De Carlisle à la Ville Rose

Category: 2024 EN

Demonstrations and Strikes


France and the US have very different cultures, which are connected by the idea that citizens can protest to better their country. However, the citizens of these countries do not share the same opinion on the hows and whys of protesting. US culture does not largely involve protesting, while the French have a long, rich history of revolution and protests. In the US, the media tends to report protests more negatively, and people tend to think worse of protestors. This causes a willingness for the French to ask the government for things to improve their quality of life. Protests are essential for happy citizens, and to avoid a corrupt government.

Protests at the University

From the first minutes at UT2J, I felt a drastic difference between it and my experience at the university in the United States. I expected a presence of protests and strikes at the university. In the media, the stereotype of combative, quick-to-protest French people is quite common. My first
day at the university, I arrived at the Arche for my meeting with ASK, an office that works with incoming international students. While I was double checking my Google Maps, a student handed me a brochure for an upcoming conversation with an immigration lawyer about a recently passed law and information about manifestations that would be happening around
Toulouse in response to it. After my meeting with ASK, I walked around campus and headed to another building where I received my student ID. In this first walk around campus, I saw many posters with information about student activism. Even though this was shocking in the first couple of minutes at the French university, it became habitual to see. Almost every day, I see a group of students handing out flyers or brochures. Every time something happens in France, student activists have the instinct to react with a protest if they take issue with the situation. Also, it seems that the university administration does nothing to prevent or combat these protests. At WashU, the protest culture is quite different. This could be explained by the contrast between each institution. WashU is a private institution with only 7,000 students. On the other hand, UT2J is a huge public university with about 20,000 students. At WashU, it is rare to see students with flyers and brochures. Further, the administration limits the amount of large posters that are displayed. The administration must appease activism on campus to protect its financial interests with donors and the corporations that students are fighting against. Furthermore, students have more spaces, such as smaller classes, extracurriculars or casually amongst friends, to share their grievances. However, there are little to no student activist organizations. For this reason, frustration often arrives alongside protests on campus. This becomes more contentious as we consider the history of student activism in the 1960s with the fight for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. The only recent event that has provoked larger protests in the United States is the ongoing conflict in Gaza. There have been well-attended manifestations across the United States, particularly on college campuses. Even though protest culture is entirely different in the United States, it reminds me of the University of Puerto Rico. The largest university in Puerto Rico is public, just as Jean Jaures. Since I was a young girl, I heard news about strikes and protests at the university. The students’ fight against social injustices occurs often. It is quite common for political commentators on the radio to predict protests or strikes in response to laws being passed. For many students, the protests and strike culture is positive and a significant part of their academic experiences. However, strikes in particular cause problems for registering for classes and graduating on time for others. Many Puerto Ricans scorn student protests because of the interruptions they cause. But, as in France, students will never stop.

Protests and the Media

As I stood amidst the bustling streets of the French farmers’ demonstration at Esplanade Compans Caffarelli, the sights and sounds around me painted a vivid picture of activism in a foreign land. The noise of machinery, the protest chants and even the pungent smell of manure in the fresh air: all were reminders of the stark contrasts between protest cultures in France and the United States. Growing up in the U.S., I had become accustomed to a certain narrative surrounding activism, often centered around the digital world. Social media platforms have become powerful tools for
amplifying voices, mobilizing support and sparking conversations about pressing issues. It’s not uncommon to see friends and acquaintances changing their profile pictures to support a cause, sharing publications to raise awareness, or even contributing to crowdfunding campaigns to bolster initiatives they believe in. The digital landscape serves as a virtual marketplace, where individuals from diverse backgrounds come together to rally behind common ideals and bring about change.
However, as I immersed myself in the French protest scene, I couldn’t help noticing a different dynamic at work. While social media undoubtedly played a role in organizing and disseminatinginformation, their importance seemed to pale in comparison to what I was used to in the United States. Here, the emphasis was more on physical presence and direct action, with the streets themselves serving as the main arena for expressing opinions and bringing about change.
The French approach to activism has its roots in a rich tradition of collective action and civic engagement, where taking to the streets is seen as a powerful expression of citizenship. From student-led protests in May 1968 to the more recent Gilets Jaunes movement, the French have a long history of mobilizing public demonstrations and blockades as a means of making their voices heard.
This emphasis on physical protest reflects a broader cultural ethos, which privileges direct engagement and tangible demonstrations of solidarity. In France, the notion of blocking roads and decorating iconic buildings with manure in protest is not just a symbolic gesture, but a strategic maneuver aimed at disrupting the status quo and forcing the authorities to confront the issues at hand.
By contrast, in the USA, where disruptive tactics such as blockades are often greeted with less tolerance due to the potential drawbacks they pose, reliance on the media as a platform for protest is becoming increasingly evident. Given the societal and economic complexities of a country deeply integrated into global trade and cooperation, disruptive actions could have widespread consequences, affecting not only national systems, but also international relations and economies.
The contrasting approaches highlight divergent cultural attitudes to protest and activism, shaping the strategies employed by citizens to bring about change in their respective societies. Whether through virtual solidarity or physical protest, people across borders are finding ways to make their voices heard and push for a better world. And as I navigate the complex web of activism in different corners of the globe, I’m reminded of the power of collective action to transcend borders and bring about meaningful change.

The Culture of the Strike

It was a Tuesday morning like any other, just a few weeks after my arrival in Toulouse, and the city was buzzing with announcements of a widespread teachers’ strike. I was surprised to hear about another organized protest, just days after farmers from the countryside had taken to the streets with their tractors, honking, demanding environmental and economic reforms to protect small-scale agriculture. France is known for its propensity for organized resistance as a form of democratic participation through disruptive demonstrations or prolonged strikes. However, it was still quite striking to witness, and especially to see how protests function in the context of people’s daily lives. I later learned that the teachers were striking to protest against emerging legislation that would divide students into three distinct groups based on their assessed level in French and mathematics. The proposed intention of this legislation is to try to address the poor academic performance of high school students. However, teachers argue that this will only disadvantage marginalized students and worsen social and educational inequalities. They are also demanding better working conditions, citing difficulties with overcrowded classes and inadequate teaching substitutes.
In my home state of North Carolina, we have a very active public teachers’ union due to our extremely conservative investment in public education and our teacher salaries ranking among the lowest in the states. I witnessed several teacher strikes during my K-12 education. However, compared to here in France, teacher strikes are rare, union participation is minimal, and initiatives are much less likely to lead to real political reform.
To try to uncover the roots of this cultural disparity, I decided to do some research on the phenomenon of the French strike. I found a mix of explanations concerning the revolutionary foundations of the Fifth Republic, a general culture of skepticism, and a legal and political structure that favors union participation. French democracy has been intricately constructed over centuries and through several revolutions. So naturally, French culture values protest and change, as they are deeply rooted in their revolutionary history. Furthermore, there are strong legal protections for the right to protest. With decades of precedent, protesters benefit from clear legal avenues for collective action.
The most interesting distinction I found was the difference between the protection of organized labor (unions) in France and the United States. In France, unions benefit from a legal infrastructure that protects them from retaliation. Additionally, strikes are considered a culturally legitimate negotiation tactic. In contrast, unions in the United States have much weaker legal protection and face a political climate and culture that demonizes unions as anticapitalist.
While France has more robust legal protections for protesters, especially for organized labor, I recently discovered another cultural gap between France and the United States. As I watched from afar as universities across the country protested in support of Palestine and condemned their universities and government for their role in funding genocide, I was shocked not to see similar protests at universities here in France (except for one or two exceptions).
However, I later learned that public support for Palestine is illegal, often categorized as hate speech. As an American, this shocked me. The right to freedom of speech in the United States is one of the most valued pillars of American democracy. Although it is still the subject of debate as to the extent of legal support for freedom of speech, it is difficult to imagine the American government banning a subject of protest.


The differences between France and the US on the topic of protests is something cultural.
There are many different ways to protest, shown by the protests of the farmers and students. In France, protests are viewed as a way for groups to make their grievances known. For example, the students create a lot more graffiti and hand out more brochures than their US counterparts. Many French people can sympathize with the protestors, something that may contribute to the protesting culture in France. The media reports on protests in a more sympathetic manner in France, while in the US people tend to think more negatively of protestors. The French students are more politically active, while in the US there is not much graffiti on university campuses.
Both countries have many reasons to protest, but protests seem to be more acceptable in France.

Perceptions of Disability in an Academic Context

If you spend enough time in Toulouse, you’ll inevitably come across a space equipped with accommodations for people who are disabled, or “en situation de handicap,” whether it’s a designated space for a wheelchair in the bus or guide dog being trained in the train station. Toulouse’s universities are no exception—while walking around the University of Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès you will see people using tactile guides, in wheelchairs, and with assistive walking devices. In observing these accommodations at our university, we were curious to know how the French perceive disability in a university context. And knowing that 80% of people who identify as disabled in France qualify their disability as invisible—meaning mental, cognitive, or sensory conditions—we were particularly curious to know if there is also a network of accommodations for invisible disabilities.

Before diving into the question of disability, let us look at the French university system. In contrast with the American system which is characterized by its high admission fees and selectivity, the French system values an education for all, in keeping with the French principle of equality. Thus, it’s education for the majority that counts and not that of the individual. Hence why the famous “cours magistral” or grand lecture where the professor speaks for four hours in an amphitheater of a hundred students is so common—it facilitates the diffusion of information. But when one student has a specific need, how does the university take care of these individuals?

Although today the evidence of accommodations on university campuses for students who are disabled is visible, this wasn’t always the case. In 2005, France enacted a law ensuring equal access to and participation in governmental services and programs for all disabled people. Since that year, the number of students who are disabled in universities has significantly grown. However, even though the numbers have increased, they are not distributed evenly across all academic disciplines. For example, while students with physical disabilities are distributed evenly across the disciplines, students with invisible disabilities are more represented in technological universities and departments of arts, languages, and literatures. Thus, it is clear that services for students with invisible disabilities are less developed than those for students with physical disabilities.

Since 2023, the University of Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès has offered its students three free 45-minute sessions with a psychologist. In comparison with our American universities, the university does not promote this service as loudly. In our universities, there are both institutional and student-run organizations that provide for students’ well-being, offer meditation sessions, or facilitate conversations about mental health. From our conversations with our hosts, we’ve learned that these subjects are avoided in France, even though the need to discuss them is recognized. We believe that talking about mental health is the first step in recognizing invisible disability.


One can observe a small microcosm in the treatment of people with disabilities in France universities. During our first months in France, we became familiar with the several accommodations that are visible in the infrastructure of the University of Toulouse Jean Jaures. There are tactile strips on the sidewalks to help the visually impaired, as well as elevators and ramps for those who use wheelchairs. Where I am from, tactile bands are fairly uncommon and it is rare to see them extend for the entirety of a path, but at UTDJ (University of Toulouse Jean Jaures) they traverse from one side of campus to the other.

Nevertheless, we should question the accessibility to accommodations for people who have invisible disabilities, especially in an educational setting. In the United States, the debate surrounding reasonable accommodations for invisible disabilities is fierce. The “Varsity Blues” scandal that broke in 2019 was a criminal conspiracy to cheat the college admission system. One major part of the crime was the falsification of invisible disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia that qualify students for accommodations during testing (Vox). It seems to me that the conversation in France is more about enlarging access to accommodations and is not yet about who should qualify.

Coincidentally, the three authors of this article are in the same class at UTDJ, and we had an experience pertinent to the question of accommodation and invisible disability in the classroom. In the first month of class, a student became overstimulated because of noises outside and inside the classroom. She asked if the professor could address the noise, especially the feedback from his microphone. In response, the professor intentionally made more noise, as a joke. The student was very much overwhelmed and left the classroom for several minutes to gather herself.  The professor was concerned that she had left, but before she had it seemed to me that he didn’t understand why she would have asked for this change. The student had issues with overstimulation, but the professor was not familiar with the concept or didn’t recognize the importance of what she was asking. It is easy to understand the necessary differences in how to teach the blind or the deaf. Still, differences in attention or mentality are more difficult to understand for those who are inexperienced with them.

            It is not the case that France doesn’t have accommodations within its education system, in comparison to the US it is different. The idea that mental or invisible disabilities are controversial and potentially unaccommodatable is uniquely American. The case in France seems to be more about a lack of total comprehension of the subject.


What constitutes a handicap? Or an infirmity? Or an incapacity? These words are in French with a cultural connotation that French people understand in a way that I never will because French is not my maternal language. Even if I spend the rest of my life studying French, there will always be things I don’t understand because of this language barrier. So, I have no interest in judging the French language or the French for how they use their language that I don’t fully understand. However, the words “handicap”, “Infirmity”, and “incapacity” make me uncomfortable as a person who doctors and psychiatrists would label as disabled.

It has been two months since I received a diagnosis saying I have dyslexia and generalized anxiety. I was eight years old when I learned to read, and the books that I read were for babies like the “Bob Books”. At the same time that I was reading baby books, my classmates were reading “Harry Potter” and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”. I failed all of my spelling tests and my teachers used to keep me in from recess to practice my spelling, but I was never tested for dyslexia. I have always struggled with spelling and testing, so I decided to only take classes at Grinnell (my University in the U.S.) where I could write my papers on my laptop with the wonderful gift of spell check. Unfortunately, that was not a possibility here in Toulouse, so I asked for testing accommodations, which I received easily and have in place now.

My whole life I have never had a disability. I have done classes and research in disability studies. My friends and sisters have disabilities, but I never thought that I had one. In the past few weeks, I have been applying to summer jobs and internships at publishing houses, and each application has a question that asks if you are disabled. I don’t have to respond and even if I did, the employer couldn’t use the information against me, but I couldn’t say yes because I didn’t believe that I was disabled. I have difficulty with spelling, math, and sometimes reading, all of which are connected to my dyslexia, but I have to do everything that other students do. I have two literature majors, one in French and one in English. I have done all the calculus that my college offers. And I read recreationally more than any of my friends or family. I don’t consider myself disabled, but that is a title I have now.

In English, we use the word “disabled” instead of “handicapped” because the word “handicapped” was used as an insult and it now has a negative connotation. The word “disabled” does not have the same history or negative connotation so many disabled people use the term “disabled” in place of “handicapped”. The words “handicap”, “infirmité”, et  “incapacité “ remind me of the words we no longer use in English and I was curious if they too had negative associations. I looked online and found the site “Handicap.Fr” which had information, programs, news, and resources for disabled people. It was really interesting to read because the author, E. Dal’Secco, shared a brief history of the terminology, the political implications, the debates around the best ways to discuss disabilities and disabled people, and the implications in France that come with the label of disability. He said that the word “Handicapé” was a replacement for other words like “invalides, aliénés, anormaux, déficients, paralytiques” (Dal’Secco). When he wrote the article in 2013 there were people who wanted to use the term “personne en situation de handicap”. We have the same discussion in the United States with the phrase “person with a disability” being used instead of “disabled” and there are a lot of disabled people in the U.S. who prefer the phrase “disabled person” or “disabled” and terms that highlight the humanity of people over their condition. Dal’Secco shared a similar sentiment in his piece when he asked why disability is the only title that society feels the need to use “personne en situation de…”. It seems weird to beat around the bush and use a phrase to describe what can be said with one word; it sends the message that disability is something bad or strange. Like the idea that someone can’t say disabled because being disabled is terrible, so it’s necessary for everyone to use a person with a disability in order to avoid the subject and put distance between the speaker and the capacity to be disabled. Disability isn’t an insult. Dal’Secco also shared how difficult it is to choose a word or label that everyone in a community will agree with and want. There is disagreement within the disability community in France over what word would be best.

I believe that I don’t have the right to judge the situation or debates in France around disability because I am not a part of that community. I am however happy to know that there are people who are discussing the subject and who want to find a respectful word. I think that with time I will become more comfortable with acknowledging my disability, but it won’t ever become the entirety of who I am. E. Dal Secco touched on this in his article when he wrote “It isn’t a detail; words have considerable importance. I have been blind for fifteen years but disabled isn’t my identity” (Dal’Secco–Translated from French to English). In French or English, we need to use respectful words when we discuss people––regardless of the topic. Everyone deserves respect, and the words we use are a good first step to achieving this.

La Bibliographie

Dal’Secco, E. “Infirme à Personne En Situation de Handicap : Combat De Mots.” Handicap.Fr, le 9 janviér, 2013,

Juneja, Aditi. “The Most Reprehensible Part of the Admissions Scandal: Faking Disability Accommodations.” Vox, Vox, 14 Mar. 2019,

Food in France

By Aaron Hirschhorn, Kelly Rojo Reyes, and Sophie Phillips

During our stay in Toulouse, one of the biggest cultural shocks for us was the difference between French food and cuisine and what we normally eat at home in the the United States, as well as the different relationships we have with what we eat. We will start of by will discussing the various foods that are very popular to eat here but are very difficult to find in the United States, and that we had never seen before arriving here. Then, we will discuss the relationship between food and the land in France. Finally, we will discuss the impact of couscous in France and the importance of the cuisine as an aspect of culture. All of this will serve to give a summary of our experiences with food in France, and will demonstrate a few aspects of the importance of food in French culture.

French Food

France is a country with a grand culinary history, with each region having its own unique meals. Since my arrival in Toulouse, my host has cooked aa number of traditional French meals for me. Normally, I am not a very adventurous eater, and I typically don’t try strange new foods. However, I told myself that since I am in France and my host bought and cooked these for me, I have to at least taste them. So, that’s how I ended up eating a number of types of food that I would never have thought of eating before, including some I had never even heard of before.

I’ll start with the meat. My first night here, my host cooked for me “confit de canard,” or duck confit. I actually like other types of meat similar to duck, such as chicken and turkey, but I had never eaten duck before. I was a little scared to try it, but I actually liked it. It reminded me a little of chicken. Now, a few days later, my host cooked duck again, but when I saw it, it looked very different, and I was confused. Instead of resembling chicken, it looked more like beef. When I asked about the difference, my host explained to me that the different parts of a duck are different. The duck confit is a white meat, like chicken, while other cuts of duck are red meat, like beef. And indeed when I tasted this cut of duck, it tasted more like beef. Because of my confusion throughout all of this, my host obviously realized that I had never eaten duck before she cooked it for me, and she wanted to know what other kinds of meat I had never tried. This is how I can now say that I have also eaten lamb and veal.

Along with meat, I have eaten a number of new fruits and vegetables since my arrival in Toulouse. The lychees surprised me the must. Again on my first night here, after having finished the duck, my host asked me if I wanted a dessert. I said yes, and she took out a bowl of fruit. I saw apples, bananas, oranges,and  a mango, but also other fruits that I had never seen before. I also noticed that there was a type of nut, which worried me because I am a little allergic to certain types of nuts, but my host picked one up and explained that it was in fact a fruit called a lychee. She showed me how to crack and open it, and I discovered inside a white and fleshy fruit. I watched as she put it in her mouth and then spat out the pit, and I copied her actions. The sweetness of it surprised me me. It was a very unique flavor, but I liked it.

The second new fruit that I ate was a fruit she called a “kaki” (which I later found out, when I looked it up after dinner, is what we call in English a persimmon). It was also a dessert fruit, but when she took it out I initially thought it was a tomato. However, she cut it in two and handed me one half along with a spoon. I scooped the fruit out of the skin and ate it, and it reminded me a little of a plum, and I love plums.

I believe that eating these new foods, along others that I tried (for example an endive, a bitter vegetable that I didn’t enjoy, and cassoulet, a traditional meal of the Occitanie region where Toulouse is), has improved my immersion in French culture because it opened my eyes to new experiences and tastes. That is to say, in eating these foods which I had never tried before but which the French enjoy often, I was able to further immerse myself in the life and culture of Toulousans. What’s more, by learning what they eat, I also learned about their habits, their customs, and even some laws. For example, in French, there are seasonal foods that are eaten only in winter or summer because that is simply when they are available and thus when they are popular, whereas in the United States we can find pretty much whatever we want whenever.

            In the end, in my opinion the goal of spending a semester abroad was not only to improve my level of French but also to discover other ways of life to which we can compare our own. That is how we are able to learn and find new experiences. And with cuisine being a very important aspect of French life, I find that these encounters that I have had have helped me to do exactly that, thanks largely to the cultural education my host gave me. Apart from these experiences with potentially more regional food, we also learned about the link between food and France as a country, as well as the broader world, which we describe below.

French Terroir

One aspect of French culture that I noticed is the strong link between food and land. French people seem to be more conscious of the origins of a product than Americans. Several times, when I’ve eaten with my hosts, they have taken the time to explain to me the regions the plates come from, and also the customs that surround them. Certainly, with cheeses and wines, their origins seem to be characteristics of major importance, almost equal to their taste. This cultural consciousness of the origins of products creates the impression that French people have more of a connection with the food they consume.

One of the most representative examples of this cultural attitude is the system of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This system, introduces in France in 1937 for preventing fraud, makes and regulates the rules of production to guarantee the quality of specific products. Today there are 300 products under this title, most among them being wines and cheeses. These appellations are closely linked to French regions, thanks to the belief that the specific conditions of a region have impacts on the final taste of a product. This belief has a name – terroir. In the example of roquefort, the AOC law only permits the moldy cheese of sheep aged in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon to use the name. The rules of the AOC also control, with a high degree of precision, all of the steps to make it. Despite the fact that other cheeses similar to roquefort exist, the specific terroir of the region of Roquefort is considered to give a unique element to the cheese. When my host introduced me to this cheese, he immediately indicated its region of origin.

This system of appellations exists at the level of the European Union as well, under the title Appellations d’Origine Protégée (AOP). Contrary to the AOC, the AOP doesn’t indicate the quality of a product, just its region of origin and its production steps. At the level of the European Union and France there also exists organizations that control organic products. At the highest level it’s the logo Euro Feuille; at the level of France it’s the Certification Agriculture Biologique. These two organizations forbid the use of synthetic pesticides and guarantee production methods that protect the environment.

The organic movement is linked to efforts to be more conscious of the impacts of humans on the environment. In addition to stickers marking fruits and vegetables as “organic,” several stores have started to label their products with their countries of origin and the numbers of kilometers they have traveled before arriving at the store. One night, when I ate a mango with my hosts, I was surprised when one of my hosts announced that the mango had traveled up to 10,000 kilometers from Peru. These stickers serve the double function of reminding clients of the environmental tax of their purchases, and also of encouraging them to buy local products – French products. These efforts to protects the environment protect, in turn, the inextricable know-how of the land and also of French gastronomic culture.

Food as a symbol of resilience

Before I arrived in France, I had long heard that France was a nation of immigrants, like the United States, with North Africa as the largest immigrant population. Fascinated by different cuisines, I was excited at the idea of trying different Maghreb cuisines in France, especially given France’s geographical proximity to other countries. When I arrived in Paris, the first dish I tried was couscous. Greeted in Arabic by very friendly waiters, I chose the lamb couscous at the restaurant l’Homme Bleu. In an instant, I tasted all the spices used and the way the different vegetables and ingredients clashed together to give an exquisite taste. Chatting with the waiter at L’Homme Bleu, I learned that the owner and cooks were Moroccan and Tunisian, and that the waiter himself was Algerian. I was fascinated to see how different these countries are, yet how they share similar cuisines, such as couscous, which each considers its most popular dish.

Months later, in Toulouse, I learned that there was a national debate, between newspapers and journalistic polls, that couscous could be considered France’s national dish. This debate shocked me, because I said to myself, “Couscous isn’t French! How can a North African dish surpass steak frites or cassoulet, which are considered traditionally French? The metaphorical discourse on couscous reminded me of the times I went to a French café and the special of the day was couscous. I then reflected that couscous is more than a North African dish in France, it’s a representation of the immigrant communities that have created new cultures in France, such as the “Franco-Maghreb” identity.

Made from semolina, vegetables and meat, couscous is eaten on festive occasions, on Fridays as a symbol of rest, or on congregational prayer days. Couscous is a popular dish from the Maghreb region, whose origins date back to the 11th century. Couscous was created by the Berbers of North Africa, who were present in the region before the Arab diaspora. This North African dish, which has captured the hearts of the French, is an essential part of Parisian cuisine, demonstrating the importance of the diaspora of North African immigrants. Many North Africans have built up strong communities in cities like Paris, but also in the south of France, such as Toulouse.

As former French colonies, people migrated to France in the hope of finding economic opportunities, or even seeking asylum or educational opportunities. Yet the Maghreb population is still affected by the legacy of colonialism, as they are more likely to live in segregated areas and face discrimination in housing and employment compared to native French people. Consequently, the massive presence of couscous in France can be seen as a symbol of the resistance and resilience of Maghreb communities. In the face of xenophobia and discrimination, migrants have succeeded in establishing a strong presence in France to continue developing their language, culture and religion.

Despite the difficulties faced by North African migrants and their children (whether born in France or not), they have managed to create a strong presence in France, and their efforts are important in representing diversity in France. It’s important to recognize that while couscous is historically and culturally a North African dish, it should also be considered a French dish, just as people of North African origin can be “truly” French. Food is an important aspect of culture, and couscous as France’s national dish really is a big step in recognizing the impact of people of North African origin in France, and their role in France’s future.


Food is an important aspect of daily life, especially culture. Whether it was trying new foods with host families, or making deeper reflections of what food say about French society, we have learned so much by eating delicious plates. Learning about what seasonal foods to eat to and traditional dishes have enhanced our understanding of French culture. The strong link between food and land can lead to spreading the importance of buying locally, while also creating environmental friendly campaigns. Lastly, we learned how migrant communities have impacted French culture by their large spread of couscous across the country. We are excited to continue trying delicious food while learning more about Toulouse and France!

France and Racism: History, Erasure, and Assimilation

By April Springer, Emma Gerber, and Willow Palmer


When you roam the halls of SciencesPo Toulouse, there are always posters adorning the walls, making students aware of certain social injustices. These posters show statistics on sexual violence, the experiences of Gazans, and the rapid increase of climate change. However, you will also notice that there is a large subject that is missing from these posters – racial discrimination. During my time in Toulouse, I became curious about the lack of information on racism in France. Why does no one speak about the racial discrimination that exists here? Is it possible that racism does not exist in France at all? I posed these questions to the administrators of the Dickinson program, and they all responded in the same way – French people believe that it is less racist to not speak about racism and ignore the differences between races in general. In comparison with the United States, that idea is a little bit shocking. So, how does this practice manifest in France? And why does it exist?

First, there is not a word in French that is commonly used to describe someone’s skin color, such as race in English. Actually, the word race, as it is translated in French, is used to describe species of animals. For example, when you see a dog in the street, you can ask the dog’s owner what type of dog they have by using the word race. Even though you can use the word race to describe skin color, it is not frequently utilized. Without the words to properly express themselves, it is impossible for someone to describe the discrimination that they face. Furthermore, the census in France does not contain any data on racial demographics. In fact, including information on racial demographics in the census has been illegal in France since 1978. Therefore, there is no information available on some of the most important facts of French society. For instance, how do police treat people of color in France? What are the differences between the effects of COVID 19 on communities of color versus white people? And most importantly, how can anyone identify racism in France if no one has the data to understand how it affects people? Even though this idea is challenging to understand from an American point of view, not speaking about race is largely accepted in France. In fact, many anti-racist organizations are in support of laws against racial demographic information in the census. The French organization SOS Racisme argues that the addition of statistics on race could increase the amount of racism that actually occurs.

All in all, it is clear that the attitude of French people is for the most part “color blind.” In order to protect people from a racist society, French people evidently try to ignore race altogether. Even though this phenomenon has good intentions, it comes with large consequences: it is very difficult to demonstrate that there is any institutional racism in France, and even more challenging to act against racism in France if it is taboo to speak about. This form of racial erasure evokes one question in particular: is it really better to ignore race in order to eradicate racism?

The French outlook on different cultures and assimilation

Another facet of this erasure of “race” and racial identity in France is the way that cultural identities are treated here. While volunteering at Caousou, a private Jesuit school in Toulouse, I had the opportunity to watch one of the high school seniors practicing for his Bacalaureat exams by giving a speech about the problems that New York City faces in the coming years. Based on the documents that he was given, he decided to talk about the racial divisions present in New York City. Referencing New York’s famous Chinatown, he talked about the “Salad Bowl Theory”; the idea that even though New York likes to see itself as a melting pot of different cultures, it has failed to be a true melting pot because individual neighborhoods of the city still retain their own cultural identities. Like the ingredients of a salad, the ethnic groups in New York can still be identified even after being mixed together.

This metaphor really got me thinking about the way that cultural identities are treated in France and in the United States. I’ve heard it claimed that the US is a “cultural melting pot” more times than I can count, but using the metaphor of the melting pot and the salad bowl, it seems to me that France is more of a melting pot than the United States. I say this because of the way that cultural identities seem to “blend in” here. People talk a lot less about their heritage and certainly wear less outward markers of it. While you can find international cuisine all around the city, it was much harder for me to find an asian grocery store. Everyone seems to be participating in French culture by speaking in French, wearing French clothes, and eating French food. For me, this “blending in” of different cultural identities is summarized by the words of one of my hosts, who said that people prefer to practice their cultural identities “in the privacy of their own homes”.

This very much contrasts the way that cultural identities are seen in the US, where there has recently been a push for letting cultural identities be more proudly displayed. In the United States, it is more common to see a group of people wearing the traditional dress of their home country and it is more common to have neighborhoods that are mostly populated by members of one ethnic/cultural group. There are many reasons for this. For one, the United States and France have very different demographic makeups due to their extremely different histories. As April mentioned, it is illegal to collect data on race and ethnicity in France, but some estimates place around 85-90 percent of the population as being white, with most of them being ethnically French. This is different from the US, where 75 percent of the population is white and where being “ethnically American” isn’t really a concept outside of being Native American, which is also an ethnic minority in the United States today. Having less minorities in France makes those minorities less visible, but I also think that it is the “melting pot” outlook in France that causes different cultural groups to assimilate more. In attempting to treat everyone the same, French society enforces a stronger cultural uniformity than the United States. To me, this cultural uniformity seems to rest on the principle that to treat everyone the same, we need to see everyone as exactly the same. And after growing up in the United States, I am not sure that that is true. I think that there is room to see and acknowledge everyone’s diverse backgrounds while still regarding everyone’s fundamental humanity as equal. This is not to say that the United States’ way of treating cultural differences is perfect, because it is clearly not. But in between the United States’ and France’s two very different outlooks on race and cultural identity, the United State’s “salad bowl” of vibrant cultures is much more my speed.

The United States and France: Examples of Racism and Differing Perspectives

Both the United States and France have a long history of racism, but their approaches and conversations about race differ significantly. In the United States, race is a central aspect of identity, reflecting the nation’s diverse cultural landscape. Some groups in France prioritize a singular national identity over ethnic or cultural distinctions. This is not all-encompassing since there are communities and people in France who express their culture in various ways, both privately and publicly. However, both countries continue to grapple with the pervasive issue of racism, which persists in different forms and influences social dynamics.

The United States and France share a history marked by colonialism and reliance on slave labor. Both nations have faced issues of racial discrimination in their policing practices. Young Northern African males in France are being particularly targeted through discriminatory identification checks. The police shooting of Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old of Algerian descent, near Paris in 2023 ignited widespread protests across France. Similarly, the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020 served as a focal point for the Black Lives Matter (BLM)  movement in the United States. Despite efforts to address these issues, police brutality remains a significant challenge in both countries. Throughout both countries, there has been more media attention around the BLM movement, and you can find graffiti at Sciences Po and Jean Jaures that read “ACAB.”  However, they use the English translation rather than convert it to French.

Anti-Asian violence in France has been on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it has been a persistent issue predating the health crisis. Myths and prejudices surrounding Asian communities have hindered their sense of belonging in France. As previously mentioned, cultural identity in France could be limited to the privacy of your home due to societal pressures. In public, you must appear French.  Microaggressions and marginalization are prevalent in France, particularly on public transport, where people have specifically mentioned it as a place where they have been racially discriminated against. In the United States, hate crimes against Asian Americans have seen an alarming increase. In 2021, 1 in 6 Asian American adults reported experiencing a hate crime, a significant rise from the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Despite these concerning trends, anti-Asian violence in both countries has not received as much media attention as other social movements. This lack of visibility is deeply rooted in a historical pattern of neglecting the histories and experiences of Asian communities.

In conclusion, despite attitudes toward colorblindness and denial of racism in France, the reality remains that racism is a persistent and pervasive problem. Other groups have experienced similar encounters full of prejudices and microaggressions that shaped their life experiences. As students from the United States, where discussions about race are prevalent and part of our identity, our experience studying in France offers us a whole new perspective. Of course, our perspective is limited since we have only been here for a few months, and other individuals have lived here their entire lives. Our limited experiences in Toulouse shape our experiences and do not represent every reality. In our time here, we’ve noticed that conversations about race aren’t as common. This contrast sheds light on French culture and exposes us to different attitudes toward race that we hadn’t encountered before. Whether it is a “salad bowl” or a “melting pot” of culture, only through confronting the realities of racism can meaningful progress be made toward creating a more equitable and just society for all individuals.

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