Anger is steadily rising in France. There is an overwhelming sense that people are fed up with the current atmosphere. Prejudices are not mentioned aloud but they do exist regardless of your origin or social background. We talked to a prime example of french middle class woman who is tired of the discrimination and abuse from her government. Here she explains why she is tempted to vote for the extreme-right wing.

I was born just after the war to a poor family from Bourgogne. I lived with my parents until I was 17. At the time, De Gaulle was still seen as the savior of France and the man who said “no” to the Americans. A really powerful figure that made one mistake: he said no to the liberation of Algeria. It lead to a generation of migrants who were confused about their identity; not Algerians anymore but not French yet. As soon as our country had been rebuilt, the government forgot them and left them alone and unemployed.

I was living in Paris as a successful woman who was the head of a retirement home. I was financially secure and my independence allowed me to do whatever I wanted. My life was quite comfortable–I probably should have been a rich, left wing liberal but a part of me staved off those believes. I always thought that our country would implode sooner or later because the state wasn’t taking the immigrant question seriously enough.

A friend warned me in 1981 when Mitterrand became President. I still hear him saying, “Leave the country, trust me leave the country! It’s gonna blow up!” Like an idiot, I didn’t take this advice too seriously and continued my exciting life. It wasn’t until 1998 when I went bankrupt that I realized the truth in his words. I was at this time running an export-import company but a crook meddled and ended my business. I was ruined and alone.

Compulsory liquidation is a harsh process: the government takes everything. You don’t even have access to your bank account anymore. I couldn’t afford living in my big house in the center of Paris so one day, without warning, the court bailiffs came to throw me and the furniture out. I took my daughter, the cat and the dog and we went to our City Hall, like the bailiff had told me to do. The social worker was on vacation but she would come back in fifteen days. Great, she was resting and we were sleeping out on the street.

Here begins the real trouble. With no housing and no money to even rent an apartment, we slept in a cellar, then a drug addict invited us into his house until eventually we got money from the social worker to sleep a few days in a hotel. It took them three months to send me my first minimum income for integration–we lived on that and what I was able to shoplift. Just imagine a woman wearing Chanel suits and hiding meats underneath. Of course, I went to the food bank where we were given rotten meat. The funniest part of the story was that my eight years old daughter was going to the most expensive school in Paris. We were living on the street and she was dealing everyday with the children of the aristocracy.

The first thing I noticed was that Social Services was full of blacks. I was the only French and I can tell you that discrimination still exists in social services. The applications of immigrants are treated in priority because the government thinks that they don’t have anything in this country. It thinks it will help them to integrate. We, French people, may have a family to help us. I had no family.

I managed to enter the convent of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception. Immaculate Conception was a suitable word for this place as 40 black women without documents were waiting to give birth or were raising children under 6 months. They were all here to wait for papers that they were sure to receive thanks to associations like this one. Two white girls–including me–were used as maids because those ladies were too tired due to pregnancy. I was obliged to serve those ladies otherwise the Sisters would kick me out of this “fabulous” place. In the meantime, I was having trouble finding a new source of income. It was not in my character to sit and wait for the next benefit. This is not the model I wanted to be for my child; I wanted her to know if you fight, you will win in the end.

I finally left this place two months later for a chambre de bonne – an attic– without water but with toilets on the landing. Those 7 m² meant a rebirth. The state was paying my rent even though it was cheap (120 €) and I saved money in order to create a new business. I would repurchase cars with broken engines and resell them repaired with an added value. It took me six years to start a normal life again. Once you hit bottom, your only solution is to lift yourself up! I never trusted the state to do this effort for me. Because, you know, I have the wrong profile: French, single-parent and a woman. I was told this truth from the lips of a social worker.

By testing drugs and earning extra money we finally managed to move in a real apartment. We stayed there two years before being evicted again because I had lost my money in a bad deal. I slept for the first time in my life in the street while my daughter was kindly adopted by her godmother’s family. During this rough journey, I met another homeless person. He was French too, he had a part time job and he wasn’t drinking. He just couldn’t afford an apartment anymore. Another problem in France is that the system is made for the really rich or the really poor. The middle class is left alone. It leads to a huge part of the population that feels forgotten. Just imagine living in Paris at a time when the French minimum wage means that you can’t pay for an attic space and eat at the same time anymore .

After ten years, I’m finally getting back on my feet but I still have to face the growing inequalities. Most of the immigrants in France are here to receive benefits. Of course, you’ll reply it is a horrible shortcut and maybe you are right. But when I’m talking to people, because I love to talk, they have the same opinion as me. Immigrants that aren’t working are often insolent and ill bred. Their children don’t have any hopes for their lives and in reaction attack people. They should respect the country that is having them as a guest. I’m horrified to see that I’m the only white person when I’m on the Boulevard Sébastopole.

If I’m tempted to vote Le Pen – and I haven’t done it yet–it is because the rate of immigration is uncontrolled! As soon as you give birth on French territory, you automatically receive family allowances. Please explain to me on what grounds. What have you done for the community to receive those privileges? There is still a lot of discrimination against us. I had been working for more than 30 years before falling down which means I’ve been paying taxes and so on in order to pay for people who were in trouble. When it sadly turned out to be my turn to need help from the state, nothing came. For 12 years, I have been waiting for public housing. Without my determination, I would have lost my child, my dignity and my future.

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  • JM

    There’s only one sad mistake in this whole story: the belief that extreme right will solve anything at all. People mistake the words of extreme right for their beliefs. If you check the programs of extreme right, you find one constant: not the hatred for immigrants, but the extreme liberal ideas about economy. Did nobody ever think about why many of those extreme right politicians happen to be succesful business men? What makes them want power? right…

  • Emal

    People who have internalized the values of bourgeois society, regardless of their success in the market economy, turn to authoritarianism for answers. You see living on welfare as a failure. To others its an improvement over begging on the street.
    You cling to your class privileges and when you lose them, you thirst for blood. People endure far more suffering than you without turning into fascists.
    Read about Socialism, burn your Chanel suit. European social democracy or American liberalism, as you correctly recognized, are a conspiracy of the super-rich and the super-poor against the not-yet-poor; champagne socialists do nothing to abolish the categories of rich and poor. They are just as neoliberal as the “national” socialists.

    The problem of poor immigrants is not that they are “confused” about their identity. Their problem is that they are poor people surrounded by wealth; maybe their educated children will overcompensate and become filthy rich capitalists. Then their problem will be that they’re rich people surrounded by poverty. If you survive the harshest poverty just to copy the follies of the bourgeoisie – fancy cars and tax evasion – you are just another Gérard Depardieu.
    Paris is a disgusting class zoo. People selling rags and stolen cigarettes on the street, police carrying machine guns on the subway. Rich folks riding BMWs and others with no money to take the metro out of their neighborhoods. I was horrified that there weren’t any white people selling cheap souvenirs under the Eiffel Tower.
    What made me sad is that you equate financial security with dignity; realize that globally only a very small minority have access to finance. Down in Ex-Yugoslavia, only half the population even has a bank account.
    Your benchmark should be the least of your fellow humans, not the aristocracy. If a person digs in the garbage for pizza crust, it doesn’t lower his dignity, but yours, for supporting a society which gives lobster to a few and garbage to the rest.
    Whether you’re a “guest” or a native, France is treating you like shit now, has been treating you like shit all your life, and you blame foreigners, because you hope they’ll let you back in and allow you to keep a little house and a car until the bank reposseses both. Pah! The French will never revolt, as it would require them to step on the lawn.

  • Sierra

    This post is rife with xenophobia, racism and ignorance. Have you considered that some of these “ill bred” immigrants might have possibly found themselves in dire straits because of similar “bad deals” or equally stressful situations that you yourself experienced? Many immigrants come from worn torn countries (ahem.. often due to the imperialism and colonization of Western countries) where the opportunity to work hard and win in the end doesn’t exist.

    Perhaps spending your money on Chanel suits, Parisian houses and expensive primary schools might be a cause of your financial situation; not fellow humans who are also doing what they can to make ends meet – humans you so casually lump together as “immigrants”.

    I also cannot help but notice your pure disdain for having to work at the Immaculate Conception center. For someone who so boldly preaches the necessity to work for what you have, I am surprised at your shock at being made to work for your keep. Perhaps if these women you were servicing were WHITE and therefore more worthy in your eyes, you would sing to a different tune.

    Overall, the self pity and shady business deals that seem to encompass your bourgeois-turned-lower class life style are not helpful for anyone. Take a step back and realize that maybe all of these issues impacting your life are not as Black and White as they seem.