Je le Savais

If only every child could learn another language as early as possible!
Based on my personal experience with my children, yes, juggling between two languages is an asset.
Now, the best news: it seems it’s also good for older people.

Heath Care for a Healthier America

The Supreme Court is revisiting the health care law that opponents call Obamacare.
As many as 47% Americans, according to recent surveys, oppose the fact that in 2014, every American would be required to get health care insurance or be fined. But in an interesting contrast, as many as 87% are in favor of having insurance companies covering patients with pre-existing conditions.
Opponents to mandatory health care insurance argue that federal government shouldn’t force individuals to purchase anything they don’t to want purchase.
It would be, they say, as if we were forced to buy a car we don’t want to buy.
A car is a pretty good example since its life expectancy is not eternal and people expect to purchase more than one in their lifetime.
Human life doesn’t last forever either and it is common sense to expect anyone’s needs for medical treatment to increase with age.
Why would we require insurance companies that are, after all businesses, to cover medical expenses for people who would only want to seek health insurance when needed? Insurances work because of financial contributions we do in case we would need them.
It is funny that people don’t blink when it comes to insure cars or houses but protest when it comes to their most precious asset: their health.
From a French perspective, it is difficult to grasp the reasons behind the fierce opposition. After all, regardless of age and income, any French contributes proportionally to the national social security that allows French citizens to seek medical treatment for a reasonable cost.
Is it perfect? No, recently more French complain of long waits before seeing a specialist. Depending of geographic locations, the length of wait and the choice of physicians greatly vary.
However, it is well established that life expectancy in France is higher than in the US and that French people are in better health than Americans are.
Couldn’t it be because they all have access to health care insurance?


France 2012

Since the French cities of Montauban and Toulouse made the international headlines, many American friends, surprised and shocked, have asked me about the reasons behind such violence.  
Their questions remind me of their similar surprise and shock when the Parisian suburbs exploded in the fall 2005.
The bloody events in Toulouse and Montauban show a side of France that is often unknown to Americans.
It is understandable since all books recently published in the US about France present a somehow idealistic or at least privileged country that has little to do with the real contemporary France.
If Americans read books such as Paris, My Sweet, Bringing up, Bébé or French Kids Eat Everything, to name only a few of the latest releases, they can only be shocked when they discover the racist, extremist and violent face of France.
Depicting a contemporary France is hard. It means stopping to portray a picture-like country.
It is flattering to see Bringing up, Bébé at my local Whole Foods, and I am aware that the book is indeed intended for an audience who can afford expensive food.
In the same way, it is expected to read in the New York Times that French kids eat everything and behave perfectly around a dinner table, even at 9:00 pm.
I shop at Whole Foods and read the New York Times.
I also shop at Safeway and read the Figaro, considered a conservative French newspaper.
I read Le Monde and watch CNN and Fox News at the gym.
Although I like the comfort of reading articles that match my idea of how the world should be, the world is larger than mine, with all the discomfort it brings.
It would be silly if the French thought that all Americans eat fast food, are obese, own guns, and only speak English.
For the French native I am, it is silly to say that all French babies sleep through the night at three months old and all kids adore carottes râpées.
It is a lovely flattering portrait but an idealistic portrait of a very small privileged France.
The France my friends and family know is not as pretty as an Impressionist painting.
Real French people tell of a decrease in the quality of health care and education, of high unemployment, of immigration issues, and of a country torn between the republican ideal of laïcité or laicism and the ascent of religious extremism.
Both aspects of France exist but with less and less interactions.
The France of Toulouse is, sadly but truly, closer to reality than the France of polished upscale Parisian arrondissements that less and less people can afford. 


Pedro Pan and Boycotting Cuba

Cuba native Carlos Eire, now a professor at Yale, was brought to the United States in 1962. He was eleven years old. His brother accompanied him but his parents stayed behind. Only his mother was able to join him years later. His father was forbidden to leave Cuba and died there, in the late 70s. The two never saw each other again since Carlos was sent to the US.
Part of a plan called Pedro Pan by the Americans, translated from Peter Pan, Carlos was one of 14 000 children who got a visa waiver to leave Cuba for the US. More children left for European or South America countries. 
The children’s parents were targeted as opponents to the Castro’s regime and they decided to give another life to their children.
Of course, they hoped to be reunited within months. They didn’t know yet about the missile crisis and that the doors between Cuba and the rest of the world would be closed soon.
As a mother, I can only imagine the incredible choice and sacrifice the Cuban parents made and also the suffering of the separation they experienced, for some of them, until death.
A scholar, Carlos Eire had deliberately buried this period of his life in his intimate memories. Yet when in 1999, the heartbreaking story of young Elián González summoned vivid childhood memories and he had no choice but write about his own scarring experience. But as anyone who has ever tried to write about a painful subject, fiction is always easier.
However, Waiting for Snow in Havana is Carlos Eire’s story. 
It is also the story of 14000 children.
It is the story of Cuba.
Although I knew about the dictatorship and lack of freedom in Cuba, hearing from a man who still has family there, about free education and health care to the cost of forced labor and repression, felt much more real.
Questions fused from the audience and time kept many to ask more about Cuba and what can be done about Cuba.
I avoid asking questions in a crowd aware of the distraction my accent often creates. Maybe Mr. Eire read my mind because he said that if we wanted to change the fate of Cuba, boycott was the answer.
The country lives from tourism. Without money coming from visitors, the regime would be forced to change.
Boycott is a strong weapon, if used by many.  
I remember, growing up in France, of the huge boycott on Outspan oranges to protest the Apartheid in South Africa.
My own boycotts now days are personal small battles that don’t feel victories. 
I boycott l’Oréal because the Nazis protected the French company during WWII, allowing the company to thrive when France was on its knees. 
I boycott businesses that have asked me too many times where I come from.
I boycott a trip to China because of the violation of human rights. 
I avoid buying Made in China, but where has my Mac Air been manufactured?
And I went to the USSR in the mid 80s when thousands of Russians lived under the terror of an oppressive regime.
I still consider my trip to the Soviet Union as one of the most meaningful experiences I ever had. On my way back to Paris, I felt like kissing the soil of my native land.
Seems excessive? The joy of moving freely, of talking freely, of reading freely, and the joy of simply being alive was exhilarating, and my gratitude for being born in a place that fought for freedom was limitless.
Accidently, my son is now working on an injustice project for school. He picked his subject without talking about it but asked me the other day if I could watch his power point presentation.
Surprisingly, he chose to research the Gulag and its toll on contemporary Russia.
Memories of my unusual trip to the Soviet Union flashed back to my mind.
Today as I listened to Mr. Eire, many disturbing questions broke my peace of mind.
Was I wrong to go to the USSR? Had my contribution to the tourism slowed down the end of the Soviet regime? Was it an insult to the Russian people to be allowed in restaurants and hotels they couldn’t enter and afford anyway? Was it okay if I gave magazines, earrings, beauty products, and even toilet paper and tampons to young Russians hungry to know the world beyond their borders? Was it voyeurism to visit crowded and below minimum standards apartments? Should I have boycotted the country for being one of the most repressive and brutal of the world?
Boycott is not an easy choice.  

What Acceptance to College Means for Immigrant Parents

Parents cherish the hope that their children will live happy fulfilling lives and that they will do better than them.
If it sounds cliché, this hope is even more important for immigrant parents.
Our children’s achievements are the proof of a successful assimilation in the adoptive country.
Since early March, alongside thousands of other kids across the country and abroad, my seventeen-year-old daughter is waiting for college acceptance decisions.
She and her father take turns checking online the status of her applications, even waking up in the middle of the night since some colleges post their decisions at 2:30 a.m. Don’t ask me why!
As it has been for her sister three years ago, acceptance to an American College  marks an emotional step in the journey my husband and I travel since we left France.
This month, as my daughter gets excited about her future, I realize with an equal mix of joy and nostalgia that she is ready for take off.
She is my 100% American child, conceived and born in the USA, and I cannot help but be proud.
Her success is my victory too. 

Going Out of Traditional Print

244 years after the Encyclopedia Britannica was published for the first time, it will only be available online.
In a definite sign of time, Wikipedia has already updated the information.

As a kid, I used Tout l’Univers, a much cheaper encyclopedia. When libraries and bookstores were the only available sources to research a topic for a school project, having Tout l’Univers at home was a luxury.  
Curious about the status of the French encyclopedia of my childhood, I checked it out.
The publisher Hachette offers the content online through subscriptions, so, to access the website, you need to register with a password.
In the 70s, my mother saw my immediate interest when the saleswoman showed us the volumes covered in a dark red colored material, imitating the luxurious and serious aspect of leather, and she signed a contract.
Years later, she admitted that she had worried for the impact of the cost on the family budget and had spent an afternoon calculating how she would manage to pay the monthly installments.  
Now, one volume from the original series can be found online for less than one euro.  
Such news makes me feel very old!


French and American Presidential Election

Fascinating times to be French and American! A presidential campaign in each country in the same year doesn’t happen all the time.
As most of France wants to get rid of President Nicolas Sarkozy, called Nicolas Le Pen in the Wall Street Journal for his conservative views on immigration, and is ready to give a chance to socialist candidate François Hollande, a solid part of the American population considers trading President Barack Obama, elected for his message of hope and change, for a Republican, perhaps even a very conservative one.
Interesting to note that France has not elected a socialist President since François Mitterrand (1981-1995) in comparison to the USA who reelected Democrat Bill Clinton for a second term in 1996.
Interesting also to imagine a French socialist and an American conservative meeting.
At least, the French know everything about the American presidential candidates. Reading the French news online, or watching TV, you would think the French can even vote for one of them! 
A few articles about the politics in France pop up, here and there, in the American media. The majority are related to immigration and assimilation issues. But who knows about François Hollande?
Cannot wait for April and November!

Monsieur Moebius

Moebius or Jean Giraud, a comics legend is dead.
Moebius was one of my favorites because of the science fiction worlds he created with l’Incal and Arzak. 
I must sadly admit that I quit reading bandes dessinées and Moebius years ago, when I moved to the US. 
The American culture, although very visual and graphic, doesn’t embrace the comics as much as the French culture does. It remains a more marginal world that doesn’t have the recognition it has in France, Europe and Japan.
Almost all Americans kids I know through my own kids, although avid readers and intellectually curious, have rarely read comics. For them, it evokes the weekly cartoon in the Sunday paper. 
My son is an exception since he taught himself how to read in French with Tintin, Tanguy et Laverdure and Asterix. It is today time to introduce him to the magical worlds and skills of Moebius. 
Today, France, but also the rest of the world, has lost le grand monsieur de la bande dessinée.

Professeur de Français

Although I studied French literature in France, I never planned to be a teacher. But being a parent does make anyone a teacher. 
As for me, becoming a mother came with an additional perk or obstacle depending on how you consider a challenge: raising my children away from my native France.
Except for my eldest daughter born and raised in Paris for a year, English and French have constantly cohabited in my home for my three younger children.  I had big strategies when it came to making them bilingual and bicultural. 
First I would only speak and read French to my children so they would understand my mother language and not catch my French accent when I speak English. Then I would teach them the French grammar so they would also read.
My plans didn’t work as expected. The main reason was my difficulty to be a teacher to my own children.  
French was the language we spoke in the coziness of our home. It was in French that I comforted my children when they fell, got an immunization, had a fight with a friend or just a cold. It was in French that I read bedtime stories, sang and told my children about my own childhood.
If I taught them French in a formal way, wouldn’t the warmth of our relationship disappear? If I made them learn French conjugations, wouldn’t the verb aimer lose its meaning?
Let’s face it: I was afraid they would hate the French language if I were to be a real teacher.
I only sat down a few times with my children, all of them still in elementary school, with a French method, paper and pencils on the table.  Excitement built inside me until I saw their faces pinched with a mix of amusement and annoyance. And I gave up without really trying.
In the end, my three daughters took French in high school.  Someone else taught them the different groups that divide the French verbs and made them learn their conjugations. Each of them got excellent scores on their SAT subject test. They don’t owe me their success.
My son taught himself how to read with the Tintin albums and he would love to take Italian classes when his time comes in high school.
Yes, my children understand French, can read a menu and much more, can watch French cinema although they are partial to American movies, know many French singers, often from the 80s due to their parents’ discotheque, and can talk to their French grandparents.
No, they don’t talk to me in French, and yes, they alternate between Maman and Mom when they address me.
We live in a permanent world of Franglais but we don’t notice since it is our world.
I abandoned my dream of teaching French to my children but I have taught occasionally my mother language to other children, and they have enjoyed it.
So, now that one by one my children are spreading their wings onto the wide world and leaving the nest, it is time for me to become a French teacher.
I have finally said yes to the countless offers I received to teach French lessons.
This spring for eight weeks I will teach the beauty and tricks of the language I learned many years ago in France to American children and adults.
I will read on their faces the same mix of excitement and annoyance I read on my children’s faces.
But it will be okay.
They won’t be my children and they will love having a French teacher who is really French.
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