A week since my last post! Sorry, I’m getting lazy! I was meaning to respond to a couple of interesting comments on the last post about ‘England vs France for University‘, which raised interesting questions and merited discussion…but get bogged down with a problem with a deleted database. So I’ll do it now!
The main thought-provoking comment I’m thinking of was from Maggie C: If you live in France and your kids have been brought up as French kids … They feel French, they think French … I suppose we may be the exceptions though – we came to France not to mix with Brits but because we wanted to integrate!! (original comment abbreviated)
Two interesting points:
1) Do expat children ‘feel French’ after growing up in France?
2) The (not always successful) desire of expats to integrate with the French community
The first of these was discussed in a post a couple of months ago called ‘why do expat children want to go home.
The broad conclusion was that our own children, and most other expat children we know, quite simply don’t ‘feel French’ despite years of complete integration. Their friends (and boyfriends) are French, and they speak French as well as locals, but still they consider themselves to be at least as much English as French, and are often impartial as to whether they continue life in France or England…which I think is perhaps the ideal outcome. I wouldn’t place bets on which country either of our own daughters will end up in in a few years time.
The second comment, about integrating with the French community, is especially interesting. Our own goal was never to ‘become French’ or to encourage the children to ‘become French’. Rather, it was to help them (and us) experience a different (slower, better?, more traditional and perhaps more old-fashioned) way of life, open their eyes to different cultures, learn a second language etc. All of which of course involve some degree of integration!
For children at school this integration is pretty easy (at least, in schools that don’t have an excessive expat children population). But in reality expats, especially adults but also children, have a natural bond with other expats: a shared background, similar sense of humour, and facing the same challenges and difficulties, hence presumably the reason why expats tend to group together.
In my experience, for most expat adults the challenge is to strike a balance between integrating in the local community while also mixing with like-minded people (often other expats). Personally, if someone is interesting and easy to get along with I couldn’t care less if they are French, English, eskimo…
With ‘full integration’ of the children I would also be concerned that there is a risk of closing as many doors for them as have been opened. Part of the goal, after all, is to increase their choices and options.
I take my hat off (well, I would if I was wearing one) to those expats who arrive in France and completely integrate, mixing only with locals, because they will surely have a better understanding of French life and culture, but I think ‘full integration’ is pretty unusual, even rare. Or am I wrong? Perhaps we have moved somewhere with too many other expats! Next time we’ll try the mountains of the Auvergne perhaps…