Saturday, 20 October 2012

On est tous Danette (ou Yoplait)

With grey skies pressing down on the rooftops of the city, rain streaming down the windows, and nothing interesting to report in my Parisian life, here is a little nugget of information I discovered about one of France's favourite foodstuffs last week.

Supermarkets have entire aisles devoted to it and the average person consumes over 20kg per year (around 7 times the American average) and France is home to two of the world's best known brands. But with the most of the stuff being mass-produced, it's hardly a traditional product with the status of wine, cheese or saucisson. So just why do the French eat so much yogurt?

Well, industrial production or not, it all goes back to the French habit of eating 3 course meals. In the past, at least one meal per day would end with cheese, hence the establishment of dairy products as a key part of the national diet. A grander meal might involve both cheese and desert. But with more sedentary lifestyles and an increasing awareness of the perils of high fat and cholesterol foods, people are reducing their cheese consumption and looking for healthier alternatives. Eating yogurt at the end of a meal fills the criteria of both dairy product and desert, without adding too many calories. Being a source of protein, it fills you up, while the fruit or sugar versions also satisfy a sweet tooth.

Finally, and, critically for the stereotypical parisienne, yogurt is supposedly one of the magic reasons why French women don't get fat. I'm a bit cynical about the truth of this, but I bet it keeps the sales figures high.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Expat vs Immigrant or Why I Love my EU Passport

Early on in my acquaintance with Understanding Frenchman, I referred to myself in conversation as an expat.

"But you're not an expat," he said. "You don't have an expat contract. You're an immigrant."

"Maybe you're right," I said. "But I don't exactly feel like an immigrant either."

A couple of years down the line (and still in a relationship with Understanding Frenchman, despite the powerful implications of this conversation) I still don't really know what I am. I have a permanent local contract at work, but I wouldn't be in the job I'm in if I wasn't British. Likewise, I am perfectly happy living in France, but I didn't come here intending to become French. Having come with no plans to stay forever, the best way I can put it now is that I'm not thinking of leaving any time soon.

And yet, five years is something of a turning point. It's the point where, within the EU, you have to start paying social security where you live and not in your mother country. If you work for an embassy, it's the longest you can stay before they start to fear you may go native and move you on. And, as a friend and I were saying the other night, it's the point where you may not like everything about your host country, but you start to become increasingly zen about accepting it.

The joy of being an EU citizen is that you don't actually have to worry about this stuff very much. You can stay as long as you like, work as long as you can get a job, and transfer your social security contributions when you leave. It's a situation that corresponds almost perfectly to the way I feel right now. My history is Scottish and British, but I've shared enough with France to feel that I can belong here too.

Even if I stay here forever, the only reason I can see for asking for French citizenship is to have the right to vote. I didn't mind being a bystander at the last presidential election, but in four-and-a-half years' time, I want to be involved. I've done the online tests and I'm pretty sure I could pass. But, deep down, I know that if, right now, I became French (even with dual nationality) I'd feel like a fraud. Not because I'm not integrated, not because I don't care about France or understand the French, but because I don't have the history. France is fantastic, but she isn't (yet) mine.

Maybe I'm being over-dramatic. Perhaps national identity is more about practicalities and paperwork than I think it is. Or perhaps, a couple of years down the line, I'll just feel I belong that little bit more. In the meantime, I'll just cling tight to my maroon and gold passport and hope that Britain doesn't leave the EU!

What do you think? For those of you that have taken on another nationality, what does it mean for you? And if you haven't, would you?