Thursday, May 04, 2006

Immigration Stuff

When I arrived at work today, the secretary who has to unlock the door for me was on her cell phone with a friend.

"Et hop! Chacun chez soi, non mais!" (I say, everyone just stay in their own country. Come on!) She listened as she led me to the small meeting room. She gave me a little smile and then walked back to her desk, saying, "Ben, je pr
éfère un polonnais à un arabe, je le dis maintenant. Au moins ils sont européens, eux!" (Well, I'd prefer a Pole to an Arab; I'll say it now! At least they're European!)

As I set up my materiels and prepared for the class, I wondered if she had any idea that I am an immigrant, too. It probably never crossed her mind that I might be offended by her remarks--anyway, I'm European, right?

This afternoon I had one of my favorite classes. The students are full of humor and enjoy practicing their English. Their homework was to present an English-language article to the class. One of them talked about the "Day Without Immigrants" that recently occurred in the US. Another presented on the French Interior Minister M. Sarkozy's new bill about immigration, as reported by the BBC.

All of this has really made me think about my own status as an immigrant. I go to the Prefecture regularly (every 3 months). I don't have the right to vote here in France. I have an accent when I speak. I don't know why, but it's this last one that bugs me. Why should it bother me to have an accent? Maybe because it's the only obvious sign of my difference.

Now that we're going through the process with Jube, I'm already scared about what will happen in the US. Will it be more hassle? More strict? Will he adapt well to life in the US? I'm not sure what I'm trying to say, and I know that it's nothing deep. All I know is that I feel much closer to the immigrants entering and living in the US now than I ever did before.


Janna said...

I'm so glad I happened upon your blog-- I'm doing my undergrad thesis on how the attitudes of the public affect immigration policy in France et aux Etats-Unis, so this post is an interesting read.

And I hear you about the accent issue. Even in English I'm hesitant to open my mouth (for fear of botching it) so living in France next year should definitely be interesting.

Gem said...

Thanks for your comment. I feel like this could have happened in the US in almost exactly the same way. European immigrants aren't treated the same way hispanic (in the US) and (North) African (in France) immigrants are. As I say, though, it will be interesting to compare the two in the near future!

What have you come up with in your research? Any huge differences I should be aware of?

JennC said...

I used to be uncomfortable with my accent too... Now I find that it can be used as an icebreaker... Ooops, my fault about getting our wires crossed, dang accent... The trick is not to take offense, get flustered and to keep smiling.

Sometimes my accent works wonders. By telephone, the people I deal with regularly recognize me instantly and the customer service is usually excellent because I lay the niceness on thick. Vous êtes très gentil(le), etc... but now that I think on it, they really heat up when I mention I'm Canadian. The French have this thing about Canada...

I've heard tell that Europeans can vote in municipal elections (and of course the European elections). It still might be worth heading over to city hall to find out.

Gem said...

Unfortunately, I'm only "European" because my ancestors were from Europe at one time. It just seems weird to me that I have at accent at all! I know it sounds very ignorant, but I don't think I realized when I was younger that foreigners spoke with accents because they HAD to. I feel like I can do everything possible to fit in, and still be different because of the accent. (Of course that's not true either, but I can dream!)