French word of the day: La banlieue (10/8/2023)

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So it has been a few weeks since my last newsletter, and I apologize, things have been a bit crazy because: (drumroll) I moved!

No you don’t have to change your internet bookmarks, Snippets of Paris will remain the same, but we are saying goodbye to cramped apartment life and moving to have more space in ‘la campagne‘, aka the countryside.

Fresh air, less road construction, better schools, we’ve been looking to make this happen for ages now, and only now managed to thread the needle of moving before the start of the next school year in September. (I have moved countries before but there is nothing quite like moving with children-in-tow, this is probably my worst logistically planned move ever! Hence the radio silence of this newsletter.)

But I will confess when I said “la campagne”, it is not quite farmland as we are only 30 minutes outside of Paris. But there seems to be a giant snail invasion in my new ‘hood, which is pretty countryside-ish for a city-dweller like me.

I suppose it could more accurately be called “the suburbs”, but in french the translation is “la banlieue” which has a connotation all of its own, which is probably quite on topic given all that has been going on in France over the past few weeks.

You may have seen it on the news as it made international headlines. Basically to summarize, protests and riots broke out in all across France, after the shooting of a 17-year-old named Nahel, a teen who tried to drive away from the police in a rented luxury Mercedes without a license.

With even superstar French footballer Kylian Mbappé speaking out, shops, schools, and government property in various banlieues were attacked and burnt to the ground to protest against police brutality.

In French, there is a negative connotation to the word “banlieue” and “banlieusard” in French that there simply isn’t in English with the word “suburbanite”. They are presumed to be poor, filled with buildings of ugly subsidzed housing.

One of the main reasons for the larger than necessary impact of the word “banlieue” is that the postcode where you are born is asked for on just about every French document.

And if you are born in one of the Parisian banlieues, the “93” la Seine Saint Denis considered the poorest department in France, the stigma of ‘being born poor’ tends show up in the oddest of places. Does it really matter where a person ‘is from’?

Anyway after all that, Bastille day celebrations in July were held across the country under high security, not the least of which were due the Bastille 2016 attacks in the city of Nice, and all those retirement protests earlier in the year.

And to be clear none of this is great for the upcoming Olympics. For now, an uneasy calm has descended around the country, with most people on their annual summer holidays.

Me on the other hand, I’m building flat packs and trying to figure out in which box I put the printer paper in, while wrangling kids on summer holidays. So here’s to embracing ‘the banlieue’, while trying not to crush any(more) snails. Bon été!

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