Adopt or die! Be like Parisians in Paris; behave like Germans in Munich. If you can’t change the color of your skin and improve your accent, at least try to look like you are making a great attempt at going with the flow. Unwritten rule number one of the ‘Old Continent’ is that Europe knows what is best for the rest of the world. It knows how to be free and democratic; it knows how Chinese or Vietnamese or Latin Americans should feel and speak and write and behave. And vote. Amen!
It was the end of May in Paris and it was very hot. I was exhausted after filming interviews in London, Geneva, Brussels and Paris for my African documentary film. In the Pullman Hotel where I was staying, my luggage had its muzzle open, taking a long desperate breath before yet another monstrously long flight to Ho Chi Minh City via Cairo and Bangkok. At the top I spotted my bathing suit, grabbed it and in no time ascended to the 22nd floor, ready for several laps at the roof pool before my journey.
“Oh no, Monsieur!” my path was briskly blocked by an attendant. “You cannot swim in this. It is too long. It is against the rules.”
I began arguing that my perfectly legitimate bathing suit was bought in France just a few days ago, but the attendant was set on a confrontational path. She showed me a laminated printout with a normal (at least in the US, Canada, almost all of Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Africa) bathing suit crossed out as unacceptable and with a tiny, skimpy, male bikini highlighted as the only one that was satisfactory to wear.
Naturally, I fought. I protested. I brought up European cultural chauvinism and discrimination. She retaliated, bringing a bouncer. I asked what would happen if a Muslim woman came with a long bathing suit? Would they demand that she go naked or wear a bikini? They said she would not be admitted. This was France! (Pronounced with pride). I said, “I am a novelist and film director, not a Rambo or Tarzan – I would feel comical wearing a tiny cloth hardly covering my anus and genitals.” I asked them whether they would force Woody Allen or Noam Chomsky to wear that stuff? The Bouncer moved closer. He looked like a serious and determined dude. I knew I had lost, as I always do in Europe.
The previous day I had tried to go for a walk. But as I exited the metro at Concorde, I found that the police and security agents were blocking the entire area. Rumors were that Hillary Clinton was in the neighborhood, ahead of the G-8 meeting. The area around Westin was clearly under siege and people were barred from sidewalks and from entering the Tuileries Gardens – arguably one of the most beautiful parks in Europe. Security was arrogant, handling motorists and pedestrians like the lowest kind of cattle. I felt like I was in a feudal society – definitely not in the country that brags about its moral mandate to tell the rest of the world how to exist. All this chaos to protect one ruler!
In the continental Europe in general, and France in particular, I am aware of the fact that I have to constantly comply with an endless list of written and unwritten rules and regulations. My personal preferences are ignored. I feel that I am forced to conform – to obey – in Europe much more than in China or Singapore or in Asia in general.
Some restrictions are comical, some very serious. I have to eat when I am told that I should feel hungry. I have to wear seatbelts even on the inter-city buses. I have to yield to bicyclists who it are madly pedaling in order to relieve their hatred and frustration in the middle of major cities. And I have to swim in a bathing suit that is prescribed (I guess I am still lucky – being a Muslim woman – not an atheist man – would be much more frustrating).
I also have to fear and respect the authorities. One year ago, while departing Paris for Seoul, I complained that security was openly harassing a group of elderly Korean women. Result: my bags were emptied, my professional cameras thrown around and I was insulted to my face. When I demanded to know the name of the officer, he barked at me: “My name is Nicolas Sarkozy!” I protested. He mooned me. In the middle of the airport. In front of dozens of people he pulled down his pants and showed me his hairy ass! Now, if this had happened in Beijing or in Caracas, you can imagine the next day headlines that I would be encouraged to produce in the Western mainstream media!
But I guess everything is relative. Things could get much worse. In the countries where French military and police are training security forces, I would not get away with any criticism at all.
To give an example, 3 weeks ago, before boarding Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi at the airport of Djibuti (some sort of semi-fascist Francophone service center for EU and US troops as well as training ground for French foreign legions) I dared to complain about having my passport and boarding pass checked twice in just 10 seconds. Enormous security guard grabbed my shirt, dragged me to the gate, closed the door, smashed my D-300 Nikon camera against concrete floor and began beating and choking me. I would probably have been killed right there on the spot if his colleagues hadn’t interfered.
France is great if you are French, were born in France and had all your cultural habits formed here. Or at least you should be European to feel comfortable here. Others may feel slightly discriminated against, even bullied.
Several US intellectuals, including brilliant documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, recently ‘fell in love with France’; with its social system, including medical care. Others consider French and Scandinavian models as the true path to 21st century socialism.
There is one tiny hindrance to such theories. French (and other Europeans) are fighting for a 35-hour work week, for free medical care, and for subsidies for their farmers. They fight in order to secure a much better life – but exclusively for French citizens. True, internal distribution of wealth in France is better than in the United States. But there is absolutely no internationalism in the French struggle for a better world. In fact, any French political party that would promote internationalism in its pre-election campaign would lose, surely and patently.
A 35-hour work week and early retirements are paid for by the same foreign policy and plunder of poor countries that is implemented by the US and UK. Clearly, French and French-based multi-national companies ransack former French and Belgian colonies. Multi-billion dollar euro agricultural subsidies to French and other EU farmers de facto kill millions of African rural inhabitants and impoverish hundreds of millions farmers in Asia and Latin America.
In Dakar, for instance, all stores are packed with French products that sell for triple the price that is sold in Paris. Senegal is in the meantime one of the most corrupt countries in Africa, with average monthly incomes of roughly two liters of French yogurt.
‘Educating’ of African Francophone elites (so they can serve the interests of France instead of serving their own countries) is very well documented. More or less free press – yes! Free for French, as not many of them would write against the arrangement of the world in which they are ruling, anyway. But definitely not free for the citizens of ‘subordinate’ nations.
The Recent escalation of ‘engaged foreign policy’ of France – read attack on African nations under the cover of humanitarian help as well as fueling civil wars in its former colonies – is proof of neo-colonial ambitions of the state: ambitions that are causing almost no protests in France. The issue of the killing of Africans is obviously not seen as important as the demands for an increase in wages. Instead of increasing productivity (definitely not what France can be proud of), in order to maintain a high standard of living for French citizens, the country is choosing a much easier path – expansion. And expansion often means bringing foreigners – at home and abroad – to submission.
Which brings us in a great circle back to the story of my swimsuit and the right to eat dinner at 3 in the morning. I somehow don’t believe that all these restriction are there just to ‘protect the labor force’, unless the labor force is exclusively French!
Being an internationalist I therefore suggest: let’s apply the same regulations everywhere. Let’s not allow France to intervene in Africa unless we allow African nations to intervene in France (militarily, if they feel the moral urge). Let’s apply the same labor laws in France as well as in French colonies, former and present (I mean de facto colonies, not de jure ones). Let foreign countries subsidize their own agriculture and erect trade barriers, as France does. That would save many lives.
In the meantime, I would suggest retaliatory measures strictly against French citizens traveling abroad: no bikinis and no skimpy swimsuits! And definitely no legionnaires! The world has had enough of them!
Andre Vltchek (http://andrevltchek.weebly.com/ ) – novelist, filmmaker, investigative journalist, author of numerous books and documentary films. His latest non-fiction book – Oceania – deals with western neo-colonialism in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia (http://www.amazon.com/Oceania-André-Vltchek/dp/1409298035). His latest novel about war correspondents and the Latin American revolution is available in French: http://www.amazon.fr/Point-non-retour-André-Vltchek/dp/2916209816/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297758349&sr=8-2