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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Al Jazeera is running a very good 2-part film "Citizen or Stranger" available by this link Citizen or Stranger? - Special series - Al Jazeera English looking at a Somali family that has dispersed around the world to escape the civil war and subsequently troubled times of their 'home' country

The focus of the film is the extent to which the different family branches have integrated into their destination countries and the issues they have faced accordingly. I've seen the first programme which focused mostly on Holland and Denmark, though with some mention of France and other countries - and the second will apparently have a focus on UK and the USA

It reminded me of many comments I've seen on the forum where responses are along the lines of ... "well you need to make an effort to integrate ...."

So the question of this thread is - what specifically should new arrivals do in order to integrate and to be accepted in France?

It would be great to hear of experiences, positive and negative, that will be interesting and useful to newcomers

Learning the language is the most obvious point so let's take that as a given - but what else can and should you do?

Best, Rick
 

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Hi Rick

Good question, I've seen the Al J site a few times and it has some interesting material.

The first thing to do in order to integrate is to have the INTENT to integrate, and not continue living in your old country. For example there are parts of Perpignan that are known as "Marrakesh" because the Arab immigrants tend to live in an island of Morocco, but with the benefits of living in France.

I've seen English people also, who treat their "permanent" residence in France as long holiday, so there's no need to speak French, talk to the neighbours etc.

Also at the psycho level people wishing to integrate must stop thinking "that is not correct / moral /appropriate.. we don't do that back home". English / US people must think in km, celcius, etc etc.

As for "doing", I think the integrating immigrant should DO something for France. That means a real job and the associated tax, social security etc. If not working, they should do something to contribute in the widest sense. Perhaps charity work, perhaps ....I don't know, others will help.

There you , my starter.

DejW
 

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First brief thoughts are to source everything locally. Search out local artisans, materials, retailers rather than bring wagon-loads of "stuff" from "home" - that was one of biggest negative comments by the locals here on the influx of expats - aimed mostly at the Dutch, but applicable also to the Brits.

hils
 
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I am not in France but we have similar integration problems.

I have been an introvert all my life, I have no friends or acquaintances, not even an old school friend. I decided that with my new life in Spain, that was going to change. I set about meeting people and every time I walked along the street I spoke to everyone I saw with a smile on my face, just to say "Hola, Buenos Días" (Hello, Good morning) with observance of the local dialect (drop the ends) and everyone greeted me in return, some even got in first! Very soon, they were trying to have a conversation with me and I would say 'Si' or 'No' in what I thought were the appropriate places.

There are a few Brits/Dutch/Germans about but I still speak to them in Spanish just to watch them scurry past, head down terrified that they will get caught in a conversation in Spanish which they don't understand. We have been adopted by many of our neighbours and get invited into their gatherings, we get overrun by gifts of produce (we currently have about 70kg of caquis to lay out in the attic to ripen).

Last year I was taken into hospital with a mild (in Tuesday, out Friday) heart attack and SWMBO said she was amazed at the number of people who came up to her to ask how I was (Many of them I don't know who they were either!) - news gets round a village exceedingly rapidly.

I am slowly getting acquainted with the language (SWMBO and m-i-l are fluent Spanish speakers!) but, for me the key was being open and welcoming towards others and I found that they were likewise towards me. SWMBO says that despite the fact that I am not fluent in Spanish, it has been my initial approach that has been responsible for our acceptance and integration.

As Hils said use the local tradesmen not Brits or other foreigners!
 

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Decided to hold off a bit before responding to this one - but it's a great topic for discussion.

I think the Al Jazeera documentary raises the issue of one's motivation for immigrating as it relates to the question of integration (or assimilation). For those of us who chose France as a place to live, Dej is onto something with his comment about having the INTENT to immigrate.

But I suspect that nearly everyone (particularly those who sort of "fell into" immigrating to France for one reason or another) goes through a certain crisis regarding just how much you have to give up of your habits and customs to "assimilate" in France or anywhere else.

Several folks I know are "offended" by obvious immigrants who "dress funny" - but which is usually meant obvious Muslim immigrants who still dress as they did "back home." Oddly enough, these same folks don't seem to mind the "colorful" dress of certain African immigrants, often seen in the métro. There is a real debate over whether certain types of dress (particularly for women) are "religious" or merely "cultural." Then again, is my preference for jeans a problem of assimilation?

Then, too, we've been discussing how many American expats/immigrants still celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving, or how the Brits celebrate Guy Fawlkes day. Is that a lack of assimilation? How about the tradition of slaughtering a lamb in your back yard for Eid?

I've even had someone comment on my choice of vehicles (i.e. my Toyota) to be a sign of lack of assimilation. Why don't I have a nice French vehicle? Hey, Toyota builds its Yaris here in France. Do I get credit for that if I buy a nice Yaris hybrid when my current Toyota bites the dust?
Cheers,
Bev
 

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Just before this thread delves into the do's and don't's of living in France, can we pin down what we mean by integration/assimilation ?

I can see here and in other threads about being in the social whirl of wherever - ie being on the acceptable invitee list by locals. But is that what it's all about?

I agree about the intent thing, but, for me, that was intent to move here but not to change my social habits (a born asocial hermit, me), and I particularly dislike any kind of organised activity (unless it's me doing the organising!). So I live kind of like I did in the UK, mostly peacefully in my home(s), and I interact with the natives as and when I have to, using their language and mindful of local custom, expectation, habits - and trading hours! People know I'm here, and if they have things that they think I might be able to help with, they ask me (rare but has been know to happen - usually a handful of times a year - lol).

I have been invited to significant birthday parties, fetes etc. but they don't seem to happen all that often around here, and when my mother and subsequently my father died, we received masses of condolence cards, from people we wouldn't really have expected. When I go into shops or wherever in town we talk politely and with interest in each other's lives - how are the kids/how's your grandmother doing/did you sort out APL for your daughter/what's so-and-so up to these days ... kind of thing - just general "normal" chit-chat.

My home is "English" mostly - I did that deliberately initially so that my then 12-yr old wouldn't lose her Englishness and would develop and mature with that benefit (having seen and taught other expat kids who were linguistically locked in the "age" they were when they moved to France), but now, it's just laziness. But UK telly is hard to beat, and bedtime reading is chill time - my preferred genre is generally English-language writers (note most have them have been translated into French, whereas very few French writers have been translated into English, apart from the "classics"), but I'll happily read St Exupery, Pieyre de Mandiargues, Pagnol, Pascal, Pourrat, Tournier etc. in the original. The language we speak in the home is English, but if there are French speakers here, we automatically switch, unless they specifically want to speak English.

Does all that mean I haven't integrated or assimilated?

IMO I have; I don't particularly promote being English unless it's relevant or timely - my Union Flag trews came out during the Olympics and the Wedding and the Jubilee - carefully hidden away when Wiggins took the yellow jersey or when Clermont lose to some English club at rugby - I don't deliberately look for a racially-provoked bashing! Yes, I did used to hold Bonfire Nights, but that was partly educational, but whilst in the UK I would happily serve frogs' legs and horsemeat (bought in Calais) at a dinner party, and we traditionally had an English/Scots/Finnish Xmas/New Year without ever thinking I wasn't "integrated" in the UK. And, with the best will in the world, it's almost impossible to buy goods grown/created/made/built in any single country of residence without reducing the standard of living to something akin to the Middle Ages; even most French people have a piece of gold or silver jewellery - how much gold or silver is actually mined in France, please?

I think it's about not getting up the nose of your neighbour simply and/or deliberately or obviously for being a non-local, isn't it? I mean, I know I don't get on particularly well with my nearest neighbour, but that's partly 'cos he keeps killing my cats, and even the other neighbours and his cousins think he's an a**e; it's not because I'm English !

hils
 

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I agree with Hils, we've only been here a month but we've made an effort to speak to the immediate locals, our bakery is 20 yards away and we chat regularly with the baker and his wife (although their children seem to be scared that their father will make them speak English whenever we see them as they're learning it at school), we've attended the village chestnut festival which runs for two Sundays in October and I buy as much as I can from the twice weekly market outside the house. The guy on the flower stall is my hero, I've never seen anyone create a bouquet as quickly and in such a beautiful way, I just pick out the flowers I want and within a minute I have a stunning arrangement that would have cost a fortune in the uk for just the cost of the flowers. I watch him from my window and he's awesome! So far I think we've done ok, especially in just one month. I feel more at home here in one month than I did in ten years in our village in the uk.
We also tend to be antisocial due to the boys' disabilities, social situations are a real problem for them but so far they seem to have coped. Lol, I had to laugh when Spencer said to me that his mouth won't work in French! Hee hee, I can't get him to understand that your mouth doesn't just do it all by itself :) . . . . I wish!
 

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Good Lord! What are you still doing up at this time? Did no-one tell you? In France you go to bed when the sun goes down otherwise EDF takes all your dosh! lol (That's why the French have large families ;))

h x
 

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Good Lord! What are you still doing up at this time? Did no-one tell you? In France you go to bed when the sun goes down otherwise EDF takes all your dosh! lol (That's why the French have large families ;))

h x
That and a lack of central heating in the bedrooms!
 

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I think it is as much about fitting in. Do you make the effort to be part of the furniture or do you try to be the object in the middle of the room that everyone trips over? One of the former mayors came up to us when we were at a wake of the mother of one of our neighbours (BTW we didn't know the mother) and said "now you are part of the village"

As a matter of interest, the wake here is held as soon as possible after the decease (within hours) and through to the following day when they have the funeral so you have to be on the local grapevine to know about them, but if you are integrated then you will probably be aware that so-and-so is gravely ill anyway. We very rarely encounter other foreigners at the wakes.

On a couple of occasions people have come up to us and said that we are different because we speak to people, whereas most "incomers" avoid getting involved which I guess is back to where I started - fitting in!
 

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The issue of "assimilation" comes up with regard to not only naturalization these days, but now also for those who aspire to a carte residente. As far as I can tell, however, at the prefecture, they're mostly concerned about whether you've held down a job and paid your cotisations over time.

I agree with Hils in that what you do in your own home is your own business. Even though I'm married to a French guy, we speak English at home. (DH once said it would be too "weird" speaking French with me since we met in an English language environment.) Like Hils, I prefer reading in English and watching English language TV shows. (Am really mad at MTV for not broadcasting The Big Bang Theory in VM - but I can't find a "contact us" link on their website to complain.) And like Hils, I speak French to those who speak French, and English when I'm with anglophones. We occasionally get "funny" looks when chatting in English out on the street or in shops, but that's not my problem if they can't eavesdrop conveniently.

But I don't feel compelled to favor the merchants of the town I live in. Actually, we live on the far edge of town and the shops in the next town are within walking distance - so we only rarely ever go into the center of "our" town unless it's to vote or maybe to see the doctor located there (and as far as I know, she doesn't speak English, but in truth, I've never asked).

I wonder if assimilation isn't mostly a matter of accepting things the way they are and not making yourself too obviously "different." When I first got my French nationality, I started joking that NOW, at last, I could criticize France as I liked. But I found most French people I said this to just agreed and didn't think this was funny at all. (I still preface any criticism of the way things are here with "Now that I am a French citizen, I can comment that..." but I have yet to get any pushback on that.)
Cheers,
bev
 

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I am not in France but we have similar integration problems.

I have been an introvert all my life, I have no friends or acquaintances, not even an old school friend. I decided that with my new life in Spain, that was going to change. I set about meeting people and every time I walked along the street I spoke to everyone I saw with a smile on my face, just to say "Hola, Buenos Días" (Hello, Good morning) with observance of the local dialect (drop the ends) and everyone greeted me in return, some even got in first! Very soon, they were trying to have a conversation with me and I would say 'Si' or 'No' in what I thought were the appropriate places.

There are a few Brits/Dutch/Germans about but I still speak to them in Spanish just to watch them scurry past, head down terrified that they will get caught in a conversation in Spanish which they don't understand. We have been adopted by many of our neighbours and get invited into their gatherings, we get overrun by gifts of produce (we currently have about 70kg of caquis to lay out in the attic to ripen).

Last year I was taken into hospital with a mild (in Tuesday, out Friday) heart attack and SWMBO said she was amazed at the number of people who came up to her to ask how I was (Many of them I don't know who they were either!) - news gets round a village exceedingly rapidly.

I am slowly getting acquainted with the language (SWMBO and m-i-l are fluent Spanish speakers!) but, for me the key was being open and welcoming towards others and I found that they were likewise towards me. SWMBO says that despite the fact that I am not fluent in Spanish, it has been my initial approach that has been responsible for our acceptance and integration.

***As Hils said use the local tradesmen not Brits or other foreigners!
***

Not very encouraging for any immigrant wanting to earn a living as a tradesman in France. Are we not after all foreigners in France? I use whoever does the best job for the best price.
 

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The nationality of a tradesman or shop/stall owner is not the issue for me, if they're local and contributing to the local economy then that's what matters. We have chosen to use things in our village because we are bang smack in the centre of the village and I too intend to trade in the village. The cost of produce is competitive (even in the small spar which is the only supermarket/corner type shop), it's a twenty minute drive down to the nearest large supermarket so any little extra is covered by the fuel saving. That's not to say we don't used the big supermarkets, I do the bulk stuff there but always buy things like bread, meat and veg at the baker, butcher and market and cheeses from a local supplier who supplies the spar shop, who also does great veg etc when the market isn't on. Most of our food is freshly prepared as my boys' special diet doesn't allow pre made junk with added sugars etc. so most of our food stuff is local.
There are a few shop keepers locally who are Brits but you wouldn't know unless you happened to catch them in conversation with another Brit as they speak French most of the time. I was surprised to find they were not French!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Good responses to the question. A couple to which I'd like to respond:

- Agree with DejW that the attitude you enter with is very important and that you need to have the intent to integrate
- As Bev says, the Al Jazeera programme focuses on the issue of 'assimilation' as well as the steps taken to 'integrate' ... and the extent of 'assimilation' could be taken as the degree of success with which someone is able to fit into the local culture and is accepted
- On the question of whether people should still celebrate their original cultural events (Guy Fawkes, Thanksgiving etc ...) I'd say one can do so with no impact on integration so long as they don't celebrate them exclusively and that they also get involved in celebrations in France. Likewise Hils' sensitive use of the Union flag helps avoid provoking barriers to assimilation
- In looking at whether assimilation / integration has happened or not, it isn't measurable. However it can be seen by the extent to which the locals welcome you into their company beyond a simple 'apero' - so as the former mayor said to Baldilocks, his assimilation was signalled by his presence at the wake

For me and my family, in our English speaking home it feels a bit of an island at times, but as soon as we go through the door to the outside, we make an effort to fit in with the culture in France. The things that we have done that seem to have helped in integration are to make friends with neighbours, to take an interest and sometimes participate in local events. Having children helps with integration, as does my working and meeting and interacting with many French people. In this I'm working with their systems and rules and in their language. So while they know I'm not technically 'one of them' they can see that I'm basically 'open' and not putting up any barriers

Best, Rick
 

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I agree with Rick and others. To me, a large part of assimilation is knowing what's going on around you and engaging with it appropriately when it affects you. So, if the commune is facing an issue, you would take the trouble to find out what the issue is all about and try to work out the implications and if possible develop a useful view on it and show your support. Rather than let it all slide past you and leave other people to fight the battle even when you stand to reap the benefit as much as them.

Integration is not about pretending to be or forcing yourself to become something you're not, I suppose it is about finding yourself a niche where you can be yourself and feel comfortable and where other people feel at ease with you. I've always been a loner, socially speaking, and I've learned that trying to turn myself into a sociable animal is a waste of time - the social scene isn't for me. But I like to think that my neighbours accept me for what I am; there is no awkwardness as far as I'm aware, we chat when we meet and we help each other out in a casual sort of way when the need arises. I think they know by now that I'm basically friendly and well-intentioned, and if I did decide to hang a Union flag out the window they wouldn't feel threatened, they'd assume that their crazy Brit neighbour had a private reason for doing it or that it was yet another bizarre example of British humour. But I certainly wouldn't have hung a Union flag out the day I arrived.

I think it would be a lot harder to do any of this without speaking the language.
 

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Integration is not about pretending to be or forcing yourself to become something you're not, I suppose it is about finding yourself a niche where you can be yourself and feel comfortable and where other people feel at ease with you. I've always been a loner, socially speaking, and I've learned that trying to turn myself into a sociable animal is a waste of time - the social scene isn't for me. But I like to think that my neighbours accept me for what I am; there is no awkwardness as far as I'm aware, we chat when we meet and we help each other out in a casual sort of way when the need arises. I think they know by now that I'm basically friendly and well-intentioned, and if I did decide to hang a Union flag out the window they wouldn't feel threatened, they'd assume that their crazy Brit neighbour had a private reason for doing it or that it was yet another bizarre example of British humour. But I certainly wouldn't have hung a Union flag out the day I arrived.

I think it would be a lot harder to do any of this without speaking the language.
Another loner, well I would have to be to be, sitting here on the PC on the Forum at this time on a Sunday evening. BUT as I've said before on this thread (I think) and on others I decided that my life was going to change when I arrived here. I don't shout Brit, I don't mi with them any more than is politely necessary. We have a couple of male Brits who live on their own (separately) in a nearby town who we have over occasionally for lunch or even for a weekend. Yes, OK, we feel a bit sorry for them but we make sure they have a decent home-cooked meal inside them instead of some sort of ready meal (why are some parents so remiss when it comes to teaching boys to fend for themselves?)

We just get on with life as if we had been living here all our lives and there are some people who don't know that I am a Brit (despite my colouring) nor that SWMBO is Colombian and not Spanish. We have just become part of the scenery.
 

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Of course it just occurs to me that there is a difference in the meaning of "integration" or "assimilation" for those of you with European nationalities vs. those of us who have come from outside the EU.

For the Europeans, integration is a moral or ethical issue. How to demonstrate to those around you that you aren't isolating yourselves. For the non-Europeans, there is the legal requirement to demonstrate a certain level (always undefined) of "integration" if you are going for nationality, or even these days a 10 year carte de resident. To some extent, the provisions of the contrat d'accueil et d'integration is also a sort of preliminary definition by the State of what they expect in terms of integration.
Cheers,
Bev
 

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I am not in France but we have similar integration problems.

I have been an introvert all my life, I have no friends or acquaintances, not even an old school friend. I decided that with my new life in Spain, that was going to change. I set about meeting people and every time I walked along the street I spoke to everyone I saw with a smile on my face, just to say "Hola, Buenos Días" (Hello, Good morning) with observance of the local dialect (drop the ends) and everyone greeted me in return, some even got in first! Very soon, they were trying to have a conversation with me and I would say 'Si' or 'No' in what I thought were the appropriate places.

There are a few Brits/Dutch/Germans about but I still speak to them in Spanish just to watch them scurry past, head down terrified that they will get caught in a conversation in Spanish which they don't understand. We have been adopted by many of our neighbours and get invited into their gatherings, we get overrun by gifts of produce (we currently have about 70kg of caquis to lay out in the attic to ripen).

Last year I was taken into hospital with a mild (in Tuesday, out Friday) heart attack and SWMBO said she was amazed at the number of people who came up to her to ask how I was (Many of them I don't know who they were either!) - news gets round a village exceedingly rapidly.

I am slowly getting acquainted with the language (SWMBO and m-i-l are fluent Spanish speakers!) but, for me the key was being open and welcoming towards others and I found that they were likewise towards me. SWMBO says that despite the fact that I am not fluent in Spanish, it has been my initial approach that has been responsible for our acceptance and integration.
!
In an effort to try to understand the recent exchanges regarding the degrees of integration we achieve and the label 'pseudo immigrant' I was accorded, I looked back over threads that have dealt with this subject in the past.

I understand now that someone who has made the choice of starting a new life in a new country because he has no attachment to his native land might find it difficult to accept that it is possible to be fully integrated in a new country while at the same time, remaining attached to one's country of birth (or any other country for that matter).

However the choices we have made are part of our own personal story and to judge and label others because they have made different choices is not acceptable. We may not agree, we may not understand, but this is not a reason for putting people down because we consider that they have not achieved the goals we have fixed for ourselves. Or simply because they are different.
 

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What I've found interesting is that one of the first questions many French people ask me is 'Do you work here?' I have to say that my visa doesn't allow it which then makes them think (I think) that I'm a rich person. Which is not true. So then I tell them I'm here to write about my experiences in this wonderful city ... This gets me off the hook somewhat as thankfully writing is seen as a genuine past-time/unpaid job here.

In terms of my 'integration' or whatever other word I'm describing, the first things I did were to get a tutor, get a grocery store card, and go to the same shops regularly. The grocery store card interestingly holds a lot of value in terms of how 'integrated' locals think you are (in Paris). It shows you plan to be here for a while at least.
 

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I definitely prefer the term integration, because in my mind at least it means being part of, whereas assimilation being like (but then, I'm essentially Australian and the difference between the two terms, and their impacts, has been a matter that has been given tremendous consideration over the last several decades, although perhaps the clock is being turned back somewhat at the moment). BTW integration also allows you to retain links to your home country and culture.

As far as the label 'pseudo immigrant' on another thread is concerned, well, it was also applied to me, however I consider it was a particularly ill-considered comment that hasn't been justified in any way, is not worth the virtual paper it was written on, says more about the poster than those it was aimed at, and is certainly not worth me getting upset about :D
 
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