Friday, April 17, 2009


*Disclaimer: This post raises some fairly charged political issues. Thus, I thought I'd clarify my own stand, which is: I don't know where I stand. My political views tend to be rather vague, not because I don't care, but because I see the advantages and disadvantages of many different systems. I haven't found a single party that espouses all of my core beliefs and values, so I have to pick and choose, carefully weighing the options available at the moment.

While for the most part we feel quite integrated in our life here in France, there are occasionally moments that remind us how we are still outsiders. Lately those reminders have come in the form of bureaucracy.

France is a socialist country. In general, we've noticed some definite advantages to France's socialism; the cost of health care, for example, is dramatically less. (When I sliced my thumb and needed stitches, the entire ER bill when paid out of pocket came to 57 euros.)

On the opposite side, it's amazing how quickly we've come to feel a sense of "entitlement." When we arrived in France, we expected nothing from the government (except perhaps our visas, given the enormous investment of time and money we'd already put into gathering the appropriate paperwork.) After arriving, however, many well-intentioned sources informed us about all of these great social programs that could help us curb our expenses: a Carte Vitale that would reimburse most health care expenses, a monthly stipend for those with kids, housing assistance, 100% maternity coverage--the package deal sounded great! Best of all, they promised that this assistance was available to everyone!

Except not quite. After diligently completing all of our paperwork, running around from office to office, and patiently waiting months for our case to be considered, we finally found out that we don't qualify after all since we haven't resided here long enough. Despite our legal status, we're still outsiders--foreigners--strangers. When I went to the health care office to find out why my maternity lab tests hadn't been fully reimbursed, I found out that I wasn't eligible for maternity coverage, despite having a Carte Vitale (official proof of national health insurance). Until I have lived here a year, my pregnancy is billed as a "maladie" or illness.

"Vous n'avez pas le droit..." These are the words that stung the most when the health care official talked to me about maternity coverage--"You don't have the right." I don't have the right to what--maternity coverage? Okay. I don't expect France to pay for my child. I'm very grateful that France is willing to cover even part of my expenses. What I do find painful, however, is this underlying message that I really don't have the right to have babies. This enforced "waiting period" sets me apart as an outsider and sends an implicit message that I am a potential abuser of the system. My unborn child is also excluded and labeled as a "sickness."

Living in France has helped our family become more sensitive to the challenges faced by those who immigrate. As a family of four living off of my stipend, we certainly aren't wealthy. It's easy to see how in different circumstances we could transition to becoming "needy" in a vicious cycle that affects those who are outsiders, "étrangers"--foreigners. As competent and talented as Jason is, he is unable to work (for pay) because of his visa status, even though he would like to. This makes it harder for us to afford secondary medical insurance, which in turn forces us to rely more heavily upon the French system. Despite our legal status, we pay more as outsiders for this health care and don't receive the additional subsidies most nationals enjoy. Naturally this makes it harder to save up, and the "poverty" cycle continues.

For our family, the challenge is temporary as we are returning soon to the blessings of full citizenship in the States. Despite the feelings of expectancy that we might have developed over the past few months, we aren't (and never were) "entitled" to any of this help. Still, it's helped me to realize how difficult the situation must be for those who don't have a home to return to. If it's challenging for Jason and I as privileged, well-educated adults, it must feel nearly impossible for those who are less-advantaged and face racial discrimination.

I don't pretend to have any easy answers to the difficult issues surrounding immigration. However, in the future I hope to be a little less judgmental and a little more inclusive of those who might otherwise be considered "outsiders."


Kes LT said...

Socialism is much better represented in Scandinavia. Considering current crisis quite many countries are looking up to them. As for American model of capitalism and especially health care, my experience is quite controversial.. I was blessed I didn’t get too sick during my stay.

Tanja said...

I didn't know about the problems foreigners encounter in France.

Honestly and this might not sound very nice ... some times I would welcome this "hard-on-foreigners" French system over our German "welcome-to-all and free-share" system. In the States I knew that I was not eligible for any Social Security - even if I paid my taxes. Here in Germany ... everybody get Social Security, Health care, benefits ... even if you just stepped off the plane.
I guess there is good and bad in this system too.

chou said...

I'm of the "if you're here legally and you pay taxes" mindset, then you should have services available. But that leaves all sorts of holes, which I don't know how to fill. Like the hole we live in when it comes to health care--despite our best efforts, the best health care we can afford for my husband in catastrophic. Luckily, he doesn't get sick often, but there's always the possibility.

Anonymous said...

Since I'm anonymous (?) and amongst friends, I'll supply a half-baked thought or two about Kara's "outsiders" post. First, I am certain both Kes and Tanja have a more informed and enlightened view of socialism than I do. I truly think socialism has many appealing features that Americans should seriously consider in today's global economy. Unfortunately, in the U.S., many people I know either don't understand the concept of socialism, or, if they think they do, tend to view "socialism" very suspiciously and negatively. Much of our thinking related to socialism is dated and inaccurate. The word itself has multiple meanings. Until we get a better consensus on what the word and practice really mean in our current era, we are not very likely to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the polity very well. We need a much clearer view of both individual responsibilities and entitlements in whatever system of government we adopt.

That said, in my view, the U.S. though our recent economic choices is clearly moving, slowly, in the direction of socialism, regardless of whether the mass population of the U.S. discusses it seriously, or not. My guess is that this trend will continue, but that U.S. politicians will, for their own political futures, resist using any "socialist labels" in describing their votes and proposals.

Keep smiling! ... These are just late night musings ... I reserve the right to change my mind and may be wrong in my assessments ... please charitably read and/or discount. This is still a wonderful world with wonderful people living in every country. Although our various polity concerns matter, they matter far less than our common heritage as children of God. ... Namely the endowment, of ALL people, by our creator with "the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." So long as these inalienable rights, as well as our freedom of conscience, are respected, the polity doesn't really matter that much in my view.

Frau Magister said...

Hi Kara - thanks for your comment on my blog. It's been fun to read about your adventures. What an exciting adventure for your family ! I'm actually going to by in Strasbourg for the month of June to learn French supposedly. Hopefully I won't have too many run-ins with the French bureaucracy. Seems like you're enjoying your stay nonetheless.

Kes LT said...

Adding to Kay’s (Anonymous) great reflections about the topic, there is an important point I would like to note. No matter what polity we live in permanently or temporarily, the true soul of the country lives within its people, not the laws. When talking about United States: immigration rules, social security issues, health care, insurance, university diplomas, etc. will never outshine the great delight of meeting the wonderful people and even living with them. For me the symbol of America will always be a loving and caring family in Omaha. Love you, Andrus Family!

Bruce Richards said...

The same problems are faced in the United States. When we applied for insurance before we got married, we were told we had to be on the insurance for a year before it would cover maternity costs. I told Brittney we were not going to let an insurance company decide when we would have a baby.