Monthly Archives: November 2012

Visite d’OFII

In the past four years of my life, where I have three times over experienced what it means to be an “other,” someone who does not quite belong, as I have made close and lasting friendships with immigrants both in France and the United States, and as I myself have attempted to emigrate, I have never felt more like a foreigner than when going to the routine “visite d’OFII.”  For those of you who might never have requested a “visa de long séjour” or spent more than three months in France on a visa, you won’t be very familiar with this procedure.  In essence, all visa-holders coming from non-European Union countries are required to declare their presence on the French territory from the moment they arrive in their host city and have their visa stamped at customs.

Within the next three months, l’OFII (The French Office of Immigration and Integration, there’s one in each major French city) will at whim send you a convocation to attend one (or two, this time) rendez-vous in which you will get a shiny sticker on your passport that serves as your titre de séjour (residency permit).  You must pay 58 € in addition to the 50 € paid when you originally requested your visa (not to mention the 70 € I paid for Campus France!), and you must undergo a standard radiograph examination (to make sure you don’t have TB) and a doctor’s visit.  The whole process takes several hours, as they cram at least fifty people into each interview time slot, and you have no say over when the visit will be scheduled.  If you fail to show up the first time, they will send you a warning with another time slot, and then if you still don’t show up, you will not be permitted back into France if you leave l’espace Schengen (the Schengen zone).  And once you have your vignette, you are good to go for the remainder of your visa.  This visit is only required for the first year of a visa/titre de long séjour.

However, if you leave France and come back with another visa de long séjour (as in my case), you are required to attend yet again this uncomfortable and lengthy medical/administrative visit, regardless of the fact that you might be in the same city at the same school with a folder full of radiographs and medical reports from your visit a year ago.  Whatever, it’s another bureaucratic hurdle that I have to overcome in order to live in France.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t always feel like a foreigner when living in France.  After all, I’m descended from white Europeans, even look relatively “European” (I’m small and brunette and blue-eyed), and I don’t wear the headscarf.  I speak passably fluent French that for the past four years I have been trying to perfect, including my accent.  Although when I speak, a Francophone would be able to identify me as a non-Francophone, he is often not able to pinpoint the country (USA) or even the language group (English-speaker), unless he is very familiar with certain idiosyncracies of the English language (ways of structuring our thoughts, a tendency to speak with the back of our mouth, and, in my case, a lack of consistency in pronouncing the French “u”).  I always take it as a compliment that they might not know where I’m from, as a signal that my French has vastly improved.  My friends tend to be cosmopolitan, prone to travel, and conscious of what it’s like to live, even briefly, in another country, or they are foreigners themselves, in which case I feel like co-conspirators.  But occasionally, even among friends, I am made to feel like an un-invited guest, or as a representative of my country seemingly having all the answers for “why we do what we do” (as if I am responsible for all 312 million U.S. citizens or for the government’s actions worldwide).  Being American abroad makes you both proudly conscious and ashamed of your heritage, with a schizophrenic need to justify something over which you have largely no control.  Neither my Swiss second family nor my multinational group of friends understands why I don’t immediately volunteer “I’m from the U.S.!” upon being acquainted with a stranger or when buying vegetables.  Apparently, being from a different country requires you to constantly wear a name tag that you must pull out on demand.  And to think I wanted to “blend in.”

But despite my whining, I must admit that I really have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to being an immigrant.  Sure, I have to deal with all the incredibly annoying bureaucratic requirements, but so does the majority of people who live in France.  Sure, I have a little accent and grow red when I have to “defend” things that happen in the U.S. that I was never ok with, but I am not a real immigrant.  I am a privileged white American who is here to study a Master’s in France, and I have the luxury of returning to my home country whenever (theoretically) I like.  I chose to come to France, and I did not flee war, terror, poverty, lack of job opportunities, or famine, and France does not place a quota on the number of U.S. citizens who choose to study abroad.  I had been separated from a loved one for only one year.  I might face ignorance or bigotry because of my nationality, but I will not suffer from the implicit racism that most North African Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans perceive on arriving upon French soil.   I speak French and English, the two most highly valued languages for finding a job in France.

As I sat for an hour in a small, cramped room at l’OFII last Friday, my e-reader in hand as I tried to pass the time, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the room, myself and one other excluded, was of African or Asian descent.  (Europeans do not have to pass through l’OFII).  As I snuck a look at some of the passports, I remarked that a disproportionate number of individuals came from former French colonies or “areas of influence” such as Senegal or Morocco.  In the post-colonial era, why is it that so many former colonies still educate their young in French?  Why is it that there are so few job opportunities or that so many students try to make a life in France instead of their own country?  Were these all students? Here on exchange or for the full five to eight years of undergraduate-masters-doctors study?  What does this all mean?

I’d appreciate your comments if you have any insight or would like to share your own experiences as an immigrant/emigrant abroad.

Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, Daily Life, Expats, France, Immigration | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Je mange donc je suis

I’ve hinted here and there that I am part of a locavore group here in Amiens.  Or to be more precise, I am part of a group of French and international twenty-something-year-olds who are concerned about the way students eat.  In an effort to promote supporting local farmers and producers, we have developed a project called Aliment’ton local (Let’s eat local), which I am proud to be a part of.  The goal is to encourage students to eat locally, and (re)learn to cook, within the constraints of a limited student budget and a studio apartment that often lacks an oven.  Our goal is to both educate young students and professionals in Amiens and to develop a network of local cultivators and producers of regional food and drink.  With this goal in mind we’ve begun to offer once a month a series of cooking workshops or ateliers, the first having taken place in October.  The result was both simple and astonishing: successfully producing at less than 3 euros per person a delicious meal of local varieties of squash and pumpkin in a convivial atmosphere.  We sampled different courges and worked together to peel and cut up carrots, a bright orange potimarron, and potatoes de Picardie.

pommes de terre


Final result

Last night we had another event, one that was exceptionally thought-provoking.  It was a ciné-repas (dinner and a movie), where we came together to watch a 25-min film called “Je mange donc je suis” (I eat therefore I am).  If you are interested, you can find the film (in French) on Youtube at the following link:

For those who can’t understand French, here’s a brief summary: in 1994, a group of nations signed what was to be known as the Marrakesh Agreement, which birthed the World Trade Organization and established free international trade (libre-échange in French).  While in many ways it might appear to be a good thing to have competitive international trading in order to guarantee the lowest price for consumers, what it means in terms of food trading and exporting has more or less been disaster, poverty, and famine.  Countries like Brazil and the Unites States, where monoculture and huge tracks of mechanized farms allow for the production of cheap, mass quantities of food, force the price of food on an international level to be below subsistence costs for small-time farmers.  It has lead to the demise of the family farmer in both the U.S. and Europe and to increasing poverty and mass dislocation of the rural population to urban slums in countries of Africa and Asia. Farmers worldwide simply can’t compete with massive agroindustry or gigantic mega-farms, and as a result, they give up on agriculture.  In such countries the majority of the population relies on food aid.  The cycle seems non-sensical, especially since it also coincides with the loss of food culture and traditions as well as local plant specimens tied to a certain region.

At the end of the film, we did a bit of role-playing.  One group had to defend the politicians, either regional or national, who make up the laws concerning food and food trade. Another group represented agroindustry.  A third stood for the citizens, and the last group presented the plight of traditional farmers worldwide.  It was certainly interesting to put oneself in the shoes of such different types of people in order to understand all that’s at stake with this issue.

We ended the night with a delicious shared meal of soup: one pot of potato and leek soup and another of potimarron, potato, and carrot soup.  All were local picards vegetables.

Have you thought about the food you eat or where it comes from? What do you think about the types of issues presented in a film like Je mange donc je suis?

Categories: Amiens, Food, France, Politics | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A+ Tuesday

Yesterday I received an A+.  Before you start laughing at me, let me explain.  The last place in the world I was expecting to receive an actual handwritten “A+” was France, especially on a homework assignment that involved assimilating and incorporating linguistic concepts in an analysis of English grammar, all written in French.  My A+ days were over, I thought naïvely.  For some unknown reason, my linguistics professor decided to tack on to the top of each paper the English-style grade, perhaps as a shock or a taste of “local flavor.”  To my right and left were B’s and D’s, so I was astonished to find that not only had I understood the abstract and technical theories, but I had also correctly applied them to a text.  Tiens, j’ai un A+! Now all I need to do is replicate this grade for the CAPES…

I have been lucky enough to have had several hours of classes canceled or “liberated” early this week.  As I mentioned in my last post, I only had an hour of class of Monday, four hours less than normal.  Yesterday, my linguistics class ended an hour and ten minutes early, allowing me to go home and finish the last twenty minutes of the horribly overdramatic Part One of the last Twilight novel-turned-film.  Talk about a guilty pleasure.  And even my locavore group here in Amiens, Les Tombés d’la charrette (the “Fallen off the wagon”) finished our weekly réunion after only an hour and a half, as several members of the group were headed off to a concert.  Even today, in what is typically the most drawn-out of all my classes, my class on American feminist literature, we were let out fifteen minutes early, as there were only two of us with the professor there and literally nothing more to be said.  Un petit cadeau, as the professor pointed out.  Well, the holiday atmosphere must be infectious.

What I love about Tuesdays is the fact that my first class is at 11:00 am.  Monday night I went to bed early and woke up late, barely taking the time to go over my translation of version (translation from English to French) for class.  We finished translating a passage about a hanged man, and how he is described in all the gruesome details.  Certainly not your standard bit of translation.  The next two hours after lunch were consecrated to the most feisty of all my English professors, in a fencing match between her and the poor presenters who were supposed to analyze a particularly tricky passage from Heart of Darkness.  Thrust, volley, coup de sabre, touché, en garde!  There is no defense against someone who proves you wrong.  That class, methodology of a literary analysis, is always painful, as the professor shows no mercy in her blatant criticism of their presentations, English accent, and pronunciation.  It is a class I am auditing with the Master d’enseignement, as literary analysis will make up half of the written examination in this June’s CAPES.  I will be in the spotlight myself in this class on December 4.

The A+ part of my Tuesday was after the locavore meeting (more on what we are planning when I’ll discuss tonight’s ciné-repas event), when I met up with Hedi for a drink.  We were again in Saint Leu, at a nice little café that offers very delicious albeit overpriced non-alcoholic cocktails.  As I sipped my Mangou, I was able to commiserate with Hedi and complain to my heart’s content.  Nothing like a tropical fruit drink to top off the night!

Categories: Daily Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

‘Tis (already) the Season

The icicles came up tonight outside my downtown apartment, where they will linger for the better part of two months.  Thankfully, this reflects merely the upcoming holidays and not the cold, although Amiens has been dropping into the lower single digits (Celsius, of course) recently.  The real cold has not hit us yet, but that does not prevent the damp chill from leaking into my apartment room and warping my books.

As you might well understand, I have been much occupied by my Master d’anglais these past two months.  Despite having a break of about two weeks in October, I am well into the season of papers and examinations.  Or, I suppose I should say, I am finally into the season of papers and examinations.  My particular program, and many French university classes in general, often demand little legwork during the first few weeks and much cramming for final exams, upon which most of your grade is based.  Given that I have chosen a literary track, I am also expected to present several “exposés” (oral presentations) and write a few 5-10 page papers.  Not super demanding, although I fear that I am either underestimating the difficulty of my particular program or overestimating my abilities.  As of yet, I have only been graded on two different things: an oral presentation for a literature class concerning feminist American literature and an hour and a half examination translating a passage from English to French.  I haven’t received either grade yet, so there is no way for me to gauge how I am doing.

I am finding that the autumn and winter are much more challenging seasons in regards to homesickness: there’s a slew of holidays (Eid-al-Adha this year, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas) that I am used to celebrating with friends and family, family traditions and seasonal food, and the overall sense of changing temperatures that make me long for home.  The last time I spent four months in France, I narrowly missed the snow and transitioned into a gorgeous (somewhat) sunny Spring.  I can’t tell what feels different this time, why the homesick feeling is more tangible or persistent.  Perhaps it’s the feeling of permanence to my decision to live in France, instead of the fleeting stay of a few months that a study abroad offers.  Mostly I think it has to do with my inability to return home until I have a steady job, or any job at all for that matter.  Without money, you inevitably feel much less mobile.

Last week I felt like I sleepwalked through my classes after coming back from a two-week vacation.  I am simultaneously auditing the Master d’enseignement while attending my Master de recherche classes (the two Masters have most of their classes together, luckily for me), as I hope to transition into the Master d’enseignement next year.  I feigned sick on Wednesday and Thursday in order to not have to attend these extra classes and recuperate a bit from a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Today I feel bright and chipper, but that probably has a lot to do with my only having had an hour of class.  The professor who is both my directrice de recherche for my Master’s thesis and teaches a seminar on Great Britain’s children’s literature Monday mornings was sick.  She also was unable to offer the last two hours of approches théoriques required for my Master de recherche, so I was effectively “liberated” from four hours of class today.  The one hour was quite delightful, as I love my translation classes.  The professor who teaches thème, that is, translating from French to English, is a very witty British man who tends to act out our false interpretations or applications of words in the text.

I’ve been rereading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening for that class on feminist literature.  I had forgotten how much I love her writing.  Since I started rereading it last night, I have been glued to my Nook, reading it on the bus to and from the fac (university), on my kitchen table, and snuggled up in my bed.  I’ve never regretted studying literature, language, and reading books for school and enjoyment, but I just hope I can make a career out of it, teaching English here in France or elsewhere…

Other photo updates:

Halloween pumpkin dinner

Hedi’s birthday cake

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, Expats, Food, France, Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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