I am stopped every time I go to France. I don’t mind; the security theatre must be played by both actors. But I am stopped every time, and questioned about my movements. I have an EU passport, so I naively thought that granted me some latitude, some freedom, but it does not.
I am asked why I speak French so well (I’m a French teacher); I am asked how long I’m planning on staying (a week, two?); I am asked where my place of birth is (yes, that is an American military base–my mother is German, hence, I have jus sanguinis, or birthright citizenship). It is a constant play. Then, they open my bag on some pretext, compliment my packing skills (almost every time) and then I am sent on my way. I am not offended or put off, but I feel that the official French line is that brown people who speak their language are suspicious. It’s ridiculous considering France’s long history of colonialism and imperialism.
Living in a militantly secular but historically Christian nation is interesting, coming from a ‘secular’ but actually quasi-Christian nation like America. Living in a militantly secular state means that ‘ostentatious’ displays of religion are offensive, and talking about Christian holidays in the classroom is verboten.
I was a senior in high school in America when France passed its law against ostentatious displays of religion. I remember being outraged and disappointed: France for me had been the bastion of culture and true liberalness of thought, society and politics. When you live in the Bible Belt, anything seems liberal. I’ve learnt since that France is still entrenched in its colonial mindset, and is still struggling (and in some senses, failing) with immigration and integration.
Being a French teacher means I not only teach language, with vocabulary and grammar structures, but also differences and similarities in culture. Most of my students think that France is a liberal bastion, just like I did, but I am slowly opening their eyes to the fact that even in la belle France, there are some ugly and deep scars. – SDM
If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.
Photo by Nuno Lopes