Wednesday, April 30, 2008

City Life

A Tale Of Two Cultures
By Alexandra Kolbeck

Dressed in blue jeans and a grey and black, striped sweater, Alain Furcajg, a 26 year-old freelance filmmaker, appears to be your average, young New Yorker living in some hipster corner of Brooklyn. His English is almost impeccable. “The Golden Hour” is how he described the time of day during our interview in Union Square Park. Other than a few mistranslated American idioms, no one would guess that Furcajg grew up in France before moving to New York only one year ago.

Furcajg was born in raised in Paris, which is not only the capital of the country, but is also France’s largest city. France, with an estimated population of more than 64 million people, mostly speaking the French language, one can only imagine how difficult the language barrier between French and English must be. U.S. Census data shows that from 1981 to 1990, 23,149 people immigrated to the U.S. from France. From 1991 to 2000, the number of French immigrants rose to 27,444. But from 2000 to 2005, the number French immigrants fell to 22,177.

Although France has a high unemployment rate, the government offers French citizens social protections in employment, as well as affordable health care. These are only a few of the differences Furcajg spoke of when we met one recent Tuesday evening.

Furcajg, a transplanted
Parisian wants to make it
in New York.

The child of an American woman studying abroad in Paris and a Polish textile merchant running his family business, Furcajg comes from a unique background. His father was born in Poland and escaped during World War II to Normandy, France. His family found protection on a farm with two other Jewish families until the war ended.

Thereafter, the family moved to the outskirts of Paris where Furcajg’s grandfather began his own textile business. Years later, Furcajg’s father took over the business. A native of New York, Furcajg’s mother was studying French at the Sorbonne at the same time his father was studying philosophy there. After marrying, they moved to Paris and had Furcajg in 1981.

Furcajg grew up as most French children do with school as their main focus. “School in America is a piece of joke,” he said before he corrected himself saying, “or cake, is it?”

For him, school began at 8:00am and would run as late as 6:00 pm with an hour break for lunch. After school, he said children would go home and spend time with their family, eat dinner, watch an hour of television, if they were lucky, and then study for one or two more hours before going to bed.

“Not many children were able to play sports because you don’t have the time," he said. "On the weekend you have to devote at least one full day to studying so if you played a sport it was only one day a weekend, if that,” Furcajg explained.

Furcajg said that unlike America, colleges do not give scholarships, for sports nor does a college education cost as much. College is France is free unless you go to a private one, and even then, the most expensive college is around $10,000. He also said the level of difficulty in French high school is equivalent to that of an American college.

Furcajg said it is normal for about 90% of French children to fail at least one year of elementary education because it is so difficult. French students also must take the baccalaureate exam in order to graduate high school. For the 60% of those who fail, they must repeat the entire year and retake the exam.

"Finding a job once you do graduate college is very difficult in France because of the high level of unemployment," he said.

However, the French government offers social protection to its citizens for this reason. A full time position in France is 35 hours per week with a six week paid vacation and full benefits. When someone loses their job, they can claim unemployment for up to six months from the government.

“I feel that Americans are very money driven," said Furcajg. "That is not necessarily bad, but France definitely nurtures our people and takes care of them in ways America does not.”

When asked Furcajg what he felt were the main social differences between the French and Americans, he had much to say. “Americans are more of nomads where the French tend to stay at home. French people are also more introverted and conservative," he said. "The French intellectualize everything and complain a lot. They can be very critical.”

When it comes to women, Furcajg feels there is a huge difference in the way they are perceived. There is a French proverb that is well known about women in France. It translates to, “Be beautiful, and shut up,” Furcajg explained. “French women are very quiet. They will never make eye contact with you at a bar or make the first move. If they get drunk and crazy at a party French guys are totally turned off,” he said, adding, “American women are much more open and independent. They are more like dudes and are more open about their sexuality.”

Moving to New York City, of all the places to move in America, Furcajg said he definitely experienced a bit of a culture shock. However, it isn’t the shock you might expect.

“Parisians are bitter and cold compared to New Yorkers,” Furcajg said. “I have no regrets about moving here and have met some very interesting people.” As for the future, Furcajg hopes to continue his filmmaking career and establish himself in New York. He added, “I wouldn’t mind finding love in America if she’s willing to travel with me so I can surf all over the world.”

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