Reasons For Immigration and Challenges

What are some reasons why people from France have immigrated to the US in the last 30 years?
Most French immigrants have come as individuals or families seeking change or economic opportunity. The opportunities for young educated French people to get a good job are not as strong in France and there are not as many opportunities for career growth. French people also come as students and sometimes decide to stay. Immigrant populations moving from France to the United States have always been smaller than other European countries. It can be speculated that France is generally a humane place to live but some say that it is because French people are reluctant to organize as groups (Hillstrom).

What challenges do French people experience in the US?
Like all people who move to the USA, one of the biggest challenges for immigrants is getting a credit score. Without this, you cannot rent a place to live, buy a car, etc. unless you have a lot of cash to put down. It can also be hard to let go of the life you leave behind and an aging family that you cannot spend time with because you are very far away. Learning a new language is challenging and most French speakers have a strong accent when speaking English, which can lead to teasing and sometimes the need to repeat oneself many times to be understood.


What type of student participation is in the classroom and how are students graded?
Most participation is done in writing and students tend to work in small groups, 4-5 people, in each group. Just as in every classroom, there are strong students and weaker students and in order to motivate and help the weaker, the groups are mixed accordingly. In France they do not use multiple choice, but rather tests are based mostly on writing and responding to prompts, as well as listening to and writing down challenging and long dictations. Standardized tests are also uncommon. Even though students work in groups, they still feel peer pressure in class and feel afraid to answer questions aloud. If you answer incorrectly, everyone will laugh at you and the teacher may shame you, but if you answer correctly, people may say you are the “teacher’s pet.” Either way, some students do not feel comfortable participating. Most of the time when there is not group work, the class is quiet.

How are teachers perceived?
In the French system the teacher is meant to be perceived as “knowing everything.” Teachers expect a lot from students and students listen to and look up to them. They respect them but they would not be friends with them or speak to them on a first name basis. Just like in every situation, some teachers are boring and they do not keep the students attention. Students misbehave or slack off while others are strict and very knowledgeable and good at teaching so the students listen to them.

How do different genders interact?
In the classroom, male and female students are equal and the classes have mixed genders. When the age of puberty arrives, typical teasing or distractions the opposite sex can cause may happen. Girls usually perform better in school but it is also based on the mindset of the student.

What tends to be the policy on homework and classroom management?
It depends on the teacher and the school, but generally homework takes about 1-2 hours a night unless there is a big exam coming up and then it could be much more. Students are also expected to complete their homework and teachers will check that they have done it. Teachers will not be happy with students if they are not completing assignments and they will call their parents if it becomes a problem. Students might also be given detention on Saturdays. All of this seems in alignment with the way the American school system treats homework.

What is an average day in an elementary/middle/high school student’s life?
The school day is usually six to six and a half hours a day from Monday to Friday. On Wednesdays, there is class only in the morning. The 19th century “Ivy League” rigor still exists today. There are assigned seats and an assigned agenda for every class. In the French system, you take the classes that you are supposed to take. There is no flexibility for choices or electives. There are weekly exams on top of standard exams which are held for 3-4 hours every Wednesday. The grading scheme is also very tough and the French system can be very harsh. You can even get a negative grade.“The French system features innovative nursery and primary schools, followed by collèges, the equivalent of American junior high schools. Students then must decide whether to complete their secondary education at an academic or a vocational lycée —a three-year preparatory school similar to American high schools. Admission to French universities is based upon a rigorous, competitive examination in a specific subject area. Only top students may attend the grandes écoles, or elite schools, that serve as a prerequisite for top jobs in business and government (Hillstrom, n.d.).”

Extra information teachers might need to consider about French students
Math is the most important subject in French education. In high school, the level might be the equivalent of one year ahead compared to the US system, and much more theoretical. There is no calculus and if you use a theorem, you must be able to demonstrate it. Having the choice to pick classes in high school may be overwhelming for French students, because they are not able to do this in France. The idea of doing so many extra curricular activities is also strange to French students. Students having part time jobs, doing Boy/Eagle scouts, clubs, etc. could be overwhelming and confusing, because success and chances to get into a good university are all grade based in France. French students need to be made aware that they need extra curricular activities and social/volunteer work to help them get into a good university. Extra curricular activities in France are about three hours of sports a week but they aren’t difficult. It could be things like running on a course or disk throwing, badminton, etc. Sports are not as important socially or physically in France.

Language characteristics, similarities and differences between French and English

In a way you could say that French and English are related because French is a Latin language with German and English influence, while English is a Germanic language with Latin and French influence (Lawless, 2016). That being said, the differences do cause some trouble when learning either language.

The French alphabet contains the same 26 letters as the English alphabet but includes additional letters with various accents: é è à ù ç â ê î ô û ë ï ü. It is harder for English speakers to learn French, because they gain so many extra accents while French speakers get to leave them behind.

Between French and English leaners, students may have interference problems in class when a teacher spells out words, due to the difference in vowel and some consonant sounds. This not only affects pronunciation but also writing due to spelling errors. A typical pronunciation problem for French ESL students is the inability to correctly articulate the vowel sounds in minimal pairs such as ship / sheep, live / leave, full / fool. Also, the tip of the tongue is not used in speaking French, so learners often have problems with words containing the letters th (/θ/ /ð/), such as then, think and clothes. Finally, the omission of the /h/ sound at the beginning of words is a common struggle. The /h/ sound does not exist in French and so it might be harder to understand if someone is angry or ungry (hungry), have, heard, etc. It sometimes leads to overcompensation by pronouncing the /h/ in words like hour and honor where the /h/ is not voiced.

French and English grammar have considerable areas of overlap. Both languages, for example, have auxiliaries, participles, active/passive voice, past/present/future tenses. However, there are some differences that can cause interference in the production of English. A typical problem is the wrong choice of tense. Despite the external similarities of verb grammar, there are frequent occasions when French uses a different tense to convey a particular meaning than English. Because French does not use the auxiliary do, learners may have problems in asking questions. For example, they may simply make a statement and use question intonation: He is rich?, or they may invert subject and verb: How often see you her? Although English and French share the same basic Subject-Verb-Object syntax, there are numerous variations in the word order of sentences more complicated than I bought a new car. Article use in French is similar but not identical to that in English. French pronouns are based on the gender of the noun they are associated with; and the possessive adjectives agree with the nouns they qualify. Interference in these areas will lead to mistakes.

Due to the history of both languages, a large number of words in both have the same Latin roots and usually mean then same, but these words are commonly more academic or technical words than everyday vocabulary. Unfortunately, there is a significant number of false friends. For example, librairie does not mean library but rather, bookshop.

For more similarities and differences

Values and Beliefs

What is the common religion(s) for this group?
Roman Catholic is the most common religion but not always practiced.

Is France a nation of equal opportunity?
Misogynist culture still exists in France. Men are men and women have other roles. Men can say things to women in France that would get you in trouble in the USA. There is equality in the eyes of justice, but not in the workforce. French society has the illusion that it is true to its values some of which are, “Justice, Liberty, and Brotherhood.” This is the French way. These ideas came from the French Revolution. The real difference nowadays is that there are more people from East Africa and immigrants in general and they feel stereotyped and not given the same opportunities and first generation French people. This resonates stronger at the moment in French culture than the disparities between men and women.

What is the general view of authority?
There is a decline in the general population’s respect of authority. Some French people do not respect and believe in politics. But even worse, a big amount of people do not fear the police and the justice system anymore. The last two presidents were people that most French citizens were ashamed of and were sad to see how they were represented as a nation and viewed by the world. This despair leads some people to vote for extreme parties, like the National Front, whose leader is, Marine Le Pen. Her politics are very Nationalistic. In French, you can say tu or vous when talking to someone. Tu is informal and vous is polite and respectful. In certain settings you should always use vous with other people unless someone says otherwise. There is a hierarchy in society based on that one word. If you respect authority, you think about the way you speak to someone. If younger people are feeling less connected to this hierarchy then their lack of respect could translate in the classroom by not choosing to speak to teachers in a polite way. People appreciate authority when it helps them but when they feel that they victimized they do not really follow the rules. They question and complain about them.

What is the general view on having a voice or freely expressing thoughts?
It is very important for French people to feel like they are free to express anything they want. It is supposed to be one of the pillars of French society. Due to this, French people love to complain. People gather in the streets all the time to express their ideas and say they do not agree with politics, to talk about environmental issues, immigration issues, gay marriage, etc. However, the speech reported by the media is very consensual. All the newspapers or TV channels are owned by rich families that have great power. All media reports share a huge general message that people hear all day and begin to believe at the end of the day. People often feel like they are manipulated because they are allowed to think and say anything. The truth is they are surrounded by one consensual message from the media, which is quite dishonest. Nowadays, even though people want to express themselves, being politically correct has replaced freedom of speech. You can speak, but very carefully, depending on the topic.

Are there differences in communication patterns between French culture and what is commonly accepted as communication in the US?
It is common to kiss someones cheek when greeting, even if you do not know the person. The funny thing is it that people never know if they are supposed to kiss two or three times in a row from cheek to cheek so it can be awkward sometimes. The average American goes to the supermarket and buys everything in once place. In France, many people go to the butcher, the bakery, the produce stand, etc. They know the people they buy from and have a personal relationship with them. You know each other’s names and they know what you like to purchase. They value that person as part of the community and there is more of a humane connection. That being said, people are not as friendly on the street and may not say, “hello” back to you if you say it and don’t greet strangers or appear as happy in public.

What is the role of families in France?
A traditional family used to always be: a mother and a father who are married, and one or more children. Nowadays it is changing and there can be single parents, blended families, and homosexual families but most common is children with divorced parents. French people sit and have dinner together as a family. The schools will try and involve the parents as much as possible, if the student is not doing well. They will mail a report card to the parents. There is family time set aside for children and parents to discuss things. If you go to school in Paris and your parents live in Paris, you live at home. If you go to school elsewhere, you move to that city and live alone. In general, in France,if your university is local, you live with your family.

Are French people typically more individualistic or group oriented?
Definitely individualistic! There are a growing amount of people who are very invested in helping others and developing strategies and webs to exchange stuff, eat local food, preserve the environment, etc. There are some pretty exciting projects like that. However, most people remain very individualistic, and don’t care about helping the poor, polluting the planet, and so on.

Social taboos
Talking about money; how much you earn. Smoking marijuana is also looked on poorly by others. In general, religion, and sexual orientation can also be a taboo topic. Being polite and respecting your elders was very important, but the younger generation is losing the definition of respect.

Daily worries in France

  • Making ends meet/keeping one’s job
    The current immigration/refugee sitElections in the USA and next year in France
  • How the future looks for one’s children
  • Illness/Disease
  • The Environment

General Information About France

Important holidays
Compared to Thanksgiving in the USA, Christmas is the most important holiday as it is a time for family, and also gifts. The French national holiday, similar to the 4th of July, would be Bastille day which falls on July 14th, and commemorates the formation of the First Republic in 1789.

Typical foods/food Culture
Bread is a very important part of French culture. Every neighborhood has a bakery and it is not uncommon to see family members getting bread daily from such establishments. In France, people don’t eat to live, they live to eat. Food is respected and very much an art form. American cuisine was influenced by French immigrants as far back as the American Revolution and we still use many French words today to describe some of the foods we eat or the way we prepare them. For example: bouillon, purée, fricassée, mayonnaise, pâté, hors d’oeuvres, bisque, fillet, sauté, casserole, au gratin, and à la mode, to name a few. French meals tend to be long, but breakfast is usually not “the most important meal of the day”as it is in the USA. A pastry (croissant, pain au chocolat, baguette with jam or cheese…) and coffee is much more common than a heavy and extensive American breakfast.

Art is a very important part of French culture. It is rich in culinary art as well as theatre, painting, sculpture, and drawing. There is always a play in Paris to see and depending on where you see it, it is usually affordable. The cities are much older than the USA and have more history and thus more art to share as the architecture everywhere you look tells its own stories and whispers to you as you walk down random alleys late at night.

Important Historical Figures
*Napoleon Bonaparte: French military and political leader
*Charles de Gaulle: French president who reunited the country.
*Simone Veil : French political woman who has fought for equality between women and men.

Stereotypes that are not true
French people do not wear berets and black and white striped shirts. People often say that Parisians are rude, but it seems that they are much like any people who live in very big cities. Not all French people spend all their time smoking and drinking wine (although a good glass of wine is always nice). Not all French people are intellectuals who are fond of art and books. French men are not especially romantic. French people are not as proud of themselves or their culture and language as everyone thinks they are. They are quite critical and pessimistic about their country. They love France but they want more from “her.”

Extra information
People dress more formally and think more about their appearance more than Americans. People in the USA these days can be quite causal, especially younger people. French people are really close to their culture but American culture is more and more present in their lifestyle, especially of the younger generation. This has actually begun to change some old habits. “French people are really grouchy.” A direct quote from Benjamin, an ESL student. The French language has more richness to it than English. You have more ways of expressing yourself. There are more synonyms. Maybe because of this, the language is a reflection of the society and why Americans think the French are so romantic. In reality, they are just more expressive because they value their language as an art form and not just a way of communicating. The government in Paris makes Paris the center the country. Napoleon made things this way. So policy making is very centralized. This is not the same in the USA where States can make their own policies.

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