The citizenship test

What makes an acceptable French citizen? A country with a high level of immigration needs conformity to maintain social cohesion. But conformity to what?

4 April 2017

Immigration officials have the hard task of trying to distinguish applicants for French citizenship who will fit into society from those who won’t. At present, an applicant is asked to memorise a 25-page e-booklet, and give the right answers (in passable French) during a face-to-face interview.

It is difficult to think of a system that doesn’t favour successful exam technique over a sincere understanding of the requirements of citizenship but it’s worth asking the question: “What is the essence of good Frenchness?”
There is a trick here. Slavish obedience to rules and values does not make a dynamic country. Nationalism, and still less patriotism, is not enough. France has always been a remarkably centralised society working to a defined set of values but the je ne sais quoi that makes it work is a certain sense of what can only be called measured rebellion: standing up for your rights without unfraternally infringing the rights of other citizens.

What the immigration interview should be asking is: “You know the geography, history and institutions of France – but how are you going to constructively express your individuality within the system for the benefit of yourself and others?”

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