relax (if not).  Traditionally during this period many French families go home to their villages or town of origin and visit the family cemetery.  This year la Toussaint falls on a Tuesday and almost everyone I know is also taking the Monday off (this is called taking the "pont" (bridge).  Hence the exodus from my building the past two days.

In past years our family has celebrated by going to my mother-in-law's ancestral village in the Limousin and staying in a house the family still owns in a small village not far from Limoges.  This is a sparsely populated rural region of France which is still not terribly prosperous.  During World War II the Resistance was very active here and until very recently the Communist Party was too.  Strangely enough (strange to outsiders but not considered odd to the people I've talked to over the years) the Catholic Church in the area and the Communist Party seem to have co-existed quite nicely for many years.  

Reading the papers one might have the impression that France is gradually becoming a purely secular nation.  My left-leaning French friends like to point out with a certain glee that church attendance is down as well as baptisms. My more conservative friends however just smile serenely and quietly point out that the Church has been here since the 2nd century AD and what exactly is the problem/progress that everyone is so concerned/happy about?

I see the their point.  The Church has been down before.  There is a lovely church near La Republique that I have visited many times that was once used as a warehouse for storing flour after the glorious Revolution.  It has been beautifully restored and has a lively congregation of believers.  In fact nearly all the places where I have lived or visited here in France (the Limousin, Brittany, Passy, Versailles) churches are everywhere and they are very well-attended.

I think those who predict the demise of religion in France are indulging in a bit of wishful thinking.  True the Church and her adherents are rather quiet compared to the more raucous religious atmosphere that exists in places like the United States.  But I would argue that the Church here has reason to be content:  Catholics remain the solid majority in this country, the Catholic Church having a near monopoly in the religious realm, and the Church has real power to mold and shape the culture from the shadows. In all the years I've been here I have never heard a Frenchman or woman frame the religious debate in terms other than Catholic versus atheist or secular versus Islam as if other options (Protestants, Jews, Buddhists and others) were simply irrelevant to the conversation.  

In this context I can see why the Catholic Church in France is sailing serenely into the 21st century.  Protected by the laws that separate Church and State, the Church owns vast property, educates a large number of French citizens in its wide network of schools and quietly makes its wishes known in a continuing shadow dialogue with the secular authorities both at the national and EU level in Europe.

This year the Flophouse has decided to stay in Versailles and so we will not make the usual trek to the Limousin.  Nevertheless,  I will be in Paris early in the week and no doubt I will probably find a moment to slip into one of the ubiquitous churches to light a candle and say:

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat eis. Requiéscant in pace. Amen.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Long-term EU Foreign Residents - Know Your Rights

I was sitting in a bistro the other day with another long-time American resident here in France (he's been here nearly 30 years) and I was astonished to find out that he didn't have any idea what rights he had as a long-term foreign national in an EU country.

This is serious.  Even though we can't vote it is deadly to think you can just keep your head down and think that nothing that happens at the national or EU level concerns you.  A foreign passport (even from a powerful nation-state) will not necessarily help.  Foreign states have very limited rights to intervene on behalf of their citizens living abroad.  In theory (and according to international law) you can always go to your consulate for help.  In practice this is not always your best option.  Frankly, I don't believe for two seconds that the U.S. government is going to seriously tangle with the French government on my or any other Americans behalf here. There are American students right now being ejected from France because of the new policy that foreign students must leave right after graduation even if they have managed to land a job.  I have not heard one peep from the American Embassy on this subject and I don't expect to.

For the record, not all governments take such a hands-off approach to their diasporas.  Both the Indian and the Mexican governments lobby the U.S. Congress for laws that are favorable to their people living in the United States and elsewhere.  Ours is not particularly active on our behalf (unless, of course there is a major international incident like the case of the hikers in Iran) and so, for all practical purposes, we need to take care of ourselves.

The longer a foreign national stays in a host country, the more he or she has to lose so it is absolutely essential to understand that there are responsibilities (obeying the laws, paying taxes and so on) but there are also rights that countries or supra-national entities like the EU grant to long-term residents.

If you live in Europe as a third-country national, one of the most important laws in your favor is European Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents.  

All non-EU foreign nationals who reside in a member-state continuously for 5 or more years are entitled to Long-term Resident Status.  All member-states must recognize this status for those migrants who are in an EU country legally and have the means to support themselves and are not a threat to public security.  What does this status mean in concrete terms?

Recognition - Those who qualify get a long-term resident permit valid for 5 years and automatically renewable

Equal treatment - As a long-term resident you are entitled to equal treatment with nationals in the following areas (from Europa):
  • access to paid and unpaid employment, conditions of employment and working conditions (working hours, health and safety standards, holiday entitlements, remuneration and dismissal);
  • education and vocational training, recognition of qualifications and study grants;
  • welfare benefits (family allowances, retirement pensions, etc.) and sickness insurance;
  • social assistance (minimum income support or retirement pensions, free health care, etc.);
  • social benefits, tax relief and access to goods and services;
  • freedom of association and union membership and freedom to represent a union or association;
  • free access to the entire territory of the EU country concerned.
Protection against Deportation - A long-term resident cannot be expelled from an EU member-state for economic reasons.  There is an extra burden of proof where the state must prove that the offending party is a threat to public order.

In addition to the above there is also a limited right to reside in other EU countries and provisions for family re-unification.

In the above paragraphs I've given you a link to a summary of the Directive on Europa.  Read it even if you think you are only here in Europe temporarily.  I know from experience how quickly "temporary" segues into "semi-permanent" and finally to "permanent resident."  Fulfill your responsibilities but know your rights too.  One day you just might find yourself in a position to exercise them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger - the lore of my people

In my dissolute youth I was a great lover of American Folk music.  Every summer I would volunteer at the Folklife Festival and I remember learning Woodie Guthrie songs at school.  My favorite was (and still is) his song, Roll on Columbia.  "Your power is turning our darkness to dawn...."



Woodie Guthrie died in 1967 (two years after I was born in Seattle) but another great folk singer from the same era is still going strong, Pete Seeger.  He is 92 years old and he was seen at the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) protest over the weekend.

Open Culture dove into the archives and found this film - a short introduction to American folk music with Woodie Guthrie and others hosted by Pete Seeger who was 27 at the time.  When asked in 1946 why city people were interested in folk music, he replied, "Guess my old tunes remind them of home."

Oh, Pete, you have no idea just how much they still remind some of us of home.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Cross-Cultural Canticle from a Red, White, and Blue Mother

The title of this post is a riff off the title of an article written by a Chinese-American mother, professor of law at Yale and writer, Amy Chua called "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." This article was published by the New York Times earlier this year and came under scathing attack almost immediately.

Why all the fuss?  Amy Chua tried to convey to an American audience her personal attitude toward educating her children which is firmly rooted in cultural beliefs that have come down to her through her own family who came from China.  Some of her comments and comparisons were offensive to her readers who were quick to comment and defend the American style of parenting and the school system.

It is very hard to have a cross-cultural conversation on any subject but when it comes to children we are very sensitive and quick to defend our culturally specific methods.  Raising children is something we all care deeply about and I think it provokes more arguments than any other cross-cultural topic.  Most of us are willing to adapt to another culture in some ways but we draw the line when it comes to our offspring.

Amy Chua has drawn such a line between her family and her interpretation of the values and beliefs of the larger culture.  Her article is both descriptive and defensive.

It is descriptive in the sense that she very clearly explains her methods:  no TV, no video games, no play dates and limited extra-curricular activities;  a constant striving to be the best through hard work and persistence combined with a refusal to allow a child to give up just because something is hard; and the use of shame to enforce compliance.

It is defensive in the sense that she felt compelled to explain all this to an audience of a few million people in an article in one of the most widely read newspapers in the United States.  She writes:
There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.
This is my way, she says, and it is not inferior to yours.  The broader goal is the same - how we get there can be different and she claims the right to difference when it comes to raising her children.

This might surprise you but I feel a certain kinship with Professor Chua.  I know what it is like to try to raise children a particular way according to a set of values that are not necessarily shared by the people around me.  This has meant that I needed to be very clear in my own mind about what is important to me:  English as an equal language in our household, the transmission of certain values that I received from my American family that that I deem Good (free speech, intellectual inquiry and debate, love of knowledge for its own sake) and a teaching method that relies more on encouragement and less on punishment as a motivator.  Over the years I have had the most difficulty with items one and three.

When my Frenchlings were young and their teachers learned that I spoke English with them  I was told that they would never succeed in the French school system if I didn't start speaking French exclusively at home.  I thought about it, realized that I had hit a hard limit, and decided that this was not in my children's best interests.  From that point on, I simply ignored them.

Amy Chua's description of working with her child on the piano really resonated with me.  I cannot count the number of times I enforced English at home and had to stand firm in the face of the Frenchling's tears.  They thought it was "hard" and I was being "mean."   I made them write "thank you" letters in English.  I refused to allow them to watch videos (no TV in our house but movies were allowed) in French if the original version was in English.   Harry Potter was not permitted in our home until they agreed to read it in English (though I think a French family member took pity on them and slipped them a copy.)  When they spoke to me in French I answered in English.  If they were asking for something, they didn't get it until the request was made in grammatically correct English. The only time I ever lapsed into French was to scold them which has given them a strong aversion to hearing their mother speak French since nothing good ever came of that.  Was this extreme?  Perhaps.  But it worked.  Today the Frenchlings take their English skills for granted and seem to have complete amnesia about my efforts and their resistance.

Just as difficult was the divergence of beliefs about teaching methods.  Here I had to make my peace with the French school system.  Shame and humiliation are regularly used in both the French school system and in the bosom of my French family as a way of motivating children to do better.  I was appalled when the younger Frenchling told me about a child in her elementary school class who failed an exam and had her copy publicly displayed and mocked by the teacher for the edification and general amusement of the rest of the class.  When the child cried and tried to quit the classroom the teacher said, "Go ahead and cry somewhere else.  This will give the rest of us a vacation."  Stories like this made me queasy and had the American friends and family up in arms.  I was under pressure to "do something" about it.  I didn't.  Why?

Some of it had to do with feeling that this was a battle I was not going to win as an immigrant parent and a recognition that it was not my place as a foreigner to try to change the entire public school system culture here to conform to my expectations.  So I tried to suspend my judgement about the methods and concentrated on the results and I liked what I saw.  I liked the academic rigor of the system, I liked the emphasis on hard work and earning a grade.  No favors, no pandering to self-esteem, and no distractions (no extra-curricular activities like after-school sports).   I also noticed that shaming methods may have bothered me but my Frenchlings seemed to take it in stride.   At home I tried to provide a counter-balance by being as encouraging as I could be (that self-esteem thing we Americans prize so much) while supporting the school, the teachers and my spouse's beliefs and practices.

In that spirit I deeply respect Amy Chua's perspective.  I can see a great deal of virtue in her approach though I do not entirely share her values.  It takes enormous courage to defend them in a public forum.  I certainly didn't have that kind of courage but then I am not a citizen of the country in which I live and I think that does make a world of difference.

My only remark is that the home is only one factor among many that form and shape our children.  Whether we like it or not the family is not a hermetically sealed bubble - the larger culture has an interest and a say in shaping its members and citizens.  We can fight it or we can find ways to work with it.

From her piece it seems that she chose the former strategy which I might consider entirely noble if I were not so aware that it can also be limiting and a bit parochial.  It simply ignores all the good things that can come from letting go, opening up to another culture, and allowing the unexpected merits to shine through.  She seems to see it as a battle against the wider culture while I prefer to have an ongoing conversation with it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

European Blue Card - Update France October 2011

A quick update on what I have been able to turn up for the France's implementation of the Blue Card.

I found a hint here on the Public Service website:  "Pour connaître le lieu de dépôt de votre demande, renseignez-vous, en premier lieu, auprès de la préfecture ou sous préfecture de votre lieu de résidence et, à Paris, à la préfecture de police."
"To know where to go to apply, first ask for information at the local prefecture or sub-prefecture in the community where you live and, in Paris, at the main police station."

So I went looking and I was able to find a mention of the Blue Card in every Prefecture website I consulted (Préfecture du Loiret, Loire-Atlantique....) and they all had this to say:


Nouvelles règles sur le travail des étrangers hautement qualifiés

La loi du 16 juin 2011 sur l'immigration crée un nouveau titre de séjour temporaire mention "carte bleue européenne", destiné aux travailleurs étrangers hautement qualifiés. Par ailleurs, cette loi apporte des modifications mineures sur la carte de séjour "scientifique".
Un décret du 6 septembre 2011 précise ces nouvelles mesures.
Cette page est en cours de mise à jour.

 New rules for highly qualified foreign workers.
The Law of June 16 2010 concerning immigration creates a new temporary work permit called the "European Blue Card" destined for highly qualified foreign workers.  In addition this law make minor changes to the "Scientific" work permit.  

A decree dated September 6 2011 details this new measures.

This page is in the process of being updated.

The decree in question is here:  Décret n° 2011-1049 du 6 septembre 2011 pris pour l'application de la loi n° 2011-672 du 16 juin 2011 relative à l'immigration, l'intégration et la nationalité et relatif aux titres de séjour 

Scroll down to Chapter 2 and you will find the "Dispositions portant sur les cartes de séjour temporaire et notamment la « carte bleue européenne » et la carte portant la mention « scientifique-chercheur »

And under Article R313-19-1 they say:

"La décision du préfet est notifiée par écrit à l'étranger dans les meilleurs délais et au plus tard dans les quatre-vingt-dix jours suivant le dépôt de la demande."
"The decision of the Prefecture will be communicated in writing to the foreigner as quickly as possible and no later than 90 days following the submission of the application."

So all the signs point to the prefectures being responsible for processing applications and rendering a decision as to whether or not the foreigner qualifies and gets his/her Blue Card. 

But to know for sure how this is being implemented we need to either wait until those darn pages are actually updated or, if you are in France,  head straight down to the local prefecture in your community and ask. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Economic Crisis and Migration - Europe

There is a good article up this month on the blog Gestion des Risques Interculturels by Benjamin Pelletier called L’Europe en crise et la fuite des cerveaux (Europe in crisis and the Brain Drain).  Since the world financial crisis in 2008 some European countries are experiencing very high levels of emigration.  These countries - Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy- have all had large numbers of emigrants in the past so this is not new but this time around a few things have changed.

The first change is, according to M. Pelletier, that all these countries started to see emigration rise at the very same time which makes it a European problem as opposed to a national one.  The second is that the numbers are less important than the kind of person who is leaving:  the young and the talented - those highly-skilled, well-educated workers that are the darlings of selective immigration programs everywhere.

Let's take Greece and Portugal as examples.  Already more than 70,000 Greeks have left for the United States and another 15,000 have relocated within Europe (France, Germany, UK).  The "push" is, of course, the economic situation.  The "pull" is the possibility of doing better elsewhere in a more stable country.  Greece has lost 5000 doctors in three years.  Portugal has a similar issue with large numbers of emigrants headed for Brazil, Mozambique, Angola and Germany. Pelletier says that if this continues the number of Portuguese in Angola will soon reach the half million mark - a whopping 500,000 Portuguese emigrants of which 100,000 will have arrived within the last three years.

Is this really a problem?  There is a perfectly good argument that says that people are voting with their feet and moving from troubled areas to places where there is more opportunity - a kind of rational redistribution of a mobile and highly-qualified workforce to meet labor needs in other regions.  Greece and Portugal's loss is clearly a gain for the Brazil, the United States, France, and Germany (and the last has bad enough demographics that they need the workers).

On the other hand, this mass movement of outbound people will exacerbate the already difficult economic situation in these sending countries and make the necessity of a bailout by some of the very countries that are on the receiving end of this emigration even more crucial and costly.

Quite a conundrum for Europe's leaders who have yet to agree on the best way to resolve the Euro-zone crisis.  Whatever they decide now I hope they are aware of the numbers and have enough imagination and intelligence to project themselves into the future.  It would be a shame to solve the Euro-zone crisis only to discover that parts of Europe no longer have sufficient human capital to rebuild their economies.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Zealand Silver Fern Visa

The name alone is enough to make you want to know more.  "Silver Fern" refers to a plant found in New Zealand (Cyathea Dealbata) which is green on top and silver underneath.  From the pictures I was able to find on the Net, it looks very similar to ferns from my part of the world (the Pacific Northwest) though ours certainly never get as tall as 10 meters. According to this site "The underside glows brightly in moonlight providing excellent track markers in New Zealand's native forests."

On this blog we've shared a lot of information about selective immigration programs in well-known and popular migrant destinations like Europe and North America but there are other places that are a bit off the beaten path that might be just as (perhaps even more) interesting.

I've never been to New Zealand but I've heard that it is a stunningly beautiful country and these pictures and this video seem to confirm that.



But I never thought of it as a country interested in attracting global migrants.  After visiting the official government immigration website, I had to think again.  It appears that they are interested in attracting global talent and they are not shy about saying so:
"New Zealand – a great place for you to live, work, study and play.  To help you take the next steps to joining us in New Zealand, this website provides you with practical and helpful visa and employment information from Immigration New Zealand. With just 4 million people in NZ, we're looking for the skills, qualifications and experiences that will ensure we continue to prosper well into the future."
There are three categories of visas open to foreigners:  Resident, Temporary Work and Investment.  Under the Resident category foreign talent can apply under one of three programs: Skilled Migrant (points system), Entrepreneur, or an Investor (1.5 to 10M NZ$).  The benefits of Residence status are clear: 
"With residence status you can live, work and study in New Zealand indefinitely.
The benefits of being a resident include being able to work for whomever you want, having full access to funded (government-paid) healthcare, having access to all courses of study without the need to pay international student fees – most of the rights of a citizen, in fact, including the right to vote."
Including the right to vote?  Perhaps someone should point this out to Mr. Mariani here in France.  If France won't give migrants voting rights, it appears that other countries not only will do so but they also have no hesitation in advertising it and using it to differentiate themselves.  If I were writing up an MBA case study could I cite this as an example of "Competitive Advantage"?  You bet.

I have to admit that I was so intrigued by what I read that I sent off an EOI (Expression of Interest).  

Now I don't qualify for their Silver Fern program since I am well past the cutoff age (35 years) but I know some of you might.  Here is the offer:
  • This selective immigration program is designed to bring skilled young people (20 to 35 years of age) to New Zealand.
  • The young migrant does not need to already have a job to qualify.  The Silver Fern Job Search Visa allows a young person to enter New Zealand for 9 months in order to look for a job.  
  • The program is capped at 300 people. 
  • Every year on April 27 at 10 AM they open the program up and start accepting applications.  Apparently spaces go very quickly so it is not surprising that right now the website says "No spaces available."
Definitely worth a look. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Touche pas à mon vote

Another sign that we are well into an election cycle.

The Droit populaire is launching a campaign against allowing foreigners to vote in French elections at the local level.

This is a direct attack against the Socialist party that has placed allowing non-EU foreigners (us "Third-country nationals") to vote in local elections on their platform for 2012.  Mr. Mariani, the Transport Minister, rightly points out that this idea is not new:

"C'est un vieux fantasme du PS puisque chacun se souvient que c'était l'une des 110 propositions de François Mitterrand en 1981."
This is an old fantasy of the Socialist Party as everyone remembers that this was one of the 110 propositions of Francois Mitterand in 1981.

As one of the foreigners potentially impacted by this I must admit that I am a bit unsure how to react.  While I personally think that there is great merit in the idea of allowing long-term foreign residents to vote in local (municipal) elections, I can also understand those who would say that this is a right that should be reserved for citizens.  Is it really so unreasonable to ask long-term residents (like me, for example) to go through the process of naturalization before being allowed to exercise one of the most fundamental (and  most important) rights of a citizen?

While I understand where both sides here are coming from, I do take exception to Mr. Mariani's implying that, if given the vote, we foreigners would flock to the banner of the Socialist Party.

"Foreigner" is not a category that correlates directly with one particular ideology or party.  If allowed to vote in 2012, I very much doubt that I would vote for Mr. Hollande or any of his pals since my personal political views make me much more at home in the Center-right.

This campaign is a splendid example of how immigrants are being cynically used by politicians to deflect attention from other issues like, say, jobs, the state of the national economy, the Euro-zone crisis, the bail-out of Dexia.   Such is politics, I suppose, but I am still disappointed to see the French presidential election moving in this direction.

It is (dare I say it?)  exactly the sort of tactic my friends on the American Right back home would approve of wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Remembrance

I've linked several times to Arun with a View, an excellent blog with thoughtful commentary about France.  The author posts in both French and English and, while I don't always agree with him, I approach his work with respect and as open a mind as I can given that I am not always aware of my own prejudices and irrationalities.

His latest post is about a very sensitive and painful event in recent French history.  On October 17, 1961 over 200 peaceful Algerian protestors were murdered by the French police on the order of the Chief of Police, Monsieur Papon.  The context was the the bitter war over the independence of Algeria - something that is well within the living memory of both nations and still shadows debates over immigration and trade and the ongoing relationship of these two Mediterranean nations.  The Flophouse is personally touched by this since we count within our family two members born in Medea and one (now deceased) who was serving the French nation in Algeria at that time as a young officer in the French army.

It would be the height of hubris on my part to pass judgement on either side but I do have some strong (sometimes conflicting) emotions around what I see and hear.  On one side I am very protective of my French family and friends who are good people whom I love. On the other, I am an immigrant, a supporter of the "people who move around," and I feel a strong solidarity with other immigrants here, some of whom are from North Africa and who are my friends and colleagues.  From long experience I know that they are good people too.   And finally, I come from a nation that has its own checkered past (what nation-state doesn't) and has similar debates and conflicts.

Trying to see clearly though so many mixed emotions is hard.   It would be easier just to ignore the whole business and say simply that this concerns the French and the Algerians and I am not French or Algerian.  It would be easy but it's also, in my opinion, cowardly and isolationist.  Hiding behind my Carte de Resident and saying none of this concerns me not only makes me complicit though inaction but also feels like a kind of divorce from the community.  I live here and may one day wish to be a  full member of this nation.  That means that I have a responsibility to be a positive presence and not a transient ghost.

With that in mind, this is what I think.  If you don't agree with me, I am perfectly fine with being challenged.  All I ask is that we keep the debate civil and constructive.

France is a great nation with republican values for which I have enormous admiration.  Do I believe in "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité?" I can answer that with a resounding "Yes!"  Has France always lived up to her values?  Of course not and, frankly, I can't think of a single nation-state that has.  Nations are composed of people who are, by definition, imperfect and fallible.  Knowing that the French police on October 17, 1961 did something completely contrary to French values doesn't make France an evil nation, just a human one.

Nonetheless, this event (and others which are facts of history) is a moment in time that needs to be remembered.  From Arun's post, it appears that it was openly commemorated yesterday with a speech by the Mayor of Paris.  I know people on the Right will not agree but I approve wholeheartedly.  This is recognition that, on that day, an evil was done against a people, some of whom are still alive today. They are not going to forget and if this nation responds with silence and polite fictions that gloss over the enormity of what happened, the crime continues.  Depriving people of their liberty and their lives is bad enough but the error is exponentially increased by indifference and denial.

It is hard to admit a wrong.  It is easier to erase the collective memory and go on in blissful ignorance.  But the former makes the nation stronger because it requires serious reflection on everyone's part and the ability to say clearly to the present generation, "This was what happened and this was not in keeping with our values."

That is what I hope the French will teach my Franco/American children - a strong affirmation of this nation's values and a frank and honest admission when she has not lived up to them.  A nation like France does not need to be perfect to be loved by her citizens or by her residents.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Renouncing Citizenship

I've been following the comments posted in reaction to Arthur Cockfield's article about the tax and reporting issues between the U.S. and Canada (to be more accurate between the U.S. and the rest of the world) and I was shocked by some of the contributions which basically said to U.S. citizens, "If you don't care for this, just renounce your American citizenship."

I have no opinion about renunciation being a good or bad idea for expatriates but I do think it is a bit presumptuous for anyone to make that kind of suggestion to someone who has a genuine issue with his government.  Last time I looked citizens of democratic nation-states have the right to disagree with their "powers that be" and to express their opinions about what their government is up to.

But it did make me wonder about the overall issue of renouncing citizenship.  According to international law a citizen has the right to leave his country and come back but, assuming that a citizen leaves and no longer wishes to be part of a particular political community, what are the rules and procedures for severing one's ties with a state?    Is it easy or hard?  Is it encouraged or discouraged?  In some cases, is it impossible?  How do different countries manage this?  Here is what I was able to find out.  If there are any errors in my information, please feel free to correct me.

Germany
Here is the text of the German Nationality Act of 1913 (amended 2009).  In addition to ll the rules about how citizenship is conferred under German Law, Section 26 says that, yes, a German can renounce German citizenship if he or she already has another citizenship, makes the request in writing and has the approval of the "competent authority" which appears to be the German Consulate in a foreign state.  The  approval can be waived if the person renouncing has lived abroad for over ten years or has served in a foreign military.

I went looking for the actual procedure and found it here at the website for the German Consulate in the U.S.  It's pretty clear and you can even download the forms directly from the site.

France
The relevant legislation seems to be here:  Décret n°93-1362 du 30 décembre 1993 relatif aux déclarations de nationalité, aux décisions de naturalisation, de réintégration, de perte, de déchéance et de retrait de la nationalité française.  See the section "Titre III."

It's a bit complicated because it depends on the situation:  a child born abroad to a French parent, a child born in France to foreign parents, a Frenchman or woman married to a foreigner, or just a French person who has reached his/her majority who wishes to renounce.  In all cases however (and this is similar to German law) having another nationality is a pre-requisite.

How to go about it depends on whether the person is in France or abroad.  In the former case, it appears that the person must make a request  to the Minister of Naturalizations.  If abroad, the person must go to the local French Consulate.


Saudi Arabia
Here are the citizenship rules for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  I don't see anything specifically for people who wish to renounce but it seems that simply taking on another citizenship without permission will result in a Saudi's citizenship being withdrawn.  So one would assume that taking another citizenship is basically renunciation of Saudi citizenship.

Japan
Japan is similar to Saudi Arabia.  They do not allow dual citizenship (there may be some exceptions to this) so, after acquiring another citizenship, the person simply notifies the Minister of Justice and Japanese citizenship will be withdrawn.

USA
Section 349(a)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(5)) allows for renunciation of American citizenship under the following conditions:  the citizen must appear in person at a U.S. Consulate in a foreign country (can't do it in the U.S.) and must sign an oath of renunciation.  Interestingly enough (and unlike all the other countries I looked at) the U.S. does not require that the U.S. citizen has acquired another nationality before renouncing though they do issue a stern warning that such persons may become stateless and encounter real problems as a result.

For the actual procedure (and a firsthand account) this site written by two Americans who did renounce is quite informative.  From their experience the process is not precisely the same from one U.S. Consulate to another but they say that the consulate personnel was very helpful in all cases.

Canada
Canada has the clearest and least ambiguous process that I could find in my search.  This government site gives the entire procedure from A to Z and it seems very straightforward and easy to follow.  Canada, like all the other countries here with the exception of the U.S., does require that you have either acquired or are in the process of acquiring another nationality before they allow you to renounce.

I'm going to stop there but I think we can already make some generalizations:

1.  Almost all the countries I looked at have legislation and a process for renouncing citizenship.  In most cases, a citizen must make a formal explicit request and follow a procedure.  In some cases a kind of implicit renunciation occurs when that citizen takes on another citizenship and the original citizenship is automatically revoked as a result.  I did not find any state that did not allow renunciation at all but I am sure one (or more) exists.  If you know of such a state, please say so in the comments section.

2.  The process does not seem to be overly complicated in most places.  It's simply a matter of asking the right people and then following a pre-defined procedure (papers, oaths and so on).

3.  That said, it doesn't seem to be actively encouraged by any nation-state.  For a few of the countries listed above I really had to look to find the relevant information.  On the other hand, countries seem to recognize that there are legitimate reasons for renouncing citizenship and they make it possible one way or another.  Given that citizenship is a pact between an individual and a nation-state and involves duties and responsibilities as well as rights, states don't really have an interest in holding people captive.

4.  The main concern of most countries is statelessness.  Almost every country (except the US) requires that the renouncing citizen show that he or she has acquired citizenship somewhere else.  They do not allow people to deliberately become stateless without passports and a place to call "home."

Interesting stuff and worth knowing.  I contend that citizenship in a democratic nation-state is consensual or it is nothing.  The fact that citizenship is conferred upon someone because of an accident of birth (jus soli or jus sanguinis) does not necessarily mean that he or she is obliged to remain a citizen of that state for the rest of his life. In the early 21st century most of us are no longer bound by "perpetual allegiance" and, with the acceptance of the receiving state, we can actively choose what political community we wish to be a part of.  

And that's what freedom is really all about.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Singapore Dreams - Prime Minister Lee Welcomes Foreign Talent

Every migration story is a leap into the dark.  The only way to know for sure that a country or region is a good place to live and work is to pack up and go.

This does not mean however that a global migrant can't do a bit of due diligence before selling the house and car and buying that plane ticket.  The very best source of information is fellow diasporans already sur place.  There is a lot of advice and guidance to be had just by contacting local groups and organizations who are usually more than happy to explain what they think of the host country and to point you to resources that can help.

The Flophouse is blessed with access to not just one but two diasporas (French and American) so when we started looking into Singapore as a possible destination we tapped into those communities for advice.

Almost every person we contacted said, "See the 2010 talk by Prime Minister Lee."  We did and wow were we impressed. Lee's message is clear and welcoming to foreign talent (within certain limits which he very clearly spells out to his audience).  Easy to see why many people consider Lee to be one of the most canny and intelligent (if not downright brillant) world leaders of our time.

The other day I went to see a talk by a Canadian academic and economist on the current economic challenges facing the world today.  Demographics figured prominently in his lecture and when he was asked what role immigration had to play in his recommendations for Canadian leaders, he said that Canada had to be careful because immigration should not become a "competition" among nation-states. In his otherwise excellent talk this comment struck a rather offkey note. The "competition", sir, is already here and your country is right smack in the middle of it with its very interesting selective immigration policies.  Given that there are many other players in the market for global talent (EU and its member-states, US, Australia and others) I'd say that the competition is already here and it is fierce.

A country with a clear vision, a warm welcome, and efficient and transparent immigration procedures is one that, I think, stands a good chance of winning.  Here is Lee's talk and I'll let you watch and decide for yourselves if his strategy is a good one.



The entire talk comes in 6 parts.  To see the rest just click on the link in the frame or go to Youtube and search for "lee on foreign talent 2010."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

U.S./Canada Tax War

For those of you not in the know, the U.S. Government passed a law that would require all foreign banks to report the account information of all account holders with U.S. citizenship-even those who also hold citizenship in their country of residence (dual French/U.S. citizens, for example). All banks everywhere in the world are being told to comply by 2013 or face stiff penalties.

Up until now foreign governments, banks and American citizens abroad have been quietly trying to pursuade the U.S. Government to rethink this. The reporting requirements are quite onerous, banks are not happy about having to ask their clients if they are U.S. citizens, and Americans abroad are starting to become the pariahs of the banking communities in their host countries since the easiest way to avoid the hassle is to close the bank accounts of all Americans at the local bank and wash their hands of the whole business.

Now it seems that the Canadians are firing back. Remember that Canada is a top destination for U.S. emigrants and many Canadian citizens live and work in the U.S.

The first shot was fired by the Canadian Finance Minister who has publicly expressed his concern over the new rules. The second came in the form of an article in a Canadian newspaper by Arthur Cockfield called The Coming Canada-US Tax War.

His proposal is quite simple: if Canadians banks must report on the account information of Americans and duals in Canada then U.S.banks should be required to do the same for all Canadians or duals living in the United States. To be very clear this would mean that U.S. Banks would have to ask for the citizenship information of their U.S. clients and make a report to the Canadian government with the account information of all the Canadian clients they turn up. This would turn the personnel of U.S. banks into citizenship and tax agents of a foreign government - precisely what the U.S. law is requiring. Imagine what would happen if other countries follow suit.

Hard to argue with his logic. The cat is indeed among the pigeons now.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Access to Citizenship

Among those who study and write intelligently about citizenship (current laws and history) the master is, in my view, Patrick Weil. His books, How to be French and What is a Frenchman are delightful and, after I finished them, I was sufficiently impressed that I went down to the Prefecture and asked for the forms and information on the procedure to become a naturalized French citizen. Both are sitting on the desk in my study but that is another story (and another post).

So let it suffice to say that when this gentleman talks or writes, I pay close attention. In addition to his many fine books, he also contributes articles to many major publications in both French and English and gives eloquent and informative talks. I came across one the other day on the Web that I thought I would share with you. This talk is a synopsis of a chapter he contributed to T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Douglas Klusmeyer's book Citizenship Today: Global Perspectives and Practices called "Access to Citizenship: a Comparison of Twenty-five Nationality Laws."

In his introduction, Weil clearly and succinctly explains why citizenship laws are a moving target - a country cannot make its laws in a vacuum since other states make their own laws that may complement or conflict with those passed elsewhere. But the real gold comes a few paragraphs down where Weil puts the citizen laws of 25 countries side by side so you can make a quick comparison. The essentials are all here: Jus soli versus jus sanguinis, naturalization, spousal naturalization, and second generation immigrants.

This article is well worth a read and a bookmark for future reference. I hope you find this as useful as I did and, if you are someone interested in (or directly impacted by) this topic, I highly recommend Patrick Weil's books. All of them. :-)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Foreign Students in France - The Saga Continues

I wrote about this a few days ago (post here).  A change in policy has left graduating foreign students at French schools with a rather backhanded invitation -  to take their degrees and their talents and exit the country in the most expeditious manner.

In spite of the uproar the Minister of the Interior is standing firm.  Here is the offending "circulaire" so you can read it for yourself.  As I suspected they are citing the current economic climate as the main reason for this initiative.  If you would like to learn more, just type "la circulaire Guéant-Bertrand" into any search engine.  This is really causing a scandal with business, universities and others firmly in the "this is a terrible idea" camp.

Interestingly enough Mr. Minister of the Interior does not seem to have kept Madame the Budget Minister (the former Minister of Higher Education) in the loop.  She has written to her colleague on behalf of students at HEC.  From what I was able to read in the paper, she doesn't see much sense in any of this and is asking for explanations and a revision of the policy.  Will any of this make a difference?

I hate to be cynical but, no, it won't.  The prize is the 2012 elections and there is just too much anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the Far Right and too much economic uncertainty.  People are afraid and fear makes them very susceptible to the cry of "France for the French."

Typical of this are the comments I read at the end of this article in La Tribune.  Just for fun, I'll translate a few of them for you:

"Bravo à M. le Ministre, qu'il reste sur ses positions. Etant moi-même jeune diplômé (en droit) à la recherche d'un travail, je ne veux pas entrer en compétition avec "toute la misère du monde" pour un poste! (ne me parlez pas de choses du genre "solidarité" blablablabla, parce que si certains ont des complexes vis-à-vis de la période coloniale, ils n'ont qu'à aller faire de l'humanitaire en Afrique. Ce ne sera que du bon débarras!)"

Bravo to the Minister and I hope he holds his ground. Being myself a new graduate (law) looking for work, I have no desire to be in competition with "all the misery of the world" for a job! (don't talk to me about "solidarity" because if certain people have a complex about the colonial era, they have only to leave and do humanitarian work in Africa. It would be good to be rid of them!)

"Le minimum de bon sens est de privilégier les diplomés français . L'inverse relève du masochisme.....ou de la tentative de manipulation des opinions politiques (n'oublions jamais que les mondialistes-immigrationistes sont aux manettes de notre société depuis 25 ans et qu'ils ne souhaitent pas abandonner leurs ptérogatives , traitements et honoraires inclus !!!"

It is only good sense to give priority to French graduates. To do the opposite would be masochistic...or an attempt at manipulating political opinion (let's never forget that the globalizing immigrationists are at the controls of our society since 25 years and they do no wish to give up their prerogatives, special treatment and bonuses included!!!

And finally this exchange which made me smile:

"Je trouve normal de favorisé les français par rapport aux étrangers."
I find it normal to favor French over foreigners.

And this short but sweet reply:

" de favoriser" Une étrangère diplômée
[Correction of a rather flagrant grammatical error in French made by the original commenter, presumably a Frenchman, and pointed out by a Foreign Student ]

I have been hearing this sort of thing for years and I am always a bit surprised that my more left-leaning friends are astonished by the rage and xenophobia that pours out when people are allowed to say what they really think about immigrants from the safety of their anonymous Internet connections.  Sarkozy is no fool and if he wins it will be in part because there are many people here will quietly vote for a candidate that keeps the "misery of the world" at bay.

And now I guess we now have a new standard for the "misery of the world."  It can have diplomas from the best schools, speak multiple languages, be well integrated into the local culture and wear a suit and tie.   These students will be just fine - there are lots of countries more than happy to have them.  France's loss will be someone else's gain and the French nation will be poorer as a result of this self-inflicted wound. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Cultural Roots of a Crisis

Winter hit Versailles with a vengeance this weekend.  It rained on both Saturday and Sunday and the wind blew just enough to chill my bones.

To make matters worse, we still have no heat.  The committee that manages our building always waits until the last possible minute to get the central heating started - they don't move until they are legally obliged to do so.  We could have sat and shivered all weekend like all the other residents of our building but the Flophouse has the very good fortune to occupy a ground-floor apartment with a fireplace.  So we built a roaring fire, made big pots of steaming hot tea and read books, watched movies and talked with each other.


The main topic of conversation is, of course, the Crisis.  The Flophouse has family and friends in many corners of the world who seem to all be experiencing the economic downturn in different ways.  A recent book by Michael Lewis seems to confirm this. Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World explores how the crisis has manifested itself in different countries around the world - regions that have imploded or seem likely to implode in the near future:  Iceland, Greece, Ireland and the state of California.

The book was born when Mr. Lewis was talking with an investment banker after the sub-prime meltdown.  The thesis of this gentleman was that the U.S. mortgage crisis was more symptom than cause, masking much deeper economic and social problems in many countries.  In 2008 he predicted another larger crisis just over the horizon.  He appears to have been right.  Mr. Lewis took that piece of information and then went out to find out.  Call him an "economic trouble tourist."

Boomerang is not a book about finance (though Mr. Lewis has a few years as an investment counselor under his belt and he speaks knowledgeably on that subject).  Rather it is a book about people, governments, cultures and beliefs.  For all that we rattle on about sovereign debt and defaults, euros and dollars, deficits and Laffer curves, our financial systems are based on faith.  We have faith (or we don't) that the French banks will survive a default.  We believe (or we don't) that the Germans will save the Euro-zone.  We tell ourselves that surely the housing market in California will recover. Or it won't, in which case perhaps the best thing to do is to turn the key over to the bank and walk away.  On the desk in my study is yet another note from my bank, the BNP Paribas, telling me not worry but I do.  It is hard to determine what the rational thing to do is when all the appeals are to emotion and the facts are hidden or unknowable by mere mortals such as myself.

I highly recommend Mr. Lewis' book.  He is an engaging writer and an interesting speaker.  Here is an interview he did with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show which will give you a sense of his style.

To be very clear, this book will not give you information about how to dodge raindrops, nor will you finish his work with a sense of serenity and a clear path forward.  What it will give you is a much broader view of what happened, what is likely to happen, and how we are all just trying to muddle though in our own curious culturally-specific ways.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The American Diaspora in Paris - the Memorial Cloister

When I was living in Suresnes (a small community just outside of Paris) I would wake up in the morning to the sounds of the American national anthem being played somewhere in the hills surrounding the city.  At first I thought I was hallucinating - dreaming crazy expatriate dreams of home.

I wasn't.  Right smack in the middle of the city on the slopes of Mont Valerian is an American military cemetery and memorial.  It's not large - 7.5 acres - but it is meticulously cared for and every so often there are ceremonies honoring the 1,500 American soldiers buried here who died in World War I and 24 unknown dead from World War II.  Though I do not normally spend my days communing with the dead, knowing that my compatriots were there gave me a strange sort of comfort when I was bitterly lonely and missing home in my first years here in France.


 Passing through the American Cathedral the other day, I discovered another memorial that I did not know existed.  If you walk through the main doors of the church and head in the direction of the chapel, I recommend that you take a detour (a left) into the Memorial Cloister.

This corridor was originally a memorial to the American dead from World War I.  In 1994 7 plaques were added honoring all the dead and missing (military and civilian) from World War II.

It's quite beautiful and so calm and quiet.  If you stand with your back to the wall and look out through the arches you will have a lovely view of the Dean's Garden.









And here are a few more pictures from my last visit just last week.



Friday, October 7, 2011

Involuntary Citizenship - Here's How Strange it Can Get

Jus soli (or "birthright" citizenship as they are calling it in the U.S.) has come under severe attack mostly by the Right-wing parties.  The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been interpreted by the courts to mean that U.S. citizenship is conferred automatically on anyone born on U.S. soil.  The people who would like to put an end to it use cases of "birth tourism" (women who travel to the U.S. with the express purpose of giving birth there so their children will benefit from automatic citizenship) to rally Americans around their cause.

These stories make great headlines but frankly they are a very silly reaction to a very serious subject.  They ignore both the complex contexts that arise when nation-state laws conflict and a much better argument against jus soli which addresses a very fundamental question of whether or not a state can confer citizenship on an individual involuntarily.  This is a legitimate question because it has real world consequences for ordinary people.

For every case of "birth tourism" there are many more cases where the birth of a child outside of the home territory was pure chance - a conjunction of events like temporary expatriation for business, studies abroad or tourism.  And, unless the parents themselves are stateless, this child already has a nation, a nationality, a citizenship conferred by jus sanguinis (blood).  By what right does the United States of America confer citizenship on a child of another nation-state without the consent of the parents, the child himself or the other state?

And the answer is quite simply that all nation-states have the right to make their own citizenship laws and confer citizenship as they wish where they wish.  Any one of you reading this blog with the most tenuous link to another country could wake up tomorrow and discover that you are now considered a citizen of state X in addition to whatever citizenship you already have and regardless of where you are living.

It's just that odd.  And it might remain an oddity that merely causes occasional inconvenience if it were not for the concrete duties and responsibilities that a citizen can be required to perform in the service of a nation-state.  And here is where U.S. citizenship takes on a very interesting twist.

The United States of America is one of of the only countries in the world that taxes its citizens on their worldwide income.  Any U.S. citizen living and earning income in any country of the world is required to file a yearly tax return with the Internal Revenue Service.  The fact that an individual was not aware of this does not cut much ice with the IRS - if they find a U.S. citizen abroad (regardless of where, when and how his citizenship was acquired) they can go after that person for U.S. taxes.  Even someone who is the citizen of another nation-state and has never lived or worked on U.S. soil.

So perhaps the Right-wing parties in the States and their friends can console themselves with the fact that with "birth tourism" not only does the U.S. gain citizens via the Fourteenth amendment, it also is acquiring  future U.S. taxpayers.  This could be very interesting if one of these children grows up to be the Chinese equivalent of Bill Gates.

Up until very recently this all was quite academic since in the past the U.S. did not seriously try to enforce these laws outside the U.S.  This has changed.  The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is starting to be very aggressive in chasing dual U.S./Other citizens in all countries around the world.  They and the Obama administration seem to think that there are vast quantities of wealth out there to be gained in the larger project of filling the giant hole in the budget.  This has some interesting implications:

  • As more people learn about this little-known aspect of U.S. law, U.S. citizenship will lose some of its attractiveness.  If having U.S. citizenship (through birth or naturalization) means a lifelong relationship with the American Internal Revenue Service, some people are going to think twice. Perhaps in addition to the counsel against pregnant women flying in the last trimester of pregnancy, airlines should also issue a warning that they should not fly anywhere near the U.S. border at this time since U.S. citizenship will be conferred on their children without their consent in the event the plane has to make an emergency landing in a U.S. airport and they go into labor on U.S. soil.
  • This has all the makings of a huge international incident since many of the people impacted by this are dual citizens and they are going to look to their other government for protection.  There is a very nice piece in the New York Times by Ronald Sokol here which describes a hypothetical situation where the U.S. government goes after a French citizen for back taxes and that citizen takes his case to the European Union.   This month the Canadian Finance Minister expressed his deep concern over recent extensions to U.S. tax law that negatively impact dual U.S./Canadian citizens.  Other countries outside the U.S. are paying close attention to this and it could get quite unpleasant.

And finally you have to wonder if some countries might decide that turnabout is fair play and that perhaps the Americans are onto something.  The U.S. is not the only country that needs money right now - last time I looked Greece and Ireland were in rather bad shape.  What if both these countries declared that every U.S. citizen in the United States of America with a Greek or Irish grand-parent (or even great-grandparent) or who was inadvertently born on their soil is a full Irish or Greek citizen and then they change their tax law to make these people liable for taxes in their ancestral homelands?    Given that the United States is a multi-ethnic country of immigration the idea that other countries could get into the "tax the diaspora" game with U.S. citizens as easy targets is a real possibility and would probably be very popular with voters in the home countries.

And that would really put the cat among the pigeons, wouldn't it?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Really Bad News for Foreign Students in France

Foreign students in France had a very rude awakening when they started school this September.  Apparently the French government has decided against a policy of trying to retain foreign students who have completed their studies in France and would like to stay and work for awhile.

I first became aware of this issue when I met a thoroughly charming and quite brilliant tri-lingual Latin American mathematician who had just completed his doctorate in mathematics at a French university.  He was trying to get permission to stay, had some very interesting skills for high-tech industries and was flabbergasted to discover that no one was very interested in helping.  On the contrary, the message was very clear, "Go home!" which frankly was not his first choice.  He wanted to travel a bit more and get some work experience abroad before heading back to his country of origin.

Why this change in policy?  Well, we are in an election cycle and immigration is a hot topic.  This is one method among others to lower the immigration rates so that Sarkozy's government can say they are actively doing something about this "problem."  Another is that unemployment is high, the economic environment is uncertain and it is not sure that jobs will be available for these people in the future.  Finally such policies to retain international students (U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia have them) do cause tension with other countries.  I have talked with French people who are very bitter that Canada (especially Quebec) is stripping some of the best and brightest French students out of the French system with the express purpose of turning them into Canadians.

That said, this policy is, in my opinion, counter-productive and very short-sighted for the following reasons:

  • It's positively schizophrenic.  On one hand the government is trying to get highly-skilled foreign workers into France through programs like the EU Blue Card and the Carte de "compétences et talents" which cost money to implement and promote, while turning away those who are already on French soil, have the skills French industry needs and are already integrated into French society.
  • It makes French high education much less attractive to foreign students.  There are a lot of reasons to go abroad for university and one factor in a student's decision is whether or not he can also get that CV-enhancing foreign work experience.  Now the French government is giving these students a reason not to come study in France.  Canada suddenly looks much better in comparison (and they speak French too).
  • It creates a lot of ill-will especially since the policy was changed rather abruptly.  Students who wanted to come to France and have had (we hope) a positive experience living here are now being rejected and told to leave.  Now.  That is a powerful and very unpleasant message and some of these students are going to leave with very negative feelings about this country.  Personally, I would not count on them being goodwill ambassadors for France anytime soon.  See this video for some of the reactions.



And finally do they honestly think these students are going to go home?  Nonsense.  If France won't have them there are many other countries that would be delighted to give them a hearty welcome and a path to citizenship.  With their advanced degrees and language skills, they are a net benefit to the next nation willing to have them since their advanced education was basically financed by the French taxpayer.

The Latin American mathematician I had the pleasure of talking with had absolutely no intention  of going back.  Some day, he said, but, in the meantime, he thought he would inquire at the U.S. and Canadian consulates to see what might be possible.  "Perhaps they'll want me," he said.

I have no doubt they will.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Europe 2020

The economy is on everyone's mind these days.  If there is a common denominator on both sides of the Atlantic which will figure prominently in the next election cycles, it will be concern over government provided services, growth and jobs.

So how many of you EU voters out there have heard of Europe 2020?  It's worth checking out since this is the European Commission's economic plan for the EU over the next 10 years.  Their vision is "a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy" with 5 targets to be reached by the end of this decade:
1. Employment:  75% of the 20-64 year-olds to be employed
2. R&D/Innovation:  3% of the EU's GDP (public and private combined) to be invested in R&D/innovation
3. Climate change / energy:  greenhouse gas emissions 20% (or even 30%, if the conditions are right) lower than 1990
20% of energy from renewables
20% increase in energy efficiency
4. Education:  Reducing school drop-out rates below 10%
at least 40% of 30-34–year-olds completing third level education
5. Poverty / social exclusion:  at least 20 million fewer people in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion
There are no fewer than 7 flagship initiatives that have been launched to achieve these targets.  The most interesting to me (and I would imagine the readers of this blog) is the Agenda for New Skills and Jobs.  To those who say that the EU isn't transparent and doesn't speak the language of regular folks, I'd say they are pretty clear and concise on this topic, "For our economy to grow and remain competitive, we need more jobs."  Amen to that.

The member-states are being held accountable for the results.  They must prepare two reports a year explaining how they have (or have not) moved toward stability, convergence and reform in line with the targets.  There is a Monitoring Platform and also a Europe 2020 Dashboard published by Eurostat. For the latter it appears that they have not yet brought all the data on-line but the site is relatively recent so give them a few months.

I like these targets and the overall plan.  Jobs are certainly the number one priority but the list includes measures to address environmental and social issues.  It is clear that the EU does not see this things as being incompatible.

A suivre.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vie de Meuf

I have read elsewhere that there is a very silly book out there that was released a few months ago by an American woman about "The Game of Seduction" here in France.    I went on Amazon and found it straightaway.  I'm pleased to see that it is already been discounted and I sincerely hope that those who actually bought and read it didn't take it seriously.

My view is, that of all the topics one could choose to write about concerning France, this is probably the least interesting one but the most likely to fulfill prurient Anglo-Saxon fantasies about France and the French.

A book like that deserves a counterpoint and I believe that I have just the ticket.  Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Vie de Meuf (A Chick's Life).

This is a project of Osez le féminisme (Dare Feminism)  and their objective is to:
"mettre en lumière les inégalités femmes - hommes qui persistent dans notre société. En 2011, en France, les femmes gagnent en moyenne 27% de salaire en moins, assument 80% des tâches ménagères, représentent 18,5% des députés, constituent 85% des travailleurs précaires, sont victimes de violences au quotidien (chaque année, 75 000 femmes sont violées en France) et sont obligées de se coltiner régulièrement les blagues machistes encore fortement en vogue.."
"Shed some light on the gender inequality that persists in our society. In 2011 in France women earn 27% less then men, assume 80% of household tasks, represent 18,5% of deputies in the Assembly, hold 85% of precarious jobs, are the victims of violence on a daily basis (every year 75,000 women are raped) and are obliged to submit regularly to macho jokes that are still very much in style..."
This is fascinating reading not because there is something special about it happening in France to Frenchwomen (you know, the ones that are ostensibly supposed to be enjoying all this attention and special treatment) but because it is all too familiar. The stories you read on this site could be from anywhere in the world. Here are a few examples:
"Lors d'un pot de départ d'un thésard, je discute avec le collègue qui partage mon bureau :
- Moi: Moi, je ne repasse jamais. Je déteste le repassage.
- Lui : Hein ??? Mais mais mais... comment il fait ton mari ?
Manifestement, une femme ingénieur ça ne le dérange pas du tout, au contraire, il trouve ça bien et admirable (nous avons toujours eu de très bonnes relations de travail). Mais qu'elle ne repasse pas les chemises de son mari, c'est inimaginable..."  
"During a cocktail for a graduate student, I am talking with a colleague with whom I share an office: Me: I never iron. I hate ironing.
Him: What? But but but....how does your husband manage?
Obviously a woman engineer doesn't bother him a bit. On the contrary, he finds that quite admirable (we have always had a good work relationship). But when she doesn't iron her husband's shirts, well, this is just unthinkable.... "
"Je remplis une fiche d’inscription pour mon enfant au collège et il y a des paragraphes " 1er responsable" et "2eme responsable". Dans la première case du premier responsable il y a juste marqué "nom" alors que dans la deuxième il y a marqué "nom marital suivi du nom de jeune fille". Pourquoi seulement dans la deuxième case?" 
"I am filling out a registration form for my child at middle school and the first paragraph simply asks for the "Primary parent or guardian's" name. In the following paragraph however where they ask for the "Second parent or guardian" they request the "marital name followed by the maiden name". Why only in the second case?"
"Dans les couloirs du métro, ce matin, un homme m'a mis la main aux fesses. C'était un inconnu qui est parti en riant... J'étais impuissante, j'avais l'impression d'être un objet." 
In the corridors of the metro this morning, a man put his hand on my ass. It was a stranger who left laughing... I was powerless and had the impression that I was an object...
Outright violence and blatant harassment are horrible and I think we can all agree (whatever our political and ideological stripes) that that sort of thing is unacceptable and criminal whether it happens to men or to women. This week a gentleman was killed on the Paris metro helping a young woman defend herself against a harasser.

However, do not discount the petty and demeaning sorts of provocation and the small daily indignities that women have to deal with on a daily basis in France and elsewhere. "Seduction?"  Read Vie de Meuf and then come back and tell me again how wonderful the relations are between men and women in France and how very much these ladies are enjoying the game.