Volume 10, Issue 7
In this article, I want to talk about what it means to be an international student more than give my two-cents about French culture.
I can testify that being French is not always easy. There are so many clichés in Anglo-Saxon cultures and in Australia about the French that I often feel that I disappoint people if I don’t live up to their expectations. So yes, sorry but I am French and Czech, identify as a gay man, usually vote Green or Socialist, lived in about 9 cities in 4 different countries, and speak a handful of languages. I like to think that there is more to me than just being from x country. This is just like you though because you are more than a mere Melbournian; your own identity will be defined by much more than that.
Obviously, right? I truly understand that most people need to label things in order to make sense of the big mess that reality is, but, at a personal level, there is usually a mismatch between the way I understand my identity and the way you understand it. That’s cool, we all learn from our mistakes. My advice to you is to refrain from essentialising people. Just don’t do it with anyone because every single person’s identity is more than their sexual orientation, their gender, their skin colour, their accent, their country of birth, of citizenship, of residence, their socio-economic background, or the studies they have done.
For instance, I remember having a discussion with (educated) friends about some random topic and being told that I had said something because I am French. A few minutes later, I said the exact contrary of my previous assertion and, to my great amusement, I was told again that I had said such a French thing. This didn’t not make any sense whatsoever. It would be fantastic if people could address arguments in an honest fashion rather than dismissing them because of my foreignness. It’s just slack otherwise. Don’t be slack.
I could act like I do in the French restaurant where I work to pay for my degree. There, I usually don’t say that I study law, or that I have studied at all, and certainly not that I am also Czech. Why? Because I am tired of questions and remarks such as: “ Why Carlton?”, “Why Melbourne?”, “Why Australia”, “You don’t look like a lawyer” [that’s because I am currently waiting on your table], “There are no jobs in law”. It’s good prep for clerkship interviews but it is seriously tiring to be challenged all the time.
So I just give them what they want in a thick French accent, namely that I am from a small village in Normandy, just to make sure that my customers don’t feel threatened or confronted in their beliefs. Don’t be that person. My manager at that restaurant is French and she is of Egyptian and Algerian descent. She is often told that she does not look French. Seriously? What does it mean to look French? Is it that she does not look like your cliché about Parisian women? That’s your problem, not hers.
I can confess that I used to be an even more annoying first world man than I currently am. I am very pleased to have been challenged in my former first world attitudes and I have learnt to respect and appreciate people for who they are. It’s also fantastic that most people I know at the MLS are tolerant and open-minded, so keep spreading the word.
Thibaut Clamart is a 2nd year JD student
The rest of this week's issue: