mardi 27 mai 2014

The truth about France

Recently Eyelean at A Landscape Selected at Random wrote a post about Americans glorifying France. I guess it really struck a cord with me because here I am writing my own thoughts about this phenomenon.

I am going to share with you a little bit about where I live in France. So here we go...

I live in a huge residence consisting of three long buildings. If you were French and living in Bordeaux and saw where I lived, you would probably be put off. It looks like I live in an HLM, or low-cost social housing, but actually I don't. My residence was built at the end of the 1960s/early 1970s to house the growing number of teachers being recruited into the region to teach the babyboomers' children. Today there are quite a number of civil servants, including teachers, living my in residence, along with a large number of students since I live near the university, retired people and divorced women. As the physical appearance of my residence scares a lot of French people, they hesitate to buy here and the prices are low. My residence is made up of 3 buildings of 15-16 floors each. I live on one of the higher floors so the view from our apartment is great. Since we live on the end of one of the buildings, we have east, west and south views (the apartments are all 'transversal' as they call it in French, meaning that the apartment crosses right through). I may live in an HLM-style building, but we live well here and most of our neighbours are in agreement with this statement.

View from our apartment of our park plus building
number one on the left side. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I live in the suburbs of Bordeaux. There are no cobblestone streets and I live in a quiet residential area surrounded by houses. What people don't know is that in front of our residence is a small pool of HLM houses. People think that we are the HLM housing when it is the houses right in front of us that are. I don't live in a "quartier chaud" as they call it, or a "bad suburb". Actually, my suburb is one of the most expensive suburbs to buy in outside of Bordeaux. Except for one poor area where my town has concentrated most of the HLM housing (not where I live), my town is well-off.

Unfortuantely, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the street leading to our residence, that goes by the HLM houses, has been blocked by a set of concrete pylons. This was done because cars would come speeding down that street and into our residence where there were some children playing around outside in front of the buildings. We live in the building that directly faces the HLM houses and the concrete pylons.

What has happened since the pylons were installed? Drug dealers have set up shop there. Since the road is blocked nobody but the residents of the HLM houses comes down there anymore so they are free to sell their drugs inconspicuously. You know when they are there because there are numerous cars parked there and sometimes there is loud music.

When the drug dealers are not there, youths from the HLM housing or elsewhere hang out there. They do make some noise, especially when they play their music, but I don't really care about the music. It's the fact that they come and hang around our buildings that bothers me and other residents. They come and eat their McDonald's on our property and leave their garbage everywhere. They hang around drinking in our garbage room (why would you ever want to do that?). They come in and spray paint our walls, even inside the buildings. They steal bikes, among other things, that are locked outside at night.

A few months ago we decided to start the process of building a fence around our residence to close off access. This was done in part because we want these people to stay off our property (which they have no right to be on as it is private property) and because we want a secure residence. It is not uncommon in France to have a completely closed-off residence.

We closed off our side facing the HLM houses first. We thought that there would be a period of adjustment, but never did I think that things would get so bad.

The people living in the HLM houses hated the gate, especially the drug dealers. They had their buyers coming in on motorbikes, so they couldn't make a quick getaway anymore in case the police decided to come. They rattled the gate so violently that it started to come apart. They made holes in the gate as well. They threatened us, saying that our behaviour was "anti-social". One of the residents of the HLM housing, a 50-year-old man with a family, was the ringleader of all this, encouraging the teenage children living in the HLM housing and their friends (and I'm guessing the drug dealers) to do what they could to destroy the gate. He would openly harass us as we walked by and he harasses our caretaker.

This went on for weeks until one day I woke up and the entire box controlling the lock on the gate was gone. All that was left was a bunch of electrical wires sticking out of the area where the box was fixed. You no longer needed a badge to open the gate and anybody could just walk in and out. A few days later the entire door disappeared.

I was so angry at the ringleader and these people. I mean, how would he like it if I went and destroyed the fence around his house during the night? My husband said that it wasn't worth losing sleep over, but I couldn't help being very hurt. I also couldn't help but think about what the ringleader's neighbours must think or feel about him. If I dislike him this much what does his next door neighbour think about him? And what about the other residents of the HLM housing, the ones that just want to lead quiet lives and are trying to do the best for their families despite their low incomes? I try to remind myself that not everyone living there is like him, that there are families there who are just as bothered by the situation as I am, if not more.

Of course our residence could do nothing to fight back. We don't have the money to rebuild the locking mechanism and even if we did, they would just take it off again. But by not fighting back, we have sent the message that we are a joke and that they can just walk onto our property and do whatever they want.

Which is what they do. Ever since they took the box away, sometimes they come onto our property and fiddle with the box that controls the gate for the cars. I know when they have been there when I see the door to the box open and the car gate open. Then at night I hear them arriving on their bikes and motorbikes, screeching victory as they go through the open car gate.

Autumn shot of our park. Photo by: Den Nation. 

So why don't we call the police, you may ask? We have, but they don't want to do anything. Yes, that's right, they want these people, especially the drug dealers, to stay exactly where they are. That way they can keep tabs on them. They would rather know where they are then have them constantly being on the move.

Yes, it's bad, but luckily, and very luckily I might say, my neighbours are great. The neighbours in my entrance are so wonderful that we invite each other for dinner and go out to restaurants together. Some of them have become real friends. For every thing that is bad about this place, there is a lot of good as well. Very few people in France can say that they have a great relationship with their neighbours.

What is the moral of this story, you may ask? Sure, you can say that every country has problems like this. However, I wrote this post for those people who read articles like the one that Eyelean referred to, ones that describe France as being this wonderful fairytale land. Anyone living long-term in France knows that this is not true. I have written this post for these people that don't know the truth about France. Most people living long-term in France have everyday problems and have to deal with awful people all the time. I do believe that my life is representative of many immigrants here in France. Just because we live in France doesn't mean that everything is perfect. This is not the stuff of dreams.

That said, I still have it pretty good, like I said. My husband lives close enough to his work to walk or cycle in less than 15 minutes. The neighbourhood is quiet and we live very close to Bordeaux's centre. We have quite a few friends that live close by as well. The view from our apartment is great and I love eating dinner with a view of the sun setting. Our neighbours are the best I have ever had. So all in all, things are great.