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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Old Versailles Architecture

When we moved back to France from Japan we chose the city of Versailles less for its charm than for its proximity to our place of work.  It was not love at first sight.  In Tokyo we had lived in a lovely neighborhood called Shirokanedai which was filled with small elegant houses old and new and the most amazing gardens.  Tokyo was all light, even in the winter when it got very cold and sometimes snowed.  Versailles seemed gloomy and damp and the only bright spot in the city was the gold of the castle which struck me at the time as being terribly gaudy - a far cry from the quiet understated elegance of Japan.

Versailles grew on me.  It's a very livable city with good public markets, a fine transportation system, beautiful gardens and some very pretty architecture in the shadow of the castle (which I have never learned to love).

Two things have had a major impact on the architectural style of the city.  The first is the fact that the kings made the rules:  height limitations (even today almost all the building are 6 stories maximum), the slate roofs or even the style to be applied to the exterior  The second is the lack of limestone in the vicinity.  The builders were obliged to make do with a kind of false brick made of "un mélange de plâtre et de chaux teinté d’ocre rouge pour imiter la brique, et badigeonné d’ocre jaune pour rappeler la pierre." (A mixture of plaster and lime colored with red ocher to mimic the brick and whitewashed ocher yellow to imitate stone.)  As a result of this your first impression of the architecture might be one of depressing monotony.  Look closer because human beings always find a way to express themselves within the limits of whatever framework has been imposed by authority.

Exiting the younger Frenchling's tutor all I had to do was look up to find this ceramic decoration on the side of a building.  The inscription says "rue du cherche midi."

The other feature here are the "volets" (the shutters).  An older word for these is "persiennes" (my spouse's grandmother was still using this word at the end of the 20th century) and Versailles claims to be the first place in France to have them.

The inventor was one Antoine Duchesne who in 1727 created « les premiers contrevents en lames inclinées, depuis nommées jalousies ou persiennes, par leur ressemblance avec certaines claires-voies des sérails de Perse ». The very first ones were installed in Versailles at the residence of the Marquis de  Seignelay, 8-10, rue de l’Orangerie.






Over the windows and doors of many buildings are whimsical sculptures:  faces of sad or laughing men or animals like horses.
They are easy to miss but they are everywhere.







And then there is the grillwork on the balconies.  From a distance they all look the same but up close you will see a remarkable variety:  the curves of Louis XV, and the Troubador and "nouille" (noodle) styles among many others. 








And finally there are a few (a very few) buildings that are so distinctive and so unlike the style of all the other buildings that you have to ask yourself who the owner had to pay off to be allowed to build that:


I am a very mediocre photographer and I know the pictures above do not even begin to do justice to what I saw as I walk around the older parts of the city.  Happily for you, you do not need to make do with my meager efforts.  The city of Versailles has published a very fine Guide des Curiosités de la Ville de Versailles.   If you plan to visit the city, read this first, and then perhaps you might be inclined to skip the gilded monstrosity for a quieter kind of beauty.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Old Versailles

Here we are in December of the year 2011 and you can still use this map of Versailles from 1746 to get around.  Having walked much of the old town yesterday, I can personally attest to its accuracy. 

Starting once again from the Rue Royale I headed south to parts of town I had never visited before.

Before the kings came, Versailles was a sleepy little village of about 100 inhabitants.  Even the origins of the name are lost and all we have are educated guesses of which the most likely is the word "versail" which comes from Old French and means "cleared land" or land that has been reclaimed for farming or development.  The original village was "acquired" (and I would love to know the exact meaning of that) by Louis VIII and the seeds of  the city as we know it today were planted in the 17th century.  With the kings and their courts came development and I have to wonder if the villagers had as much trepidation about the arrival of these Parisiens as people in Seattle had about the arrival of the Californians late in the last century.  There goes the neighborhood....

In 1737 the king allowed two entrepreneurs to construct a kind of commercial development at the intersection of the Rue Royale and the Rue d'Anjou.  These "baraques" were originally meant to house a public market but the venture was a failure and the buildings were finally converted into housing.  200+ years later they are still there and are called "les carrés Saint-Louis."

Today they are charming two-story structures with slate roofs and a mix of street-level commerce and apartments on the first floor.



Down at the end of the Rue Royale I took a right and tried to see The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception which is a small church that celebrates the mass using the tridentine rite but they were closed for the school holidays.  Walking back up toward the castle I stumbled upon a small park called le Parc Balbi.  According to the official website, the Comte de Provence purchased the land and built this park for his wife, the Comtesse de Balbi.  Walking through the park I could not help but think I was born in the wrong era since I can think of nothing more pleasing than a husband who designs a garden for his wife (or mistress).

Past the King's Kitchen Garden and up to the rue de l’Indépendance Américaine (American Independence Street) where I stood before the l'hôtel des affaires étrangères et de la Marine (The Foreign Ministry and Navy). It was here that negotiations were held to end the American War of Independence which led to the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  My beloved Benjamin Franklin was here.  It is said that the king at the time had some misgivings about this whole venture and as later events proved, he was quite right to be concerned.



Because not too far from American Independence Street is a building in the shadows of the elegant and sumptuous castle that some consider to be the birthplace of the French Revolution, La Salle du Jeu de Paume.  It was here in 1789 that the representatives of the Third Estate declared for a Constitution (effectively the end of the monarchy.)

Tomorrow:  More of Old Versailles.








Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sacred Architecture

Since the Rue Royale (my starting position) is quite close to the St. Louis Cathedral this seemed a good place to begin my tour of the neighborhood.  It is quite an imposing structure sitting right in the middle of a large square.  If you tour the King's Garden in summer you will have a view of it elevated above the gardens with the gold cross shining in the sunlight.  The church was constructed by Louis XV in the middle of the 18th century so it is a relatively recent structure.  My first impression of the interior was one of space and light - 93 meters in length, 38 meters in width and 65 meters tall.  The holy water fonts at the entry in the shape of shells were carved by Hersent.


If you go into the church and start walking down the center aisle, turn around and look up to see the magnificent organ by Clicquot which was installed in 1760.

St. Louis was not originally the cathedral for Versailles ( a cathedral is the seat of a bishop and the center of a diocese).  That honor originally belonged to another church, Notre Dame de Versailles.  No explanation is given in any of the guidebooks for what led to the transfer in 1797 but I sense a dispute or political manuveur of some sort, the participants of which are long since dust.

Notre Dame de Versailles is the older church. It was consecrated in 1686 and was built to replace St. Julien (1180) the very first parish of the village of Versailles (back when Versailles had a mere 100 inhabitants).  Unlike St. Louis this church is right on on the street and is surrounded by shops and cars whizzing by. Of the two churches this one seems more integrated into the surrounding neighborhood.  It is quite close to the main market and I could envision the parishioners "endimanchés' (dressed in their Sunday best) going to Sunday mass and stopping by the market on their way home.


When I enter a Catholic church outside of my usual haunts I go as a tourist but also as a "fidèle" (believer).  And so I picked up the parish guides for both churches and was pleased to see that their communities are quite lively with numerous associations and activities.  Notre Dame has no fewer than three masses a day during the week and, in addition to the Sunday liturgy in French, there is a mass at 11 am in Polish.  Both churches work their schedules around French holidays:  "les petites vacances scolaires" (short school holidays like Christmas) and the "vacances d'été" (summer holidays).  Since we are right in the middle of Christmas vacation that meant no mass at 12:00 so I was free to walk up the street to the bookshop Gibert Joseph to see if anything new had come in before picking up the younger Frenchling at 1:15.

Tomorrow:   Les Carrés Saint-Louis

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Post-Christmas Purgatory

Christmas is over and "ça ne rigole plus" (no more fun and games) at the Flophouse.  Actually that is a bit of an overstatement - the Frenchlings are still on vacation and there are cookies to be baked, movies to watch, and long lazy evenings in front of the fire.  But every day at 11 am this week the younger Frenchling and I walk up to the Rue Royale in the center of Versailles for a two-hour session at a private tutoring company called Acadomia.

I have a lot of good things to say about the French public school system but I learned early on that it is also a system without mercy and often without much help for those who have trouble keeping up with the coursework.  So the trick is to never let your child get behind in this system.  For us this means purchasing  course review books at the beginning of every summer and spending 1-2 hours a day during vacation making sure the Frenchlings don't forget what they learned during the school year.  It has also meant seeking out private tutors at the first sign of academic difficulty.

The younger Frenchling is in a particularly challenging program.  In a French high school young adults choose an orientation that leads to a particular type of diploma.  For the General Baccalaureate there are three:  Science, Economics and Social Science, and Literature.  The younger Frenchling is doing her Bac in Science, commonly referred to as a Bac S. This stream is heavy on the math and science (Physics and Earth Sciences) and relatively weak when it comes to the "softer" subjects like Philosophy and French.  Even the attitude of the school and the professors is different for the Science students.  It is has not escaped my notice that no one seems to care one whit if one of these students is mediocre in French or Philo-lite but they react very strongly if that child's math grades begin to slip.

The younger Frenchling does just fine in her mathematics classes but, like many French students I've seen over the years, she lacks confidence.  If even the best students are treated as "nuls" (idiots) the others take note and there can be a kind of paralysis caused by fear and anxiety.  It is what it is and my purpose as an immigrant parents is not to criticize the system but to find ways to work with it within the parameters that I've been given.  Hence, a kind of imposed purgatory this week for the younger Frenchling so that the rest of the academic year goes well.

I am still American enough to want to find ways to soften the blow and make the best of things.  We walk to her classes together and while she is studying functions I am taking this opportunity to cruise the quartier (neighborhood).  I'll be posting pictures and commentary this week about some of the places I discover as I walk around the older parts of Versailles.  And when each class is over, I have promised the younger Frenchling a lunch of her choice every single day somewhere in the district near the castle.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joyeux Noël

The holidays really only began yesterday when we drove to Roissy to pick up the Canadian contingent of the Flophouse who came in on an early flight.

The airport was quite festive since the security people were on strike and having a grand time.  While we were waiting downstairs we listened to the very eloquent words of the speakers and the rousing responses of the strikers.  "Down with the government and management!" followed by much cheering and blowing of whistles.

Much has been said about Roissy being the "worst airport in the world."  I prefer to think of it as a place to build character.  If you can survive the frustrations, forgive the many indignities, ignore the hideous architecture, and still walk out of there with a song in your heart and a smile on your face, then you know that you have progressed as a human being.


The elder Frenchling brought many gifts from the frozen north.  Maple syrup, of course, but also her father's favorite cereal, Quaker Oatmeal Squares (squares à l’avoine) and my favorite candy, jelly beans (fèves à la gelée).

It is now Christmas morning.  The tree is up, the creche too and my grandmother's angel chimes are sitting on the mantelpiece.  I am enjoying a nice cup of coffee in the calm before everyone gets up.




The Flophouse will be having Christmas dinner later in the day:  chapon (capon), foie gras (take that California), chestnut stuffing, and garlic mashed potatoes.



To the Flophouse friends and family scattered all over this planet  and to all the people of the world whom it has not yet been our pleasure to know,  we wish you all peace and joy on this Christmas day.

Merry Christmas!  Joyeux Noël!






Friday, December 23, 2011

Backpedalling on the Circulaire Guéant

Good news for year's end?  The French Minister of the Interior was on Europe 1 yesterday and, according to Le Monde, he is softening his stance:
"Clairement, je note qu'il y a des malentendus, des interrogations, a reconnu M. Guéant, et je suis résolu à avoir une concertation approfondie avec les parties prenantes […] afin que les cas de figure soient examinés et que les choses soient plus claires dans l'application." Selon lui, le gouvernement a accordé 6 500 autorisations de séjour pour des étudiants étrangers devenus salariés en 2011. Pour Hajer Gorgi, porte-parole du Collectif du 31 mai, qui a organisé une manifestation à Paris samedi, seuls 250 cas ont été réglés sur 900 recensés depuis l'entrée en vigueur de cette circulaire.
"I see clearly that there have been misunderstandings and questions," said Monsieur M. Guéant, "and I have decided to have a deep consultation with the interested parties...so that cases can be re-examined and that the implementation of the circulaire be clearer."  According to him, the government has granted 6,500 work permits for foreign students who have found work in France in 2011.  However, Hajer Gorgi, the spokesperson for the May 31 Collective who organized a demonstration in Paris Saturday, says that only 250 cases out of 900 have been resolved since the circulaire came into effect.
Please note that he does not say that the circulaire will be withdrawn completely so he has left himself some wiggle room.  That is completely understandable since France is a place where it is very rare to have people in authority admit publicly to being wrong.  It can even be downright dangerous.  So, with that in mind, we can recognize that this is a large step on his part in the right direction. Also consider that he may have been very poorly advised on this issue - he seems to have been genuinely surprised that people reacted so strongly.  Certainly he never intended it to become an international incident.

This seems to be a recurring theme when it comes to immigration issues.  Just look at the U.S. and the states of Arizona and Alabama.  If I were writing this up for an MBA class I would argue that the underlying issue is an inability to recognize and manage stakeholders.  No government or people wants to admit that some of the interested parties in immigration policy are actually outside of the state in question because that takes us straight to uncomfortable questions about sovereignty.  Questions that no one wants raised in the ramp up to a national election.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Family Reunification in the EU

The European Commission is holding a consultation and they would like you to join in.  The topic is a very emotional one and quite dangerous politically:  What rights should migrants have to bring their families to their host country?

Why has this topic come to the fore?  Because the EU directive on family reunification for third-country nationals is not being honored by many member-states.

The relevant legislation, passed in 2003 as Directive 2003/86/EC firmly lays down the EU's position: "Family reunification is a necessary way of making family life possible. It helps to create sociocultural stability facilitating the integration of third country nationals in the Member State, which also serves to promote economic and social cohesion, a fundamental Community objective stated in the Treaty."

Of course the devil is always in the details.  As I read the directive, legal migrants have the absolute right to bring members of their nuclear family (spouse and minor children) to live with them in the host country provided that they are not a threat to public order or safety.  Member-states may, if they wish,  extend the definition of family to include "relatives in the direct ascending line, adult unmarried children, unmarried or registered partners as well as, in the event of a polygamous marriage, minor children of a further spouse and the sponsor."  However other states are not obliged to grant these people (let's call this the "extended family") the right to reside in their state if their laws contradict the laws of the original receiving state.

In times past many EU states went above and beyond these minimum requirements but in recent years a few have passed more onerous entry requirements (Denmark, for example) and other states are taking note and considering similar actions.  It is reported that both the U.K. and the Netherlands are looking closely at Danish policy.  What kind of changes are being proposed?  Education and income requirements, pre-entry tests (designed to measure the capacity of the person to assimilate), long waits for processing, application fees and "proof of attachment" to the host country are all possibilities.

As the 2011 IOM report so clearly states this is a subject on which public perceptions and reality simply do not correspond.  In a webinar on this topic with  MIPEX Policy Analyst, Thomas Huddleston (I was a participant), he reported that only 1 in 6 immigrants to France comes in under a family reunification program.  According to the European Commission this form of immigration has already fallen sharply, from 50% of all migrants in the year 2000 to about 30% today. In Europe overall, almost all those who enter any EU country this way are spouses and children.  Mostly children.

What is the EU's intent in holding this consultation?  They say they want to hear from all the stakeholders in this policy before they take action.  Migrants and migrant rights organizations, family-members of legal residents wishing to come to the EU, member-states and even other states outside the EU.  Yes, the last have an interest in this too.  Countries of origin sometimes see other state's liberal family reunification policies as quite dangerous to their interests - it can diminish remittances,  help migrants to  integrate in the host country (not necessarily a good thing from their point of view), and reduce the likelihood that their people will one day return to the home country.

To have your say before the deadline of March 1, 2012 (and I strongly urge everyone with an interest in this to reply) contact details are here.  It appears that they accept contributions via both email and regular mail.

Once the EU has all the feedback and closed the consultation, it intends to hold public hearings on this matter.  I'll be keeping an eye on it and I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Paris When It Drizzles


"Every time I look down on this timeless town,
Whether blue or grey be her skies,
Whether loud be her cheers,
Or whether soft be her tears,
More and more do I realize that...

I love Paris in the springtime,
I love Paris in the fall,
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles...."

I was skipping along the Pont de l'Alma bridge this morning.  It was cold and rainy and I was going to be late when I slowed down, started channeling Cole Porter and let time stop.  Even on a bad day (weather and mental health-wise), Paris is such a great place to just be.  Here are a few more pictures:


The Seine was high and muddy.


An advertisement for the Ipad 2 was flashing above one of the entrances to the Alma-Marceau metro station.


And the Liberty Flame (gift from the Americans to the French) is still there and it still says:
The Flame of Liberty. An exact replica of the Statue of Liberty's flame offered to the people of France by donors throughout the world as a symbol of the Franco-American friendship. On the occasion of the centennial of the International Herald Tribune. Paris 1887-1987.
Back home now in front of a roaring fire drinking a nice hot cup of coffee....

Blue Card - Progress in Germany

Last time we looked Germany was one of six countries the EU was ever so gently pushing to implement the Blue Card Program.

It appears that some progress has been made just in time for Christmas.  This press release from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology released earlier this month said:
The Federal Government adopted important measures in Cabinet today to improve the rules on residence, making it much easier for highly qualified and skilled workers from other countries to access the German labour market. The Government is thus taking pro-active steps to counter the impending skills shortage.
Philipp Rösler, Federal Minister of Economics and Technology, stated: "These decisions are a quantum leap in immigration policy. The new rules introduce a managed immigration policy for the first time which will also take account of the acute skills shortage in the German economy. Here, the drop in the salary thresholds is an important step. Germany needs to be an attractive location in the global competition to recruit the best brains and talents."
Everything I have seen seems to indicate that Germany really needs these highly-skilled workers - it's a combination of a decent economy, troubling demographics and predictions of severe labor shortages in certain sectors. 

What is very interesting is that the press release reports that they have reduced the salary requirements:  44,000 Euros (58,000 USD) a year unless the worker is desperately needed in a sector that is really hurting for skilled labor (IT or engineering, for example) in which case the threshold drops to 33,000 Euros (43,300 USD) a year. This site is also reporting that Merkel's cabinet decided to drop the requirement that German companies first look for candidates within other EU countries before choosing third-country nationals.  Blue Card workers will receive a permanent right to residence in Germany after two years.

Next step:  approval from the Parliament.  Could those of you watching Germany let us know when it passes?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Update on Alabama - the Fun Continues

A reader was kind enough to send me an interesting link about the fun to be had in the great state of Alabama.  I had set the topic aside for the moment because it is the holiday season and all that.  But this was simply too interesting to ignore and so I perused the Web for the latest news.  I was both amused and aghast by what I found.  I think some tough love and some hard truths are in order here:

You cannot make immigration law and policy without impacting your own citizens.  Yes, my fellow Americans, any law you write that targets foreigners will bounce back on you.  This is universally true because immigrants do not have signs on their foreheads that say, "I am in an irregular immigration situation," or "I have a residency permit and am legal." Nor do citizens have an official tattoo somewhere on their persons proclaiming, "I am a citizen of this country."

If immigrants are required to show their papers, than citizens will be required to show their papers.  It's really that simple.  Even Anne Sinclair (a very famous French television personality and DSK's wife) ran afoul of this.  A law voted by the right requires French citizens born outside France to prove their French nationality going back three generations.  This meant that getting her identity card renewed turned into a bureaucratic nightmare and caused her to ask this rhetorical question, "Etre français, une chance ou une punition?" (Being French: Luck or a Punishment?)

You cannot be pro-foreign business and anti-foreigner.  As much as we might like to think that businesses are magically created by elves and fairies that descend upon a particular locale, wave their wands, and create jobs if you've been very very good this year, the reality is that human beings (many of them with funny accents) are behind all this.  Oddly enough these people don't care for having their largesse repaid by being stopped by police officers and hauled to jail.  It makes them testy and inclined to head for friendlier places that also know how to attract business.  Missouri apparently is touting itself as the anti-Alabama, "We are the 'Show me state" not the 'Show me your papers' state."  Ouch.

As unfair as this may sound (and I agree it's not fair) potential migrants and foreign investors don't care about intentions and are not going to spend enormous amounts of time gleaning information from the local press to form a complete picture of the whys and wherefores of local immigration policy.  What people are getting when they look at this from outside the country through the prism of their local news are impressions.  I'll be brutally honest, from what is being reported I would not even think about bringing my foreign spouse anywhere near Alabama or Arizona or any other place in the U.S. where I suspect he might be treated poorly.

You do not live in the sweet spot of the universe.  Nobody does.  If I've learned one thing in my nomadic life, it is this:  there is no better, just different.  And all places have something wonderful to offer.

Migrants find happiness and build good lives in many places and they have, depending on their skillsets and local business needs, many options.  Look at the HSBC Expat Survey or the MPI World Migrant Map where the U.S. is one top destination among many others like:  Australia, Singapore, Dubai, Canada, France...  I've been to some of them and I can attest personally to the fact that these are great places to live and work and build businesses.

Knowing that, I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry when I read this remark from an older Southern gentleman, “I know everybody likes to come to the U.S., but we can’t give them everything they want.”

Kind sir, I know you want that to be true but it isn't.  It just isn't.

Ted Talk: Captcha and Duolingo

This is a great talk that I really appreciated because I finally got a clear rationale for why I have to type in those darn funny characters when I try to post a comment in a blog. Yes, I know it's to stop spammers but it's not the most human-friendly system and it's particularly hard on those of us who are visually impaired. I use it because I must, but I curse the entire time thinking to myself, "Who is the idiot who thought this up?"

This Ted Talk was my first glance at the "idiot."  Yes, Luis von Ahn is responsible for this system and I'm surprised that the audience didn't throw shoes at him at the beginning of his talk.  But he turned out to be quite charming and funny.  He has also redeemed himself somewhat by tweaking CAPTCHA so it is now something rather useful called RECAPTCHA - a means of digitizing books.

He has a new project which is even more interesting called Duolingo.  This is nothing less than an attempt to translate content on the Web into multiple languages by helping people learn another language.



Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Greg Should Stay in Paris

Patrick Weil once pointed out that the actors involved in any immigration policy are a multitude of interests.  At the government level there are the decision-makers on the side of the receiving state certainly but also the home country of the migrant who retains sovereignty over its citizen and has a limited right to intervene on his behalf.  On the migrant side, in addition to those foreign residents already on the receiving country's soil, are all those in other countries who might be attracted or dissuaded. And whether or not these migrants are "desirable" or "undesirable" depends greatly on who you talk to:  the man or woman in the street, the political parties, the churches, the military, higher education, the unions and, of course, industry.

A few days ago an American living and working in France, Greg Beuthin, was denied a renewal of his work permit and was handed an "injonction de quitter le territoire sous 30 jours" (a deportation notice).  This gentleman works for a company called Commerce Guys which is an e-commerce company with offices in both France and the U.S. which offers solutions based on Drupal Commerce, an open source e-commerce framework. Mr. Beuthin, who is bi-lingual French/English, was brought over as a Senior Expert in this technology and he seems to be very much appreciated by his colleagues and his company who are flabbergasted at the idea that Mr. Beuthin is not welcome here:
La présence et le dynamisme et l'expertise de Greg à Paris contribuent à la formation de techniciens et ingénieurs français qui peuvent ensuite plus facilement trouver un emploi en France. Son rôle d'encadrement en tant qu'expert senior est un élément structurant de la capacité de Commerce Guys à continuer son développement et à recruter en 2012.
Greg's presence, energy and expertise in Paris is contributing to the training of French technicians and engineers who can then more easily find a job in France.  His leadership as a Senior Expert is an important element in Commerce Guy's ability to continue to grow and to recruit in 2012.
If I may reformulate?  The message they are sending to French decision-makers is simply, "Are you completely insane?  His presence is good for us as a company, good for French IT workers and by extension good for the French economy overall."

Now I wasn't there and I don't know what the prefecture was thinking and I may be missing something here but Commerce Guys is pretty upset.  It's clear that they think that the deportation notice is entirely unjustified and driven by political reasons.  And they are not simply going to accept this decision without a fight:
Nous avons donc pris un avocat conseil et avons réuni toutes les pièces permettant de démontrer que Greg ne "prend pas la place qu'un chômeur français pourrait occuper". Nous attendons aujourd'hui le retour de la préfecture sur ce dossier, avec espoir. La décision de la préfecture est "discrétionnaire", elle a donc complète autorité pour juger si le cas de Greg mérite d'être reconsidéré. Nous nourrissons l'espoir que la raison économique l'emporte sur des considérations politiques.
We have taken on legal counsel and have prepared all the documentation necessary to prove that Greg is not "holding a position that could be performed by an unemployed French person." We are waiting for the response from the prefecture on this matter with hope.  The prefecture's decision is "discretionary" and they have complete authority to decide if Greg's case should be re-examined.  We are hoping that economic rationality will prevail over political considerations.
You can read their entire defense, POURQUOI GREG DOIT RESTER À PARIS!, of their employee on their website.

Whatever the outcome, I have to say that I am deeply impressed that Commerce Guys is willing to go to bat for Mr. Beuthin.  They look like a darn good company to work for and if I'm ever in a position to send business their way, I will.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The French are Foreign Students Too

This headline from Rue89,  Doctorante canadienne expulsable : la France maltraite les étudiants étrangers (Canadian doctoral candidate is deportable:  France is mistreating her foreign students), was of more than passing interest to me.  As some of you already know my elder Frenchling is a foreign student in the province of Quebec in Canada.

What some of you may not know are the details of the extraordinarily generous terms under which Canada has welcomed my French child to her shores:

  • Her performance in high school earned her a conditional acceptance to several universities.  Her Baccalaureate scores confirmed her admission.  Other than the TOEFL for the English-speaking schools, no other tests were required - no SAT or any other entrance exam.
  • On the basis of her French Bac she was awarded a year's worth of class credit which means that she will, if all goes well, complete her four-year degree in three years.
  • And, because of her French citizenship, she is not paying the international student tuition rates - she (we actually) are paying local rates - the same as Canadian students.

All of the above plus clear procedures, assistance from the Canadian Embassy here in Paris and a very warm welcome when she arrived in Montreal.

In 2010 there were over 28,000 French students who chose to go abroad for their studies.  Every single one of them is a guest in someone else's house and it is of the utmost importance to their families and friends here in the Hexagone that they be warmly welcomed and treated well during their stay.

But with recent moves by the French government to target foreign students in France one does have to ask if other countries just might start wondering why their generosity to French students is not being reciprocated.  To be blunt, Gueant's moves against foreigners in France just might mean that French students and French jobseekers abroad will see some of that beneficence reduced, if not eliminated entirely.

I don't believe for a moment that the Canadians would be less welcoming of French students as a result of headlines like the one above.  Everything I have seen and experienced in that country leads me to the firm conviction that they are better than that.  However,  I would not blame them one bit for deciding they are being "pris pour des cons" (taken for fools) and acting accordingly.

Fairy Tales

The point of art is not to give you what you already feel comfortable with; that’s reporting, not art, that's TV, not art, that’s magaziney art, not art. Art gives you so personal an interpretation that it compels you to say, “This here is more real than what I know is really out there."
André Aciman
A long time ago I stopped reading books written by my compatriots or their close cousins about moving to and living in France.  There came a point in my life here when I found that the disconnect between what they were describing and what I was experiencing was enormous.  We seemed to have physically moved to the same geographical location but they seemed to be mentally in another world.

In their world there was always enough money, they lived in lovely houses in the South or plush apartments in Paris, their children were effortlessly bi-lingual, and the French were this adorable tribe with quaint and exotic customs that were an endless source of amusement (not to mention new material for books and articles). Misunderstandings, problems adapting, learning the language and the like were brushed off as mere bumps on the road.  They made it sound so romantic.  And I would finish some of these books feeling as though there was something really wrong with me. Why am I so ambivalent?  Why do I have these moments of loss and despair?  Why am I having such a hard time when all of these other people seemed to have effortlessly segued into a fabulous life here?

It took me some time to understand that these books are Disney-style fairy tales.  Cinderella stories with happy endings written for Americans or Australians or Brits that describe France in a way that conforms to certain positives stereotypes of the French and bucolic myths about life here. People want to read (and will pay for) stories that feed their fantasies about selling everything, dropping out of the rat race, getting on an airplane with a backpack, and writing a great novel in a bistro in Paris or restoring a French farmhouse in Normandy.   

Now, I am not calling these people liars, nor am I accusing the people who devour their books of being ignorant or misguided.  What I am saying is that these books are not the entire story and it's worth looking under and around them because there you will find incredible complex stories about courageous human beings.  These are people have experienced loss, grief, poverty and even madness in the Hexagone  - a whole host of rich experiences that are difficult to talk about:  broken relationships, illness, business failure, bankruptcy, mental institutions and even prisons.  All hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of miles away from the place they used to call "home."  

Yes, moving to France or any other country does not mean that the normal rules of life cease to apply.  Things happen and they are not always good.  The added dimension, of course, is that these things are happening in another language and another culture so far away from family and friends.  Not so long ago I sat in a restaurant with another foreign woman I have known for years and we cried together over her broken marriage, her children who do not speak their mother's language or know her culture, her aging parents back in the home country and many other sources of pain.  She is one of the strongest, most competent, well integrated women I have had the pleasure to know but the sheer loneliness was almost too much to bear.  Courage is too small a word to use to describe how she survived.

Another friend very recently started to tell her story in a blog called Reconstructions.  Read the following posts:  Broken, A Bipolar Drunk in the Streets (and she is talking about the streets of Paris), Wedding Bells and Water on a Rock.  

Experiences like these are not confined to Americans or Brits who come to France.  I've met French and other nationalities who privately tell similar tales about their experiences in the U.S., Japan, Brazil and many other countries.  When it all goes wrong, cultural differences and distance make every experience unique, but the underlying emotions are so very much alike.  Despair is universal.

I would never tell anyone (child or adult) to stop reading fairy tales about France with happy endings.  On the contrary, I now have enough distance to be able to say, "Enjoy!"  They are not Art in Aciman's sense of the term but sometimes we all need to feed our dreams and find comfort where we can.  

What I am suggesting is that there are darkerricher and more complex tales to be explored (perhaps even published if anyone dared do so).  I'd like to see some of the uncomfortable tales told, not in order to discourage people or to find material to denigrate the Other, but as inspiration, a more nuanced view of "the people who move around" and a glimpse of what is going on inside their heads as they experience the incredible dissonance of trying to cope with life on life's terms in another land.

Friday, December 16, 2011

IOM 2011 Migration Report

The International Organization of Migration has just published their 2011 World Migration Report.

IOM is a non-governmental organization that is "committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society" and they have been around for awhile - since 1951 in fact.

I enjoy reading these reports because they are a useful antidote to some of the vague and even hostile political rhetoric going on in the ramp up to the 2012 election.  When Claude Gueant, for example, talks about "too many immigrants" or claims that many bi-national marriages are fraudulent I want to raise my hand and ask, "Where are the facts, sir, that support these statements?"  Or when I read in the paper that France is "welcoming all the misery of the world?"  Again, show me the facts.  If you cannot or refuse to do so (or even worse you close your ears because you don't like what you're hearing) then I would say that France has bigger problems than immigration since the Education Nationale is obviously not doing its job.

And then, of course, there are unpalatable facts that never get mentioned because they do not conform to the party line or might damage national myths such as:  most migration is within regions (not from Africa or Asia to the US and Europe but within Africa or Asia or North America) or the statistics on the outbound (emigration) rates.  People come and people go.  Funny how the latter half of the equation is seldom mentioned.  I was floored to read that Mexico is reporting that so many Mexicans have left the US and so few are trying to get in that the effective net migration rate is now zero.  If this is true, it does make you wonder why the topic is even on the table and why politicians prefer to talk about that rather than the state of the U.S. economy.

Now, I am not so naive as to think that facts can't be manipulated and I admit people do lie for their own purposes.  When politicians move their lips, for example, you can be pretty sure that what is coming out of their mouths is either an outright falsehood or has been massaged beyond all recognition to have only a tenuous connection to what is objectively true.  So, looking for information instead of passively absorbing or reacting angrily to subjective statements is always a step in the right direction.  Let's have a look at what IOM has to say.

The first part of the report (the most interesting part) is divided up into two sections:  Communicating Effectively about Migration and the International Migration Review 2010/2011.  Let's take them in reverse order:

International Migration:  What inquiring minds want to know is to what extent the global recession has had an impact on migration (the MPI folks have a very good report about this and I have it on my Christmas list).   IOM says that international migration was pretty resilient to the economic shocks.  Lots of variation between regions but in general the recession did slightly reduce some of the flows to some destinations:  "In the USA, the number of foreigners entering the country dropped from 1,130,818 in 2009 to 1,042,625 in 2010; in the United Kingdom, the number dropped from 505,000 in 2008 to 470,000 in 2009; in Spain, it dropped from 692,228 in 2008 to 469,342 in 2009; in Sweden, from 83,763 in 2009 to 79,036 in 2010; and, in New Zealand, from 63,910 in 2008 to 57,618 in
2010." International migration came back in 2010 to about 214 million worldwide.  If you compare this to the number of internal migrants, which is about 740 million, you can see that internal migration is by far the higher number.

The unsettled situation in the Middle East and North Africa has been a real problem for international migrants.  Many foreign nationals were caught in these countries as the conflicts deepened and had trouble getting out and getting home.  In Libya 600,000 people left the country. Though "the media have often promoted the perception that the crisis in North Africa would result in much more irregular migration to Europe. In reality, a very small proportion of those displaced by the conflict took boats to cross the Mediterranean."  Most ended up in adjacent countries or went back home to Bangladesh, Chad and so on.

Perceptions about Migration:  Some very interesting conclusions from IOM.  Perceptions simply do not reflect reality:
One of the most consistent findings is the over-estimation of the absolute numbers of migrants in a given country/region or of the proportion of the population that migrants represent. Estimates tend to be even higher for irregular migrants. Research findings also show that when survey respondents are provided with more information about migrants/migration, rather than simply being asked if they think there are “too many migrants”, their responses tend to be more favourable. Findings are therefore influenced by prevailing conventional wisdom,
That "wisdom" can be radically wrong.  A few examples given on page 8 of the report:  Italians think that immigrants make up 25% of the population - the actual figure is 7%.  In the US, Americans think migrants are 39% of the population when it is really 14%.

IOM also points out that it is hard to know what the general public really thinks about immigrants because people define "migrant" differently and attitudes vary by group - age and class are two important variables.  In the UK in 2008 63% of the upper class thought there were too many immigrants but that level rose to 75% in the skilled working class.  There are also changes over time.  For example in Germany in 1984 79% of Germans thought there were too many migrants in Germany.  That number dropped to 53% in 2008.  Politicians might want to keep in mind that people change their minds and today's positions may become embarrassing liabilities later on.

But I saved the best for last which is their data on public perceptions about emigration.  Some places think this is a big problem -  countries like Argentina and Mexico but also Bulgaria and South Africa. In these countries public sentiment is firmly against people who leave.  Other places like Senegal and Australia have a very positive view of emigration.  The Australian attitude toward its diaspora is quite remarkable -  in 2004 a whopping 80% thought that their expatriates were "adventurous people prepared to try their luck and have a go overseas." 

What I've given you here is just a thin slice of the report based primarily on my areas of interest.  Yours may be different and so I encourage you to read the report in its entirety.  For me it raises even more questions than it answers but it has a good list of sources that I will be mining in the future in order to learn more and I will, of course, share what I find with you.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

HSBC Expat Survey 2011

If you are looking to relocate outside your home country (or maybe you are already there and considering a move to a third, fourth or fifth place)  check out the 2011 HSBC Expat Survey.

This survey was conducted by the international bank HSBC who took a sample of expats all around the world and asked them what they thought of their host countries and other possible destinations around the world.  Fascinating results.  Bear in mind that this is subjective and you are free to agree or disagree with others opinions.  What I really liked about it, however, is that they took into account that migrants have very different motives for choosing a destination depending on what matters to them at any one point in time.  People with children, for example, are likely to rate good schools above ease of starting a business.  Here are a few of the results that both surprised and amused me.

  • Economic opportunity is not the prime motivator.  Expats are likely to rate quality of life, security, healthcare and so on as being just as, or even more important than, money.  Canada and Thailand topped the list in offering the best balance of both.
  • Expats seem relatively immune to the economic downturns in their host countries.
  • China is rated as the most cost effective place to raise children but France is number one for being the very best place to raise children and second in overall lifestyle and well-being (Australia is the first).
  • Expats perceive the most complex finance environments to be in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, India and Brazil.
  • When asked about ideal destinations (where folks would like to go) the answers were "Australia (10%), the USA (10%) and Singapore (9%), followed by Hong Kong (7%), Canada (7%), and the UK (5%)."

Much much more on the site.  Personally I would not choose a host country based on this study alone but it's a good place to begin to gather information - always a good idea to know before you go.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, "Diligence is the mother of good luck."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Travaux de Fumisterie

A couple of weeks ago after a family gathering at our apartment, we noticed that there were pieces of something falling into our fireplace.  Not being experts in this area and being a little concerned about setting the apartment on fire inadvertently, we stopped making fires and called our ramoneur (chimney sweep), Camille, to have a look.  He's been doing the yearly cleaning for us ever since we've lived in Versailles and he is part of a family business that was started generations ago.

The diagnosis was quick.  Just under the mantelpiece was a large rectangular piece of material that was at a slant that protected the hearth and the exterior walls.  It appears that this piece was original to the building and it just got old and cracked.  The chimney however is fine.

His father stopped by on Saturday to deliver the devis (job quote) for the travaux de fumisterie (which I thought was very funny because I believe that last word can also mean "fraud".)  I signed it with a "bon pour accord" and yesterday Camille showed up and spent the day fixing the darn thing. It turned to be not so easy - he had to chisel out what remained of the old piece, cut the new one exactly right, pose it, bolt it in and run sealing around the edges all in a very confined space.  Not much room for me to be of any use so I just provided many cups of very hot, very black, coffee.  Here are a few pictures of the work as it progressed.



All fixed now.  We just have to wait a few days for the sealant to dry completely. We'll make a few small fires over the weekend and Camille will stop by on Monday to make sure everything is OK.

We really appreciated their doing the work so quickly.  Christmas is just around the corner, the elder Frenchling will be coming home from Canada in a few days, and we usually have a small family dinner here on New Year's Eve.  It must be something very old (ancestral memories perhaps) in our brains because everything seems better in the middle of winter when you have a crackling fire going and family and friends seated around the hearth celebrating.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Citizenship and Military Service

Of all the means of becoming a citizen one of the most interesting is the acquisition of citizenship through military service.  It used to be that such service was the duty of a citizen himself but today most Western democracies no longer include this as a duty of citizenship and their militaries are purely voluntary organizations.   Conscription in Australia ended in 1972,  in 1973 in the U.S., in 1994 in Belgium and so on.

It lasted a bit longer in France which is ironic because she is often considered the birthplace of modern mass conscription which was implemented during the French revolution.  The draft in the Hexagone ended in 2001 and my spouse, his brother and his brother-in-law all served before it was finally abolished by President Jacques Chirac.  I remember my father-in-law, a retired French military officer, having a number of misgivings about this.  He led, at the end of his career, the Fire Department of Paris which is part of the French Army and he was deeply concerned about how the end of the draft would affect that institution.

Military service and citizenship have always had a close relationship. Citizenship can define who can or cannot serve and, in some cases, citizenship laws are changed in order to make more individuals eligible. For example, it is generally accepted that in a democratic nation-state you cannot oblige non-citizens to serve in the military even if they are long-term residents.  So, a country that has a large population of foreign nationals (some of whom may have lived in the country for generations) cannot count on them to defend the nation in which they reside.  This has been an important issue in countries that based citizenship on jus sanguinis (blood) and deprived women of their citizenship if they married foreigners (their children took their foreign father's citizenship).  It was for this reason that Napoleon wanted citizenship to be based on jus soli (right of soil) - he wanted to ensure that young men born in France could not escape conscription.

He lost the debate, citizenship from 1803 on was based on jus sanguinis, and what he predicted did indeed come to pass.  Patrick Weil describes some surreal situations where the French Army would come into a village to levy troops and half the young men (born in France, mind you) would magically produce their Italian/Spanish papers and be exempt from service.  Understandably this action infuriated the purely French families in the village who were then obliged to provide more of their young men to make up for the lack.  It was for this reason that double jus soli became the law of the land - someone born of foreign parents who were themselves born in France automatically became a French citizen at birth and that was the end of that.

In the times of the European colonies the citizenship issue was a bit different since there was a real question of whether or not to allow natives of the colonized countries to serve in the military of the colonizing empire.  Allowing them to do so created a kind of debt on the part of the mother country which could have (and sometimes did) lead to demands for greater rights within the empire and possibly full citizenship for those who served.  In World War II over a million Indians and 120,000 West Africans fought for the British.  French forces that fought in Europe during that period included 12 Armees d'Afrique with many units composed of North Africans.  According to Thomas Janoski in his book, The Ironies of Citizenship: "in the late 1950's the composition of the [French] armed forces was only 31% European French, with the rest coming from or in the colonies - 30% Indo-Chinese, 17% North African, 11% Foreign Legion (mainly other Europeans) and 10% Central Africans and Madagascans."

In more recent times with more and more nation-states moving toward voluntary military service there is still that link with citizenship.  The United States of America allows for expedited naturalization though military service and it is estimated that there are 30,000 non-US citizens serving in the U.S. military, many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan.  France still has its famous French Foreign Legion and a foreign soldier has the right to French citizenship after 3 years of service.  Interestingly enough two countries that did not accept foreigners in their armed forces seem to be reconsidering the question.  Earlier this year the German Defense Ministry published a report which call for the end of conscription in Germany and a plan to recruit foreigners residing in Germany.  The Russian Defense Ministry recently announced the creation of a Russian Foreign Legion which also allows for the acquisition of citizenship after 3 years of service.

In general most countries (but not always their citizens) see this method of acquiring citizenship as being entirely legitimate.  An individual who serves a nation and risks his or her life on its behalf is viewed as someone who has earned the right to become a full citizen.  However this does raise a question concerning native-born citizens who, in many cases, are accidental or involuntary citizens.  They have done nothing concrete to earn their citizenship since it was simply conferred on them as an accident of birth.  For some reason (the origin of which I dare not speculate on here), it is often a loud minority of these people who argue most strenuously against immigration and naturalization in all its forms.

To those few (but often very loud) natives who argue against naturalization by service or who wish to limit the rights of voluntary citizens, I would ask this question:   do you live in a democracy or an aristocracy?  If the answer is the former and not the latter, then the acquisition of citizenship through service to a nation is not only just and right, it is the highest expression of true democratic principles because it explicitly connects the rights of a citizen with service to a nation-state.

And, from my perspective, the willingness to spill the blood that is in your veins in the service of a nation-state should always trump blood merely inherited from one's parents.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Foreign Students - the International Context

This video does an excellent job of explaining the international context, the actors and the interests, around the competition for foreign students.  Many thanks to Benjamin Pelletier who posted the link on the Gestion des Risques Interculturelles forum on LinkedIn.


Hard Times for the American Diaspora

The relationship between the American Diaspora and the home country is a strange one.  There is no official recognition of its existence.  The last time any serious effort was made to count the number of Americans living abroad was during the Eisenhower administration.  When asked, the U.S. government replies that it simply lacks the means to conduct a census which is a rather odd response when you consider that U.S. government is publicly committed to enforcing taxation of American citizens abroad.  If you can't count them and you don't know where they are, how in heaven's name are you going to send them a tax bill?  The answer to this, of course, was FATCA which asks the host countries to be enforcers of American law abroad - something that other countries are understandably rather loathe to do.  In some sense FATCA is, in my view, an admission of weakness by the U.S. government. It is saying openly that it lacks the means to assert effective sovereignty over its citizens abroad and must call on other states for help.

This is a very sad state of affairs since it assumes ill-will on the part of Americans abroad, it punishes the host countries that welcome American citizens as residents and it is quite likely to reduce foreign investment in the U.S.  If including an American as a business partner in a transnational business venture means tons of paperwork, complying with onerous reporting requirements, and risking the seizure of one's assets, that does have a dampening effect on the non-US partners' enthusiasm or doing business with Americans.

I suspect that this will not end well for anyone and I think that is a shame.  If I may make a modest proposition?  Wouldn't it be better if, instead of trying to punish people, a real effort were made by the U.S. government to negotiate with its diaspora?   When the U.S. government takes action that impacts  states, it listens to their representatives and is obliged to take their interests and concerns into account.  The American diaspora does not have that kind of representation but it should.  If the American diaspora was taken into account, it would have a population larger than 25 states - a bit bigger than Kentucky but somewhat smaller than Colorado.  There is even a precedent that goes back to 1787 for this kind of representation for people living outside the borders of the United States proper.  They are called "delegates."  These delegates can vote in the committees of which they are members but they cannot vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But to get there from where we are now would require a major shift in mentality.  First of all, the United States of America would have to admit (and there seem to be some real psychological barriers to this) that a large number of its citizens do not choose to live in the United States.  In all my years I have never met an American who liked hearing this - it makes them very uncomfortable.

It would also mean learning something about the diasporans and putting a human face on them.  It's very easy to call U.S. citizens abroad tax cheats and so on until you actually meet a lovely 70ish American lady who has been living in Paris since World War II who is not rich, who still identifies herself firmly as an American and who considers herself to be an unofficial ambassador from her home country to her country of residence.

Another very good example of the diaspora as asset can be found in one of Robert Kaplan's books where he describes how one retired military expatriate American in Thailand acts as a facilitator between the U.S. military and the Thai authorities.  Or, for another example, watch Suzanne Moyer's Ted Talk about connecting people in Morocco with people in the States to everyone's benefit.

I would argue that these people are assets, not liabilities, or people to be punished.  Their activities are generally helpful, not hurtful, of American interests.  It is unfortunate that all the quiet good they do is not better recognized.

Furthermore it is downright painful to listen to some of the rhetoric coming from members of Congress.  Americans in general tend to have a very healthy suspicion of government and talk like this can drive them to a state of deep paranoia since it implies that their government sees them as the enemy to be hunted down with the help of their host countries.

It doesn't have to be this way and I honestly don't think that much effort would be required to make it better.  How hard would it be really to come up with an outreach program though the U.S. embassies all around the world that would gently remind Americans abroad of their rights (to vote, for example) and their responsibilities as citizens wherever they happen to be living?   Or what about an amnesty for those citizens who, after living abroad for many years, had no idea of the laws being passed in Congress that affect them since they have no effective representation that would keep them informed and work on their behalf?

For this to work and for Americans abroad to come forward and participate there needs to be an atmosphere of trust.  No sane individual is going to do so if he or she thinks that the U.S. government is going to punish him or her for ignorance and destroy their families.  FATCA is simply confirmation for many that this is exactly what will happen.

And that, mes amis, is a very sad state of affairs indeed.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Zealand Now

I don't know about you but I was very moved by the videos I saw of New Zealand.  It looks to be a really beautiful place and I regret that I did not visit when I was living a little closer to it. (I'm not really sure precisely how close we were in terms of kilometers but psychologically it felt like it was just next door when we were living in Asia.)

I also really liked their official government immigration website which is very well done.  They have also brought a new site on-line called New Zealand Now which is just as good.  They have a map of the country here which invites you to click on a city and find out things like population, median house price and major industries.  Christchurch, for example, has 378,000 people and you can buy a house there for $313,000.

They are honest about the economic climate and its impact on job availability.  Things could be better.  Nevertheless they are still interested in attracting people for certain industries.  They say:
Like many other countries around the world, New Zealand is facing a tightening economic climate. However, certain sectors are still in shortage and need to be recruited overseas. If you have the right skills, we may still need you. Click here to see the list of Essential Skills in Demand.
I will admit that I was so intrigued by what I saw and read that I signed up for their mailing list and have been receiving regular emails from them.  The very first mail I received was a pleasure to read:
On behalf of the government and our Prime Minister, the Honourable John Key, we welcome and thank you for your interest in New Zealand. As a small but successful nation we are looking for people -- perhaps like you -- who want to share their skills in a country that's a great place to live, work, play and raise a family.
Since that initial email I have been regularly receiving information about visa options, how to find a job and specific advice about my sector, IT, with a list of employers who are hiring. The very latest one which arrived last week provided me with a toll free phone number that I can call from anywhere in the world to talk to a real human being about visa options.

Impressive and it makes me want to know more.  My biggest issue is, of course, age.  Neither my spouse or I qualify for the Silver Fern program because we are, well, experienced (meaning that we are older than a lot of migrants.)  I still think it is well worth checking out and I will give them a ring next week.  I'll let you know what I find out.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Harvest Time at the Farm

I think I mentioned a few months ago that my family in the U.S. has a very small farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  There is a farmhouse, an old barn, fields and two woodlots.  We were there this summer re-painting the house, re-siding the barn and picking fresh fruit off the trees in the orchard.

Now it is the end of the year and, while the fruit is long gone, the walnuts are ready to be harvested.  Every year my family puts together a crew of volunteers (there is a great verb in English that best describes this method - we say "to shanghai") and everyone spends the day(s) in Oregon picking the nuts and putting them in boxes to take back to Seattle.

But what happens next?  There is no drying room or unfinished basement in the house in Seattle where the walnuts can be spread out and left to dry before being stored.  This is quite a conundrum but fixable by creative Seattleites who know how to "se débrouiller."

As we speak the walnuts are happily drying on the floor of the library.  Here they are in all their glory.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

EU Immigration Portal - Blue Card Information

With very little fanfare the European Union recently launched an EU Immigration Portal for third-country nationals wishing to migrate to an EU member-state.

I took a quick tour around the site this morning and found all kinds of useful information:

  • Select your profile (student, researcher, worker, family member) and click on a country on the map of Europe to find out what you need to do before coming to the EU.
  • To obtain information about immigration law, policy and what government entity has authority in migrant matters in a particular country, search the section called Who does what?  Here is the information they have on Sweden.
  • If you are in an "irregular situation" (working without papers, for example) click on Rights and Risks of an Irregular Stay to find out what are the risks of doing this (deportation and your employer could be fined) and the help that is available if you wish to return to your home country but you don't have the means to do so.
  • And finally they have a directory of support organizations (government and non-governmental) that you can turn to for help in each country if you have questions or just need support.  I searched on France and came up with quite a list: Association pour la Défense des Droits des Etrangers, ENDA Europe, Migdev and many others.

And, best of all, there is information on this site for the EU Blue Card.  I found this information by going to the left sidebar and entering the following:  I wish to migrate as a worker and work as a highly qualified-worker in Hungary.  This took me to a page dedicated to Hungary and, lo and behold, here is what it says:
 To come to Hungary to work as a highly-qualified worker,you must apply for an EU Blue Card. You should obtain your EU Blue Card before entering Hungary as this will include permission to enter and reside in the country. In certain cases you can apply for the EU Blue Card in Hungary.
At the bottom of the page are links to the authorities in Hungary that you can contact for more information or to apply.

Really good work, really useful, and I was quite impressed.   Please note that they want feedback to make it better.  I'm going to take some time to look over the site carefully and to send them my comments.  I encourage you all to do the same.  I think this may be the very best platform for Blue Card and other migrant information.  It's a great beginning that can be made even better if we all contribute our ideas and comments.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ted Talk: Suzanne Moyer in Morocco

This was just shared by a friend on Facebook and after watching it I wanted to post it right away.

Ms. Moyer is a young American woman who fell in love with Morocco, decided to stay, learned Arabic and French, and has started two businesses there.  She is the founder of AmeriSource Consulting which puts American and Moroccan people, companies, government agencies and NGOs together to do business, build companies and put on events and run common projects.  A lot of enthusiasm in her talk - a perfect story to illustrate how migration can be good for everyone, sending and destination countries alike.

The Path to French Citizenship - Fernand Braudel and a Japanese Police Report

For me the path to French citizenship goes through the Japanese consulate here in Paris.  One of the items I am required to provide is a police report from every country where I have lived in the past 10 years and there are only two:  France and Japan.

Getting a French police report is surprisingly easy.   It can be ordered here from the Ministère de la Justice et des Libertés (The Minister of Justice and Liberties).  I was able to do it on-line and all they asked for was a scanned copy of my Carte de Resident.  It arrived in the mail just a few days later.  Mine is "vierge" which means I have no convictions for illegal activity here.  I was sure that was the case but it's very reassuring to have the paper that proves it.

Japan is a little different.  For one thing, they do ask you to justify the request and you must go down to the Japanese consulate and fill out the paperwork in person which I did last week.  A very cheerful and pleasant consular officer took me into a room, helped me fill out the forms and then took a complete set of fingerprints.  I think the last time I had this done was 46 years ago right after I was born in a hospital in Seattle.  It was quite messy - all ten digits were covered in black and I ended up in the washroom desperately trying to scrub it all off.   While I was doing that all my things (my purse, my residency card, my passport and so on) were back in the room sitting on the table.  You know, I didn't even think twice about it - it was as if by entering the consulate I was actually in Japan and in Japan you can forget your purse in a restaurant and it will still be there two hours later when you come back.  So there was nothing to worry about.

The process will take about two months - time for the Japanese authorities to check me out and, I imagine, run my fingerprints through a database. I will have to go back and pick up the results in person when they are ready.  Interestingly enough I will not need to get a translation of the document since it will be in at least four languages and one of those languages is French.  Hallelujah!

So, how do I use the next two months wisely?  Well, I am a bit concerned about the history test.  I never took French history in school and everything before the Revolution is a big blur to me.  However, some former colleagues of mine came to the rescue earlier this week.  I came into town on Monday, had lunch with them and then they dragged me off to the nearest Fnac (a chain store that sells books, DVD's, electronic equipment and many other things).   They sorted through what was available in the history section and gave me a big stack to choose from.  I selected one that seemed pretty simple and gives a good overview (no, it was not "French History for Dummies") and a second by one of my favorite authors and historians, Fernand Braudel, entitled L'Identité de la France (The Identity of France).  I'm about a hundred pages into it and I am already enchanted.  It's that good.  There is a wonderful map on page 49 of my copy that divides France up into different regions based on the material used for roofs:  tuile canale (like ceramic drain pipes cut in half), ardoise fine (thin slate), chaume (thatch), lauze de calcaire (limestone) and so on.

Just looking at roofing styles is a fine way to get some idea of the diversity of France.  This "patrie une et indivisible, parce que diverse et chatoyante..." (This nation one and indivisible, because she is diverse and shining/shimmering/glistening...)