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.

23 commentaires:

  1. L'enfer, c'est les autres...

    We had some pretty shitty neighbours in my building, growing up. It's still an issue. My parents live downtown (imagine a place like the Byward Market, same central location) and they have to deal with noise issues, drug dealers, knife fights and other nuisances. It sucks. And this is Nantes and it's an okay area, it's just that as you know, French drink quite a bit and "le weekend" (which starts on Thursday night) is the time to just... well, party and not care about anyone.

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    1. It's definitely hell at times, that's for sure.

      Yes, people should know that even in ok areas this kind of thing happens. I live in a rich suburb!

      The drinking here is getting worse with the younger generations. I'm all for drinking outside, but smashing your bottles around everywhere is not cool.

      We used to live in the centre of Bordeaux right in front of the mosque. Let me tell you, it was noisy there, but at least there were no violent problems there. Sometimes I actually miss it even though I value the quietness of our residence and area so much.

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  2. You and Eileen are making me want to do a similar post. I understand your issues completely. We live in Lille. Pretty wonderful Lille. Right? Nope. We live in what is sometimes considered a "popular" (French meaning of the word) neighborhood. And while our building is nice and new and filled with families, students, and younger couples, drug dealers and young guys are constantly around and destroying the property. Very picturesque, isn't it?

    -Shannon

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    1. I'd love to hear your take on this!

      Actually, I hate to say this, but I always pictured Lille as a place with a lot of problems. I think reading Amber's blog has a lot to do with this.

      So sounds like you've got the same guys as we do destroying your property. It is so frustrating, isn't it? You want to do something, but you know that there is nothing you can do. One of my neighbours suggested starting a dialogue with these people. My father-in-law did that once with his upstairs neighbour that wouldn't stop making noise and it worked. Unfortunately, I don't think that this is the kind of situation where I could just waltz up and they would magically listen to me.

      So yes, my situation is definitely representative of many immigrants in France.

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  3. Oh no! terrible. I used to live downtown Lille, buildings built in square, so when people sit on their balcony, we can almost hear their conversation. Plus, nearby we had HLM as well (mixité sociale je suppose). Some of the entrances doors were broken, or covered with blood. But the rent and "charges locatives" kept rising.

    I am sorry you can't even kick out those thugs out of your residency. And the gate must had cost an arm. and to be destroyed in no time.

    No, France is not all nice and fancy as some articles like to picture it.
    I was a little apprehensive when we first arrived in the country, now I really enjoy the calm here.

    Hope you will find some peace in the future in your residency.

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    1. Yes, the gate cost us a lot. There is no point spending more money to rebuild the gate when I know they will just destroy it again. Some people in the residence want to build a concrete wall, but then we won't be able to pass (and that is the shortest way to get to the tram stop and the university) so I don't think it's in our best interests.

      It's not the noise that bothers me, it's the fact that they come here with no regard that it's not their place and that people actually live here and call this place their home.

      There are a lot of articles that paint France in such a positive light.

      The thing that scares me about the countryside is being cambrioler. I don't want to be a downer, but I know that the countryside is an easy target because the neighbours are so far away. Sure, this can happen in the city as well, but I have this idea that the cambriolages are more violent in the countryside. Maybe I'm just letting my mind run wild with that idea, though. I have thought about the positives of living in the countryside, but I know that I hate driving too much for it to ever work out. Do you work where you live?

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  4. Thank you for this. I used to be one of those people who got dewy eyed when someone mentioned they lived in France.

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    1. Well, thank you, you are exactly the person that I wrote this post for. There are many great things about France, but it is important to have a balanced view of France. Real people live here with real problems. Just because it's France doesn't change that fact.

      I hope to see you comment again and thanks for reading.

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  5. Wow, when I read the first part of your post I thought how similar the description of your apartment is compared to ours. We live in 16 buildings residency and everyone thought also that we live in an HLM. Not at all and there is no HLM nearby. We felt in love with this apartment when we see the views from the windows, it is mainly surrounded by trees and nature. Recently a social agency bought up most of the apartments in our building and decided to go through renovations. We went to a meeting but with it being the majority, we basically have no say so have to agree on the renovations. We try to sell the apartment but I was told that the market is very bad so we will probably lost like 50% of the value. This is such a shock for us, we thought about our hard earn money just gone like this. Normally people make money out of property but now I know we could also lost money on property. Such is life.

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    1. We have gone back and forth over selling our apartment or not because of the renovation situation here. The agency that oversees our residence is pushing us to get these really expensive renovations done, 10 000 euros to isolate only 15-20% of the building. When I agreed to have the study done for the isolation work, I know that it would be expensive, but I was under the impression that we would be paying for 90-100% isolation (like my friend in a neighbouring building). So our agency is pushing us because they get a cut of any work that we have to pay for. As well, we have some sort of resident association that is managed by a woman who doesn't live here, but has two apartments that she rents out. She also gets a cut of any work that is done (I don't know how this is possible). So when the study was done and just before we voted on the renovations, this woman went around and knocked on elderly people's doors to get them to hand over their vote (proxy vote) so she could get more yes votes and the works would pass. I couldn't believe this!

      So why would you lose money? Is it because you would have to lower the price because the renovations have to be paid for? My husband thought that we would make money on our property, but I knew all along that we would struggle just to break even. It must the cynic in me.

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    2. We have similar situation : we also have an agency that oversees our residence and gets like 15% of the renovations. There is a resident association consisted of some residents here, but they are volunteer so they don't earn any money. Well, we lose money because the property prices have gone down a lot in general in Nantes except downtown. It is the buyer market now and people emphasis a lot on the eco-energy things. Old properties have to invest on renovations but they can't get back the money on increasing the selling prices.

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  6. Definitely agree with you and Eyelean, not everything in France is rainbows and kittens (or fine wine and cheese). I haven't had those sorts of issues, but I've heard similar (did you ever read Amber's blog in the Nord - she had nightmare neighbours, and I have a friend who lives in la cité in Tours). Really shaking my heads over people who would deliberately orchestrate a campaign like that to "punish" you and the police who won't help.

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    1. I read about Amber's situation in the north of France and I was horrified. At least these people don't live in my residence. Amber's problem was with the people living right next door. There is no way I could ever put up with that. Your situation with your stealing roommate was pretty bad as well. She was so deceptive.

      Yes, they do wish to punish us. I can't believe that we are the "anti-social" ones - it's the other way around! Sadly, I don't think that these people will ever realise how disrespectful they really are.

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  7. So sorry to hear that you're having to go through this - having people vandalise your property must be horrible.

    On the plus side, I'm very jealous of your transversal apartment and the amazing view. We looked at a place like that once and the only thing I regret about not taking it was that I would love to be able to gaze out over the city from the comfort of my living room!

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    1. My blood was boiling when I saw that they had written 'Joker' on one of the walls in my entrance. What is that supposed to mean? Is it some kind of a message or something?

      My apartment is great, I've got to say. I don't have a view from my living room, but we do have a view from our kitchen table. And since our apartment is located on the end of a building, we have more balconies than most of the other residents. We don't really use the two balconies on the end, but we love to eat on the other two balconies, especially the one facing west.

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  8. Very interesting post! I would be so frustrated about something like this, but we are pretty spoiled in Poitiers.

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    1. Yes, it is so frustrating because I know that I am powerless to do anything about it. I just have to accept the situation and move on.

      I'm glad to hear that you haven't had these types of problems in Poitiers. Are you saying that people living in Poitiers are particularly respectful or is it your particular living situation?

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  9. I've been married to a French cop for almost 9 years, so I am waaay past the romanticized views of France that other immigrants have!

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    1. Hi Crystal,

      It's nice to see you back and I really hope to see a post from you soon!

      Yes, I'm sure that you have heard it all now after all these years with your French cop. I can just imagine the stories that you must have heard.

      I may talk about how lucky I am in my life with my husband and travels, but I just wanted to let people on the "outside" (people who think France is a fairy tale), that life here is not perfect. I think that most working immigrants here know that and that it is mostly people who are here temporarily or retired people living in an expat bubble that tell people back home about how good things are here.

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  10. That’s a nice big park! That’s amazing that you get along with your neighbors so well. How wonderful and rare.

    Of course it makes you angry! I can’t stand a lack of respect for people and their property. Does it make you a little nervous as well? It can’t be great to always be on your guard when walking past that area.

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    1. Yes, I really do love our park. Sometimes I just go outside and stroll around. Even though I have been around it a hundred time, I always love going around and seeing my neighbours.

      My neighbours here really are wonderful. I can't believe how lucky I have been.

      They do make me nervous, believe me. I think I need to install some kind of bell system for our front door because I am really afraid that they'll break into my apartment to steal from us in the morning and that I won't hear them because I sleep with ear plugs at night.

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