French Persecution Complex?

That whole “jokester” issue – dealt with in my previous post, and having to do with a young Frenchman touching off a bomb-on-plane scare at JFK airport – refuses to die down, at least as far as the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro is concerned. You see, that’s not the only instance recently of French citizens tangling with the American authorities. The newspaper even thinks it sees some sort of pattern emerging, as is apparent right away in the title of its latest article, Those Frenchies [that’s the word the title uses] Being Maltreated by the American Authorities.

I must confess that I already knew that Moulet’s case was not the only one of its kind, even when I wrote to these pages a few days ago to discuss it. That’s because the earlier article from Le Monde I referred to then also discussed another rather interesting case of a French citizen being summarily deported from the US, this time an 18-year-old French woman, Diane Rousseau-Vellones, whose offense was that she had performed a few hours of baby-sitting for her hosts during an earlier three-month visit to the States. Did she receive money for that baby-sitting? “I didn’t ask for anything, but they gave me a few dollars, not more than thirty, to thank me,” she “confessed” during an airport interrogation as she was trying to enter the country a second time, in California, for another visit to “discover the country and improve her English.” What she discovered was that performing paid work even such as that, as an “undocumented alien,” was a big no-no – back to France with you, mademoiselle, right away, and at your expense!

I didn’t discuss Mlle. Rousseau-Vellones last Tuesday, because my sole subject then was M. Moulet. Too bad, I realize, because it’s all pretty outrageous. (Rest assured that I have my own preferred ways – radically different, it must be said, and rather kinder – of dealing with 18-year-old Frenchwomen who are curious about America and want to practice their English.) But that’s my function, of course, to separate for you what I think is relevant at the time from what I think is not; and that’s also why I try to include the links to the original articles, too, so that those of you with the necessary language skills can look to see what else is there. (Except that, unfortunately, Le Figaro locks its content away behind a “paid” barrier after a day or two.)

Anyway, Mlle. Rousseau-Vellones, M. Moulet – and there’s plenty more, as Angélique Négroni’s “Frenchies” article in today’s Le Figaro makes clear. Like the (unnamed) French journalist, turned away at an American immigration checkpoint because he didn’t have the proper visa; whereas before a he would be able to buy such a visa right there on the spot, this time he was simply sent back where he had come from, and this gentleman is convinced, in his words, that “the fact of being French played a role in how I was treated.” (Strange, I thought French citizens ordinarily don’t need a visa to enter the US.) Or the other French journalist, also unnamed, who had the right documentation, but was taken away for prolonged questioning anyway since that documentation showed that he had born in Algeria. Or the experience of one Agnès Vignol, who made the mistake of trying to visit the US again after having succeeded nine years previously in gaining entry there without the proper visa. No such luck this time; she was detained at JFK airport, with her arms and legs chained, before being escorted by police to an airplane to take her back across the ocean. And then, in this separate article (“This country ruined my life!”), there is the tale of Frenchman Michaël Philippe, regretfully caught up in the American machinery only recently established to chase after suspected terrorists. This means of course that he was held at length almost completely incommunicado (only calls from his lawyer and the French embassy allowed) in a micro-cell, with the usual pressure just to go ahead and plead guilty (to something he hadn’t done, but no matter) to save himself and everybody all the trouble. In all, another interesting revelation (but by no means the only one of that sort) for those interested in what the “land of the free and home of the brave” is up to these days under the current administration.

LEAVE GALLIC SPIRIT AT THE DOOR

Négroni’s last paragraph covers the interesting reactions to all this of the French authorities, consisting mainly of an appeal to behave oneself and be patient. Ne pas faire de l’esprit gaulois, they advise: Leave your “Gallic spirit” at home. As the Moulet affair showed, they point out, it’s not such a good idea to try to faire une farce when entering the US.

Négroni herself has other ideas, however. “Are the French truly victims of harassment on the part of the American authorities?” she asks, and the varied anecdotes she gives in her article of just that sort of thing happening leaves little doubt of her answer. However, to calm things down a bit the Le Figaro editors also include this article (“France Is Not the Only One Aimed At”), whose author is only given by the initials “A-C. D.L.” This points out that other countries have it even worse – in particular Poland, and so the discussion makes a full circle to this earlier €S entry in which I indeed covered what the Poles have to put up with to (try to) travel to the US. (That subject is hot once again, since Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is visiting the US, where he asked President Bush to abolish the Polish visa requirement. The President, however, reportedly deflected this request with the excuse that such questions were Congress’ responsibility.)

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