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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Some Inspiration for a Friday


I fell in love with Chris Guillebeau and his book, The Art of Non-Conformity, a little over a year ago. He hails from my home region, the Pacific Northwest, and I think a lot of what he writes reflects some of the very best of what that part of the world has to offer. This region is blessed with natural beauty, a rather original mix of Native American, European and Asian culture, and many interesting, unpretentious and unconventional people.

Mr. Guillebeau has never held a "real" job.   He works for himself - he writes and he travels - and he doesn't see why any of you couldn't do exactly the same thing if you were so inclined.  He'll even help if you're interested in learning how to go about it.  That's the message on his website and in his books.   A few years ago he decided to visit every country in the world by April 7, 2013.  To date he has managed to visit 159 out of 193 and it appears he is actually going to make his deadline.  I'm not so interested in that successful project - what I'm really looking forward to is hearing what his next grand objective is.

I hope each and every one of you is having a fabulous Friday doing exactly what you want for yourself or for people you genuinely esteem and like working for.

But if you are suffering through another meeting or gnashing your teeth over coffee with colleagues and you can't wait to get home to start the weekend, maybe it's time to start thinking about alternatives...

Bon weekend!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Quick Tour of Iran

This video is quite well done.  Some beautiful scenes of Iran.  No politics.



The creator of this video has stirred quite a bit of controversy.  Arun with a View has a good synopsis, links and some gorgeous pictures here.

For more videos of Iran by this gentleman, check out his channel HelloIranTV on Youtube.

World Migrant Map

The Migration Policy Institute has updated its World Migration Map with 2010 data from the World Bank.

This is a really nifty tool.  Click on the Sending and Destination Regions tabs, select the area you're interested in from the map,  and you will get a good overall view of  where the 216 million global migrants are from and where they choose to go.

So where exactly do they choose to go?

Well, contrary to anti-migrant voices in Europe and the U.S. who would have you believe that all immigrants want to come live in their part of the world, (isn't it time these folks stopped thinking of their regions as the sweet spots at the center of the universe?) most migration is within regions.  Africans mostly move within Africa, Asians within Asia, Europeans within Europe and so on.  The two top destinations for U.S. migrants are...?

You guessed it, Canada and Mexico. :-)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in Central Park New York

This is amazing.  Danced to it this morning as I cleaned up the kitchen.  You can feel the energy of the crowd as they danced in Central Park.



Many thanks to Moe Seager who posted this on his Facebook page.  Made my morning.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Bi-Cultural Marriages

We don't choose our parents, our countries of origin or our first languages but, unless you live in a world where  arranged marriages are the norm, we do choose our spouses.  Most studies seem to show that like marries like - spouses generally have a lot in common when it comes to educational attainment, socio-economic status, religion and other factors.  This holds true even in an era of fast Internet access, relatively cheap airfare and high levels of tourism and migration.

Globalization has made it possible and even practical to expand our circle of friends, acquaintances and colleagues to almost every country on the planet but marrying outside of our tribe or community is still not that common in most places.  And those who practice a most extreme form of exogamy by marrying outside of country, culture, and language are rarer still.  So, it's not abnormal that we "foreign spouses" (especially women) get a lot of queries about how we met our spouses, where we got married and what it's really like to live with a Frenchman (or an American, Chinese, Brazilian, or Pole).  I will probably be telling the story of how I met my husband well into my old age since it is a pretty good tale and always elicits smiles, laughter and the almost universal reaction, "How terribly romantic!"

Like all marriages, however, romance is simply the gate into the garden.  Once you've slipped inside, you have to make something of it.  Together.  Most of discover pretty quickly that our visions of how we are to exercise our horticultural expertise to mutual pleasure and profit (passed along to us by our respective cultures) diverge in important ways.  You're thinking cottage garden but he has his heart set on something a little more in the Renaissance style.

There is no sure method of making this work.  There are too many perils, pitfalls and pleasures - it is the Anna Karenina principle in action.  I would not presume to say that I understand a Canadian-Russian marriage based on my experience in a French-American one.  What I can do is tell you a few things I wish I had known beforehand and how I think we have muddled through over the years.

What Marriage Means:  There are many social and political arguments about what marriage means in a particular time and place and this topic has figured prominently in the American culture wars.  Different cultures have a different conception of the duties and responsibilities of each spouse and all have some sort of legal framework to enforce these things.  Is this a purely individual matter or is this a union of families?  Are you required to have a contract or is everything included in the act of marriage?  Are there unexpected requirements or obligations that don't exist in your home country that you should think about before you sign?

Some examples.  There are at least three kinds of marriage "regimes" in France which have important implications for how property is divided and for inheritance purposes.  Different U.S. states also have different rules - it may seem a bit bizarre to people outside the U.S. but getting married in Oregon versus getting married in Washington is legally very different.  I am married under the French regime Communauté de biens réduite aux acquêts which I, at the time, thought was the equivalent of Community Property.  Over the years I have learned that it is and it isn't.

How Nation-State Laws Apply:  In a bi-national marriage you are living at the intersection of two country's laws that may interact in interesting ways.  Where you are married and where you live does not necessarily make a difference.  The fact that you are citizens of different states does and the laws of both impact the couple.  In some countries, for example, the spouses are required to report foreign bank account information even for joint accounts.  Others may impose a higher tax burden on a foreign spouse that inherits property in the other spouse's home country.  The U.S. government requires my French husband's permission before issuing a U.S. passport to our dual citizen Frenchlings which means a family trip to the American embassy every time we renew their passports.

Treaties:  There is the law and then there is life.  It's almost impossible to foresee all of the things that you will need to negotiate over the course of your life together.  This is true of all marriages but there are some particular issues that come up in a bi-cultural marriage.  Some are obvious right from the start:  In whose home country will you live?  What language will you speak at home?  How will the children be educated?  How often will the non-citizen spouse go home for visits? Should the non-citizen spouse become a citizen of the other country?  Others are more mundane but equally important:  Whose cultural values and styles will prevail?  At what time will dinner be served?  Do you set the table French or American-style?  Who works and for how many hours a week?  How do you discipline the children?  Who teaches them to read and write in the other language?  How many movies in which languages do you watch together per week?

It's a constant negotiation and re-negotiation because most of us can't answer all of the above in the beginning.  Discovery occurs over time - the utter shock you feel one day when you realize that your children can speak English reasonably well but are incapable of writing a simple email to their American grand-parents.  This sort of thing sends you straight back to the negotiating table because something you thought wasn't going to be an issue, suddenly is. It's less a one-time contract and more a series of treaties that you and your spouse negotiate over time.

Creation of a Third Space:  Unless one spouse agrees to radical assimilation, what usually occurs is the creation of something that is not quite one or the other but a synthesis of both. The balance shifts from one side to the other and back again depending on the country of residence and what stage of life you are in.  To an outsider it may resemble utter cultural chaos with children that start a sentence in one language and finish it in another.  Where the table is set American-style but we eat at the French hour, 8:00 PM.  Even the fights have a unique flair - a bi-national marriage being the only one where a spouse can start an argument with the other by saying, "Your damn government...."

Of all the things I've talked about I personally think that the last is the most important.  The creation of a space where two cultures can co-exist under the same roof in the most intimate of settings requires an extraordinary amount of patience and empathy.  It can and does break down sometimes in the face of utter incomprehension and frustration.  The legal framework of the nation-state is what it is and you have no control over it; the home, the family, and the creation of common values, purpose and meaning are almost entirely up to the couple.   Given the huge distance between two people of very different backgrounds, cultures, languages, it is a near miracle that such spaces exist and can even thrive under the most unlikely of circumstances.  What is amazing is not that such marriages fail (many marriages do after all) - what is extraordinary is how many succeed for so long.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Thought Experiment about Illegal Immigration

There is a very good article here in a blog called Practical Ethics which asks if there is a moral/ethical basis for treating our fellow-citizens better than foreigners.  This is a very relevant question since those who answer in the affirmative seek to give priority to citizens over non-citizens for public goods and services or in some cases to actually deny such things to foreigners because they are not "us.".  This is what Marine Le Pen is arguing when she calls for French citizens to be first in line for such things as public housing.  As a foreigner I think you can probably guess where I come down in this debate.

But the article inspired me to think about other ways that we express our partiality for our compatriots and how we might behave when we meet our fellow citizens outside of our national territory.  Here is my own thought experiment:
At home your political views are clear.  You are a supporter of immigration but only legal immigration.  You feel it is unfair to citizens and legal residents alike when workers enter your country illegally to work and use social services.  You think it is only fair that such people be deported since they are breaking the law. 
Then one day, you are traveling in foreign land and you are delighted to meet some of your compatriots who live in that country full-time.  Over a few beers, you are expressing your admiration for their ability to integrate (their language skills, local knowledge and so on) when one of them admits that he overstayed his visa/student permit long ago and is essentially living in the country illegally and working under the table. 
Given how you feel about illegal immigration in your home country, does it make a difference to you when it is one of your own people doing exactly the same thing in a foreign country?    Would you denounce your fellow citizen to the local authorities or would you ignore it?  And what would be your rationale for acting or not acting? (And please don't tell me that you couldn't do anything because don't speak the language or know how to contact the local police in a foreign place - if your wallet were stolen, you wouldn't hesitate).
Think about it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Local Knowledge

When a migrant arrives in a new country the natives often make assumptions about what newcomers already know and what they will need need to learn based on stereotypes about their country of origin.

This can be quite a comedy.  Here are a few I've seen and experienced:

  • The Frenchman at the restaurant in the host country who is passed the wine list and told to select the wine for 20 people because, being French, he is so obviously better qualified than the other guests to make the right choices.  He may protest and try to decline the "honor" (especially if the local wine list contains varieties and brands he has never heard of, much less ever tasted) but there is usually no getting out of it.  National honor is at stake and he must not only choose, he must choose well since a poor performance will greatly disillusion his dining companions.
  • The American who must submit to an hour-long sex education lecture by well-meaning friends or family in the host country because everyone knows that the U.S. is so puritanical that the basics of human reproduction are never taught in the schools.
  • The Eastern European who is welcomed into the bosom of a democratic nation and when he declines to answer if he is feeling the freedom, the natives go to great lengths to explain the concept to him.

Assumptions about the country of origin and attempts to fill the perceived gaps in the migrant's knowledge are generally not meant to wound (the natives mean well) but they are embarrassing to the migrant who either feels that he or she must live up to a positive stereotype or suffer through a negative one.

The truth is that most of what migrants need to know in the host country are things that the natives cannot teach because they don't know themselves how things really work and why they do what they do.  The question "Pourquoi" (Why?) is all too often met with "Parce que c'est comme ca ici" (Because that's the way it is here).  Ask an older Frenchwoman why she insists that children must sit at table with a "rat in front and a cat behind" and she will look at you blankly and tell you that this is simply the way it is.   This is more than unsatisfying, it is positively infuriating in the beginning when a newcomer is desperately trying to find his or feet.

The psychological impact of this on the migrant is quite deep.  It hurts to be perceived as ignorant and it is humiliating when others assume knowledge based on national origin and you fail to measure up.  And when one is wounded or feeling humiliated and lost, there is a very human desire to get angry and to lash out.

My very best advice is this:  Don't.  Getting bitter or defensive is a temporary relief that does long-term damage.  It closes doors instead of opening them.  It took me years to learn this and every angry moment of my first years in my adopted country is something I sincerely regret today.  I think there is a better way which might look something like this:

Humility:   Humility before a culture that is complex and beautiful which you do not know (yet) and must diligently study and learn from.  Think of the beginner's cup in Zen;
Humor:  There is something profoundly funny about some of the attempts to "educate" the foreigner.  When the foreigner is you,  you can smile, listen and know that you are learning something about the citizens of the host country (their perceptions) which is probably not what they intended to reveal but is nevertheless useful knowledge;
Goodwill:  Howard Rheingold's Golden Rule for his on-line communities was, "Assume goodwill." Works just as well in the real world.  When you can reframe an attempt to make you an expert on something based on your culture of origin as a way of doing you and your country honor (and not a trap to be feared), there is less performance anxiety and more gratitude;
Grounded:  Robert Kaplan summed up the the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore's approach to cultural identity this way, "He grasped intuitively that to appreciate other cultures one had to be strongly rooted in one's own."  Know that there is something beautiful, unique and irreplaceable about your place of origin.  Love where you are from and it becomes so much easier to love where you are.

Clifford Geertz once wrote, "To see ourselves as others see us can be eye-opening.  To see others as sharing a nature with ourselves is the merest decency.  But it is from the far more difficult achievement of seeing ourselves amongst others, as a local example of the forms human life has locally taken, a case among cases, a world among worlds, that the largeness of mind, without which objectivity is self-congratulation and tolerance a sham, comes."

Alas, this level of knowledge, which should precede our forays into other worlds, usually only comes to us after we have experienced the peculiarities and particularities of another place and its people.   I think seeking this "largeness of mind," this acceptance and love for local knowledge (our own and others), is worth the journey.  With it comes something you might call "wisdom" and, given enough time, the serenity of knowing that there are no lesser or greater travelers on this road, only humanity in all its joyful and ever fascinating diversity.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Update from Tom in Tokyo, Japan

Tom Ward, fellow bookclub member and Flophouse family dentist in Tokyo, sent this update from Japan earlier this month.  Tom is a long-time resident of Japan and he, of course, stayed put during the earthquake, the tsunami and the aftermath  He is a keen observor of life in his country of residence and I always enjoy his missives.  He has generously agreed to to allow me to post his latest update which I think gives a good view of the ampleur of the catastrophe and the challenges Japan faces as they rebuild. The picture Tom included at the end of his mail is quite extraordinary.

===============================================
Friends

Several people have asked me for an update on what is going on with the recovery from the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

Despite the fact that I have been here continuously since the disaster, and have watched the news daily, it is amazing how much is not known, or is not said.

Sixteen thousand people died and an additional 5000 are missing and presumed dead.

Approximately 100,000 houses were destroyed, and another 400,000 damaged.

Most of the damage and deaths were caused by the tsunami rather than the earthquake itself.

Almost all of the hundreds of thousands of people who were initially in evacuation centers in schools and government buildings have now been able to find housing.

The government has constructed thousands of temporary houses for those who were unable to find housing, or move in with friends or relatives.

The clean-up operations by the Japan Self-Defense Forces, National Police Agency, Fire and Rescue Workers and Prefectural Government will continue for months.

One big question is what if anything should be built on the land where properties were destroyed by the tsunami.

But the most difficult problem to come to grips with is when the nuclear disaster.

Approximately 80,000 people were evacuated from the 30 kilometer exclusion zone around the affected reactors.

The reactors have still not been controlled, but probably will be cooled down early next year.

Although the amount of radiation being leaked now is not dangerous, the biggest problem is the radioactive material that has already settled out, for the most part in the exclusion zone.

Most troubling is radioactive cesium, which has a half life of 30 years.

It is now showing up in the meat of cows that have been fed contaminated hay.

Although no one in government is giving an official estimate, unofficially some are saying that people will not be allowed to live in the exclusion zone for decades.

The cost of the disaster has been estimated at 300 billion dollars. Of this 200 billion dollars was from the earthquake and tsunami, and the remaining 100 billion dollars from the nuclear disaster.

This makes it the most costly natural disaster in history, compared to 100 billion dollars for the Kobe earthquake, and about 80 billion dollars for Hurricane Katrina.

Tom


This ship was carried 500 meters inland from the port of Kesennuma by the tsunami. The plan is to dismantle it for scrap, as it is too big to carry back to the sea.



Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ted Talk: What We Learned from 5 Million Books

This is hysterically funny and had me glued to my Mac this morning.  The speakers, Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, are quite a pair. What a cool project.  Here is the link to the Google Ngram Viewer if you want to check it out for yourself.

Expertise in Labour Mobility: Resources for the Global Mobile Worker

I'm a big fan of LinkedIn.  Not only is it easy to keep my professional profile up to date, I've noticed that a lot of jobs with international companies here in France appear only on LinkedIn but not anywhere else.  I also like the groups and I belong to one in particular called World Citizens at Work.

It was through World Citizens at Work that I first connected with a company called Expertise in Labour Mobility.  This is a private company founded and directed by Nannette Ripmeester that assists companies and expatriates in navigating all the issues associated with working across cultures and across borders.  Their motto is: "ELM strives to make mobility work."

I really like their approach:  simplify the process of international labor mobility and make people aware of the cultural diversity that exists in the world.  To that end they have services that they provide to companies (workshops and customized solutions) but they also have some free (or very reasonably priced) resources available on their website that you might find useful if you have expanded the geographical scope of your job search to the world outside your home country:

  • Culturally Tailored CV's:  This is a database of CV formats from around the world with tips about applying for jobs in different countries.  They have templates for Brazil, Canada, China, Singapore, U.S. and many others.  These are free and you can download them at your leisure.
  • Career Guides:  Looking for work in France, Finland, Greece, South Africa or any other exciting locale?  ELM's country career guides are available for download at a very reasonable price (about 20 Euros).  They cover how to look for a job in a particular country and how to write CV's and cover letters for that market.  There is  a guide for almost every country you can imagine and even one for finding work with international organizations.  The idea for this came out of a project ELM did for the EU.
  • Expertise in Labour Mobility Blog:  Good articles up on their blog.  Here are two that I found very useful:  Top 5 Countries with Best Employment Prospects for Q3 2011 and 2011 Top Cities to Live and Work Abroad in Europe.

Hope you find this useful.  Many thanks to Nannette Ripmeester for her kind permission to link to her site and for her great posts on the LinkedIn World Citizens at Work group.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An American Diaspora?

Picking up our discussion of yesterday, let's talk about Americans abroad and whether or not they constitute a true diaspora.

When I meet my fellow Americans overseas I am struck by two things:

How very different we are:  I've met businessmen and women, ex-military, retirees, professors, students, and people in the entertainment, IT, fashion and hit-tech industries.  There are Asian-Americans, African-Americans, European-Americans, Native Americans.  There are Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians.  Some are rich, some are quite poor, most are doing alright.  There are people from the East Coast, the West Coast and every city and state in between.  It's quite a mix.


How alike we are:  People who might never have met and mixed at home, find themselves happily chatting with a compatriot over a kir in a Paris bistro or discussing global politics in a bookstore in Tokyo.  Oddly enough, Americans may learn more about each other abroad then they do when they stay at home.

Homeland politics, social problems and other contentious issues melt away and the focus comes back to the things we have in common, not the things that separate us.


Do Americans identify themselves as Americans when they live abroad?  Absolutely.  I'm sure there are exceptions but my experience has been that no matter how long that citizen has lived outside the U.S., he  or she (if asked)  still stands up and clearly and publicly says, "Yes, I'm an American."  Stories about Americans trying to pass themselves off as Canadian are mostly apocryphal.

There is also most definitely a collective memory and solidarity in the American communities I've seen abroad.  This is manifested most clearly in institutions (churches, libraries and schools) and in voluntary organizations.  Membership in these entities is strictly a matter of individual choice.  Not everyone chooses to join an American Church or to send their children to an American school but these things exist and are there for Americans if they need or want them.  Often the local U.S. Embassy is a good place to go for more information.   The U.S. Embassy in Paris maintains this fine list of U.S. and French-American Associations.

There are also a few worldwide organizations that link American communities abroad on a larger scale:  AAWE (Association of American Wives of Europeans), ACA (American Citizens Abroad),
AARO (Association of American Residents Overseas) and FAWCO (Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas).  There are also chapters of the major political parties that target American overseas voters:  Democrats and Republicans Abroad.

At times these organizations have been very effective in defending the rights of Americans overseas.  See this AARO article for the remarkable story of the other Tea Party movement which, with the support of Senator Barry Goldwater, got the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act through Congress and signed by President Gerald Ford back in 1975.

All of the above, I contend, show that there is a good case to be made for the existence of an American diaspora.  Nevertheless, there are still a few good arguments against:

  • Many Americans are already members of other diasporas:  Since the U.S. is a country of immigration, Americans abroad are also legitimate members of, for example, the Irish, Chinese or Palestinian diasporas.  Gabriel Sheffer puts it this way, "Can the Americans, who themselves are of diverse ethnic origins and are citizens of a civic state rather than an ethnic state, be regarded as belonging in the category of ethno-national diasporas, or do they constitute yet another borderline case?" 
  • Solidarity is limited to Americans in a specific host country:  Yes, there are worldwide organizations that try to link Americans worldwide but, unless there is some large issue that comes up affecting Americans abroad in large numbers, Americans in France don't necessarily connect with or feel close to Americans in China or the Philippines.  
  • Americans don't feel as vulnerable as members of other diasporas:  This is relative and there are surely places where Americans do not feel particularly safe.  However, where there are large communities (Canada, Mexico, UK, Spain, France, Germany) Americans feel pretty comfortable, protected by both their U.S. passports and by the governments of their host countries.  As a result, their presence is quiet.  It is practically unheard of, in my experience, to have Americans in France out there protesting changes to French immigration law alongside the Algerians even though these changes do impact their lives in a negative way.  I suspect this is true in other places:  quiet diplomacy is preferred to open conflict or public negotiation with the host countries.

The first point is easily answered - hybrid identities are becoming more and more common.  I do not see a problem with a Japanese-American living in Germany claiming membership in both the Japanese and American diasporas.  The last two points I will concede for now because they represent the current state of things.

They do not, however, take into account what the future will bring.  We know that there are some issues of primary importance to overseas Americans:  taxation, overseas banking laws, citizenship, voting rights which, if the American government were to erode existing rights or to make new laws that directly and negatively impact the lives of all Americans overseas, well, you just might see a tsunami of mighty anger directed at Washington from millions of American voters outside U.S. territory.

There is also the possibility that the political climates of the host countries will change and Americans will start facing discrimination or overt hostility on a wide scale.  If that happened in Europe, for example, the American "third-country nationals" might find it desirable to create ties with other diasporas and lobby the European Union for action.

That said, I will meet Sheffer halfway and argue that Americans abroad do constitute a diaspora but it is a dormant one.  The structure is there, all the mechanisms for collective action exist and have existed for years, but they are not as effective as they could be because there is no compelling reason for Americans overseas to openly act as a group in the political and social realms of the homeland or host countries.

Yet.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Defining Diaspora

Having proudly claimed membership in the American diaspora, I'd like to backtrack and talk about what a diaspora is and give you the arguments for and against the existence of an American one.

There is no lack of research about diasporas on the Internet and in our local libraries but much of it seems to concern very specific ones.  Many trees have been felled for academics who write eloquently about the Mexican, Armenian, Jewish, Japanese, Chinese and other peoples who wander to distant shores.  It is much harder to find an academic with a macro view.  What do all diasporas, whatever their origin, have in common?  Is it possible to say something general about their experiences?  And, finally, what are the boundaries of the term - do we know what is not a diaspora?  Only by answering these questions can we make a determination if the term "American Diaspora" is an oxymoron or a useful and true description of the American overseas experience.

So, what is a diaspora and what are a few of its characteristics?

A social-political formation created by migration:  Gabriel Sheffer, in his book, Diaspora Politics: at Home Abroad, offers this definition:  "a social-political formation, created as a result of either voluntary or forced migration, whose members regard themselves as of the same ethno-national origin and who permanently reside as minorities in one or several host countries.  Members of such entities maintain regular or occasional contacts with what they regard as their homelands and with individuals and groups of the same background residing in other host countries. "  I like this definition because it clearly links diaspora to a place (real or imagined)  and avoids stretching the term to include things like "global managers." It also includes voluntary migrants and not just those who are forced out. Here are some other characteristics that I think can fairly be applied to all diasporas whatever their origin:

A public identity:  Members of a diaspora openly identify themselves in their host countries as Portuguese, Americans, Spanish, Brazilian or Algerians.  Think about that for a minute - this is something that has a real cost in the host countries and yet members of a diaspora do it anyway even when it exacerbates tensions in their countries of residence.

A collective memory:  "They retain a collective memory, vision or myth about their original homeland including its location, history and achievements," says Robin Cohen in Global Diasporas: an Introduction.

A show of solidarity:  They show solidarity with their home nations by working to maintain a common identity and being active in the lives of their nation however far away they may be.  They build schools and churches/mosques/temples, teach the homeland language, and create organizations around issues that tie them to their place of origin.

A sense of vulnerability:  They don't feel entirely safe in their host countries.  Since members of a diaspora are almost always in the minority, they are aware that their well-being depends on acceptance and legal protections in the host country and yet they can't know for how long the tolerance will last since the pendulum swings from approval to hostility and back again.  Even countries of immigration like Canada or the U.S. have periods where migrants are barely tolerated if not actively discriminated against.  Under those circumstances it makes sense to organize and face this situation as a group and not as a lonely powerless individual.

An ambiguous relationship with the homeland government:  Nation-states do not necessarily love their diasporas.  On one hand they are a source of remittances and they are potentially useful for political, economic or military ends.  On the other hand their existence can create tension between nations when they ask for help.  I'm pretty sure that in both the French and American governments right now there are folks who are a bit perturbed at having to manage the cases of Florence Cassez in Mexico and the two American hikers in Iran.   They are certainly doing what they can but these are still international incidents that take time, effort, and energy to resolve and can lead to the worsening of relations between states.

While the overall attitude of governments is mostly one of indifference, or assistance in strictly limited circumstances, this can tip over into active hostility with members of the diaspora being perceived as troublesome defectors, tax cheats, and citizens of questionable loyalty who might actually vote.  The dance between the diaspora proclaiming loyalty and the homeland government being rather coy about the whole business is rather interesting to watch.

Now that we have defined our term we can ask:  does the American community abroad fit the definition of a diaspora?  Tomorrow we'll take up that question in more detail and I will explain why I think that it's a close but imperfect fit.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Flophouse Favorite #8: the Other Garden at Versailles

This year for the Heritage Days we decided to stay a little closer to home.  Yesterday was bright and sunny with just a nip of autumn in the air so we took a leisurely walk up to the castle.  Instead of going through those bright gaudy golden gates, we walked under the shadow of the St. Louis Cathedral until we reached a small, easy to miss, stone gate and entered the Potager du Roi (the King's Kitchen Garden).  

This garden of about 9 hectares (22 acres) was the master work of a young lawyer, Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie, who was a traveler with a passion for plants.  In 1670 he was named the director of the Royal Orchard and Kitchen Garden by Louis XIV and he oversaw the construction of this remarkable place between 1678 and 1683.

The difference between the Kitchen Gardens and the more formal gardens at the Versailles Castle is enormous.  The latter is what I like to call "shock and awe" gardening.  It is surely one of the most impressive examples of man beating nature into submission in the name of Civilization.  According to my father he was quite startled one visit to see huge pruning machines using laser beams to trim the hedges to be perfectly and unnaturally straight.  Ah, the wonders of technology.

The Kitchen Garden is something else.  For one thing, it was designed for a practical purpose - putting fresh food on the King's table.  But just because it had a mundane purpose, did not mean that it couldn't be beautiful. And it is in its own quiet way and it has quite a different effect. You can walk on the grass, for one thing, or plop yourself down under a tree to read a book or chat with friends.

The formal gardens are gardens to be admired;  the kitchen garden is a garden to love.  Here are a few more photos from our Sunday morning visit:











Getting to the King's Kitchen Garden is quite simple.  Just take the RER C line from Paris, stay on the train until the end of the line, exit the Versailles-Rive Gauche station and take a left (right will take you the castle).  Check their website here for their hours and special events and here for a presentation of the people (past and present gardeners) who make all this possible.

Le Potager du roi
10, rue du Maréchal Joffre 78000 Versailles, France
Tel  +33 1 39 24 62 62

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Journées du Patrimoine

Just after la rentrée (end of vacation/back to school) in mid-September the French have an annual event called  les Journées du Patrimoine.  This are days when many monuments, churches, public buildings and other sites of historical and cultural significance which are normally closed to visitors are thrown open to the public.  

On these days the more popular places (the Palais de l’Elysée (the French President’s residence), the Sénat and others) tend to be packed and have long lines of people waiting to get in.  This site has some suggestions for places that are just as good but a little off the beaten path.  Paris Weekends also mentions that the idea has spread around Europe with many member-states holding their own Heritage Days.  Here is a list by country.

If you just happen to be in Paris this weekend, check out the Mayor of Paris website which has a list of events and even an Ipad/Iphone application called Patrimap that you can download as your guide.  I've gone to Paris in past years to see the sights and have never ever EVER been disappointed.  It's a wonderful idea and it is the most concrete manifestation of the notion that cultural heritage is not something to be hidden away and protected at all costs, but something to be shared and appreciated by all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The EU Strikes Again - Uniform Biometric Residency Cards

I am always thrilled when someone leaves a comment or asks a really good question on this blog.  At my age, you are all doing me an enormous favor because, not only you point me in directions I would never have thought of myself, you inspire me to go out and find out which keeps me young (or so I like to think).

Rahul left a great question in one of the Flophouse Blue Card updates.  He had noticed that Germany is issuing new work permits and he wanted to know if this was the Blue Card.  I replied that I didn't think so but I did notice that my new French residency card was very different from my old one.  I speculated that the new format in both countries might be the result of an EU directive.  Rahul came right back with this link and said, yes, indeed, it is the EU behind all this.

So what is the EU directive that is driving this new format?  It all goes back to Council Regulation No 1030/2002 passed in 2002 and amended in 2008 which requires member-states to conform to a uniform format with biometric identifiers for residence permits for third-country nationals.   Europa says:
Biometric * identifiers are used in the residence permits to verify the authenticity of the document and the identity of the third-country national in question. The identifiers consist of a facial image (photograph) and two fingerprints, which will be processed according to national practices and respecting the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The technical specifications for the collection of biometric identifiers are adopted in compliance with the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and based on the technical specifications for issuing national passports as provided by Regulation (EC) No 2252/2004.
Oddly enough Europa says that some categories of migrants are exempt from this regulation: family members of EU citizens "exercising their right to free movement" or nationals of countries that are exempt from visa requirements.

A quick sweep of the web shows that many EU countries are implementing: Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Netherlands and others. The sites I looked at said that while May 1 was the deadline for implementation, many countries were simply not ready. The note I found on the Web from the French Ministry of the Interior said that they were waiting on the deployment of a new version of an application called AGDREF (Application de gestion des ressortissants étrangers en France). I infer from the lovely card I have in my hand that it has indeed been successfully deployed.

So there you have it. Many thanks to Rahul for the question and the link.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The European Migration Network

Now, this is a very interesting organization.  The European Migration Network has its origins in the 2001 Laeken European Council which called for a new common approach on asylum and immigration policy.  Section 40 says:

"A true common asylum and immigration policy implies the establishment of the following
instruments:
1. the integration of the policy on migratory flows into the European Union's foreign
policy. In particular, European readmission agreements must be concluded with the
countries concerned on the basis of a new list of priorities and a clear action plan. The
European Council calls for an action plan to be developed on the basis of the
Commission communication on illegal immigration and the smuggling of human
beings;
2. the development of a European system for exchanging information on asylum, migration and countries of origin; the implementation of Eurodac and a Regulation for the more efficient application of the Dublin Convention, with rapid and efficient procedures..."
The "system" which became the European Migration Network was kicked off as a pilot project in 2003 and was made official by this 2008 Council Decision 2008/381/EC. The network is overseen by the European Commission and consists of National Contact Points (NCPs) in each member state.

Their website is worth looking at if you are interested in knowing what is happening in both the member-states and at the EU level with regard to immigration policy.  They have a number of interesting studies which synthesize information gathered from the NCP's about assisted return, circular migration and protected statuses for third-country nationals.  What I found the most useful was the Latest News section of the website which highlights new legislation and recently released studies at the EU level, and the annual country reports prepared by the National Contact Points with migration and international protection statistics for that member-state. France, Poland, Belgium and Sweden have all submitted reports for 2011 so the information is very recent.  The Blue Card is mentioned in the French report.  

This is a site well worth watching for those who study migration policy, for those of us who are residents (but not citizens) of an EU country and for potential migrants who is interested in someday living and working in an EU country.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

French Healthcare - the User Experience

I like to think that I am a relatively zen individual but there are a few subjects that will definitely get my  back up.  One of these subjects is national healthcare.  It is so strange to listen to people who claim that such a thing does not, and never will, work.  When I ask what about it doesn't "work," they are strangely silent - a smart move on their part since they can hardly talk about the particulars of systems they know nothing about and have never experienced.

No system, be it national, private or charitable, is perfect.  Kant once wrote, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."  My purpose here is not go into a comparison of different healthcare systems found around the world which all, in their own unique ways, generally do work more or less for the people who use them (unless, of course, you happen to be the citizen of a failed state in which case all bets are off).  What I thought I would do this morning while sipping my coffee is to describe what happened this morning when I took my daughter to the doctor.  You can then take that information, add it to your general store of knowledge and decide for yourself if this system "works" or not.

My younger Frenchling has been having some problems with her knee and since she has to walk up a very steep flight of stairs to get to school, we thought it would be a good idea to have someone look at it.  We have a family doctor within walking distance of our house and so we called and made an appointment for 8:00 this morning.  Under the French system we can choose any doctor we want and all we have to do is declare to Social Security that a doctor is our "Primary Care Physician."

I love our doctor - he is young, very competent and he is almost always on time (something that warms my little Anglo-Saxon heart).  He also attended the same high school as the younger Frenchling so they always have much to talk about.  Today he is indeed on time - at 8:00 the door opens and he ushers us into his office.  We answer questions, he looks at my daughter's knee and says it will probably go away by itself but he's going to write a note that she be excused from sports for the next two weeks.

Still chatting I hand over my daughter's Carte Vitale. This is a little green card that has my daughter's photo on it and a chip.  The doctors puts the card in his reader - this sends information to the social security office that we saw the doctor that day so they can directly reimburse the expenses to our bank account.

I then hand my Visa card to the doctor and tap my code.  In the French system you are reimbursed (usually within a week)  but you still must pay the doctor at the end of the visit.  The fee is 23 Euros (34 U.S. Dollars - the Euro is really high against the Dollar right now).  We chat some more with the doctor (he asks about the elder Frenchling in Canada), we shake his hand and leave.

This visit took about 30 minutes.  Less than 5 of those minutes had to do with administrative stuff (forms, payment and so on).  The rest was the doctor doing what doctors do best - care for their patients.  You also might notice that our doctor (like many here) does not have and does not need staff.  He does share a receptionist with about ten other doctors in the clinic but that's really all he needs.  With the card system, there is almost no paper - in our case just the handwritten note for my daughter's school.

As a long-time user of this system I would rate my satisfaction as Very High.  It is not only efficient but I  feel that I and my family have received very good care.  It's a real relief not to have to fill out forms and go through three different people (only one of whom is actually the doctor) for something as simple as checking out an aching knee (something we experienced on a regular basis in Seattle).

In my experience where the system tends to break down is when the private companies get into the act.  Many companies offer private supplemental insurance (called Mutuelles) to their employees for extras like slightly more expensive glasses or a private room in a hospital.  We are currently battling with our two private insurance companies over fees for care received late last year.  Social Security has paid its share and now these two insurance companies are fighting it out over who should pay the rest with both saying that the other is responsible.  Kafkaesque.

Look, we can have an argument about the cost, about how it is funded, about its efficiency and even whether or not this sort of system is adaptable to other places and other peoples.  Those are legitimate topics but, speaking as a user of this system, I personally am a very happy and satisfied customer.  The national healthcare system in France is, in my humble opinion, something that the French should be genuinely proud of.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Singapore Dreams

The blue flyer says, "Singapore - A City of Opportunities."

It's been sitting on the coffee table for months now and I've read it several times.  Fourteen pages designed to appeal to global talent working in the biomedical, electronic, healthcare. finance and IT industries. When I read it, these words leap out from the pages:  Open, Global, Cosmopolitan.  The tone is more than welcoming - it sounds like it's written by someone who is is so excited about the city that he just has to share the good news with you.  Masterful marketing.


What are the advantages of Singapore according to this flyer?

1.  Opportunity:  Rapid economic growth, business-friendly government, modern infrastructure. Singapore is "the world's easiest place to do business."  Easy to get a job, it implies, or to start a business.
2.  Global Talent:  1 in 3 workers are foreign.  You wouldn't be alone.  Come to a place where there are others like you:  people with skills for industries that need people.
3.  Easy Work Permit Process;   System is touted as straightforward and fast.  No waiting for months for a decision.  The Employment Pass will not only get you in but your spouse or common-law spouse and children or step-children as well.  But you must have a job before you apply.
4.  Low taxes:  Tax rates are said to be "competitive" and are capped at 20%.  In addition there is no tax on income earned outside of Singapore and no capital gains or estate taxes to be concerned about (unlike the United States)
5. Quality of life:   Singapore a "dynamic" city.  Multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, safe, clean, good housing, lots of international schools with high standards, gardens.  The healthcare system is "state of the art" with "highly-trained medical professionals."

Compelling?  You bet it is.  All the more so when one is a bit tired of reading the news in your host country and seeing that immigrant workers are a "problem to be solved" and not a resource to be welcomed. Such a pleasant message to receive with your morning coffee.

I had a surreal conversation once with a French colleague in Tokyo.  He asked me how I felt about being so far from "home" and it took me a couple of moments to realize that he was talking about France.  I answered that I had not been back to my country of birth for any significant length of time in over ten years and that I was no longer sure where "home" was.  Perhaps I no longer had a place to call home and was that such a bad thing?  Over the years I have resolved to bloom where I'm planted but every day I'm faced with the following options:  go back to my home country, stay in my host country and become a citizen or strike out for a Third Place.  For some reason option #3 is looking mighty good these days.  Having moved several times in my life to and from radically different worlds, I find that I don't fear it anymore. On the contrary, it sounds positively thrilling. "Go West," my ancestors were told and they did.  "Go East," says the flyer sitting on my coffee table.  

I think it's worth checking out.  After all, who could possibly resist a place that says,

"The Dot is Hot!" 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nested Citizenships and Identities in Europe

In 1992 (or 1988 if you prefer) French, Germans, Spaniards, and other European peoples became something else: citizens of a new entity called the European Union. The Maastricht Treaty was clear in its intent when it "resolved to establish a citizenship common to nationals of all [EU] countries." That this was something new for Europeans (and a large step toward creating a more perfect union) does not mean it was a new concept. History is on the side of nested citizenship which is not precisely plural citizenship but is certainly its close cousin. Americans are long familiar with this though they seldom think about it and what it means. In the United State one is certainly a citizen of the USA but, at the same time, one is also a citizen in one's state (Texas, Washington, Delaware, California....) Nothing shows this interplay of the rights and duties and citizens of one state versus another more than the system of tuition reductions for state universities. A citizen of Texas wanting to attend a public university in the state of Washington must pay "out of state" tuition - in other words, more.

Nested citizenship is like a Russian doll.  It starts small with a city or a community and each successive "container" add rights and duties until one arrives at the largest and ostensibly final one that represents a limit between "us" and "them".  What the Maastricht treaty did was to create another larger container that encompasses all the other little containers (27 as of today). It is additive not subtractive.  No one lost national citizenship as a result - the French remain French, Germans remain German - but they now have passports that say EU and they have rights and responsibilities attached to that entity.

Citizenship, however, is a status attached to an individual.  It may be acquired though residency or blood but it remains a personal status with rights and duties that individual men and women are called on to exercise (or not) as their inclinations dictate.  Identity is also individual.  You can proclaim anything you like (citizenship without consent, anyone?) but you cannot make people act as or feel loyal to something that they don't identify with.  Today there is such a thing as an EU Citizen but making Europeans out of 27 very diverse national cultures and peoples who, until relatively recently, were slaughtering each other on battlefields is a taller order.  Quite frankly, it is a work in progress.

This attempt at the creation of a new identity is a lot of fun for political scientists, psychologists, sociologists and other academics.  There are a lot of theories out there about nationalism, citizenship, state creation and so on.  For these people the EU is a marvelous opportunity to see how some of these theories play out in the real world.  There is much literature on this subject on the Web and in libraries and I recently chose one to read and reflect on.  After all, I am raising two daughters who are, depending on the context, Americans, French and citizens of the EU.

Euroclash: The EU, European Identity, and the Future of EuropeEuroclash:  the EU, European Identity and the Future of Europe by Neil Fligstein is, despite its provocative and rather silly title, a thoughtful take on this supra-national collective endeavor.   Fligstein does a very good job of explaining how the EU works, the major treaties that have defined it and the economic transformation that has  ripped away national borders and made interaction and identification with other Europeans possible and even desirable.  But it is really in the latter part of the book (Chapter 5 onwards) that he get to the heart of the topic at hand.  "Who are the Europeans?" he asks, and "What is European Society?" His hypothesis is as follows;

"As European economic, social and political fields have developed, they imply the routine interaction of people from different societies.  It is people who are involved in such interactions that are most likely to come to see themselves as Europeans and involved in a European national project.  In essence, Europeans are going to be people who have the opportunity and inclination to travel to other countries, speak other languages, and routinely interact with people in other societies in the Europe-wide economic, social and political fields.  They are also going to be amongst the dominant material beneficiaries of European economic integration." (italics are mine)
Fligstein then uses data from the Eurobarometer 2004 survey to test his argument.  He seemed a bit disappointed by some of the results when he notes that only 3.9 percent of the EU population thinks of themselves as exclusively European.  As for me, I practically fell out of my chair when I saw that number.  Think about it, 3.9% of a population of 500 million speaking over 23 different languages have come to consider themselves to be exclusively European (and not French, Dutch, English...)  Another 8.8% think of themselves as primarily Europeans with an associated national identity.  That means that back in 2004 a whopping 12.7% of people in EU countries identified more closely with Europe than they did with their nation-states.  That is extraordinary.

So who are these "exclusive Europeans?"  The data show that people (men more than women) who are relatively young, well-educated, multi-lingual, belong to the professional or managerial classes and have middle to high incomes are much more likely to identify with Europe.  These are the people who have the skills (linguistic and professional) to participate fully in the EU and who have profited handsomely from economic integration.  People who continue to identify most closely with their nation-states tend to be older, mono-lingual, infrequent travelers to other EU countries, low-income and blue collar (basic workers.)  It is easy to see why - these are not people who can take full advantage of what Europe has to offer.

Based on that and current data Fligstein makes some predictions which I think are quite plausible.  As the population ages and those who actually remember who was doing what in World War II pass away, there will be younger Europeans who see EU citizenship as both a good thing and a given.  As economic integration advances, there will be more opportunities for people from different EU countries to interact though trade, travel, business, professional associations and so on.  The clashes will come from people who have not benefitted from the rise of the EU and who deeply resent not only Europe but their fellow national citizens who have sold out to the technocrats in Bruxelles for economic gain (yes, I have heard this argument).

In this context I find some sympathy for the Far Right in France.  They do represent a portion of the population that, in my mind, has some legitimate grievances.  I don't much care for how they express themselves but I must concede that their complaints and fears are real.  When I listen closely to the rhetoric of the Front National I hear a desperate tone - they are losing, they know it and the best they can do is to try to slow it down.  Fligstein points out that European center-left and center-right parties have given up the fight against the EU and have converged on a pro-Europe stance.  Anti-EU positions are not popular with middle and upper-income voters.  Proponents of less (or slower) integration might stand a chance if they became more European - that is to say, if they tried to coordinate with other parties in countries other than their own - but given the xenophobic and nationalistic nature of many of the right-wing parties, I find this to be unlikely.

I think the data are quite clear:  a European identify is forming before our eyes, all the indicators show that the trend will continue with more economic cooperation driving greater social integration and (dare I say it?) more political integration.  As an inside observer of all this, I confess that I am a bit awed by the scope and success of the European project.  And in the context of my own personal situation, it add another dimension to questions about citizenship.  To be French would be a great honour.  To be an EU citizen would also be an honour and confer even greater rewards.  Because one follows from the other, this is a very compelling argument in favor of becoming a citizen of a European nation-state.
  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

French: A Language Lost and Found Again

Over the years I have found many reasons to be grateful that I speak French.  In many places I've visited around the Mediterranean, it was the only language that I had in common with the people I met.  Even in Asia it was useful - I was walking along the Bund in Shanghai and was approached by two young Chinese women doing a school project that involved talking to tourists.  To my surprise, their French was much better than their English, so we conducted the interview in French.

For me, French is also a link to my ancestors.  My great-grandmother, Celeste, was from a family of French-Canadians who settled in Wisconsin and the home language was French.  She married a man, my great-grandfather Peter, who had a French mother and a Dutch or German father and so she left her family and moved with her husband to a small village in Eastern Washington.  I have no memory of my great-grandmother speaking French but my grandmother told me that when she was little, she remembered her mother speaking French to her sister, Georgette (it was a "secret" language accessible only to adults).  When my great-grandmother did her accounts or did sums, my grandmother said that Celeste would sometimes find this too hard to do in English and so would start counting and manipulating the numbers in French. I learned all of this only after my great-grandmother died when I was 13 but I've been very curious about that side of the family and what it must have been like for a young woman to leave everything she knew to move halfway across the country where no one spoke her first language to live the rest of her life among people who spoke a different language, practiced a different religion and had a very different culture.

I reflect on all of this often because her life and mine are distant in time but close in experience.   I know very little about how she met my great-grandfather, why they moved to Naches, and how much contact she had with her family after she left Rice Lake.  I do know that her daughter, my grandmother, could not speak a word of French and expressed several times her regret that this was so.  I resolved that this would not be true of my own children and I went to great effort to ensure that our household was bi-lingual from the very beginning.

On one of our visits to Seattle before my grandmother died, we stopped by her house for lunch.  At some point in the afternoon, she went into a back room of her house and came out with a small old red book.  It was a primer entitled Premier Livre de Lecture/First Reader published by the Education Department of Toronto in 1890.  Apparently, when my great-grandmother first went to school she didn't speak English and there were enough Francophone children in that area at that time to make bi-lingual education a necessity.

When my grandmother handed me Celeste's book she said that it seemed right to her that I should have it to pass along to my daughters. It is now prominently displayed on a bookshelf in our apartment in Versailles which does indeed seem strangely appropriate.


It reminds me every day that I do have roots in my country of residence, that my migration story is not unique, that bi-lingual education has a long history, and that language loss is real but doesn't have to be forever. I wish my great-grandmother were alive to see her great-great-granddaughter studying in Montreal.  I like to think she would approve.    

Playing for Change - Higher Ground

Another great music video from Playing for Change.  I loved this one - it had me tapping my toes and dancing around the kitchen while I made lunch.  Check out the musician from Japan - I think Tokyo residents will recognize the garden in the background.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Flophouse Adventure: The Préfecture des Yvelines

We finally got all the items requested in the "convocation" together so yesterday I traipsed down to the Prefecture des Yvelines to pick up my replacement residency card.

At the very last minute, right before leaving the house, I checked all my papers one more time against the list and saw that they wanted me to return the old card.  That would have been a bit difficult since it was stolen and is either in a landfill somewhere or was sold to someone.  The French police said both were possibilities. So, just in case, I grabbed a copy of the police report.  You never know and it is always better to have more documents then too few or the wrong ones.

A préfecture in France, for those of you who've never been, is the administrative center of a Department which, in size, is like a State or County in the U.S.  They answer to the Minister of the Interior and they are responsible for delivering driver's licenses, passports, identity cards and papers for foreigners.  There are over 100 of them scattered throughout France and each one is managed by a Préfet who is the French government's representative in a Department.  This is not an elected position - préfet's are appointed by the President of the Republic.  I live in the department called Yvelines which was created in 1968 and the center of which is the city of Versailles.

The convocation says that I am to go to the "Guichet Rapide" Counter 31.  I know better than to take anything for granted so when I arrive at the prefecture, I go straight to the nice gentlemen who seems to be responsible for both maintaining order and helping people get oriented.  He says that, technically, I must wait in line for the main counter (there are 20 people already there) to get a number but if I could just wait for a moment... He leaves with my papers and comes back with the number and tells me to go directly to wait in front of counter 31.

So far things are going very well.  I arrive at the counter and then my heart sinks.  My number is 29, the counter is currently serving number 10.  I settle in to wait and I am a bit annoyed with myself because I didn't bring a book this time.  Strangely enough, this actually turns out to be a good thing.

In the seat next to me is an Algerian woman, a little younger than me, and we start talking.  Turns out we have a great deal in common and no end of subjects to talk about:  we come from mid-sized regional cities by the sea, we are both long-term residents with 10-year cards, we are married to French citizens, we have children in the French school system and neither of us is a French citizen.  We talked a lot about the last and it was a surprisingly frank discussion.  To hear an echo of my own internal debate was not only interesting, it made me feel a lot better.  I am not the only one struggling with this.  She said at one point, "Listen, Madame, I live here but I love my country and I think you love yours too."  It was a moment of perfect understanding between a woman from a seaside town in Algeria and a West Coast American.

I am called to the counter and I wish her all the best and "Bon courage."  My business takes less than five minutes (yes, he did want to make a copy of the police report) and I left the prefecture with my card.  They have changed the format - it is smaller and has a chip.  I bet there is a marvelous IT project connected to this.  My business done, I walked home and made myself some coffee.

Tomorrow, a trip to the French Social Security office.  A woman migrant's work is never done. :-)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Care Package from Japan

Earlier this week, I heard the doorbell ring and when I cracked the door open there was a very disgruntled delivery man with a package for me.  Why was he so upset?  Well, our apartment complex has two doors, two door codes, no list of residents posted anywhere and no apartment numbers.  The poor man had a terrible time finding us.  Not necessarily a bad thing :-)

The package was from Japan and contained books, books, books from Good Day Books in Tokyo.  I've written about them before in Flophouse Favorite People and Places.  This one of the world's great English-language bookstores and I spent a lot of time there when we lived in that part of the world.

The books, so kindly sent by the owner, are selections from the weekly politics reading and discussion group.  A quick look at the Good Day Books website for the bookclub gives you the list of what they have read and discussed recently.  In *my* package are such gems as:

World on Fire by Amy Chua
The Roman Predicament by Harold James
The Revenge of the Past by Ronald Grigor Suny
Egypt on the Brink by Tarek Osman

So far Good Day Books has survived Amazon, the global financial crisis and an earthquake.  Such persistence is not only admirable, it merits special attention and support.  This is a tough business and it's just getting tougher.  My Kindle is fabulous and I like having the world's books at my fingertips - very convenient - but it's not nearly as much fun as chatting up a bookstore owner who knows you and your tastes and having a group of people around with whom you can talk about what you've read and get different viewpoints and perspectives.

If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo, go see Steve and check out all that Good Day Books has to offer.

3F Asahi Building
1-11-2 Ebisu
Shibuya-ku
Tokyo 150-0013
Tel: 03-5421-0957
goodday@gol.com

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Working in Europe - What is it really like?

There are a lot of stories going around about what it's like to work in Europe.  Wouldn't it be interesting to know what Europeans themselves think about their jobs?

The Fifth European Working Survey 2010 sponsored by Eurofound released earlier this year is a fascinating look at working conditions in European countries  43,000 people in 34 countries were asked about training, workplace autonomy, the prevalence of harassment, awareness of health issues, among many other topics related to work and the work environment. Since this is the fifth survey that Eurofound has conducted, they are now able to track changes over time.  For specific country information, there are interactive maps here.  You can also download the data if you are interested in having more detail.

For those who much prefer a high-level presentation, this 5-minute video outlines some of the major findings:



I should mention here that I became aware of this site and the survey through a very good LinkedIn group called GRI - Gestion des Risques Interculturels.  I highly recommend it - great discussions and very useful links and resources.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Finding the American Diaspora in Paris

Americans have been coming to Paris since since Americans stopped being, well, Brits.

Benjamin Franklin arrived in 1776.  He was a bit advanced in years but he still managed to have a pretty good time.  He was very popular and was probably the best ambassador the Americans have ever had on this side of the Atlantic.  He was also a long-term resident - he lived in Paris for nearly 9 years and at least some of that time was spent in my old neighborhood, Passy.  If you walk from Passy to Trocadero you will see a fine statue of him sitting in, of all things, Square Yorktown.

There were other waves of American migrants who came in the 19th and 20th centuries.  There is a very good book published recently by David McCullough called The Greater Journey:  Americans in Paris which is well worth reading.

In addition to the Josephine Bakers and Ernest Hemingways there have also been a fair number of regular folks who came for business or because they married French citizens or because they stopped by for a few years and just never left.  When I arrived in 1989 I met an American woman who had been in France since just after World War II.  To say that she had some interesting stories would be a serious understatement.

The numbers have never been very large.  Today the American population in Paris is about 75,000 people.  Since there are also lots of American tourists in the city who come every year, it is understandable that long-term residents pass nearly unnoticed by the French.  I've been here a long time and I am still taken for a tourist on many occasions.  This has good and bad implications.  The good is that in nearly 20 years I have never been asked for my papers.  Just call us stealth migrants. :-)

So, where would you go if you wanted to meet permanent or semi-permanent American migrants in Paris?  There are a few institutions that have been around awhile where some of us tend to congregate at one time or another to "drink from the well" so to speak.  The following is not an exhaustive list but it will give you an idea of a few places where some of us can be found:

The American Cathedral:  This Episcopal church has been around since 1866 and almost every American migrant I've met has been here at least once.  They have lots of events, good music, seminars on various topics and a counseling center which are all oriented toward serving the American/international  community here.  They are located near the Pont de l'Alma.

The American Church:  Another place almost every American migrant knows and it's just down the street from the American Cathedral on the Quai d'Orsay.  It was founded in 1857 and is interdenominational.  They have a very well-known (to us anyway) program called "Bloom Where You're Planted" and "Bloom While You Work" run by the Women of the American Church which helps recent English-speaking arrivals to Paris get oriented.  I never went  but I should have.  If nothing else I would probably have had less trouble opening a bank account in my first few years here

The American Library:  This is a wonderful place very close to the American Church and Cathedral.  I've spent many hours here cruising the stacks. I've been a member several times over the years though I let my membership lapse when we left for Tokyo.   It has a fascinating history.  Back in World War I libraries in the United States launched a program called The Library War Service to get books to American soldiers fighting in Europe.  When the war ended there were a lot of English-language books floating around.  The American Library Association gathered them up and used them to found the American Library in Paris in 1920.  Some very famous names, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, were among the first trustees of the new library.  The library is still around and going strong in the early 21st century.  I personally owe them a large debt since I used to take the Frenchlings there often when we lived in Paris and made sure that they stayed for "storytime" in the Children's section.  Good TOEFL scores aren't manufactured out of thin air in a world where English is definitely a minority language.  Their help was really indispensable for making my daughters truly bi-lingual.

The American University:  This university was founded in the 1960's so it's fairly recent.  It's an international school with all kinds of programs (BA, Master's and so on) in English.  It's very small - about 1000 students.  I know people who already had undergraduate degrees from U.S. schools who, after having landed in Paris, decided to go on and get their graduate degrees here.

A diaspora can be defined as a minority residing in a foreign land who show a continuing attachment to their place of origin.  It's not just language and culture, it's also trying to be a part of the nation while not being physically in the nation.  If you look at the September schedules for both the American Church and the Cathedral you will see that 911 commemorative events figure prominently in their programs.  This should not be taken to mean that Americans don't integrate into French culture and life here.  On the contrary, these institutions encourage integration by helping Americans get oriented so they can function within French society which is, I think, to everyone's benefit.

Ben Franklin once said,  "All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move."  I'd like to think that, if he were alive today, he would approve of his heirs, those "moveable Americans," in Paris.