Beki Grinter

Laissez les bon temps roules

In European Union, France on July 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Not quite sure whether that’s how it’s spelt, and I suppose there’s some plural singular issues going on, but y’all get the drift.

My blog is taking a new turn.  Metz has just started to “get real.”

Metz is the short-hand for I’m going to be leaving the United States for over 3 months to teach classes at Georgia Tech’s Lorraine campus, located on the outskirts of Metz (although Metz is small enough that you could probably describe it as a campus located in a field outside of town).  Metz is in eastern France, in the Lorraine area, close to Alsace and the borders of Germany and Luxembourg. It is also close to two TGV lines.

And I am now preparing to leave. This means that I’m having some cultural encounters.

The first is with myself.  I’ve spent most of my adult life dealing with visas in order to be able to work in a country.  So, now I’m told that as a European Union national I can just go to France and work. I find it hard to believe that that’s even true. This is compounded by the fact that I have little experience with the European Union.  I left for the United States and for the life I would ultimately build there, before the EU really shifted into high gear.  I struggle with the idea that the England I left is now a part of an EU in which I can just show up and start working, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, …

Part of this struggle is also experienced watching my husband go through the immigration process. Immigration tells you a lot about a place. Immigration systems are an expression of values I always think.  My own experience is with the immigration system of the United States. I believe that the United States has more categories of visa than most other countries (possibly combined).  I have had a reasonably good selection, a B, an F, a J, an H, done most of the paperwork for an O, and then had some temporary ones to get me through the time when the H expired and before the greencard showed up. The U.S. values diversity, I was never eligible for the greencard lottery because too many British people emigrate here in other categories (and this is one of the reasons I think I had some of the visas that I did). The idea that they do country based balancing is interesting though. I think it’s also fair to say that the U.S. values paperwork, I keep my visa paperwork and I have several feet of it (you think I’m kidding, I’m not…) I am convinced that the U.S. is a very bureaucratic nation. I think that’s potentially at odds with the appearance it gives…

So what do I learn about France. They care about their language and their culture. The test of language. The desire to extract a commitment to learn the language. They care about their culture. The 10 hours of cultural films are a hint here. I hope they’ll let me go, even though I don’t need to see them (I don’t need the certificate that says I sat through them, but I want one–consider it taking one for the spirit of improved Anglo-French relations).

But it’s not all about immigration even though it is about a temporary emigration. I also notice that the pacing and rhythms are different. There’s a part of me that thinks wow–35 hour work week, about 8 weeks of vacation minimum, what a civilized society. And there’s a truth in that. But, I’m also used to a place where the shops are open 24/7, where the sales are not an annual event but a weekly affair, where Sunday is not different from Friday or Saturday. And I am sure that I am used to that. And I am sure that I am going to spend some period of time adjusting to the new planning. I can’t go out and get something just because I need it. I have to plan. And 35 hour work weeks are going to mean that people are not around as much as I expect them to be (not because I demand it, but because I’m just not used to a 35 hour work week).

People ask me if I’m prepared. Truthfully you can’t prepare. That’s the upside and downside of emigration. You can’t prepare because you simply don’t know enough. It’s a leap of faith. That leads to incredible highs and lows. The smallest successes lead to feels of incredible accomplishment. The frustrations are beyond the worst at home because they don’t make sense.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about immigration it is that you have to ask for help. You have to be unafraid of asking people for all sorts of support that perhaps at home would put you into reciprocal relationships with high return obligations. But there’s no other way. So I’d like to close by thanking Val, Rob, and Ian who have already helped me more than I can ever return.


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