De Carlisle à la Ville Rose

Category: La Une in English Page 2 of 17

? Navigating cities in France and in the United States

The fact that there exists no convenient nationwide passenger train system in the United States today is an unfortunate reality that is not consistent with many other countries around the globe such as Japan, Switzerland, South Korea, and as will be explained here, France. The reason for this lies in the conception of railways in connection to trade routes in the formation of the USA. They were hastily constructed to connect farms and plantations to river and sea ports to efficiently move product into the trade market. An example of how the expansion of the railway system played a key role in the industrial revolution and the settlement of the West is that in the Midwest over 80% of farms were within 5 miles of a train station for transporting grain, hogs, and cattle. The conception of the French train system however, had different intentions. Instead of constructing railway lines to maximize profit it was established to centralize France and assert Paris as the cultural and political capital of the country. 

The train lines in Europe though are not just in France. In fact railway systems are in place to connect all of Europe. Not even two weeks ago my cousin, who is studying in London, took the Eurostar to Paris to see his mom and then took an SNCF train down to Toulouse to see me. A friend of mine took a train to Barcelona for the weekend. These are just a couple examples of how people I know have benefitted from the train system in Europe. In contrast, to get from New York City to anywhere besides up and down the northeast coast is incredibly difficult, if not just plain inaccessible.

This cultural aspect of the goals behind the train system encompass the differences between American and French transportation systems. Another important aspect to consider when comparing the two systems is that in the US the train lines helped put into place the groundwork of how the country would be laid out whereas in France the cities and towns were already in place and train lines had to be established based on those. 

This difference in mentality shows how major cities in each country are planned and what they prioritize. For example, Houston, Texas is one of the least walkable cities in the US. A 5 minute drive can be a 45 minute walk due to the lack of crosswalks and abundance of major roads crossing the city. Thankfully some cities like New York are walkable and the public transportation is highly used. Even though it is technically walkable, it is nothing like French cities. New York and many other major cities are set up in grids, highlighting when they were built and what purpose they served: recently built and for the sake of convenience. Even small towns are generally constructed with a main road around which all the buildings are built. This is in total opposition to the French cities which were built house by house wherever and however was possible and practical for the inhabitants at the time – often centuries ago. This is true for cities like Paris which are built in a spiral and small towns like Conques that were built by masons over time for pilgrimage purposes, leading to seemingly random house placements. The architecture of the cities in these countries begin to explain the difference in mentalities: culture versus convenience is the root of each system. 

? Different views on transportation systems

When looking at public transport systems in cities in France and in the United States, it is easy to see that these differences are not only numerous, but that at their core lies a fundamentally different outlook on these systems. 

The first key difference between the United States and French public transport systems is the use of these systems. French public transport systems are used much more frequently than those in the United States. Looking at total populations, approximately 14% of French people reported consistently using the public transportation system, compared to only 5% of Americans. However this difference is not cut and dry; when looking at some US cities with more developed public transport systems, like New York City, the percentage of public transportation users rivals and even surpasses some larger French cities.

A second key difference in these systems is the level of priority given to public transport. French governments see much more use in a tramway than a road, as a tram accommodates many more people than a car would. The priority placed on public transport systems in France is shown in the fact that French cities tend to insert public transit tram tracks onto public streets. This highlights the fact that public transport and pedestrians are prioritized over cars. France has many areas of a city or town reserved for pedestrian-only use and in which most or all automobile traffic is prohibited.

Another aspect of the French public transport system that has yet to come to the United States is the presence of a TGV, or a high speed train. The TGV operates all across France, as well as many other European nations, and Europeans use this train in place of a plane. The United States has yet to add this aspect of transportation, traveling across the country in mainly planes or cars. California does have plans to build the US’s first high speed train, but operations are not set to begin until 2030. 

In comparing these two systems, it seems very clear that the largest underlying factor for these differences is size. The United States is approximately 17 times the size of France. Therefore, in the development of the United States transit system, it was taken into account that this vast amount of land all needs to be connected together. This poses an obvious problem with the development of public transport, especially on a national scale, as this transport has many more places to connect together than in France. 

Not only is the United States a much larger country, but it is also less centralized than France, both on a national and international scale. The French capital city, Paris, is located in a very central area of the country. Therefore, France has the luxury of being able to connect all major cities to the capital. In the United States, the capital city is Washington DC, and the most metropolitan city is New York City. Both of these major cities are located on the east coast of the country, making them completely disconnected from the other half of the country. 

Despite these fundamental differences in the structure of the country, the United States is continuing to develop new and improved public transport systems in major cities across the country. 

Overall, transportation in general looks very different in these two countries, and this results in fundamental differences in the daily lives of citizens. The culmination of all these factors leads to a large difference in the relationship that citizens have with cars. In the United States, cars are not looked at as an option, they are a necessity. For American students, turning 16 is a true milestone. Getting a driver’s license means no longer being transported to school and after school activities, and being able to drive themselves. This is a large step for an American student’s independence. French students, however, can get themselves to school, work and extracurriculars through the public transport system before this milestone. 

Along with a difference in the history of transportation, modern transportation is not any more similar. These transportation differences impact not only the daily lives of citizens, but also the relationship that citizens have with their environment.

? Exploring one’s environment at a different pace: a simple way to improve mental health

Not only does France’s model of favoring pedestrians make life more convenient for the average person, who uses public transportation as their main means of getting around the city, but it also boasts other positive effects, namely garnering a better appreciation of the city for the residents of the community-centered and easily-navigable Toulouse. The limited options for parking in the lively and picturesque centre-ville mean that it is essential to explore the pink city on foot or by utilizing the effective public transportation system.

These attributes also can very positively affect the mental health of the people who live in and visit Toulouse. Indeed, Toulouse’s non-grid layout means that it is very simple and necessary to get outside and get some fresh air to get to where they’re trying to go, which research proves time and time again is good for one’s mental health, particularly in this day and age, where we have been set back by COVID-19 and its necessary but tough restrictions. Being outside has proven to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as boost mental clarity, productivity, and creativity. And whereas in some cities (like New York or Los Angeles) can be stressful with all of the noise and traffic, Toulouse’s practice of favoring pedestrians makes it so much easier, by taking measures like putting roadblocks up so that cars cannot pass through pedestrian-dense areas. 

Another important aspect in making Toulouse a pleasant place for people without needing to rely on cars is all of the community spaces that provide oftentimes free entertainment for tourists and locals. The one that tends to be publicized the most is Place du Capitole, where people can enjoy a variety of events with the backdrop of the beautiful capitol building. During our time here, there was a pole vaulting competition, a wine tasting event, a sustainability festival, an expansive Christmas market, and weekly marchés that offer people a chance to explore the local culture and vivacity of the city free of charge. In my personal experience and the experience of my peers, no car is needed to enjoy these events, only the very efficient public transportation system, with thirty eight stations spaced about 10 minutes apart from each other, or a scenic walk, depending on how close one lives to the Centre Ville. Sundays are a favorite of the people living in Toulouse, as one can take the pace a bit more slowly and take even more time to traverse the lovely city without the expectation to be anywhere. With dozens of markets being open exclusively on Sundays, it is easy for people to interact with local small business owners while boosting the local economy, and all without traveling too far or having to rely on cars or overcomplicated highway systems.


France has some of the world’s most walkable cities, and as a result, the people of Toulouse are some of the happiest and feel that they have a very satisfactory overall quality of life. Research shows that people living in non-walkable cities with a high volume of highways and expressways do not feel the same, and feel more depressed than those living in cities where cars are not favored, but rather pedestrians and public transport. As we can see from this fact alone, it is of utmost importance to favor a system of efficient public transportation and walkability, as experienced in Toulouse. It is imperative for the US to begin to implement systems like Toulouse’s into its less easily walkable cities. 

?Going Green in France and in the US

The reality of living in the 21st century is tirelessly trying to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint or to just consume less in general. Under a capitalist system, the United States has become one of the biggest consumers of the world with the average American throwing out 4.5 pounds of trash per day. Reducing waste and conserving energy is something that most of us strive towards each day but it takes true effort and mindful consumption habits. Although France has also favored a capitalist oriented economy, the French have more obvious daily practices in order to reduce their energy consumption and waste generation. This article aims to draw specific comparisons between United States and French citizens in regards to their daily practices that care for our environment. It will discuss the irony of Americans’ spending more money to be environmentally conscious and how the French are able to spend less money to do the same. It will explore the different approaches to Ecology in both countries and moreover, the ways in which everyday life looks different in regards to consumption habits.

?Going Green : on the move

In certain cities throughout France that have a higher population have shared city bike programs, often referred to as ‘vélib.’ These bikes, depending on the city, are manual and/or electric. Within the bikeshare programs, there are various payment plans which are relatively affordable. There are typically options such as pay by the hour, a year pass, or a week pass which makes it accessible to citizens and visitors. The plentitude of bikes and bike docking points reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by gas-based cars. 

The buses in France are mostly electric, instead of diesel fueled. There are plenty of bus stops scattered throughout cities at which buses arrive every five to fifteen minutes, depending on the route. Similar to the bikes, there are payment options for the bus that are affordable to the average resident. Providing affordable payment encourages people to take the bus or ride bikes because they are both reliable and quick forms of transportation. The frequency of buses, the numerous stops, and the fact that they are electricity-fueled prove the dedication in France to preserve energy.

In addition to various forms of public transportation, there is far more accessibility to electric cars at an affordable cost. At the FNAC, the popular electronic chain store in France, they display the Citroen Ami : it is a small two-seater car with many payment plans as low as 19 euros per month. France has developed a market of electric cars that suit the base model needs all the way up to luxury. 

Public transportation use in the United States pales in comparison to that of France. Although public transportation options such as buses, trains, subways and trams exist in the US, their use is relegated to densely-populated urban areas with the resources and infrastructure to accommodate them: indeed, a report from the U.S. Census Bureau released in April 2021 shows that 70% of the United States’ public transportation users are from one of the country’s seven largest metropolitan areas. In the country as a whole, however, people rarely use public transportation (compared to the larger metropolitan areas): in 2019, only around 5% of all workers in the United States chose public transportation for their commutes. But on a positive note, many Americans choose to bike to work, thus reducing their carbon emissions and bike sharing programs are becoming more and more popular in cities in the United States. On the other hand 75.9% of commuters in the U.S. opted to drive alone in their personal vehicles. This shows that America’s city planning heavily prioritizes cars to bikes or pedestrians. With the country’s wide roads, easily accessible freeways, and social culture surrounding car ownership, the automobile has a stronghold on the American commute and culture. This prioritization is directly related to the popularity of automobiles in the country over the past century.

Transportation remains the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States with cars contributing a whopping 60% and freight trucks adding 23% to the already massive total. Cities in the United States have been attempting to encourage citizens to switch to electric or hybrid vehicles by offering tax incentives and building more charging stations. However, these vehicles make up less than 1% of the country’s 250 million cars. One maker of electric vehicles, Tesla, has made headway in enticing Americans to go green on the road. Unfortunately, the popularity of these vehicles is less for their carbon neutrality and more for the status that they provide: they are extremely expensive and carry the prestige of comparably-priced luxury vehicles. In comparison with the Citroen Ami, it is a much smaller size which makes it much more user friendly and easy to maneuver around a small city, like Toulouse. There is less of a prestige with this model of car but one can argue that the practicality of it outweighs the prestige of a Tesla. 

?Going Green : At Home

At home, the French preserve energy on a regular basis. In most homes, there are no drying machines for laundry. Instead, the French air dry their clothing. This reduces energy consumption in a household significantly, especially when many households adhere to this norm.

Additionally, many houses and apartments do not have air conditioning. In the summer, the French open their windows to allow for an air current to pass through the house to cool it in the evening, through the night, up until the morning. In the morning, they close the windows and close the blinds so that sun does not go inside to heat the home up. This has proved effective for several generations but now with the increase of temperature worldwide, it proves to be more and more problematic. At home, another cultural tendency is to turn off the lights when no one is in the room or when leaving the room. Oftentimes, blinds will go up and they will use natural light to cut down on energy consumption in the house. Regarding water consumption, in the bathrooms, the toilets have two buttons: the smaller one is for less water and the larger one is for more water to flush. In the shower, the French take short showers; a shower is seen as a way to cleanse oneself rather than relaxation time. In addition, many people turn the shower off while applying shampoo or body wash and only turn on the water to rinse off. These habits around reducing energy and water lead to a lower energy consumption rate nation-wide.

On the other hand, living in an “eco-friendly” manner in the United States is a costly affair. Those with the means often install solar panels on their roofs, outfit their homes with “smart home” technology, or purchase an electric Tesla. Although these actions lower carbon footprint and are more sustainable, they are far too expensive in their current state to become the norm. Going green, though it is an incredibly important goal, is something that has become a trend in the United States for the privileged few who can afford it. American social culture has not adopted the necessary attitudes towards affordably lowering consumption. Although there are daily actions that could be taken such as shorter showers, less use of air conditioning and heating, cutting down on driving  personal vehicles, and eating at restaurants less, many Americans are not willing to change their lives for the good of the planet.  

In France, the food is grown differently. There are more sustainable practices such as decreased hormones in animals and less pesticides on plants. Their practices for conserving food are more energy efficient. Instead of putting food that is warm in the fridge, they will let it sit out until it decreases in temperature so that the fridge does not have to work as hard to cool the internal temperature down. The French’s approach to energy and food preservation decreases their consumption significantly. 

At-home practices for sustainability in the United States, specifically those surrounding food, are lacking in comparison to those in France. While the entire world wastes around 1.4 billion tons of food per year, America is the largest contributor to this number with nearly 40 million tons per year. This number is estimated to be between 30% and 40% of the nation’s food supply. The causes of extreme food waste in the United States are complicated, however widespread misunderstanding of expiration labels is a large contributor. More than 80% of Americans discard consumable food because they fear foodborne illnesses will be present at the “sell by” date. In addition, the portion sizes at American restaurants are excessive and have doubled or tripled within the last twenty years. Of course, this contributes to food waste from either the restaurants themselves or from underutilized leftovers brought home and eventually to the garbage. The abundance of fast food in the U.S. contributes not only to food waste but also paper and plastic use and waste. To-go containers, overpackaging, and a lack of recyclable materials greatly contribute to waste generation in the country. However, even the packaging that could be recycled is often tossed in the trash. For a money-hungry country such as the United States, it is surprising that fast food companies have missed out on around 11 billion dollars in potential revenue from recycling their packaging.

Although fast food in the United States contributes heavily to the destruction of our planet, many turn to it for its cheap prices. Purchasing sustainably grown or organic food in America is 47% more expensive on average. These prices reflect the higher standards for animal welfare, avoidance of pesticides, and lack of GMOs. While many Americans would choose to eat sustainably, it is simply above their budget. 


French and American aims at conservation accomplish similar goals with different motives. While observing French conservation habits through host living and living in Toulouse, it is clear that the French live a life that is synonymous with conservation, regardless of social gain.

This differs greatly from American ideas surrounding conservation. In the United States, a large amount of environmentally friendly choices come at great cost or follow current “trends”. Conservation is less of an environmentally friendly decision, and more of a way to continue to present as on trend. This is in part due to the price of energy in each country. Gasoline, for example, differs greatly in the US and France. In France, one gallon of gas costs $6.21 USD. The price of a gallon in the US averages at $4.09 USD. While gas prices fluctuate, these averages show the nearly two dollar difference in a gallon of gas between the two countries. It is more expensive to drive in France, and the culture of driving is much less apparent as a result of this.

Other daily practices surrounding conservation include minimizing food waste. The US is known for large portion sizes and operating in excess, and this is less of the case in France. One will find smaller portions in restaurants, and this results in less food waste overall. At home, saving food is extremely important. Dining in a French household has shown the lengths that the French go to minimize food waste, whether it is saving the last few bites of pasta from dinner or putting a lemon back in the fridge that hasn’t been juiced all the way.

Additionally, compost practices differ in the US versus France. In the US, an indoor/automatic compost machine can cost up to $400. While it is possible to create your own compost set up for the backyard, it is both time consuming and requires research and materials that many Americans are not willing to procure. Certain states have composting initiatives, but the US varies greatly state by state in composting efforts. In France, specifically Toulouse, the city finances composting initiatives. The city will finance an outdoor compost set up, which costs between 15-25 euros. This level of conservation is almost second nature, and definitely took a period of time to adjust to as an American.

Conservation practices are a part of daily routine, not something to be bought into in France. In the US, it is common for people to buy into conservation. Whether that is buying the latest Tesla model, a fancy (and overpriced) at home compost machine, or upgrading home appliances to be “smarter,” environmentalism almost always comes at a price. France seems to take smaller, more habitual steps to lead a life that is overall rooted in conservation, without having to buy the latest gadget to accomplish this. 

How sustainability works in France ?

As the threat of climate change has come to light in the past century, the sustainability movement has developed internationally in response. In France, this movement has grown since the beginning of the 20th century, with institutionalized natural resource management, and has since grown into a cultural phenomenon and national debate. At the local, regional, and national levels, the sustainability issue is key to understanding France’s history and future. The Covid-19 pandemic is a landmark event that has shifted how consumers and lawmakers alike regard their relationship to the environment. Sales of organic products have been on the rise in recent years as consumers consider simultaneously the impact of consumption on the environment and their own health. This movement has shaped other day-to-day behaviors, such as the usage of electricity, fuel, and water, shaping a national culture around living ‘eco-friendly.’ Sustainability also concerns the current methods of producing and consuming electricity, which rests heavily on nuclear energy. However, France’s dependence on nuclear energy is a heavily debated issue in the upcoming 2022 presidential elections. To what extent do the sustainability-conscious habits of French lawmakers and consumers reflect their national values? 

Eating “BIO”

Bio, short for biologique, is the French word to describe an organic product created without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. In the United States, a commodity is certified organic when it is reviewed by the USDA in a rigorous process that rewards the producer with a badge that can be stamped on packaging. In France, for food products, the logo AB, Certifié agriculture Biologique, is similarly managed by the state. According to 2020 statistics, France tails only Germany for retail sales of organic products with a market worth over 12.7 billion euros. Consumers are taking interest in the organic food sphere, and producers are matching the demand. France leads Europe with the greatest acreage of organic farmland. 

The Covid-19 pandemic moved health concerns to the forefront. According to a study at the University of Montpellier, consumers are more aware than ever before of a connection between their own health and the environment. Agence Bio surveyed French consumers, finding a near overlap between how consumers perceived the environmental impacts of organic products and the positive health impacts. 87% believed organic products were beneficial to the environment; 82% believed that organic products were beneficial to individual health. This view of sustainability is notable. Drawing a direct connection between one’s own health and the environment, consumers feel as if they gain a tangible benefit while they also help the Earth. 

The organic food movement is a success for the sustainability movement in the sense that it allows consumers to understand how their purchases make an impact on their country and world. In another survey led by Agence Bio, 60% of surveyed French people favored buying local products, intending “to consume differently.” Yet in the French agricultural market, because there are so many organic farms, buying local does often mean buying organic. Meeting a local organic farmer at a weekend marché, like a farmer’s market, builds a positive human connection that legitimizes the sustainability movement. In a commercial landscape dominated by chain grocers, why are so many French people preferring to buy local at these marchés? Perhaps most importantly, it’s because of these human connections.   

Organic food has a hold on French agriculture, as the amount of land dedicated to organic farming and the size of the market show. But the reason why it has been a success is more engrained in French culture and tradition, chiefly the tradition of a small community marché. As a whole, the reasons why French people are seeking local and organic products overlap: health of self, the health of the community, and the health of the planet. In turn, this personalizes the sustainability movement, making it clearer for people how their individual choices can make a difference. 

The use of electricity

In other day-to-day environmental considerations, limiting energy and electricity usage is essential in France. From limiting turning lights on to prioritizing using public transportation to avoiding wasting water, French people tend to be more environmentally minded than Americans when it comes to their daily tasks. For the most part, this is due to an average higher cost of electricity than that in the United States, allowing US energy usage to be far higher without costing as much to families. One kilowatt-hour of electricity in France costs 0.204 dollars, compared to nearly half that cost, 0.104 dollars, on average in the United States. The United States uses 8 times more energy than France each year. This is also due to a broader social culture around environmental consciousness in the latter country. Similar to the consideration of food products to buy, French people tend to be more mindful of responsible consumption, and it is by sharing cultural values at a small scale that this responsible consumption has become a national phenomenon. In a 2020 article in the Journal of Evolutionary Economics, researchers found social “peer” pressure to be a major determinant of sustainable consumption in France. This means that small-scale networks encouraging limiting electricity use are a powerful motivating force in the French sustainability movement.  

The French day-to-day relationship to energy usage has been shaped by the history of electricity production in the country. After energy shortages during the first and second world wars, the country made an effort to be energy independent, developing a national carbon industry. The largest move toward energy independence, however, was following the 1973 oil crisis in the Middle East. After this period of turbulent energy sourcing, France was motivated to invest in nuclear power infrastructure, having few other easily accessible domestic power sources. Given its low carbon output, nuclear energy became an efficient renewable power source. France’s participation in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 strengthened the country’s positive stance toward renewable energy and limiting electricity usage. Today, France is the third-largest producer of nuclear power in the world, with 70% of electricity consumed in the country coming from nuclear energy. This is a controversial energy source and is slowly being phased out, with investments going to other forms of renewable energy. Repeated phases of national energy insecurity, as well as a shared cultural attentiveness toward global warming, have shifted the French mindset towards energy consumption. 

“Energy” goes with “Politic”

While nuclear energy has become widespread in France, it creates nuclear waste which is difficult to safely dispose of. Nuclear power stations have also proved complicated to create: the 10B€ plan for new nuclear facilities in 2012 won’t be ready before 2023 and will cost over 20B€. These downsides of nuclear energy, combined with optimistic French attitudes about renewable energy, have sparked a surge toward new energy sources. The French Ministry of Ecological Transition awarded 1.7 GW of renewable projects to private developers in April 2020, and the government budget for renewable energy rose by 25% in the 2021 budget. The 34B€ France 2030 plan, announced by President Macron in October 2021, develops government funding for industrialization with a focus on decarbonization. As a result of these measures, prices of solar panels have fallen 40% within the past 5 years. Through these policies, the French government has focused on both supporting renewable energy and reducing overall energy usage. Unfortunately, several goals such as the National Low-Carbon Strategy are not going to be met. Renewable energy is easy to glorify but poses many complications and uncertainties for an industrialized country. Public opinion reflects these concerns: according to the BVA group, nuclear energy is considered an advantage for France by 50% of French people in 2021 which is 3% higher than in 2019.


Debates about nuclear energy have been common leading up to the 2022 presidential elections. All right-wing candidates support the continued development of nuclear energy as well as funding for Astrid, a research program for recycling nuclear waste. Éric Zemmour and Marie Le Pen strongly support nuclear and hope to open between 6 and 10 new plants. Left-wing candidates are more divided. Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Anne Hidalgo argue that nuclear power needs to be phased out given the risk of nuclear waste and the high costs of building nuclear plants. However other leftist candidates, such as Fabien Roussel, defend unionized nuclear workers and argue that opening new plants despite nuclear’s issues is best for the country. As politicians create energy policies in the coming years, they must balance technological constraints, economic constraints, as well as the wants and needs of the French people. 


In conclusion, the sustainability debate in France is ongoing and constantly changing. While there is a general national consensus to respond to the threat of climate change, the means by which to do so are not as clear. French lawmakers and consumers are faced with the need to balance cultural values and pragmatism. Renewable energy aligns with French values, but given the lack of developed renewable energy sources, politicians must consider how to meet current French energy demands. Organic food may dominate the agricultural landscape in France, yet it is ultimately up to individual choice if one wants to consume it. The ongoing debate on nuclear energy usage, energy dependence, and day-to-day electricity usage is in flux, also made unstable by the Covid-19 pandemic, and even more so with today’s oil price fluctuations related to the war in Ukraine. As climate and geopolitical crises continue, the balance between individual choice and cultural values will continue to moderate sustainable action.  

The 2022 Presidential election in France

It’s a presidential election year in France and with the elections right around the corner, political activity is ramping up across the country. The elections start April 10, 2022 and the results will be announced April 24. Already one can see posters around the Jean-Jaures campus for candidates like Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Fabien Roussel. There are constantly students handing out flyers outside university buildings and the upcoming election has become a staple dinner-time conversation among many homestay hosts. The frenzied political climate in Toulouse is similar to many American cities on the eve of a presidential election, and with more extreme candidates on either end of the political spectrum, there seems to be a lot on the table. In the following sections, we explore the system of elections in France, the history of the election system, the profiles of the 12 candidates currently on the ballot, and protests. We also include perspectives from various homestay hosts and French university students as well as our own experiences living in Toulouse during an election year.

How does it works?

Every five years, the people of France elect their president in a two-round, multi-party electoral system. In this system, all French citizens over 18 years of age, both within the country and abroad, can cast a direct vote for the candidate of their choice. The presidential elections are composed of several main stages. First, the official list of candidates is published about seven weeks before the final round of voting. Each candidate on this list must have the nomination from at least 500 elected representatives, among other requirements. The next major stage of the election process occurs roughly four weeks before the final vote and is the official electoral campaign. Each presidential candidate has an upper limit on spending for their campaign, which is monitored by a committee. To ensure the most equal campaign process possible, each candidate must have strictly the same amount of airtime on television and radio. The first round of elections is the third major step in the presidential electoral process and happens two weeks before the second and final round of votes. The French people go to the polls and cast their direct votes during this time. Assuming no candidate wins over 50% of the vote, which would be an automatic win for that candidate, the second round of voting is scheduled and the two candidates with the highest percentage of votes proceed to the next round. This second vote is the final stage of the electoral process, where every citizen casts their vote again, this time between only the two candidates with the highest votes in the first round. Like before, this round of voting is a direct popular vote, where each ballot cast is counted directly towards that candidate and not as part of a more complex electoral college system, as is seen in the United States of America. The announcement of the results by the Constitutional Council happens within the next ten days, and the president is immediately elected following this announcement. Once a president has been elected, he or she may renew their presidency once more in the following election, but no more than that.  

The voting History

Any French citizen who is 18 years of age on the day of the election can head to the polls on Election Day. In fact, even if you are not a French citizen, you can still vote in some local election. However, this has not always been the case. Only adult men were able to vote starting in 1848 while the law allowing women to vote didn’t pass until 1944. The first presidential election in France was won by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte through popular vote in 1848. This was the first and only presidential election under the government rule of the Second Republic. The Third Republic then had 15 presidential elections under a completely different process. The two houses of parliament under the National Assembly would vote on who would be president. The third republic government had elections from 1870-1940 this is the longest to the day of the same process for voting. The Fourth Republic only had two elections and the winners of the presidential election were decided by the Congress of the French parliament. This was a combination of the National Assembly and the Council of the Republic. Starting in 1958 the French are in the Fifth Republic and have another new different process. There have been 11 elections to the day with one this year in 2022. 

The candidates 

There are 12 candidates who have made it onto the official ballot. Here’s a run-down of their profiles: 

Nathalie Arthaud: Lutte Ouvrière. Arthaud is representing the far-left communist Worker’s Struggle Party. She is an economics teacher who teaches at a high school in Aubervilliers (a suburb north of Paris). The main tenets of her platform are defending workers against management and raising the minimum wage from €1,269 to €2,000 per month. 

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan: Debout la France. Dupont-Aignan broke away from the traditional French conservative wing to represent an alternate conservative party. His party represents freedom of thought and freedom of the press as well as avoiding complacency. He aims to “restore dignity to the Republic”. 

Anne Hidalgo: Parti Socialiste. Born near Cadiz, Spain but raised in Lyon, France Hidalgo represents a generic left-wing that aims to include a mix of various left-wing interests to gain a viable base. 

Yannick Jadot: Europe Écologie- Les Verts. Jadot aims to unify leftist voters and advocate for France to put environmental interests higher in its political priorities and follow through on environmental pledges that Macron failed to bring to fruition. 

Jean Lassalle: Résistons. Lassalle has positioned himself as a centrist candidate representing the rural population of France. He aims to “bring financial power back to the public forum”. 

Marine Le Pen: Rassemblement National. Le Pen represents a far-right wing party in favor of economic nationalism, separating investment and retail banking, and energy diversification and is opposed to privatization of public services and social security. Her biggest competition is likely the even-more right wing candidate Éric Zemmour. 

Emmanuel Macron: La République en Marche. Incumbent President Macron declared his candidacy for the 2022 race just hours before the March 4 deadline. Continuing to represent a centrist platform, Macron is hoping that amid the war in Ukraine voters will opt for continuity and certainty in re-electing him. 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon: La France Insoumise. In his third bid for presidency, Mélenchon represents the far-left party of the Popular Union. He likely lost support after the French Communist Party decided to field its own candidate, Fabien Roussel. 

Valérie Pécresse: Les Républicains. Pécresse represents a mainstream conservative agenda. She has been shifting slightly farther right to appease Republican hardliners and compete with other far-right candidates who are gaining momentum. 

Philippe Poutou: Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. An autoworker without a high school diploma, Poutou is representing a far-left party. His ideas are similarly aligned with those of Nathalie Arthaud, another communist revolutionary. 

Fabien Roussel: Parti Communiste Français. Roussel represents a similar voter base to that of Mélenchon’s France Insoumise Party. However, he has distinguished himself from other leftist candidates on issues of security and immigration as well as social justice. He also supports nuclear energy. 

Éric Zemmour: Reconquête. Zemmour is an extreme right candidate supporting the “great replacement theory” that an elite conspiracy is trying to replace Caucasian people in France with African and Middle Eastern people. Thus, much of his platform is based on anti-Islam, anti-immigration sentiments. 

The demonstration and opinions


There may not be anything more French than protesting. The French people’s incessant protesting is fueled by the love of their country, la République, which they wish to morph into the vision of the people. This fight for a greater country is often traced back to the famous Bastille Day where commoners fought the feudal system, beheaded the king and placed France on the path to a more egalitarian society with their new constitution. Bringing their fight to the streets continued to be the way of change, as the communist party of the late 19th century and early 19th century brought support to the working class such as lowering the workweek from 48 hours to 40, significantly raising pay and creating the “congés payés”, two weeks of paid vacation. This method of protest set the standard for all seeking change. Today, the street is filled with people advocating for an assortment of ideas and movements. It wasn’t too long ago that the fights between “Les gilets jaunes” – the yellow vests – brought chaos near the capital over Emmanuel Macron’s green tax. They fought for people in rural areas who could not afford the new hike in gas prices but were not being kept afloat by social safety nets. While the yellow vest protests were more manic, demonstrations can be

easily tracked as they often occur on the same scheduled days, for example, a quick google search will provide a list of all planned demonstrations. These demonstrations can correspond to global, national or local issues, for example, protests in support of Ukraine have sprung up across the nation while the national vaccine passes and other covid guidelines have been protested. The advancement of France has long been attributed to the steadfast protestors and the changes are still being made to this day and will continue into the future.  

The culture of protests in France and keeping track of all the candidates can be overwhelming, but we ultimately don’t have a say in this election since none of us can vote in France. So we decided to ask French citizens around us for their perspectives. One host sister (20 yrs old) said she has a lot of anxiety concerning the upcoming election and she is scared of the rise of the extreme right and especially the growing popularity of Éric Zemmour. When asked whether they thought the French system was better than the American system because there were more choices, a student’s host responded by saying they did not think it was better and in some ways, it was worse. In the US there is always a choice between a Democratic and Republican candidate but the host said that in France it usually comes down to 2 or 3 candidates and there’s a possibility that all three are conservative which she said was decidedly worse. Having so many parties on the ballot (many of them being similarly aligned) brings up the question of whether it’s better to vote for the candidate with whom you feel most strongly aligned or to vote strategically for the lesser of two evils if your first choice candidate doesn’t seem to have as good a chance. A Dickinson student recently witnessed a debate among friends at the university concerning this issue. One girl discussed how she would vote for Pécresse because she saw the election panning out as a battle between Zemmour, Le Pen, and Pécresse and said the other two would be worse so she would vote for Pécresse. The other girl was appalled that her friend wasn’t voting for Mélenchon since she had the impression that they had the same political views. The debate then ensued over whether it was better to vote strategically for someone you don’t agree with as much or to vote for your first-choice candidate. Clearly, friends can have different political views and similar to many American university students, it seems that students in Toulouse are not afraid to discuss their political opinions. 


As we prepared for our Study Abroad, the Center for Global Studies and Engagement warned us of the many cultural differences to come. Bread with every breakfast, coffee out of bowls, our hosts doing the laundry for the entire house; we expected these small cultural differences. Landing in Toulouse-Blagnac, we started to discover new differences, and adapt more… to pigeons in the airport, to crossing the street even with red walk signs, and to sidestepping dog droppings on the Allée Jean Jaurès.  

When Dickinson sent us abroad, we were prepared to meld ourselves to all the small differences day to day. What we didn’t anticipate, and discovered more and more after becoming Toulousain, were the huge philosophical   differences between American and French society. France values environmentalism over convenience, with paper cups and meticulously separated recycling. La laïcité stands contrary to America’s lax freedom of speech and religion, tackling equality from a different perspective.  

One of the most shocking cultural paradigms, which seems to extend to all corners of life in Toulouse, is the division of public and private life. Through laws, technology use, and even in the classroom, we’ve started to shift how we view our privacy different from our public image.  


At small liberal arts colleges in the US, students are a lot closer to their professors, almost to the point of friendship. In this relationship shared between students and professors, it is very common to know information relating to all aspects of life, such as family information, personal family problems, aspirations and passions as well. As first-years, the math department welcomes students into their living rooms and to answer the door to trick-or-treating children. At the end of the semester, classes might gather at local brunch spots to share a meal with their professor. When the class is assigned particularly difficult homework, students email the faculty desperately after midnight with questions, and can expect to receive a response within a half hour. Professors are an active part in how students mature and form relationships. They remember our clubs, our weekend plans, our roommates and siblings and hometowns, and the students remember them for life.  

At Sciences Po, even with the small class sizes, we’ve never spoken to our professors one on one. We don’t know whether Madame Pelissier has kids, or whether Monsieur Pourcher lives in Toulouse. An email to clarify dissertation guidelines for our International Relations class went unanswered for a week. Whereas in the US, a student-professor relationship presents an opportunity to share our private lives, in France, the professionalism of the classroom seems to divide students and professors more than even strangers on the street.  

Celebrities, too, reap the benefits of a more stringent private/public divide in France. Whereas in America we saw Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy from conception, in France, celebrities seem to keep their private lives private. For example, in 2021 in the US, a rumor spread on TikTok that “Call Me By Your Name” actor Armie Hammer had cannibalistic tendencies and a perverted internet footprint. This rumor became public knowledge over a week before journals and magazines picked up the story, thanks to the paparazzi and the culture surrounding sharing the private lives of public figures. In contrast, Stromae and Omar Sy don’t face weekly rumors of drug addiction, affairs, and plastic surgery. Our hosts don’t read French tabloids, whereas People magazine is in every waiting room in America. With the prevalence of social media like TikTok and Buzzfeed, which provide a daily stream of celebrity gossip, there is very little that stays private in the US. France and the US differ extremely in the regulations and norms regarding privacy on the internet.   



Every time we unlock our phones, there’s a clear reminder of the strict French regulations on privacy. We can’t open Google, Wikipedia, or Buzzfeed without reading a long disclaimer and accepting the site’s cookies. And not only do we except them once, but every time we access the website. Meanwhile, last year in the United States, there was a scandal related to Apple’s app store: an app for children, Talking Tom, filmed the users without permission and mined data from the devices. What a stark difference that in the US an app can access background information without any notification; but in France, accessing anything on the internet requires cookie permission. This is due to new guidelines of 2019 from the CNIL, The National Commission for Informatics and Freedoms. They recently confirmed that continuing to browse a website after its cookie banner is displayed is not synonymous for valid consent of cookie use in France. Operators that use cookies and trackers must now prove that they have obtained affirmative consent from the user.   

Here in France, we are protected by a European law called RGPD (Règlement Général sur la Protection des Données). This translates to General Data Protection Regulation, in which the French, and larger European population are strongly protected from the complexities of data mining of companies. Created in 2016, and put into effect in 2018, there now exists a framework for businesses to follow regarding the processing of personal data. This concept of safety has existed in France for over two decades, from when the internet was in its infancy. Despite these laws seeming to be easily put into effect here, on the other side of the Atlantic, the U.S. is the only OECD country without a Data Protection Agency.  If we did have these laws like France, perhaps we would not have experienced Mark Zuckerberg testifying in front of the American government while the Americans feared for their data safety.    

Through these laws that are prevalent in everyday life for the French, while they are evidently missing from our overall protection in the United States, we can gain a direct understanding of the divide between private and public life. Before we came to France, we had limited safety on the internet, and we were forced to be comfortable with this. The concept of our private lives being easily mined and processed every time we access the internet has become familiar. But now we are realizing that this is not the case in France, for the value of the French private lives is more prevalent than in the US. Indeed, it is clear that the digital world of France is simply a demonstration of principles that already exist.    


As for the government and the laws, the question of public and private life is pretty clear. In France, compared to the U.S, the European Union establishes the policies that must be followed by the governments, and collecting any data and information on the population is strictly controlled. However, the government in France still strives to participate and improve the lives of French people. La “Sécurité sociale” for example is the same concept as the “Social Security Number” in the U.S but here, the government makes more efforts in helping french citizen and non-citizen residents to have access to health care and other types of social services. For example, the first time I went to the doctor here, I was almost shocked to see that I only paid 25 euros for a consultation, unlike the hundred dollars I would have to pay in the United States. As the French Government collects data – for example all the official acts – in order to create a data of criminality or medical records, they in fact invade the privacy of others in search for the overall protection of the French society. What the government does with the tax citizen pay is more than a concern for France citizen and when they don’t think that their privacy or the money is not well used, they don’t hesitate to make it known. At the Capitole, near the central place of the Toulouse city next to the City Hall, every Saturday the population of Toulouse protest because they think that their privacy is not well used with the question of the Health Pass or « Pass Sanitaire ». The government signed laws about allowing only vaccinated people to major public places in the city like the restaurants, cinema, some shops the stadium etc. which raised some concerns about how the government wants to control the population over an app.  

At what point do the French sacrifice their privacy to the need of having social protections?   



It is clear that the relationship between private and public life and information manifests very differently in France than in the United States. More often, it can be observed that French society are big advocates in respecting people and their private lives – which leave French way of life very abstract. This is the explanation for why teachers seem more distanced from their students, or why the ‘juicy details’ on the latest French star are mostly unknown. The same works for the collection of information when using online platforms such as Google or Facebook, as the French government works to protect data. In the United States, this is completely the opposite as people seem to often intertwine both their private and public life together. In the everyday life of United States, people are more often very open and analytical about their public and private life. American people are open books because they know that some amount of privacy will be lost as a member of society. American people still believe in their own right to set their own rules to defining privacy. While we seem to be complacent with our constant minding and processing of our private lives, we also view that obtaining secrecy comes with sacrifice. “No matter what policies are enacted, however, it’s clear that hard choices will have to be made regarding how much we want to give up and how much we want to keep secret.” 



This semester in Toulouse, not only are the Dickinson students from all over the U.S., i.e.: Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, California, but we also have international students who help bring a wide array of perspectives during class and small group discussions. A topic which the group finds particularly intriguing is the comparison between French and U.S. education. For this short article, we will explain these differences by sharing firsthand experiences. The most striking differences take place in the classroom, as well as the physical structure of the campus’ and navigating the support system for students with accommodations. Each one of the articles in this journal are experiences and observations that have informed the Dickinson students on just what it means to be an international student in France. The reflections are those of cultural differences seen through the eyes of students who study in the United States and are able to use cross-cultural perspectives to understand our word’s education systems.   


Since the start of COVID in early 2020, my outlook on learning accommodations while taking online classes and while living on my university’s campus have drastically changed. I always felt supported by Dickinson College and never thought about how other institutions give academic accommodations or, even, how universities in other countries do it. In fact, in Fall 2020, while taking classes completely online, I never felt the need to discuss my learning accommodations as standards for tests, quizzes, and turn-in homework had completely changed. In-person, lengthy, supervised exams turned into open note, 48+ hour timeline tests, and sometimes even adding bonus point options.   

During my first week of school at Sciences Po, Toulouse, I immediately realized I was no longer at a small American liberal arts college. Expectations of the students and their work throughout the semester seemed completely ambiguous comparatively, and I had no idea there was almost no concept of learning accommodations or academic support in a larger French university. Nonetheless, I was able to work with the Dickinson center to help talk to my professors if an issue did arise. Luckily, the professors were extremely accommodating. I partially think this is because COVID learning has changed standards for perhaps a stricter education system like the one in France. Most professors themselves have seemed to have taken advantage of the flexibility in testing and class time which COVID has given the education world. While this makes me happy for those who do need extra assistance with learning, I hope these changes in standards remain and are even applied to those who do not have learning difficulties.  


Courses in France as well as work given by professors have been a huge adjustment compared to what we are used to in the US. The French system is well known for its difficulty and strictness of courses, professors, and work in general, however, as students were not aware what that meant. While in the US, we were used to being given a great amount of work, at times feeling like there were not enough hours in the day to do the work. Here in France, we were faced with many more courses that lasted longer. In general, each class would be held once a week (rarely twice) lasting between 1 and a half to 3 hours. Professors rarely give work to be handed in, there are usually big assignments throughout the semester compared to daily work. Most classes are lecture based and not led by discussions in class, coming from a Liberal Arts College like Dickinson, this was a huge adjustment.  

French students are also more used to working on their assignments throughout the semester. They are also aware of how to prepare for the dissertations that they will be given at the end of the semester. Therefore, while it looks like there might not be much day-to-day work to do, French students are constantly studying and preparing for their big assignments independently. This is a norm in the French educational system as well as their strict rules on how work should be submitted. The dissertation is one of the assignments that best describes the French system as it is rigid, strict and must be done in a certain manner. It was shocking to find that at the end of the semester, students have to reflect on what they have done and write a dissertation on a topic a professor picks based on their course materials over the semester.   


As students studying abroad in France, we interact with many students from all over the world, most of the students are a part of a program called Erasmus. This program is offered as a cultural exchange, and a way to earn credits for one’s respective university. Erasmus is funded through institutions contributing to the European Commission and in return students are granted monthly stipends for living. The overall goal of the program is to have university students’ benefit from other cultures and gain international experiences through their education. It is clear that many students benefit from the Erasmus program and participate in a cultural exchange, being that it is often expected by their university, or in the culture of education. Unlike in the United States, in which studying abroad is seen as a privilege rather than an expectation. There are opportunities for studying in different countries, but there is a wide range of accessibility to such programs depending on the university. It is understandable why students in the United States and students living in a European nation experience varying levels of mobility during their university years. European universities benefit from the proximity and accessibility of the continent, as well as the reciprocated relationship between many of the nations.   

The Erasmus program allows students to experience cultural exchanges and mobility across countries in a direct and supported way. Students gain the benefits of being supported financially, to some degree, as well as the programs connections to housing, and education. The educational exchange may not be greatly different from their home nation, but in this exchange, they are able to learn about new norms, different languages and a different way of daily life at a young age. University students in the United States do not have the same access to mobility, it is often that one must plan for studying abroad prior to choosing a university. This is not always the case, but seeing as universities widely differ in their access to study abroad programs it can often mean students must plan in advance for the opportunities. Although students in the U.S. do not always study abroad during their college years, it is common for students to attend a school outside of their home-state/region. This means they are able to experience a cultural shift, although it may not be as drastic as being in a different country. Students in European nations have access to universities in proximity to their home regions and through the Erasmus program they have access to a plethora of schools outside of their domain.   


All students in the Dickinson Program for the fall 2021 semester are studying at the Toulouse Institute of Political Science. Although this University is within close proximity to Toulouse Capitol 1 University, the structure of the campus is limited to a 4-floor building. One of the big questions posed to us throughout our stay has been the question of the “big American campus,” referring to the big green quads and large classrooms in various buildings on a concentrated piece of land. In France, this is obviously not the case, as shown by the campus Science Po. This limited space has resulted in international students following courses at a distance due to the lack of classrooms. The campus offers a small café in the same building, but the library and cafeteria are a part of the larger campus across the street. In comparison to the campus of Dickinson and those of America, it’s hard to really qualify the campus of Science Po as a “campus” in those terms. However, in France, it is very much a campus, even if there are those that are bigger such as Jean Jaurès and UT1.   

In addition to the physical structure and layout of the campus, the structure or the framework of the teaching differs greatly from the style of the United States. As mentioned in the previous argument: “autonomy and learning in class and at home,” the French system is rigid and strict, but why? The structure of the courses highlights this, as Professors organize courses oriented on content and systematic ways of doing things. There is less of a rapport between student and professor, less interaction between student and student. Independence is the result of a structure based upon two or three assignments per course that count for your entire grade. However, though it may seem “loosely structured,” the ways in which assignments are completed is where the strictness appears. Professors rarely call roll as the semester continues, and never comment on absences, which in turn, results in students skipping courses, and ultimately add to the space between student and professor, student and student.   



Our experience has been shaped by the educational system whether it be through the expectations of students and professors, the accessibility of learning accommodations, the cultural exchange with Erasmus students, and the structure of the university itself.  All of these aspects of learning contribute to our living abroad experience and plays into how we view French and American intercultural experiences. We have seen that the differences in accommodations for students are vast, yet the influence of Covid has actually aided the progress in this domain. We also see the stark differences in mobility of students from nations as part of Erasmus, and other students. How the ability to study abroad is extremely encouraged and made possible by a network outside of a university. Specifically, and most drastically we noticed how class structure and student preparation, as well as the relationship between students and professors is a large shift from what we are used to in the US. And finally, the physical structure of university and the aspect of “a campus” reflects the organization of a university and reflects new differences as well 

COVID 19 Virus – what is your reaction?

Written by Conor Gourley and Katie Zhang,  March 27th, 2020

Everything still seems unreal, only a week ago we were together in in Toulouse, now we are all at home in our different spots throughout the world. We certainly did not imagine this ending to the program – it was so sudden that we did not have the time to say real goodbyes to our hosts nor to friends. As our program was suspended because of the virus we decided to write an article about the different reactions to the virus by our different countries as a way to reflect on our experiences over the last weeks.

In the United States:
During my re-adaptation to life in Pennsylvania, I could see with my own eyes the American response to the conoravirus pandemic and the way many Americans were reacting. The day after I left France, Monday, March 16th, Macron issued the ‘shelter in place’ order to try to slow down the spread of the virus. Exactly one week later, on March 23rd, Tom Wolf, the governor of Pennsylvania, gave the same order for my county as well as six others. Even though it was a big step to reduce the infection rate, according to what I have seen in the reaction of other Americans, it may not be sufficient. Almost everyone with whom I spoke seemed to share the same view that the current government actions intended to help the country are not enough and it is not taken seriously. At the same time, many barely pay attention to government restrictions; especially young people who are less at risk and do not apply social distancing. Many friends have asked to meet up, if I could get to Boston to the Tufts campus to see them, or if I could go rock climbing in Kentucky. Of course I would like to go, but it is surprising to hear people who are disregarding barriers that were created as protections for our communities.

When we were in France:
I felt that no one was really nervous about the virus a few days before our departure (March 8-11th). Life went on normally- cafés and bars were full. Even as the number of sick grew by the hundreds per day, people were going out and hanging out together as they did always. Protests kept up. All the news media sent the message that there should be no panic, COVID-19 was just a bad flu. The president and his wife even went out to see a play to show that all was well. I began to get nervous when things got serious and yet those around me were not at all nervous. I stopped going out as often and avoided public transportation, while others thought I was over-reacting.

In China:

I know I was very nervous about the virus because I saw so much information about it from China. I understand how such a situation could become horrible and how the Chinese government treated the virus differently. For example, my temperature was taken 6 times before I disembarking from the plane. Then, I went through more temperature taking as well as an epidemiological report at the airport. I was not allowed to return home alone, nor could my parents come to fetch me. The airport informed my neighborhood and I was escorted home in an ambulance. I am now in self- quarantine for 14 days. Each day I receive a call from the authorities to check my temperature. Food and other goods are delivered to me.

All during the process, everyone I met wore a mask, at least. However, when I was at the Toulouse airport, I was the only mask wearer. That really bothered me and stressed me out. Therefore I did a bit of research to try to understand different reactions of different people regarding wearing masks. Here’s what I learned — people are already used to wearing masks daily in East Asian countries. In Japan, people began wearing masks to help with allergies, as in China several years ago, against increased air pollution. Yet in Europe and the US, there is a tacit understanding that only sick people wear masks. Additionally, in China everyone is required to wear a mask during the epidemic, while western governments have announced that masks are not useful for the greater public, further there are not enough masks for all. Such differences produce an opposite reactions about mask-wearing. It is very difficult to judge who is right or wrong, we need to respect both opinions.

Although it was different in the beginning, the world’s reaction is almost the same: stay home! It is certainly hard to do, but it is the most simple and the most efficient that each of us can do for society in these difficult times. Doctors and nurses are obligated to put themselves in danger from the virus, so what can we can do is to reduce our chances of becoming sick. Everyone has it hard now, but it is important to stay calm and to be grateful for the sacrifices others are making for us. I hope all will be well soon and everyone can emerge safe and sound!

Demonstrations and the culture of protest in France

Article written by Sophie Ackert

In Toulouse, I got tear gassed. That is a story that I will tell for the rest of my life. Not only is it shocking to people, but also it allows me to tell people in my life about the protest culture in France. At the end of my first month in Toulouse, I went to volleyball practice for the first time. While I was waiting at the metro stop for the other members of the team, I noticed that there were a lot of people in the plaza. I knew that Saturday was the day of the Gilets Jaunes protests, but it did not look like they were doing anything, so I figured the protest was over and everyone was leaving. Then, in less than a minute, everything changed. The crowd gathered closer together, the protestors began chants, and eventually the police tear gassed and water cannoned the plaza. I, along with other bystanders and protestors, ran away from the scene. I ran into the closest building I could get into, but I got locked in. The police were waiting outside of the building to arrest people since they knew there were Gilets Jaunes inside. After 35 minutes, I got to leave, I found some of the volleyball girls and we went to practice. I was shocked that everything continued as normal after such an intense protest. But for Toulouse in this turbulent time, that was a normal Saturday evening.

This week, on the 5th of December, was the national strike in France. The initial reason for this strike is the retirement and benefit changes that the government has proposed. However, many other movements joined in for this national day of strike. Not only was transportation shut down in many places, but also some schools and universities closed. For example, the IEP, my university, decided to shut down until Friday, the 6th. Today, on the 6th, the students decided to continue their strike and occupation of the buildings, and therefore we continue to have no class until at least next Tuesday. Then, they will vote again in a general assembly, which consists of whatever members of the community want to attend, whether to continue the strike until the end of the semester. During the occupation, students organize workshops, such as conferences with professors or external guests, debates, film screenings, demonstrations preparation sessions, etc.

*Between the writing and publication of this article, the occupation has been renewed until the 13th of December.

Difference in Protest Culture between France and the US.

The idea of revolting or protesting is an important aspect of the history and of the present in France. It is very different than protest culture in the US. Starting from the Revolution up until the December 5th strike of this year, the French people are rooted in protesting. There have been times of violent protesting, like with the capture of the Bastille in the 18th century, and like today with the Black Bloc protestors. But there are also times of more calm protests, like we saw yesterday during the strike in Toulouse (ed: December 5th). Regardless of the type of protest, they have worked in France to change things in the government that the public is unhappy with. The Revolution in the most prominent example of how revolting and protesting has worked for France. There are others as well, including the uprising of students against the government of De Gaulle in 1968, and in 1995, with the strikes against the “plan Juppé”.

In the United States, protests are much more common than strikes. But even when there are protests, they are not national such as in France. There are protests for individual causes, and they usually last no more than a day. A good example is the Women’s March. This is a group that holds protests in many big cities around the US every year. The goal is “to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change” (Women’s March), but not necessarily to make specific changes in law or government. This is more commonly the purpose of protests in the US because the constitution and the law is much harder to change than in France. Our constitution is almost impossible to amend, while in France, they amend the constitution about every two and a half years. This is a simplified explanation for why protest culture is so different in France, and why the protests make change in France.

The differences between border security in the United States and France

Article written by Julia Walsh

There is a frivolous dream among American university students who study in Europe to decorate their passports to later show off their numerous stops and recount the adventures of studying abroad. In order to arrive in Toulouse, I first stopped in Brussels, Belgium to take a connecting flight. In Brussels, I received the ever-anticipated first stamp of my travels. However, once I landed in Toulouse, there was no stamp to be given. The same was true when I flew to Italy and Spain – new countries, but no stamps. In fact, it seemed to me that the agents at the airport hardly gave my passport a second look. This was shocking coming from the United States where entering and exiting the country is guaranteed to be accompanied by a thorough passport inspection. This experience on my first day of studying abroad already gave me an insight into the differences in border security between France and the United States.

The Schengen Agreement and Area

Another moment when I saw very clearly the differences between borders policies in my home country and in France was while driving over the border between France and Spain with my hosts. We were spending the weekend in the Pyrenees, a mountain range which stretches between Southern France and Northern Spain. They informed me that we were very close to the Spanish border and that we could cross over if I would like. My initial reaction was that of panic, since I didn’t have my passport with me. However, it turns out that there were hardly any differences crossing the border, apart from the signs which were now in Spanish. Crossing an international border, which seemed like a big deal to me, was no different than traveling between New York and Pennsylvania, or any other state.

My hosts informed me that this was a result of the Schengen Agreement. After doing a bit of research, I learned that the Schengen Agreement of 1995 followed the Treaty of Maastricht, of 1992. The initial treaty was created among the members of the European Union to encourage integration and community among the member states. Since 1995, the established Schengen Area has expended and now includes 26 countries that do not require individual passports and freedom of travel for people within their borders. Consequently, while traveling by car or plane to all of the countries that border France, there is freedom of travel and no customs agent.

Border security in the United States vs France

The physical barriers of security that are seen at the borders of France and the borders of the United States are quite different. As I saw when passing between France and Spain, there are no customs agents or other control checkpoints when moving between countries in this region. I saw the remnants of what where previously border control stations, however these buildings remain abandoned ever since the 1995 agreement. Although I have no experience driving through the United States’ southern border, I have driven through the Northern border to Canada a number of times. This journey, although not too difficult for American citizens, can take up to a couple of hours as a result of waiting in line for each vehicle to be stopped and questioned upon entering the new country. I remember traveling over the border with my parents when I was younger, and being told that the border is very serious and that it is imperative to not speak unless spoken to. I carry with me the same sentiments about borders for each new country. However, arriving in France and traveling within the European Union, I have found that there are not as severe of sentiments within the Schengen Area. It is important to specify the difference between the European Union and the Schengen Area, due to the differences in security when traveling outside of the Schengen Area. I traveled to Dublin, Ireland one weekend in November and was thrown back into the reality that I normally face with customs at the airport. The agents both arriving in Ireland and returning to France carefully examined my passport and asked detailed questions about my travels. It was at this time that I did receive, finally, another stamp on my passport. However, this was at the cost of a more intense and nerve-racking border control experience. It is clear that there is not one uniform form of security in the European Union despite the efforts of the Schengen Agreement. That information aside, the security within the area, and in France as a result, differs greatly from security protocols in the United States.

Impacts of “hot topics” today in border security:

Today in the United States, as well as France and Europe more broadly, there are many political debates surrounding the topics of borders. In Europe, this conversation centers mostly on the influx of asylum seekers and migrants coming into the region during and after 2015. The “migrant crisis” opened up many conversations about how the European Union and individual states were going to handle adequately housing asylum seekers. For France and other countries, these conversations include considering quotas and safe numbers of people to allow in their country while respecting their values, human rights, and the rights of citizens. In the United States, border security conversations certainly surround problems at the Mexican/United States border. With a crackdown in border security coming from the Trump administration, the area is high in tensions and a huge topic for debate going into the 2020 presidential elections. This subject alone is extremely polarizing for Americans on either side of the debate, one side hoping to stop the flow of illegal immigration and the other seeking to bring asylum to those at the border and moreover help families who are being detained at the border by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The most pressing discussions around border security in the United States and France alike both return to the idea of citizenship and migration. The rights of citizens and immigrants are different in both countries and reflect broader cultural differences and similarities in the constant struggle to define a citizen.

McDonald’s in France and in the US

Article written by Esra Park

Before boarding my flight to France, my last stop in the U.S. was dedicated to my beloved McDonald’s oreo McFlurry. Since I was little, my family would often stop by a fast food restaurant before dropping someone off at LAX. Whether that be McDonald’s, In-N-Out, or Chipotle, it was a nice way to get a quick snack by drive-thru, and eat our treats in the car. I boarded the plane and set out for my year-long study abroad in Toulouse. On the first day of our program, I was making my way to the Dickinson Center when I passed by one of the first McDonald’s I had seen in France thus far. To my surprise, almost everyone there was dining in! I was completely caught off guard to see that people were actually sitting down at McDonald’s, eating their fast food, talking with friends, and spending their time there as if it were any other lunch-break restaurant.

Culture of McDo in America vs. France

I was taken by surprise because, McDonald’s in America is very much a fast-food experience. Firstly, American McDonald’s are always built with a drive-thru option: you will often find that the drive-thru has more cars waiting in line than the cars parked in the parking lot, which often causes the drive-thru experience to actually take longer than just going inside and ordering. Because people choose drive-thru over dine-in, it is much more common to see people munching on their fries in the car while they drive their meals back home. Or even, people will eat their burger and sip their coke while they drive to their meeting, trying to squeeze in a quick lunch in the middle of their busy day. Additionally, McDonald’s is virtually everywhere in America. Odds are, you can easily find one within a 15-20 minute drive from wherever you are, and if you’re in a big town or major city, there will surely be one just 5 minutes away from you. According to, there were around 13,900 McDonald’s in America in 2018. Lastly, McDonald’s in America is almost always a 24-hours establishment. They are open every single day, year-round, and even during major holidays. On the other hand, in France, it appears that the McDonald’s experience is treated much more as a dine-in opportunity, just like any other restaurant. Obviously McDonald’s is not the same as local restaurants that customize their menu-of-the-day to fit their fresh ingredients-of-the-day, but the principle of lunch and dinner goers taking their time to eat their meals and chatting with friends is basically the same. I’ve noticed that during lunch and dinner times, these McDonald’s are never empty; there is always a line of people waiting to order, and then struggling to find a place to sit. Even during non-peak meal times, I still always see people eating at the tables outside. These McDonald’s are also often located in popular areas where people walk and shop, so it is pretty uncommon to see one with a drive-thru option. However, oddly enough, most of these McDonald’s actually have a small side window where people can order to-go in a drive-thru like feature, but basically replacing the cars with humans. In addition, McDonald’s is not quite everywhere in France as it is in America. The fast-food chain surely exists and is present in large cities, but they are not necessarily in every neighborhood like they usually are in the States. According to, there are only around 1,400 locations in all of France in 2018, which is approximately only 10 percent the amount in the U.S. Moreover, French McDonald’s is not the 24-hour show that is in America: they actually usually close around 1am and open around 8am.

Connotations of McDo in America vs. France

Some of these major differences between American and French attitudes towards McDonald’s come from the different connotations that the franchise has in each country. In America, McDonald’s is very much perceived as the bottom level of dining that one can go for. It is inexpensive, cheap quality, and plainly fast-food. People generally do not spend time dining-in because they do not see it really as an event, but more so something to pick up through drive-thru when they are feeling lazy and want some good old fashioned junk food. What is interesting to note, however, is the people who do usually choose to dine-in: Usually the people choosing to dine-in are lower-class families who take advantage of the affordable prices at McDonald’s to use it as an opportunity to dine together. I have also noticed that, whenever I do walk-in instead of drive-thru, there are many construction workers who will use the dine-in option to get a quick and cheap lunch, and take a break together. By contrast, almost anyone and everyone dines-in in France. People commonly choose to dine-in at McDonald’s in France, and for those who cannot seem to find an open table or empty seat at the restaurant, they will order to-go and take their McDonald’s to a nearby park where they will then sit and enjoy their meals together. Certainly McDonald’s does not lose its title as a fast-food chain, but in France, they do not seem to have quite the negative, lower connotation associated with McDonald’s in America. People are not as self-conscious to be seen eating at a McDonald’s in France, whereas some might feel awkward or embarrassed to be seen dining-in at a McDonald’s in America.

Possible explanations for the connotations

While discussing my observations with my hosts at dinner one night, my hosts explained to me that one of the reasons why McDonald’s in France seems to be a bigger deal than McDonald’s in America is the fact that it is one of the few reliable places to get a burger. She mentioned that unlike the U.S., there are not many specialized burger restaurants, so whenever people feel like eating a burger and fries, they will reach for McDonald’s. I found that to be interesting because after reflecting some and looking around, there really are not many burger restaurants or other burger franchises other than McDonald’s, that I’ve seen. In the States, aside from independent burger restaurants, there are actually many burger franchises that are of better quality than a fast-food burger, but still exist in multiple locations; just to name a few: Umami Burger, Johnny Rockets, Five Guys, etc. Another reason why there might be this difference in perception towards McDonald’s could be that the quality and presentation of the fast-food in France is just better than that of in the U.S. It is known that American McDonald’s is not the prettiest of foods, nor of great quality. It is actually not uncommon that McDonald’s workers will forget parts of your order or even ingredients in your food that they have become internet memes. One of the most common memes about American McDonald’s revolves around the theory and fact that their ice cream machine is always broken. Therefore, really the only dessert option rests at a soggy apple McPie. Yet in France, McDonald’s features special items specific to the country such as burgers and sandwiches made with a fresh, warm baguette. You can even finish off your meal with dessert options ranging from five different flavors of macarons to mini tiramisu to the southwestern French specialty, canelé. With menu options like these, I would surely be open to French McDonald’s dining experience.

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