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. 


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