Letters to the Editor: Race matters

15th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

Expatica France readers respond to the past two weeks of troubles in the suburbs of France's major cities, specifically to questions of French racism and the best translation for the word 'racaille'.

In response to: Damage done: riots tarnish France's image

Dear Editor,

During the colonial period, France went out of its way to explain that its policy was to "create black Frenchmen". In that respect, this policy was a success. The problem is, these people are not recognized as being "truly French".

Even for those of color who have been born in France, they are still considered second-class citizens. The French government's longstanding policy has been to run a program which requires its citizens to ignore race, and to treat everyone equally. It sounds great on paper, but in practice Gaulish pride continues and those whose names are Khalim instead of Pierre continue to get the dirty end of the stick.

In the States, it was recognized that the Melting Pot had given way to the Salad Bowl; yes, people of different races can live together, but they will retain their cultural identities. People naturally take pride in their roots, and any attempt to stamp them out or penalize them will result in resentment and ultimately violence. That is exactly what has happened!

French-speaking Arabs have found themselves in a country which officially welcomes them, but unofficially criticizes them.

Two out of every five of them are chronically unemployed, their daughters are criticized for wearing headscarves in school (a facet of cultural identity), and corporations routinely use a glass ceiling on their progress up the ladder. Any attempt to change the system labels them malcontents, and illustrates further proof that they "are not French".

Sadly the answers to these problems will require enormous sacrifice on the part of the length and breadth of France. The entire cultural identity of what it means to be French will be required to change. Rather than coming from the glorious roots of Ancient Gaul, to be French will mean that you were born there, or in a satellite country, or that you have been accorded citizenship by the government; nothing more, nothing less!

It remains to be seen whether France is ready to take that step, and abandon the comforts of the past for the uncertain shape of the future!

Lawrence Burdick

(Address not submitted)


The following letters are responding to my 'Message from the editor' in last week's newsletter where I discussed the difference in French and American usage of the word 'racism'. -- Expatica France editor Clair Whitmer

Dear Editor,

I too have been shocked by comments from educated liberal individuals that have been very uneducated in their opinion of Muslims living in France. Thank you for such a well thought out piece of writing on a complex subject.

Catherine Lane

(Mazan, France)


Dear Editor,

As a Jew, I have always felt the Equalité, Fraternité, Egalité that appears on buildings everywhere was hypocritical. It didn’t stop the Vichy regime deporting Jews during the war.

Whilst I have no sympathy for the violence the seemingly Moslem youths are using I have every sympathy for how they must feel. As you suggest, France criticises the Anglo/Saxon policy of multiculturalism without understanding the racism implicit in their own policy, of demanding everyone becomes a Frenchman.

I am also appalled at the amount of energy that goes into defending the rights of French farmers, remembering that it is mostly large businesses which benefit. If only the same kind of energy was used to promote and encourage employment for the youths currently rioting, perhaps things would be different.

Anton Neumann

(No address submitted)


Dear Editor,

There's no question that it's difficult to analyze in a couple of paragraphs a mult-faceted problem that has roots going back centuries. Nevertheless, you nicely captured some of the key elements of interest to Americans living here in France.

I take exception with one point, which is the proper translation of "la racaille". 

In fact, "rabble" or "riffraff" are much better translations in my opinion. These are words with Latin roots and ties to the concepts of raking, scraping, stirring, rifling and other "action" words.

"Racaille" (c.f. "racler" to grate, to scrape) would seem to be in the same group.  "Scum" with middle English and teutonic origins speaks to the "nature" of something and not its "action". 

I have seen this translation in some American news reports. It may evoke an excessively negative image for anglophones, mixing up as it does the nature of individuals and the behavior of individuals. 

Dr. Tom Hall

(Paris, France)


Dear Editor,

I agree with your observations and assessment of the current root cause for the riots. I lived in Paris for five years and it was very apparent (perhaps to outsiders) that discrimination is alive and well in France; in particular towards the immigrants from Africa.

Anti-semitism also exists, but less obvious to the non-Jewish person. Having said that, we were not comfortable with the North-African young men especially after 9/11.

And it is understandable that the French want to maintain their culture. After all, isn't that why it has so much tourism from all over the world? It's a difficult challenge not only for the French, but also for the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Italy. It is very unfortunate for those of us that enjoy Europe that this massive problem exists.

And it is magnified by the Muslim extremist base that is responsible for so much of the violent activities throughout the world. I will return to France but less comfortably than in the past...

Ray Garcia
(California, US)


In response to: Moving companies and French unemployment

Dear Editor,

I find it hard to believe that being a journalist living in Paris that you can be so clueless to the culture you are living in. It's about the quality of life NOT the quantity! It seems that to you corporate welfare is O.K. HP can receive fiscal incentives to create jobs and then can toss out a quarter of its work force without justification or impunity. To ask for the money back is ridiculous to you. You really are living in the wrong country. As to your moving needs,w hile you spend your Saturdays moving in with your family, the mover's need to spend Saturday quality time with their families is just as important! It's about the quality of everyone's life, not just yours! If you hate the 35-hour work week so much, go back to corporate America where you can work everyday of the week you want!

Patricia Dorange

(No address submitted)


In response to: Welcome to France - in pictures

Thank you very much for the [Welcome to France Fair] at the Louvre on Oct. 16. It was enjoyable and informative. I am interested in living in Paris for a year or two at the start of my retirement and many of the exhibitors offered good info for my planning. Many thanks also for your great website. I will be visiting it often as I pull my "life change" together.

Chris Hand

(No address submitted)


Write direct to the editor.

While we never publish personal email addresses, please submit your name and a city/country address.

NOTE: The editor reserves the right to reasonably edit letters published here, for reasons of space or coherence. Readers opinions are published as independent comment and do not represent the views of Expatica France.

November 2005

© Expatica France

Subject: Living in France, French news, Letters to the Editor

0 Comments To This Article