Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. France is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your French language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, it’s important to understand how French immigration policy has changed the ethnic makeup of the country in recent years.
The French population has grown substantially in the last twenty years.Although ethnic statistics are not compiled in France, there has been a significant increase in immigration from the Francophone North African states of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as Francophone West Africa.
This influx has put pressure on state resources and has lead to high unemployment and a degree of social exclusion, often in the “banlieues,” or outer suburbs of the big cities. The problems experienced by these groups have led to increasing social unrest, including demonstrations and some rioting.
During a visit to one such “banlieue” of suburban Paris, former President Nicholas Sarkozy famously promised to rid the area of this “racaille” (rabble). In 2004, he commissioned a white paper to analyze the problems of the “banlieues,” or “cites” (cities), as the expanding ethnic ghettoes were called. When he became president in 2007, he appointed a daughter of immigrants, Fadela Amara, as minister for cities. In 2008, she launched the “Hope Banlieue” initiative. She was a Socialist and left the government in 2010.
Another key issue, affecting particularly the Muslim North African and West African immigrant population, was the banning of the niqab and burqa face coverings in public places, including schools, in 2012. This controversial measure was criticized as “imprisoning” devout Muslim women in their homes and precipitated protests, arrests, and police fines. It also led to increased allegations of racism and discrimination and lent fuel to the “Front National”, a far-right party, call for tighter control of immigration.