In the original article in French, « Notre système d’intégration produit des ségrégations en se pensant égalitaire », Patrick Simon, a French sociologist. offers an overview of the French integration model :
Here some key ideas that I have translated
In France social policies are blind to the origins and cultural differences but political actors are not.
We can even say that the issue of ethnic minorities is omnipresent in housing policies, in school, on the job market or public services. But as the Republic is supposed to ignore cultural differences, taking account of the origins takes place in the gray area of the policies and without control.
There is a strong opposition to measure and use French ethnic statistics … The refusal of ethnic statistics is only a manifestation of this more general desire not to see the differences, not to take them into account.
As a long-term expat, I can totally relate with Mr Simon’s observations. I never felt what it is to be French before I left France more than 20 years ago.
I have lived and worked in more than 6 countries among them, Japan, USA and Russia (countries that offer the strongest cultural differences with France). Although I was not really aggressively discriminated there, in some occasions I really felt different or some “natives” made me feel different and sometimes not welcome (being named the “French” in our neighborhood instead of our family name in the community phone directory for example).
I simply cannot drop everything that makes me who I am, my cultural values, beliefs, language and traditions in the name of integration or even in the name of respect for my host country as long as the way I behave is not hurting anybody’s feelings or their own values.
So I do understand that in France, for immigrants and their children it is really hard not to be able to be different, to show harmless cultural differences like dress code to avoid being discriminated.
It is important for my “integration” to be able to meet other French people or Expat people just to cope with “home-sickness” or more correctly, “the feeling of not being from there ” that most expats have at one point or another, a strategy for coping with culture shock.
Being able to speak your mother tongue with your friends in the streets without fear should not be taken for granted. In many countries, you can be discriminated for that reason. When I lived in Belgium for example it was really strange to be rejected for speaking French in a Flemish speaking village while speaking English was perfectly correct and people then were nice with me.
So I do agree that it is necessary that French people start embracing diversity as something truly positive for the country and to be more tolerant by being less ignorant.
My son has been living in many countries and attended different school systems and what I like about international schools is that they don’t focus on one culture or one religion, they learn about other people’s traditions, values and beliefs. Learning and accepting cultural differences make those kids definitively more tolerant and open.