I am not someone who picks up on hot social topics, let alone politics. An expat for the last 10+ years, I don’t feel entitled to meddle with internal affairs of the countries I happen to live in. I am coming from a place way too big for things to change, so I know that great expectations often lead to big disillusionment. Plus, I am a millennial and by now, after hundreds of expensive consultants’ reports conducted on millennials, everyone should know that we only mind our own business and our own benefit.
One thing that makes me write this post: I love France. I have chosen to live (and pay my taxes) here, after having lived in Helsinki, London, Istanbul, South Korea, Munich and a couple of other places. It costed me multiple relocations (at my own expense), troubles of residence permit and a 30% salary cut once I moved out of Germany. And I am perfectly happy about it. Sure, paying 53% of my salary in taxes doesn’t make me French. But it does entitle me to have an opinion on the subject as vital to the country and as close to my heart is immigration.
In my opinion, immigration is good for France. Take me. I am a holder of an exquisite European Blue Card residence permit, the one reserved for the highly skilled, talented or in other ways rare workforce. I work for a multinational, and because of the nature of my job, I don’t compete with the local labour force, i.e. French people working for the French customers. I do, however, pay my taxes here. This makes everyone happy: I live in Paris, France gets 53% of my income, and I don’t take anything from the local labour market. It is a situation many countries would like to have. In fact, back in the days when I lived in Germany with a similar arrangement, German immigration sercvices used to send me letters, in English – people, in English! – to make sure I am doing okay and happy with the system. Germany also paid me a lot more, for the same job I am doing here. And yet I left for France.
Why? Not only because of Paris’ gorgeous skyline. Mostly because of its people. Because of the French. Russian immigration has a rich history in France. It goes back to 1917 and the so-called White Immigration: Russian elite leaving the country of Soviets after the October Revolution. French was the official language of the Emperor’s Court. In fact, a lot of classic Russian literature – Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bunin – is partly written in French. So when the communism broke loose, all the noble people fled to Paris. They brought their books, family photographs and their religion with them. Most started working for the first time in their lives, as house maids or cab drivers. But they were still printing their newspapers, their poems and their books, all forbidden in the Soviet Union. You can see a lot of it the Musée National de l’Histoire de l’Immigration in Paris . This cultural heritage, together with a high level of education, is probably a reason why French love Russians today. In fact, it is great to be Russian in Paris. People talk to you about Russian literature, Russian art, Russian politics (they even admire Putin, but it is a different story). French accepted me with their open arms – and an open mind.
It was not the case in Germany, at all. Or, I should probably, say, in Bavaria, where many people still live with the reference point dating back half a century and make no effort to hide it. So I left Munich – despite all the sweetness of the state letters in English, the only piece of English language I could find there outside of the office, – and came to Paris.
In Paris, I found home, love and friends. I have felt myself a part of the French society from day one: with my French, which should have been terrible at the time. I was the first person converting the Blue Card issued by Germany to a French one. No one in the administration knew how to process it. So I came to the city hall on one warm August day, and brainstormed with the officials there, together. They shared tea and some sweets with me, we all laughed. It felt genuine and effortless, natural and very human. With my work situation I could probably leave anywhere I wanted. I would never considered living anywhere else.
There are many things I love about France. I love the elegant beauty of the architecture, the grey mixed with gold, I love the the history behind every stone, the traditions. But much more than that I love the personal touch, the culture of togetherness that the French breathe. You take time to know people. I talk to the gardienne in my building, an adorable French lady in her late 70s, every week. She told me the stories of people who live in our house, and her own, about losing her grand child in the very room she lives now (one more reason not to retire, for her). You have lunch with colleagues. You celebrate things and you bring souvenirs from vacation. I also love the province, the fact that every area of France has its own cheese and wine, and I love Paris food markets. I love old French songs, epic speeches of général de Gaulle, love letters of François Mitterrand, old French songs and contemporary French movies.
And I love the diversity. I love African, Chinese and American people who came here and made Paris their home. I like meeting successful doctors, lawyers and real estate agents with foreign last names. To me, they are people from my tribe: people who risked it all for something they believed in, those who left everything behind to follow their heart, who stepped into unknown to make their dream come true. People who used to be expats, migrants, refugees. And I love French people, who made it possible for them.
I love taking Paris’ metro (despite the raising eyebrows of some of my Paris friends when I say this). I love watching the people there. All the mix of backgrounds, splashes of jewelry, parade of styles. To me, that’s what makes Paris unique. The heart of its people is what makes it amazing.
And then I understand, no one is happy to pay for people they don’t know. Neither am I, believe me. I don’t have the answers on how to integrate those who don’t want to integrate and when enough is enough. I just know that giving a chance pays back. It just so happens that chance is a French word for “luck”. And France could have some luck today.