Saturday, July 30, 2011

About racial discrimination in France

Recently I read in a forum about how some people were being treated differently in France due to their skin color (mainly yellow). I just have to say that I'm blessed because I have never quite experienced racial discrimination here. Most of the situations I faced were rather due to poor customer service. Examples:

- A pharmacist was telling me that "vous m'avez dit n'importe quoi" (you told me non sense), I guess he didn't understand my French or asking a pharmacist to give me pill to delay my period due to wedding is a no no in France?
- A shopkeeper blocked my way to continue visiting the remaining of the shop. I can see in her face that she did it on purpose. I just passed cross her and bumped into her. She got what she asked for. She did that maybe I was wearing a pyjamas and someone wearing pyjamas is not welcome?
- I entered a boutique and the salegirl looked at me without saying anything. A second later a French woman entered and she put on smile and greeted with a big bonjour (hi). This could happen to anyone no?
- Being humiliated in SNCF, full story here.

Here are situations shared by forum members and they think these are real discrimination cases:
- being called chink or "bridé" which means "slit-eyes". Well I have never heard people calling me this. Forum members who had this were mostly lived in Paris or South of France
- being thrown firecracker which burnt the hair while being called chink by a bunch of North African kids. Oh no I can't imagine this! That girl was really unlucky but there is more chance to have these if you live in certain areas of Paris.
- was queuing to pay and at her turn, the cashier put on "closed" sign. Once she walked away, the cashier reopened the register and put on smile for the next white customer.
- being jumped queue. At the fifth time this happend to her, she asked herself if people chose her because she looked small and yellow and people have impression that Asian is easier to bully?
- went to an upscale butcher that are usually visited by white community. Once entered, the French white woman in front of her was looking at her from top to bottom. Same thing happened when another French woman entered the shop. She was starred at because she was yellow.
- ok this one is an experience from a good friend here. She said sometimes when she was with her French husband, some French women who was walking by would stop, look at her husband then at her, from top to bottom with an insulting look, as if how dare she dated a white man. Thank God this has never happened to me.
- She was sitting in front of a shop waiting for a friend. A boy around 5 years old came out from the shop with the parents. When he saw her, he kicked her. The parents just took him away without saying sorry. Well, kid sometimes behave inappropriately and this is up to the parents to educate them. I had met kid who told her friend while starring at me that "elle est moche" (she is ugly); on the other hand a kid was telling me that "tu es très belle" (you are beautiful). Once I was in a toilet and a kid yelled "Maman, une Japonaise!" (mum, a Japanese!) and I just smiled at her. At this point, I do not care how strangers think about me.

The main issue that most of us encountered is that how should we react when being treated unfairly. Most of us could converse in French but to quarrel and to curse in French, it is a whole different story. After being humiliated / confronted, most of us couldn't find the right words to express ourselves. Some choose to curse in their mother tongue, some just hold their tears and walk away. But, there are times we should not walk away. For example, if someone calls me bridé, I would just ignore it but if they try to bully Aelig, I would not rest the case. A useful phase I learnt to fight back is "mais ça va pas non!!!" (hey we are not good here), but what should I say next?

For the first time in my life, I reckon that it could be useful to learn some curse words.


  1. I grew up in a really small town in southwest of France which even nowadays is really a non-diverse area and my mother often told me of the time, when I was 3 or 4, that we took the train to Paris and happened to be seated in front of a black man. Apparently I wouldn't stop to point at the man, trying to make my mom notice him, going "maman, maman, regarde le monsieur, tu as vu ?".
    It juste was the first time I ever saw a non-white man and my mom was utterly embarassed, trying to shut me up for the long hours of travel.

  2. As an Asian, I feel for you. In my opinion, I think you should learn to assert yourself because ignoring it will also send the wrong message to your child. This is not to say though that fighting/cursing back is the way to go. Good luck.

  3. Jem, thanks for sharing your experience. lol
    Kids say what they think, I usually just smile at these comments. I think it becomes a problem when someone thinks that he or she is this color so that he or she must be dirty, stupid...