My interactions with the French education system are replete with cultural lessons. This first month in Paris has been lots of free time but now I am staring to teach elementary English in a suburb east of the city. I have decided that I am against socialism. I know this might seem obvious because I am an American, but let me explain. Even though I realize that I might have philosophical problems with it, but a part of me has always wondered if maybe all the free stuff was maybe worth it. However, after only one week of working in the very centralized public education system, I have decided that I am against it for a much more practical reason, and that is its sheer inefficiency. Every person in the system must slowly telephone their way up the chain of command to answer every question. This week I have heard more than anything else “Franchement, je ne sais pas “ (“Frankly, I have no clue”). For instance, at orientation, we learned that same of the paperwork we were given to fill out is no longer applicable, as the organization it was for was dissolved . . . last year, it just took this long for the information to work its way through the system. We were told our health care is active now, but we may not get our reimbursements and cards till May, one month before we leave. I have spent much of this past week showing up to meetings at schools . . . that had no clue I was coming.
The French love paperwork. LOVE it. The thrive on demanding 30 documents for something. Photocopies delight them, ID photos thrill them. Yet I think it kind of makes sense. The straightforward American method doesn’t suit the French people, who are an intriguing blend of utter disrespect for authority, and an affinity to an obese government involved in every aspect of life. The solution, allow them in, but hinder every step through bureaucratic red tape.
And, I have to admit, there is something slightly comforting to me about carrying a giant folder of photocopies of all my important documents to every meeting. In America, everything is online. You send in things with a click of a button, never having the satisfaction of turning over a thick manila envelope. My documents may sit for months on one after another French desk before finding the hands that will receive them, but they will not simply dissolve into unfeeling cyberspace.