[i] Hi [name] , how are you?

[r] It’s all right.

[i] How did you get to my house? Can you tell me about your journey from your home to here?

[r] It was a long journey but not really. Taking transport here in Paris is simple, because you don’t get lost and that’s the main thing. The problem is that it takes time, especially on weekends. When the journey is 30 minutes long, but you have connections and you have to wait, so it will be an hour longer. Even if you want to make a short trip of 20 minutes according to the application of your phone, you still have to count one hour to get there. Sometimes the buses are late or there is a strike or problems. In general, public transport is good, there are traffic problems everywhere and not only in Paris. In Syria, the issue is catastrophic. What is positive is that in Paris you don’t get lost and everything is available,

[i] Good. If you compare Syrian and French public transport, what can you say?

[r] In our country, when we talked about means of transport in France or Europe, we said that the metro allows you to cross a city from east to west in 10 minutes, which is exaggerated. When I heard that, I understood that it was exaggerated here, what surprised me was that there are connections of 6 to 7 minutes on average between two metro lines. Sometimes the connections are only 2 minutes long, if I also add the waiting time because each line has its own frequency, the frequency of trains passing on some metro lines can be two minutes, and on others, every ten minutes. So your calculations fall apart. We also thought the subway was ultra fast like a spaceship. In Syria, those who came back to visit, you had the impression that they wanted to show that everything was great in France, they kept saying that they didn’t have the same bus problems because they had the subway, they always used the “we”, they wanted to be more royalist than the king.

[i] In your opinion, when can a person use the “we” when leaving one country to another?

[i] In this situation, we have two cases. The first, the one we talked about, which is more royalist than the king, unfortunately we have many in our economically backward states; the second, they feel French after three, four or five years of life in France. For them, their lifestyles are changing and they are becoming more French than Syrians, Orientals or even North Africans. There are people who go to France for a week, then when they return they already include at least two words in French in each sentence. They no longer say thank you with the Syrian rolled “r”, but they say “Merci”, and they don’t even speak French.

[i] Are there any moments when you thought you were French or Syrian?

[r] A journalist asked me once if I felt French, I had been living in France for 6 years at that time, the question was in the context of naturalization, she asked me why I had not yet made the request. I replied that I will do so, when I feel 100% French, I must say that I am French rather than naturalized French, I must first feel French, just as I saw myself as Syrian when I was in Syria.

[i] How can you express this feeling?

[i] I can’t describe this feeling. But at the time, I replied by saying, “Defend France at all costs, as I was doing for Syria, have fears for its interests as was my case for Syria, and feel equal to all French people. I still do not understand this feeling, today, after eight years of life in France, I sometimes feel more sensitive to the causes concerning France than many French people I know who are either immigrant parents or French parents. I am more interested than they are in the integration of immigrants, for example. Once, I was talking to a French friend for whom, in his opinion, integration already begins when the immigrant or refugee is given the 10-year or one-year residence permit. For him, the problem is solved, but the problem is that, for example, you give me a resident’s card in order to travel as I wish, a transport card, a vital card. Thus, I will remain[name of interviewe[r] the immigrant and the foreigner and I will not move forward at all. It is true that you have done me a service, two or three important things in order to live on French territory, but you have not served me to become an integrated immigrant or a future Frenchman. The problem is that I will keep these services while keeping my language and culture of origin, which I brought from my country of origin; I will keep some things and therefore I will not progress towards the French culture, language and labour market. Integration into the French labour market is very important and I consider it to be the first step towards integration, obviously, learning the language comes first, the acquisition of culture is not possible in one day and is done by learning the language and integration into the labour market. I always give the same example, in Syria, I was an accountant, but when I arrived here, I discovered that we applied the Syrian accounting criteria, which are very different from the French criteria, I don’t know if you know anything about it, but in France I’m no longer an accountant, I dare not say it, I can say I know about it but I can’t practice accounting. I mean by that that integration into society is first of all to learn the language and learn to work, but unfortunately it is not really possible in France, I give you the example of the OFII which gives French courses at A1 and A2 levels and then it is over. The duration of the apprenticeship there is limited, I don’t know if they teach higher levels, but from what I’ve heard the duration is limited to 6 months. I didn’t go through that.

[i] And you, how do you describe your experience with the language?

[r] My experience is a little different. I came to France in search of a diploma, or rather an education. The idea came to my mind after I graduated from university in 2009, I had to continue my studies in master’s degree, then in doctorate, but I had problems, which I don’t see the point in telling, and which prevented me from doing so. So I thought I’d go to school somewhere else, but where? As I speak Arabic, I started looking in Arab countries, such as Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan, unfortunately, Jordan is very expensive. Lebanon was very dangerous for me; at the time, going to Lebanon was like staying in Syria, because it was considered a governorate, a sector or even a region of Syria. I was accepted into a university in Annaba, Algeria, where the university is called Annaba, I don’t know, and I had to study in French there. Unfortunately, that year, Syria began to implement a new law concerning Arab students who now had to pay more for their university tuition in Syria, and Algeria did the same. I should have paid too much for my registration compared to my situation as an immigrant student who has to study and cannot work. I was also accepted into an institute in Egypt, called the Arab Institute of Management, whose tuition fees were not very high, about 3000 euros for the two years of master’s degree, and the same for the doctorate. I worked as an accountant at the Ministry of Higher Education, on the files of Syrian scholarship students in France. I was talking with a friend in my office, a fellow named Khaldun came in, continuing the discussion, he offered me to go to France, I repeated: France! But the average to live there is 1500 euros per month, plus the expenses of my studies. He informed me that the university in France was free or almost free, and the students have social security coverage for health included in the tuition fees, about 200 euros. For those under 28 years of age and those over 28 years of age, it is free, because the State pays for it. Students also have other assistance and allowances, for housing and transport, it is a whole. So I discovered that the life of a student in France is easier than that of a student in Syria. Then I applied to come to France, and I was admitted, and that’s when the problems started.

[i] What are the differences between what your friend told you and the reality?

[r] He didn’t give me any false information, but the people who have already gone to France have exaggerated. My first step to take was language, because for housing, people helped me to settle in a week after my arrival, I had some connections. My first obstacle was to find a cheap institute to learn the language, I found one that was not very good, but the price/quality ratio was interesting, not very expensive, but not very good either. On my first day of school, I discovered that it wasn’t the first day for my classmates, they had been taking classes for a while, knew the teacher and had the book[that] I didn’t even know where to buy. The courses I took were more like conversation workshops. The teacher would explain a subject for 10 minutes in French, then we would read a little and do exercises, so we would spend 45 minutes of the class. Then, for the remaining 30 minutes, we would do a dictation and then exchange copies to correct each other. I had level A1, I only knew how to say “hello, how are you?”. That’s all I knew. The first month ended, then the second, the more time passed, the more I became depressed, I didn’t move forward and I saw my classmates move forward. I thought the problem came from me, especially since those who had arrived before me had told me, if you came and locked yourself in your room, alone for 3 months, then went out on the street and spoke French, they told me that you should hardly make an effort. That was my first frustration.

[i] Do you think that the daily life in Paris and your relationship with her and life in your neighbourhood didn’t help you fill this hole?

[i] Yes, later on. Here in Paris, everything depends on the integration of the immigrant. You know, the friend I told you about who was given a residence permit, a carte vitale, etc… In my opinion, this created several communities in the large community called “Paris”, for example, at the beginning I lived in a place where everyone, where most of the people came from Algeria, they were North African, Tunisians, Moroccans but the majority were Algerians. We went to the market to buy food that we were used to eating, like the bread we ate in Syria, you find a salesman who speaks Arabic. And if you want to go to a store like Auchan, Intermarché Franprix or Monoprix, etc., you walk between the different departments, you choose what you need, and you go to the checkout, the cashier passes them and declares the amount to pay. If you haven’t heard, you look at the screen, take out your money and pay. Otherwise, if you have not heard or understood, you will only learn one word “per card”. And then you insert your card, discover the amount to be paid and enter your code. At that moment you know that you will pay 10, 19, 20 or 50 euros. [laughs] Your entourage is not going to help you learn the language on a daily basis. You don’t necessarily know French people to exchange with and even the French and Francophones, if you want to talk to them, you have to have a certain linguistic background that is more important than “hello, it’s okay”, in order to be able to exchange. Most of the time, they will ask you where you come from, and you answer that you come from Syria. A few months after my arrival, the revolution began. Since then, the reaction to my Syrian origins has always been: “Oh my God! ». They were still waiting for my comment on what was happening there. Two years later, the real disaster was when I enrolled in university. I didn’t understand what the teachers were saying, I had to go home to study, not to talk but rather to learn my classes by heart so I could answer questions or do homework. With the students, I didn’t bond with them, you know, they like to talk and laugh, but I didn’t understand anything, I could express myself on 2 or 3 subjects, but without more, I couldn’t laugh.

[i] Have you met people who wanted to help you and get to know you as a Syrian living in Paris… or did you find yourself isolated?

[r] No, I didn’t feel isolated at all, on the contrary, there were people who wanted to talk to me and who were open, as I already told you, the barrier persisted, I communicated with a few words, I couldn’t let myself go. This is what I call the state’s underperformance with regard to immigrants. The State has the means, but it has not anticipated sufficiently to welcome these immigrants, who may be more numerous than expected. Frankly, I don’t have any statistics, I haven’t read much about this subject, and I haven’t found anything. I am not aware of the State’s guidelines in this regard, frankly, my level of information on this subject is close to zero.

[i] After overcoming this language barrier, what was the effect on your life?

[r] Between 2010 and 2015, this barrier remained anchored in my head, I thought to myself, “I am someone who can’t speak French and no matter what I do, I won’t know it”. I always went home to study, even after I finished my studies. I felt very far away, I turned on the TV, I understood a few things and sometimes nothing, and sometimes nothing, sometimes nothing, sometimes talking with people, I didn’t understand everything. When I spoke or answered questions, I said anything, no one understood what I was saying. Until 2015, I remember a journalist who was doing micro-trottoir, she was looking in the street for people who didn’t speak French, her objective was to speak to them in French, we spoke to each other and she told me “you speak like us”, I told her “sorry but I am a foreigner. “Can you tell me about your feelings right now? “Of course, I can do it.” She said, “No, you speak just like us, and you even have a Parisian accent more than me.” During our discussion, I discovered that she did not come from Paris, and that she came from a provincial city, she asked me since when I arrived in France, I answered her that I had been in France since 2010, she was surprised again saying: “Now I understand why you speak like us”. The discussion ended. I thanked her. When I came home, I thought to myself, “I speak like the French”, my morale was high, all the fear of speaking had disappeared, I am no longer afraid. Now I can answer unknown numbers calling on my phone, I can say: “Yes, hello, it’s Ahmad… “I can communicate like the French. If someone on the street has a problem, I will offer help, at the end of 2014, I would go with the refugees to the prefecture, France Terre d’asile, etc. I would help them to do their work at Pôle Emploi, at CAF… Despite fears that public servants did not understand what I was saying, these people were counting on me, I was afraid not to assume and to screw it up, I remember a girl who once asked me why I always said I can’t speak French. She said to me, “Here you are, you can translate”, I was always afraid and I kept repeating myself, always: “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, etc. ». Unfortunately, I was not very well surrounded either, people told me that they did not understand, and that I pronounced badly, despite the fact that they were not French-speaking, they had learned French like me and when I spoke with French people, they understood me and I managed to make them understand the idea. After the famous interview, I started to think that I could do everything in French. My vision of the language had changed, I understood more when I looked, I think someone had to tell me that I spoke well for the barrier to collapse. Then, I spent a year sharing a room with the French, I learned a lot of details about French culture, there are verbs that you use at home, and that you don’t learn on the street, in a language course or at work. I learned small details like the verb to shake a tablecloth, put it up there or do the dishes… etc. I also learned the names of many things like cleaning products, and also everything about food, meal times, breakfast, lunch and dinner, the nature of each meal, what we do on Friday nights and Saturdays, where to go out and in which restaurant? Seasonal meals and French dishes, books to read and the most famous French personalities in history remind me of an anecdote. There is a writer named Montesquieu. But I didn’t know it when I was passing by the bus stop bearing his name, I thought it was Mont d’Esquieu, I discovered afterwards, that it was the name of a French or French writer I don’t know anymore. I learned all this during my roommate with the French. This experience ended very early because each of them had to continue their life project elsewhere, I overcame the first obstacles of language and culture, which are the most important, in 5 years, but it was necessary to overcome a third towards integration. I had to understand the labour market and its needs, I always feel very behind on this subject. In France, even if you live with strangers, you will work under French laws that regulate work relationships. There are many details that we do not know, but we have to learn them, I am working on them, but I will not succeed until I have a real daily job, from 9am to 6pm.

[i] Can you tell me about your experience of integrating the French labour market?

[r] I did several internships in France, you see the break between noon and 2pm? for me this break was useless, when it is noon, you had to take a break.

[i] Why?

[r] For me, it was a waste of time, two hours to have a coffee, eat a little something and get in the sun. That’s why I thought it was a waste of time. For me, you have to keep working until 4pm, which is the end of the day, and take a break of only 30 minutes. It caused me some problems at work, personally, I couldn’t eat at lunch. In Syria, we don’t have that kind of breakfast where you eat two little things; a croissant, a coffee and I don’t know what,. We have a big, big breakfast at home, breakfast is the most important[laughs] and most complete meal, even if it is very early, 7 or 8 in the morning. So it was not possible for me to eat at noon, 3 hours later. Here, the maximum I could do was have a coffee during the break, then, at 3pm, I felt tired but my colleagues were still active, I was hungry. So I was hiding a candy or a little cake in my office, here it is forbidden to drink coffee in the office, but in Syria, we can drink coffee or tea while working. We were surprised by what I was doing, when I talked to one of my colleagues in the same office, she advised me to eat lighter in the morning to be hungry at noon and so I would gradually get used to the French way of life. Afterwards, I was enjoying my break I was waiting for, to eat my coffee and go out in the garden next door and lie in the sun. At home, we are not used to lying in the sun, I came back from the fitness break to continue work sometimes until 7pm, I felt able to work longer, and this improved my performance at work. Now I can’t work as an accountant but as an accounting assistant. The criteria requested change and increase every day, I looked at the missions granted to the assistants, they have about ten missions to carry out at the office. At first, I thought that to understand accounting in France, I had to buy 4 or 5 books that I was reading, without understanding anything about it… The accounting criteria are the opposite here, what is considered a big mistake in accounting here is a correct job. So I decided to master the tasks of the accounting assistant, started learning about these tasks, watching videos on YouTube, and following several pages on Facebook. For example, I have learned how to do bank reconciliation in France, so if one day I show up for a job and people ask me if I know how to do it, I will answer positively.

[i] I would like to come back with you on the aspect of changing habits. You mentioned food and sun, I would like to know what has changed for you in Paris?

[r] It is difficult to notice. But to be honest, I think I’ve become more lazy. At the time, in Syria, I left home at 7am, and I didn’t come home until after midnight. At home, it was like a hotel to spend the night, even during the holidays, I hardly saw my family, on Fridays or sometimes on Saturdays, I was very active. Between work, studies, sport, reading and the training I was taking, I had no free time. Here, I can’t do everything I did in Syria. I went to work in the morning, I went to university in the afternoon and then to training, in the evening I went to the gym already tired, but I had to do some sports, and I came home after midnight. I would talk with my family for a while while while I had a cup of tea, then I would wish them good night early enough to wake up and go to work the next morning. Here, I can’t do all this.

[i] Why?

[r] In France, I cannot carry out the same activities for different reasons. I don’t have enough time, even though we have the same 24 hours a day. But here time passes faster, time in transport plays a role perhaps, the high cost of living and the new demands of daily life. I arrived in France seven and a half years ago, about eight years ago, I had to start a new circle of relationships. In Syria, everything I’ve built in 20 years, or rather 19 years, has collapsed overnight. This environment has become virtual, I communicate with it on Messenger. Before, there was only Hotmail and Yahoo. Everything here has changed, you have to forge real links with people, and start all over again, such as looking for a job and visiting the streets of Paris to get to know her.

[i] Where are you going in Paris?

[r] Everywhere

[i] For example? What are your favorite places in Paris?

[r] There is something called the tourist arc in Paris…

[i] Can you elaborate?

[r] You leave from Austerlitz station, the beginning of the Seine, a little further down towards the François Mitterrand library, and you continue with the Seine up to La Défense, you take the metro to the Arc de Triomphe for La Défense, you continue with the Seine up to La Défense, you take the metro to the Arc de Triomphe for La Défense, you go through the most beautiful places in Paris. I never get bored on this journey, with time, I discovered the small streets of Paris, because it was no longer enough to go there. You had to know them. Since I have been living in Paris, my friends from elsewhere have asked me to show them around. Once, my friend told me that he could only stay in Paris for 3 days, and that he would like me to visit him at all the monuments. I told him that it was impossible to do everything in 3 days, and that we could visit from the outside, but that we would not have time to enter it. So I made some plans from Les Invalides. For example, to the Peace Wall, through the Military Academy and then to the Eiffel Tower, etc. I had to be careful, for example, not to waste time doing the Eiffel Tower and then the Pantheon because we would have lost at least an hour in the subway. I took him to see the places close to each other on the first day. Then, we made the place de l’Opéra and the boulevard that leads to the Louvre. This kind of visit helped me a lot to know the history of these places. For example, the Tuileries Garden, which I thought was a simple garden, but I discovered that it housed a castle like many other museums that were castles at the base, then were transformed into museums. I now know all the metro stations, everything that concerns Paris geographically, but historically I don’t know everything yet because there are many names to remember. In principle, I have toured Paris and seen several films on the French Revolution and daily life in Paris in order to fill the cultural gap. In Syria, I knew a lot about Damascus where I grew up, what was obvious, I knew its history and personalities, but today I no longer need it and I have to start from scratch. You must know that you are in Paris which is a big city and the centre of the Île de France, the Île de France is inhabited by 13 to 14 million people, not counting tourists.

[i] Do you think that the tourist’s view of Paris is different from that of the Parisian?

[r] Of course.

[i] Can you elaborate?

[i] It’s a pretty difficult question… I don’t know how to answer it.

[i] When you arrived in Paris even if you planned to stay there, you had the look of a tourist. Do you remember your feelings?

[i] When I came to Paris, on the plane, I met a young Syrian doctor. We are still in contact but unfortunately, he no longer lives in Paris. On board the plane, I didn’t have a phone but I still… but I still wrote down his details, I was expected at the airport, by chance I had to stay in his old residence, and moreover, I was in his old room. I told him where I was going to be accommodated, and there he asked me for more information to make sure it was the same accommodation. What I learned disappointed me a little….

[i] Where did he live?

[r] In Fontenay-sous-Bois where I currently live. He told me that he had stayed there for 3 months before moving to a CROUS apartment. I was still not sure if it was the same place because I was described differently, but when I arrived I called him and he confirmed that it was the same place.

[i] What image had you been given of housing?

[r] On the phone, I was told that the rooms were fine, there was a washing machine, lots of activities to do, shopping centres nearby and a sports complex. I had been given a slightly too idyllic description of it. When I arrived, I discovered that the room was 7 m²… [laughs] and I lived in Syria in a 240 m² apartment. My friend, the doctor told me when he came to visit me that he lived in the same room. I arrived on a Saturday evening, they had bought me a SIM card and I was able to call it, we met at Place Saint-Michel, there were a lot of tourists. I was admitted to a university in Pau, near the Spanish border. I had to move a week later, so I had to go around Paris. He asked me if I knew any places I wanted to go. I told him that I knew the Eiffel Tower, the Church of Our Lady, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Élysées and Napoleon’s tomb, but I had no more information. I continued, “Osama, I want to visit these places.” He told me that it was not possible to see all of them in one day. I asked him what to do? He told me that we would go to the Champs Elysées, we would do the Arc de Triomphe and then we would end up with the Eiffel Tower. we started by walking from Place Saint-Michel on the banks of the Seine, the very beautiful river, then we headed towards the Champs Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe, then we walked to the Eiffel Tower which disappointed me because I saw it much more beautiful in the pictures, but I saw it for the first time during the day, and not at night when it is lit.

[i] Has this image changed over time?

[r] I like him a lot more.

[i] Do you think this is due to life in the city itself?

[r] No, I think not, because I saw her regularly and I came closer to her. Even if I no longer have the beautiful image a little exaggerated, when you hear others describe it, saying that it is of extreme beauty, but as soon as you see it, you realize that it was finally made by a man. Generally, everything that has been described and told to me about France and what I have read and seen on TV is different When I arrived, I discovered that there was dust, garbage, homeless people and beggars everywhere, there is also hunger, poverty and traffic violations. Not everyone respects fires… The same problems we have in Syria… I didn’t expect to find them here. The staging is different, the beggar there tries to provoke people’s compassion, but here they sometimes have dogs. In Syria, they will never do it because people don’t like dogs very much, and they may run away from you. Here, we will rather pet the dog and give one euro. Ah ! … … I forgot what I was saying….

[i] I would like to ask you what things in Paris you would like to see imitated in Syria and vice versa?

[r] Here, what bothers me the most is… the idea of the dirt associated with freedom that is difficult to bear…

When you get on the train, the RER and the subway, but especially on the RER, you see someone holding his mobile phone, and stretching his legs on the seat across the street, we don’t know where he’s stepped before. Then he will fold back to sit properly, so that I can sit down dressed in my clean pants that I washed yesterday in the machine at 3 euros. [laughs] I find it annoying because when he does, no one tells him anything because he’s free, another one drinks and leaves his garbage in the subway, and the people around him say nothing. In Syria, you don’t see this kind of situation because it’s society that forbids it, in our country, this person is not free. Here, even if a person bothers you, you will look at them sideways with a little grimace, but no more. We do nothing and say nothing, even on the street, you will find people who will behave in ways that I consider to be an attack on public property. For me, it’s the same, even if the means of transportation are private property, but they still remain public and we share them. In our country, even if you are a productive person, society will not let you behave like that.

[i] Well, what are the things you would like to see in our country?

[r] To stay in the transport business, they are very convenient here, and I would like a capital like Damascus to have them, since it had 7 million inhabitants, without tourists and the suburbs. In my opinion, we should have a subway. We had a tram line, removed for reasons I don’t know, the subway and the train we have to have them, we have only one railway inside Damascus. There is also the problem of pollution, I would like the control applied here to be applied there, although Paris as a capital is much more polluted with CO2 and greenhouse gases. But at least it is controlled, but not in Syria where the problem is getting worse. In the morning, if you go to Mount Qassioun in Damascus, you will see a huge black cloud overlooking the capital. I would like there to be electric buses like the ones we see now in Paris. In Damascus, we drive on gas or diesel, it’s a disaster. These kinds of details are important. For example, libraries and universities. In Syria, we have only 4 universities and the fifth, the most recent is the Euphrates University. The capacity is twenty graduate students, for 4000 enrolled in the first year. Here, almost all students, if they intend to do a master’s degree after the bachelor’s degree, can do so. To come back to libraries, I would like to say that we do not have any, I remember one time when I went to the Al Assad library, I thought I was at the intelligence service, I was searched, I was asked for my ID card, I was asked what I wanted to do and borrow.

[i] How do you compare your experience either in libraries or in cultural places?

[r] Most of the time I went to the George Pompidou Library, they look at your things at the entrance, but it’s normal, you find everything you want on any subject there are a lot of students, it’s normal too. I remember at the al-Assad library, I was not at all comfortable, there were many people walking around me, they were not there to look for books but to watch and see what we were borrowing. These people are part of the Syrian intelligence services.

[i] Apart from libraries, what do you frequent as a cultural place?

[r] I’ve never been to the cinema or the theatre, and it’s the same for Syria. Once I played a role in a play, I read the text and I liked it and decided to accept it.

[i] In Paris?

[r] Yes, it was in Paris. I participated in this play and I even told about my first day at the university in Paris, I described that day myself, and I played the role with an actress. The manager asked me if I had any experience in this field. I replied that I was learning. The actress played the part very well, and I was telling the story of that day, so it was real I wasn’t playing a role. That was my only experience in theatre.

[i] There was an audience? Was it open to everyone?

[r] I remember that the association sent us an email saying that we could invite whoever we wanted, we just had to send an SMS with the person’s first and last name, many people came. I remember the scene that people loved, it wasn’t just a person telling a story, it was really real. The idea was that I could speak for myself, I didn’t feel able to, so I put it in a situation. It was a little funny, but when I think about 2012 now, it makes you cry.

[i] Why?

[r] I tell you… a teacher comes home… he talks… he asks you to introduce yourself, and here I am… I didn’t understand anything, I only understood his name and that he was my teacher, so he asks us to introduce ourselves, he asks us to say where we came from and what we did, and why we chose this school and this master’s degree, and what our professional project was. Around me there were only French people, they spoke quickly, quickly… I didn’t understand anything. When it was my turn, I didn’t know what to say, I had prepared two or three sentences, I introduced myself, name, first name, I come from the Faculty of Damascus. I had not understood what “professional project” meant, even in Arabic I didn’t know the expression. I started talking and talking nonsense. Neither the teacher nor the students understood, the students started laughing, the teacher too, and then he told me “sit down”. When he said “sit down” to me, I didn’t understand so he said “sit down” in English. The next day, the manager asked me if I understood what the teachers were saying during the classes. I said, “Can you repeat that, please?” Then I said, “I didn’t hear you.” He repeated the sentence three times, a lady repeated the question once again… I replied that I understood, he said no… “You don’t understand anything!” Maybe it makes you laugh,[laughs] I can laugh too now. But at the time it was very hard, I almost gave up everything,

[i] But you continued in college…

[r] When I went home, I thought to myself that this master’s degree is my only chance, you have to have it. My teacher told me that he accepted me despite my French problem, because my profile was good, he told me, “Don’t disappoint me”. He told me that sentence… and I always remembered the look on his face, I thought, I have to hold on, even if people make fun of me. Finally, when I submitted my brief, he gave me 15 out of 20, and he told me that he gave me 15 out of 20 despite spelling mistakes, despite an unusual layout. He asked me why no one had corrected the mistakes. I didn’t know anyone to correct me, he told me that my thesis was complete, he told me that he didn’t expect me to take the tests, and that I was the first to find an internship. I went to get the internship invitation signed thinking I was late, in fact I was the first. He congratulated me, he encouraged me to pursue and embark on a doctorate, but I did not continue.

[i] How do you do now for your doctoral subject?

[r] After the master’s degree, I had financial problems, I had to work because I had spent everything during the year of the master’s degree, I had spent everything even what my parents had sent me. You had to live and I also had some debts, so I wanted to work at any price. I said to myself, I’m stopping the doctorate, and I’m resuming in 2014-2015. It was a mistake. There was a one-year break, the teachers asked me, “What did you do during that year?”, I replied that I had worked for a living. A professor replied, “You may also give up the doctorate to live then?”. At first to look for a thesis director, I sent emails to universities, I tried to contact people who were doing their doctorates, but there was no one in my field. I would like to point out that there are two categories of migrants: the first category, refugees, and the second, economic migrants. I am neither one nor the other.

[i] Why?

[r] I consider myself a scientific refugee. I came to France to study, I didn’t want to live here, work or earn money, the idea was to have my master’s degree, then after the doctorate, then…. Maybe I also work in research, in the same university, but I wasn’t chasing money at all, I just wanted to study. Later, I understood that I had a language problem, then a problem finding work, then I stopped for a year, then I was told that I was not a scholarship holder, I was still at the same point, Last year, like this year 2016-2017, I knocked directly on the professors’ door and asked for my doctorate, I was again refused, mentioning this 4-year interruption. The professors pointed out to me that I was not a scholarship holder, they asked me about my activity during these 4 years, I answered that I was looking for work.

[i] Do you think there is a difference in treatment between refugee students and French students for admission to a thesis?

[r] I’m not sure, but from what I understand, a lot of doctoral students were refugees, I don’t know the subject very well. In my master’s degree, there were 16 of us, there were only five Frenchmen, the others were foreigners, not necessarily immigrants, but in any case foreigners. I don’t think the teachers made the difference between foreigners and French, maybe we can find one or two teachers who make a difference. The reason we prefer the French is because they are fluent in French and often receive funding. We can assume that a professor thinks that research on the French language requires a good knowledge of French, or that someone who is not a scholarship holder and who, after college, will work, does not have time to work on his research. All this plays a role… I can’t judge, every teacher has his reasons, but I’m sure everything I mentioned plays a role. I will give you an example: a Syrian student who arrived in 2011, she didn’t speak French, just like me, I had been in France for 4 months, I knew this girl well. She asked me to go to college with her, she was a scholarship holder, and normally she had taken the TCF, and followed French courses at the French Cultural Centre. I thought, she speaks good French and she just needs me to show her where the university is. We had coffee together… she doesn’t need any more than that. She told me she had level B1, but she asked me to talk to the teacher instead. I told him that I didn’t speak French very well and that we didn’t have the same specialty. We went back to see the professor, it was at the University of Nanterre, I spoke with the professor, with my catastrophic French, I was forced to speak in English sometimes. He told me he accepted this girl for a Master 1 and Master 2. It was late February, early March, then the teacher said she couldn’t show up this year, because the year was over. He suggested starting with language courses before starting Master 1 and Master 2, then the doctorate later. He sent it all by email, he even assigned him an email address on the college domain, with the girl’s name… arobase… en

[i] You were already accepted into the master’s program? Why didn’t you ask for yourself too?

[r] We didn’t have the same speciality, she was a scholarship holder at the Ministry of Higher Education in Syria, she received 1500 € per month, so the fact that she was a scholarship holder reassured the professor. He thought, this girl is going to work seriously, she’s not going to go away to do another job, or work in the evening and come tired in the morning.

[i] What was your situation with this girl?

[r] I came on my own, I had been learning French for 2-3 months. I wanted to be a manager, I was still in my dreams.

[i] What were your dreams?

[r] I said to myself, that’s very simple, I get out of here, I go to the administration, I go home to see a teacher, I talk to him in the same way, and here I am accepted. It didn’t happen at all like that.

[i] Why?

[r] I don’t know, I went to see several teachers, one teacher told me that I had to learn French first, another told me, “we don’t have an accounting section here”, everyone found a pretext. Frankly, I think that funding plays a role, as does language, several factors have played against me. I even think that sometimes the teachers didn’t read the emails. Maybe they wanted someone who would come and talk directly and explain his plans for the future, I didn’t know all that, I was too late to understand all that, I didn’t understand until 2016-2017.

[i] Have you finally changed your way of doing things?

[r] Yes, I changed my way of doing things, but honestly I think it’s too late. I don’t know if I’m going to continue yet, I don’t lack the desire or the will, but I asked myself if I was really wanted.

[i] If I ask you to describe an ideal image of yourself… after 3 years in France… What is this image?

[r] All I ask is to do my doctorate. If I had started 3 years ago, I would be defending my thesis, I would be working, in my field, in any place, in the private or public sector, and a stable social life.

[i] How do you see your social life?

[r] In general….

[i] Not only yourself… [name of interviewee]

[r] Me[name of the interviewee] … [name of interviewee] has two purposes. The first is to finish your studies, the second is to work in my field, it’s not that I don’t want to work as a cook, I don’t despise this profession and I don’t say it’s not good, nor this profession, nor any other… But working in your specialty helps to keep in touch and move forward in the work. [name of interviewee] 3 years later… I am a member of an association that teaches French to immigrants, I am a volunteer, I welcome people…

[i] What is the name of the association?

[i] It is called “Inflect”.

[i] Tell us a little bit about this association.

[r] I can’t say much, it’s run by students from the Sorbonne Paris 4. The policy of the Université de la porte de Clignancourt is to ask French students who are members of the association of students studying literature, languages or even philosophy or political science or languages to give French courses to refugees or provide services. For example, helping to solve a housing problem can be psychological support, talking with people, organizing outings, the atmosphere is good. Sometimes I am at the reception desk, other times I work on organizing outings, I can also give courses in this kind of student association. Students can give classes, volunteers can teach French to students who are taking tests. I myself have taught. Thank God, the students liked me, I wasn’t thrown eggs. One day, I asked to volunteer at France terre d’asile to help newcomers, I did translation for many friends. But at the time, I wasn’t a volunteer, they were asking for people who spoke Arabic and French, and who could translate. I really like this kind of association, I like being an active member in these associations.

[i] What do you get out of working with them?

[r] All the suffering I experienced when I arrived, the time, the fatigue, the depression I can spare others, imagine when I arrived as a student, you had to send my papers to the OFII, also do the medical examination, etc. etc. etc.. Honestly, at the time there was only the medical examination, now there are also language courses. At the time, my appointment was a month and a half away and I couldn’t find anyone to accompany me. For the translation, I really needed someone to help me with the translation and to understand and respond to the employee.

[i] In your opinion, why didn’t this service exist then, and does it exist now?

[r] In fact, it existed but as I told you for the OFII, if you are a student, it is not at all the same as a refugee.

[i] Can you explain that?

[r] From the state’s point of view, if you came back to France as a student, you speak a minimum of French… at least you can manage to speak and study in French, even if I didn’t speak French at all. Normally, such a service is not intended for a student. I give you an example, you have had lunch at home, I don’t propose to eat again, it’s not a good service. This service is not for a student, this service is reserved for refugees, yes, it is a service for refugees, their rights… integration in France, a refugee may live for 5, 10, 20, 30 years all his life, he may be naturalized French, whereas theoretically, a student remains 4 or 5 years then he returns home.

[i] You, you wanted to stay 4, 5 years and go home?

[r] Of course, that’s why I asked to be a scientific refugee, I didn’t resign from my work in Syria, I only took unpaid leave.

[i] When did you decide to stay in France and change your status?

[r] After 2012, my passport expired, the revolution had already begun, and I was an active member of the revolution, and at the embassy I was told that I was called up for military service. In Syria, I had lived in fear for 9 years, I always found an excuse not to do military service, and I stayed for 2 years without a valid passport. I could not leave Syria after 2003. At the embassy, I was asked to go back to Syria to do my military service, making sure that later on I could come back to France with a new passport, as if it were easy. I was also told to take a pass here. Can you imagine? You arrive at Damascus airport with a pass, and you go on with your life as normal…. They were laughing at me. I decided to go to the prefecture to renew my residence permit, one of the conditions for the renewal of the residence permit is to have a valid passport and I did not have a valid passport. Fortunately, I was helped at the prefecture, I was given a receipt until I renewed my passport, 3 months, then another 3 months… then at the prefecture, I was advised to go see the social worker so that she could help me find a solution. It was the social worker who advised me to apply for asylum. At that time, I was very opposed to this idea. Why? Why? First I was afraid, then welcoming refugees was part of our culture, until 2010, Syria has always welcomed refugees.

[i] Why were you scared?

[r] You can’t accept something like that… you’re used to it, I don’t know how to explain… you’re used to welcoming people into your home… all of a sudden, you become a refugee and we welcome you back. In Arabic, you write from right to left, and now you have to write from left to right, how can I explain to you… in our culture, it’s a shame, it’s psychological, and also, when I saw people in our country suffer and die, and you’re quiet, and you ask to be a safe refugee… You see, I was confused and I thought, I shouldn’t, because in my culture, people are welcomed and now I’m a refugee.

[i] These feelings have changed over time? After you have been granted refugee status?

[r] After speaking with the social worker, and since I was welcomed at the prefecture, and since I had my papers, I went to OFPRA, and to France, land of asylum, I accompanied people too, I understood that being a refugee is not a shame. Many celebrities were refugees, I even researched these personalities to find out what they had done for the host society. I also researched what the refugees did here in Syria, and what the Syrians did when they went to Egypt, and what they are doing now. Being a refugee is not a shame, a refugee is a person who asks to be protected, and when you live in an environment that accepts you, all these things become normal. There are even Europeans who went into exile 60 years ago, 70 years ago, here in France, there were refugees from one city to another, or from one country to another. In France, people went to Morocco because Morocco was calm, they stayed for a while and then returned when the war was over, the same thing in Asia, Africa, Sudan, there was an Egyptian kingdom, in South Sudan… the independent part now for 6 years. Southern Sudan was a refuge for Africans, a place where everyone lived together regardless of their religion, belonging or language. South Sudan is now an independent country. The most important thing is to live in a welcoming country that accepts you. No one in France asks you to go home, no one tells you that you are not welcome here, on the contrary, they make you understand that you can live with us and that you are welcome here. Before I applied for refugee status, many French people strongly advised me to apply for asylum, to ensure my safety and to have proper documentation. Being forced to return to Syria… death… war can be very serious, you are incorporated into the army and you go straight to the front to fight your own brothers and be forced to kill or be killed, you understand all this later…

[i] When you introduce yourself to the French and say you are a refugee, what do people think? Positive?

[r] I have never had to say that I am a refugee.

[i] How do you introduce yourself then?

[r] When a Frenchman speaks to you, he asks you your first name, what you do for a living, and when he hears that you have a different accent, he asks you from which region you come. He doesn’t even ask you for your nationality, only where you come from. You can just tell him you come from the Middle East, or you come from the south, he’ll accept. Of course there are curious people who ask you if you have come as a refugee, curiosity exists everywhere. Sometimes curiosity is so strong… they can’t help it, most welcome you, they don’t ask you any more questions. Well, often we only ask you your first name and your job, they will tell you, “with your accent, you’re not French”, or “you haven’t been in France long”, and that necessarily your mother tongue is not French. We can ask you from what origin, they do not ask you for your nationality, I have never been forced to say that I am a refugee.

[i] I would like to ask you a question about your friends? Do you have more French friends, or are your friends part of the Arab or Syrian community, or both?

[r] Both. When I arrived, 100% of my friends were Syrian, today I have far fewer Syrian friends.

[i] This change was voluntary, or did it come naturally?

[r] It’s natural, it’s integration… being well integrated into society obliges you… Syrians are not very numerous in France.

[i] What do you prefer? Would you rather be with Syrians, or with French people? Or do you keep a percentage for each one?

[r] I can’t talk about a percentage… 10% Syrians, 15% French… 30% of Africans, mathematically, it works, but for human beings, it is not possible to think in this way. I can’t talk about ten Syrian friends, five French people, it doesn’t work that way…. Let me give you an example: in Syria, all my friends were Syrians, there were only Syrians around me. In high school, my friends were no longer the same as in high school, I could no longer be friends as before, with those who had not gone to high school, since I no longer saw them every day, there was nothing in common between us anymore. What would we have said if we went to each other’s houses? Same thing in university, you meet other friends and the friends before are no longer your friends, you can see them from time to time, once a month… but not every day as before. Here, it’s the same thing, when I was with the French co-tenants, we lived the same thing every day, we woke up, we slept, we fought, I wanted this… you want that, I like sweet, you like salty… finally, we split up, everyone made their lives on their own. It’s no longer possible to see each other every day because it bothers you. I’m seeing you a lot right now because there’s a lot in common between us. Later, if you find a job and I find another job, we’ll necessarily see each other less often. I give you an example about my French friends. He is a computer scientist, and I am an accountant, he will have computer scientists friends and I will have accountants friends. If I went to see him every day, it might perhaps bother him, it’s the same for him, so I repeat, my French friends are more numerous because I’m trying new activities.

[i] What activities?

[r] As I already told you, the associations, and also the outings with groups on Facebook… These activities allow you to meet new people, people who have time and want to go out…. We get to know each other, we organize outings, we can camp in the mountains, you know people who will introduce you to other people you may not see anymore, or you see them by chance. I remember in 2015, in a campsite, I met several people, and at the end, we each left on our own. We added ourselves on Facebook, and we exchanged phone numbers, we never called each other. Then, three or four months ago in the subway, I saw one of these people, we met like two brothers, yet we had only met for a week. Later, we went out for coffee together. With these activities, you can make friends even if… you don’t see them or if you see them from time to time or by chance. All this to say that your relationships and friends change according to who you are and what you do. For example, if you find a job as a baker you will have Tunisian friends, most bakers are Tunisian, or French, you will not find any other nationality.

[i] It is the work that imposes you….. ?

[r] Work, studies too… Once, I did an internship in a decoration company… It wasn’t a company, it was a shop, this shop was in a neighborhood…

[i] Which district?

[r] It was in Buckets, on RER B. This district is inhabited by French people, the people who went out for coffee were French, it was my entourage for 6 months. It’s over now, maybe I can meet them by chance, if I go through Buckets. Relationships have no rules, you are in a place with the people who go with them.

[i] Do you consider yourself an open person? Do you like getting to know new people? Or do you have limits, I speak for here, France, of course?

[i] I set limits, but at the same time I am a very open-minded person. Let me give you an example: a French roommate of mine went to boarding school for reasons I don’t want to mention. He’ll be away from us for two years, we can’t communicate with him, he won’t have an email or a cell phone… nothing at all… As he is an only child, he asked me to call his parents, every week I called his parents and we were talking a little on the phone, later I saw another friend of ours, I gave him the phone number of our friend’s parents, and I asked him to call our friend’s parents, and he agreed. I saw him later and asked him if he had called them? He told me that no, and that it was difficult for him to call, he told me, I don’t understand how you can do it so naturally… you call… you invite, I can’t do the same.

[i] You mentioned an invitation… you invite French people to your house? Can you tell us a little more about this subject?

[r] We can’t talk about an invitation…[laughs]

[i] We’re going to say reunion then…

[r] I’ve always brought people together in my home. I’ll tell you a story. When I was roommate with the three French people, I had an invitation every week, I prepared practically everything, especially if they were people I knew, and even if they were friends of theirs, I told them, we had to invite such a person or such a person or a friend of the friend, I found that I could show a part of my culture in this way. Gastronomy is part of culture and even civilization, if you have good food, it means that you are part of a civilization… not necessarily, but it is a good indicator…

[i] How did you show this?

[r] For example, I used to make traditional dishes from home…. Not only dry dishes like falafels, hummus, moutabal… no, we tried to harmonize… French dishes with Syrian dishes, the French main course with a Syrian starter or the opposite, or maybe only Syrian and the French aperitif or dessert. In Syria or in the Arab world in general, there are no 3 stages, starter, main course, dessert. We put everything on the table, it makes me laugh… that we start with dessert. We start with the fruits and end with the salty ones with the coffee. Here, it’s the opposite. Once, I made it my way, they liked it.

[i] Who were those people who came to you regularly?

90% were common friends, or friends of friends, or my friends of friends. There were all kinds of nationalities with a majority of French people whose parents are immigrants. They were born, have lived here and know no country other than France. There were only four or five Arabs.

[i] You told me about the associations, did you invite people in connection with the language courses?

[r] Those who came to my house, I invited them to strengthen our relationship and to talk about something other than work. I always said, “Come to my house and we’ll talk about something other than work,” and we can also cook for ourselves. I remember the falafel, the preparation of the hummus, the decoration of the plates.

[i] How did they find it?

[r] They really liked it, they took pictures of themselves cutting the salad, they put the pictures on Instagram, as if it was a big thing… They cut the salad into very small pieces, here there is no such salad. Falafel was miraculous for them, we throw the dough in the oil, it floats, and voilà, it’s done… they loved to do… When they saw the restaurants that offered falafels, they would say, “wow… we do this ourselves, we know the steps…” I asked them to do the dishes too, we made a knafé for dessert too, they found it very good, but too sweet and too fat, so they only ate a small piece.

[i] Tell us about activities outside your home?

[r] I have already talked about going out in Paris, once a friend invited people outside… we spent the day cooking and we went to the Luxembourg garden, we ate and played… we did other outings on the banks of the Seine, especially in summer, you can sometimes meet people, we share meals with them, you can even take pictures with them, then it’s over… For example, I live near the Bois de Vincennes, I go out to listen to music or play sports with people who are playing sports, sometimes there are cultural outings, often they are Facebook invitations.

[i] Can you give me an example?

[r] Sometimes there are conferences, in general I didn’t understand anything of what the speaker said, so I attended, I applauded, I understood a little, I came back home a little more cultured…

[i] Did you think this experience would bring you something?

[r] I don’t know at all… there’s a word I can’t pronounce… “eloquence”[in French] . Last year, the Sorbonne organized a competition, I attended the final, it was people who presented what they had written and who spoke in a very, very easy way. That’s what I’m looking for in French, to be able to stand in front of everyone, to speak aloud and to be comfortable, like when I’m talking to you now. A quick presentation, the introduction, the subject and then the conclusion in 5 minutes… speaking loudly, with a good accent… a vocabulary neither simple nor complicated, I am still not at this stage in French today. I asked specialists who told me that it didn’t come alone, that it took time. You have to read a lot, you have to listen to a lot of French, you also have to write, you have to take time, I try of course… I am an active member of several associations, one of which was to help refugees find work.

[i] Are you a member of this association?

[r] Of course I received an invitation in my email from a person who encouraged me to become a member of this association, I researched them a little bit, I was among the first in this association, I went to see them… they looked at my profile, they found it good, they were optimistic, they found that I had potential. I went there a first time… a second time… frankly, it didn’t help me. You are taught to do your CV…. My CV was fine, cover letter… I knew how to do it, you are taught to introduce yourself and talk about your objectives. I knew all this, my specialty is human resources management. I know all this very well in Arabic, and it is necessary to say all this in French according to the corresponding French culture. Honestly, and it’s not to brag, but I know all that, so I didn’t learn anything, I only met other people, that’s all. Other people were able to take advantage of it and even found work, or develop relationships, but unfortunately, it didn’t allow me to find work. I couldn’t make connections, maybe because of my specialty, I don’t know… I can’t judge, that was an experience… I still don’t think it’s very successful.

[i] Maybe you can start again with other associations? Once I was told about an association linked to Microsoft. This association organized a workshop for refugees. I registered online, two days before the start of the training, I cancelled my registration. I had looked at their program, there was not much, a conference in the morning, with of course a coffee break, then lunch, then a workshop to help you make your CV. Of course, we don’t make your CV, we only correct mistakes. If you have time later, we can help you write your cover letter, or find a job. We show you the useful sites. I cancelled my registration for two reasons: first, it doesn’t add anything to my knowledge since I did almost the same thing with the other association for 5 months, a day will not bring me anything, especially to review things I have already learned. I thought it might benefit other people, it’s the same for other associations. If it doesn’t help me, I consider it a waste of time. Some refugees are looking for work, others for education.

[i] What is the best option for a refugee in France?

[r] Each choice has its drawbacks. It should be noted that my experience is different. Many associations pick up refugees at the airport or at their homes, we accompany them for their French lessons, for university registration…. At each stage, he will remain in contact with this association, even when he is already at university. It’s exactly the same if he’s looking to work, as I already told you, every choice has its disadvantages. People who want to work in a specific field will look for an internship; for example, to be a baker, it is very easy, whereas for further studies, it is necessary that the refugee already has certain prerequisites and knowledge. We ask him for research projects, he must have an idea… for example: this laptop, he must offer this or that feature to be able to propose a search. Anyone who wants to work has a lot of financial difficulties too, it’s very difficult for him, we ask him too much. Internships… Training courses… I give you the example of a person who wants to open a bakery. You have to go through 5-6 months of training, then you have to find the funding. All this is very expensive, when you ask the bank for a loan to finance your project, you are not sure you will get the full amount. The bank gives you 30-40%, then it’s up to you to find the rest. It’s always the same thing, financial difficulty. The state can help you, but I don’t know to what extent and the state is asking you for guarantees too. What is the share of State aid? What’s your share in all this? And for the first 2-3 years of your project, will you be able to repay the bank? I know people who started a small project and after two years, they couldn’t continue because they were paying too many fees and taxes. They understood that they were earning more as employees, they realized that… that being self-employed meant a lot of responsibility, a lot of work, for an income below the minimum wage. This forces them to seek state assistance.

[i] Did you ever think about dropping out of school? To work here in France?

[r] Yes, I thought in moments… when I was desperate… Last year, I sent 35 requests for the doctorate, by email, by post, or by going directly to see the professors, 35 requests… I didn’t get a positive answer, and sometimes no answer at all. Then… I thought I hadn’t knocked on the right doors, or that I wasn’t cut out for it. Maybe it was age… maybe something else… I don’t know. At that time, I was willing to do anything… salesman in a store, or security guard in stores, or boarding guard in airports, but even to be a security guard, there are requirements that I do not meet. In France, taking a training course does not lead to a job, at least not necessarily. Unless it’s the company itself that’s doing the training. I wanted to be a security guard, I was ready to work standing up, 12 hours in a row, without thinking. A security guard just needs to be in a certain physical condition, I really thought I’d do this job and then, as I changed my mind, I thought… I’m here in France to study. One moment, I had a crazy idea, it was to start my doctorate on my own, I was a little crazy to want to do that.

[i] Why do you think this idea is crazy?

[r] It’s a crazy idea because, normally, you need a teacher to supervise your work. It’s easier when they explain how to do it. For example, some ideas that I think are good… the teacher could tell me that it hasn’t been done for 20 years. Some accounting practices are no longer being followed, just as medical practices have changed. The dentist no longer does the same things as before…. One could imagine that, soon, there will be vaccines against cavities, the dentist will no longer treat the teeth. He will simply put in the braces, whiten the teeth.

[i] You have been in Paris for 7 years… there have necessarily been changes in your life, changes in the landscape, in the street? Social or physical changes?

[r] In my life?

[i] Yes, in your life, for example, before there was no subway, now you have the subway, is it cleaner?

[r] Changes are mainly technology-related. In 2010, I was talking on the phone with my family in Syria, Lebanon or Kuwait. We couldn’t stay on the phone for long, we managed to call at certain times, because it was very expensive, and with the Internet, there was always a problem, at home or with my family. Little by little, these problems have disappeared, more and more applications are available to be able to talk, and the Internet has become faster, really faster in the last five years. And above all, you can learn a lot about Youtube. Online learning has become the equivalent of college learning. On the Internet, we find the same thing as in college but in a simpler, faster and more focused way. You learn in ten lectures exactly the same thing as in 20 or 30 lectures at university.

[i] What you say is true throughout the world, I ask you about the changes specific to your environment here in Paris.

[r] As far as Paris is concerned, I think we pay more attention to the environment. For example, the old buses have been replaced by ecological buses. It’s an important change, I don’t know….

[i] I am talking about your everyday life, events, demographic, social changes, etc.

[i] Demographic changes are permanent, there are always refugees who come to Paris and others who leave. The changes are permanent, there are no rules, it moves. I also see renovations in Paris. There is also the State, which is increasingly using technology. For example, to register for Pôle emploi, you used to have to go to the agency, now you can do everything on the Internet. The same thing for the prefecture… CAF too, for all State or private structures, there are more and more online services, which avoids having to travel. You can do almost anything from home, I really liked that part. There was a problem before, in transport in Paris, before to go from south to southwest, you had to go up to the north and then down again, it didn’t make sense. Like you’re changing direction. Now, with the Greater Paris, we are setting up peripheral lines, you no longer need to go back to Paris, if you live in the Île-de-France region.

[i] Decentralization…

[r] Exactly, and that’s a good thing, a lot of changes… I don’t know… Let me give you an example: the Chatelet-les Halles station. When I arrived, there was a project and work…. Stations that are closing, others that are opening… The image is no longer the same today, now it’s more beautiful, it’s easier to move around now. But the work has been going on for seven years. Here, they are very slow for the work, it is a disaster in Paris. Les Halles is really a great project. However, sometimes you find only one worker working, he is fixing a single piece of ceramic. We wonder how long it will take him to finish the station. [laughs] That’s it… there are a lot of changes… we can’t count them all…

[i] Well, what were the most memorable moments for you? In your life, as a person in Paris, or certain events? Events that really marked you and that you still remember.

[r] I don’t have a good memory…

[i] I’ll give you an example. We were living here when the terrorist attacks happened, remember those moments? What were your feelings? Where were you then?

[r] November 13 was a Friday, and I was with a friend having dinner in the 6th arrondissement. I got a message from my brother, he was asking me if I was in the 10th. I replied that I didn’t understand anything about his message, he asked me where I was, and I replied that I was in Paris. He insisted on knowing where? I told him that it was no use saying the name of the place…. He insisted again. I finally answered: the sixth. He asked me if it was far from the 10th. I told him it wasn’t very far away, he just wanted to make sure that I was far enough from the place of the… He didn’t tell me about the attacks in progress, he was just afraid for me. A little later, a friend sent me a message telling me to avoid the 10th and 11th districts because of the attacks. I didn’t really realize…. My friend and I looked it up on the Internet. We understood that there had been an attack near a theatre. That day was a friend’s birthday, so the attack remained linked to his birthday. It was a sad day, I didn’t expect that… Unfortunately, it happens.

[i] Have you changed the way you live? Your outings?

[r] No, because it is unlikely that such an event will affect you, 1 chance in 1000? In any case, you have to take the subway, go to restaurants, if you think all the time that there could be attacks, you don’t go to the theatre or the cinema, you can’t take public transport, you don’t fly, you don’t go to the airport. Without this case, you have to go live in the countryside, on a farm with a cow, and that’s it… and even then… you may not be spared. You must continue to live, your will to live must be stronger than terrorism. If there is an attack… an attack… as recently in Paris, the will to live forces you to continue living… to go out… to continue your life, and especially to go to the affected places, to the affected restaurants, to see plays, to the scene of the attack. Don’t say… it’s over… we don’t go out anymore, we have to do the opposite. There has been an attack in Brussels, it is absolutely necessary to visit Brussels, the same for Syria… despite the crimes, all the horrors, we must all, one day, return to Syria and walk the streets. It is here that we must live our freedom, even if I have made a new life in France and I have a job, a wife, children, we really must return, even for a short period of time. We must invite our friends there, I repeat, we must return to Syria even for a few days, and walk the streets. You have to have the strength to do that.

[i] [name of interviewee] , after these attacks, was there a change with your family? Any advice?

[r] My parents are really aware, yet what we are experiencing in Syria right now is worse than the Second World War. Everything that people have experienced in Russia, France or Germany is not comparable to what is happening in Syria. My parents tell me to be careful, I don’t see how I can be careful, I have to wear a bulletproof vest? I still live in Paris, their situation is much more dangerous than mine. What should I tell them then? Be careful, don’t walk under the bombardments…. I can’t tell them anything, what do I have to change? There’s nothing to change, what are they going to tell me? Don’t take the RER A, the RER B is safer.

[i] You are in France, alone, without your family. Are you thinking of starting a family in France?

[r] We have to.

[i] How will your life be in France? With your family?

[r] It’s going to be a perfect family with a wife and children. One or two or three children.

[i] How are you going to raise your children here in France, you, who was raised in Syria?

[r] In our history, the second Caliph Omar Bin Khattab said: “Everyone was born free.” He also said that children should not be raised in the same way as the previous generation, since they were not born at the same time. My childhood was at the end of the 80s and 90s, my son may be born in 2020. If I raise my son as I did in the 1980s, it’s a big mistake.

[i] You talk about the difference between generations, but does the place also play a role?

[i] Of course, this child was born in France, he will receive an education in French, in brackets, he will have 2 mother tongues, Arabic and French, French at school, and if he is offered Arabic at school, he may choose to learn Arabic. At home, he will speak Arabic with me, later on, he will learn English too, he is a child who will speak three languages. I only spoke Arabic at home and at school, and later English, I only discovered French in 2009.

[i] Do you think you’re going to marry a French woman? Of French origin or with a French woman of Arab origin? Someone who knows our language and culture well?

[r] It’s really not a problem for me.

[i] Are you going to behave in the same way with a French woman as with a Syrian woman?

[r] No, I can’t. If I marry a Syrian woman… I can’t behave with her like with the French woman because she was raised in a different place. Even a Frenchwoman, born in the 80s, like me, likewise, I would not behave with her in the same way if she had been born in the 90s. A Syrian woman who has lived in Syria, I can’t treat her like a French woman, it doesn’t make sense there’s something in the culture.

[i] But theoretically you would live in France? Even if you weren’t raised the same way…. For example, I speak to you as a Syrian. If I spoke to you as a Frenchman, I would not have given you the same examples as now.

[i] Well….

For example, in our country, if you always say “thank you here, thank you there”… it gets really heavy. It’s the opposite here, it’s very polite. In our country, I can’t always say, “Thank you, that’s nice…” But you can always say “hi, hello, how are you?”, and even that’s good, it’s polite. So if you live with French people, and in the morning you say “hello, how are you?”… Then half an hour later, you repeat the same thing… and in the afternoon too, you’ll piss them off. I can’t do the same thing with a French and a Syrian woman. I’m not talking about being fair or not, and even being fair is different from one culture to another.

[i] How do you see justice in French culture?

[r] Your questions are difficult… What justice are you talking about?

[i] I’m talking about justice before the law… Social justice… in France, of course.

[r] You talk about a rule of law. You have necessarily already been to social security. To CAF, to the mayor’s office, to these three structures… You are never asked to mention your nationality. In college, the police and the prefecture, they ask you.

[i] Is it a good thing that people don’t ask you for your nationality?

[r] Of course, the state cannot supervise every public servant. For example, I write on a form that I am Syrian. Let us imagine that a civil servant does not like Syrians too much. If he sees that I am Syrian, he can try to harm me by making my file disappear, or by losing it, or by constantly demanding new papers. If he does not know my nationality, he cannot treat my file according to his personal prejudices. It is also a message to tell us that we are treated as human beings regardless of our origins. In many Arab countries, nationality appears in most documents. In Syria, it’s the same as in France. There are 3 boxes: “Syrian”, “Citizen of an Arab country” and “Other nationality”. Here also in France, “French”, “European”, “Other nationality”. In Syria, it’s almost the same thing. So, justice is when we are equal before the law. In many countries, this justice does not exist. I haven’t seen any favouritism here. At the same time, I am not very familiar with the situation. I didn’t notice, but it can exist, you can know it when you’re in the system. Favouritism inevitably exists, as does corruption, but much less so than in Syria. I’m not very familiar with this subject here. In Syria, I know the situation very well, because I was a civil servant myself. Here, I’m far from all that, but it has to exist. That’s it, I talked about justice and corruption at the same time…. With regard to equality before the law, a few small problems where the police intervened, and did nothing because I was not French, or for them, it was not important, I don’t know…

[i] When you see the police in France, are you reassured or do you have the same feelings as when you saw a policeman in Syria?

[r] Unfortunately, the policeman in our house is here for three reasons: to ask for a baksheesh, to threaten or search you, or to create problems for you. I remember when we left Kuwait during the war in 1990.

[i] The Gulf War?

[r] Yes, the second Gulf War, and the invasion of Kuwait. In Kuwait, there were no police officers left, only the Iraqi army. The Iraqi army did not distribute humanitarian aid, but the soldiers were showing us the way. The Saudi police welcomed us, there were Saudi police officers in the front row, and further away, the Saudi army. Maybe to avoid clashes with Iraqi soldiers. I didn’t know much, I was a kid, I was only nine years old at the time. When we crossed the border, the Saudi police officers did not even ask to see the passports, they offered us food, milk, they asked us if there were any sick people among us. They wanted to help us, there were a lot of roadblocks…

[i] You were on your way to Syria?

[r] Yes, we were going back to Syria. Each time, we would go through a Saudi dam…. There were many roadblocks at first, then fewer and fewer. The further away from Kuwait, the fewer roadblocks you could see. They didn’t even search people. Yet Saudi Arabia is known to be very firm on border security, but as it was war, they let everyone through. They would stop us just to give us food, water, bread and medicine. They asked us if there were any sick people among us. There were ambulances everywhere, to take people to hospitals. Later, in Jordan, there was also corruption, but overall it went well, then we arrived in Syria, around midnight, 1am, it was dark. In the first row were the soldiers, further on the customs officers. The soldiers are here to search you, there were two of them, one standing and one sleeping. The one who was awake called the other to tell him there was loot for him, and he didn’t let my father pass before he took money from him. He asked for 50 Syrian pounds. In the 1990s, it was the equivalent of one dollar and fifty cents. When my father arrived at the customs office, all he had left were Saudi and Kuwaiti currencies. And the Kuwaiti currency had completely lost its value. So he did not agree to take Kuwaiti money, and there was no exchange office either. We were stuck until 10:00 in the morning. My father left his car and passport, he walked 4 km… he returned to the city of Deraa. He walked 4 km, he had a cousin in Deraa, this cousin lent him money.

[i] All this to give a baksheesh?

[r] He had to…

[i] Compared to France… ?

[r] I haven’t finished the story yet…. My father gave it all, and as soon as we crossed the border, and before leaving the town of Deraa, a policeman stopped our car again because he knew, with the license plate, that we came from a Gulf country. These were the last 50 pounds my father had left. So the policeman asked for money, my father replied, “I come from a country at war, it’s up to you to help me”. The policeman told him, “You don’t go on your way if you don’t give me money. He took the last 50 pounds. I remember one lady, she told us that’she really didn’t have any money and that the policeman asked to take the tissue box. This is the situation in Syria This is the corruption… This is a disaster! I have never found the same thing in France, I have never seen a corrupt policeman in France or a policeman who arrests you for no reason, or intentionally frightens you. The policeman here has a certain prestige, he has a role in society, he is a person like you and me. You can talk to him normally, you can meet him on public transport.

[i] Do you feel safe when you see a policeman here?

[r] Yes, of course, I feel safe. A police officer here is trained to protect you, while in Syria he is trained to be corrupt. Unfortunately, that’s the image of a police officer in our country.

[i] Would you rather go on with your life here in France or return to Syria after all you’ve been through?

[r] Honestly, I don’t have an answer.

[i] Why?

[r] Because I don’t know… Sometimes I feel like a citizen of this country, and I think that Syria has changed a lot. At the same time, Syria is my country, my childhood, I spent it in Kuwait, and when I returned to Syria after the Gulf War, I discovered Syria.

[i] These migrations between these three countries, Kuwait, Syria and then France, have brought you strength to face the world or on the contrary… have weakened you?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, I don’t get attached to anything, I don’t talk too much about memories, I don’t keep anything inside myself.

[i] You don’t have any ties?

[r] Not at all.

[r] What I love most about life is my glasses because they allow me to see well. When I take off my glasses, I can’t see very well, I can’t see the TV very well, even you, I can’t see you very clearly, I usually see you, but not with the little details. Although I really like my glasses… I’m still going to have surgery, and I won’t even need glasses anymore. Yet these glasses are part of my personality, and I have been wearing them for 20 years. I don’t really have any ties. When it’s over, I turn my back and leave.

[i] Even with regard to people? Social relations?

[r] Social relationships do not fit into moulds. I give you an example… right now, I see you every day, we stay together for 3-4 hours. Then later, we’ll move away, and then one day, we’ll move closer again. I’ll give you another example… in the old days, the neighbors were like a family, people talked all the time. Now, with the new communication tools, modernity is no longer the same with neighbours. I can tell you that since I arrived in France, I have not felt any nostalgia. I knew two students who came to France before me, they arrived in France in 2008, and they told me that they often cried together.

[i] What were they crying about?

[r] They were homesick… they were crying. They lamented, “We are in a foreign country, we don’t have the same customs or the same language”. However, both were scholarship recipients, they did not have any financial problems.

[i] You, you weren’t a scholarship holder

[r] I was counting on my father. He gave me a sum of money, and he told me if you don’t have any more money, I’m here, I can help you.

[i] Don’t you miss your family?

[r] I miss my family very much, but I won’t cry every day. Look at the pictures and cry again….

[i] Would you have liked them to be here or do you think it’s better for you if they stayed in Syria?

[r] I would have liked them to be there, especially since there is the war in Syria. They would be safer here, they would no longer be afraid for their lives and health. Here, if we get sick…. we are not afraid. You can also get free treatment in Syria, but sometimes you have to go to private hospitals, and it is very expensive. The State does not pay for all the care, here everything is paid for by the State. I even have experience in this area.

[i] What is this experience? Anything specific where you talk in general?

[r] I’d like to talk to you about my neighbor. She has had a deformity since birth, she has had several operations in Syria that have failed. In France, it was operated on and the operation was successful. Apparently, the congenital defect has been corrected. I haven’t seen the final result yet, but here, the medical care is really good. Doctors really do the right thing, medical care is good and even education is good. Maybe my case is a little difficult, or maybe I had bad luck. But I know many people who have done well, and who have had their doctorates. They no longer have any language problems. I’m the exception, I couldn’t finish my studies, and maybe it’s my fault.

[i] I hope that soon you will be able to do something, to be able to do it…

[r] I’m still trying, but I may not have the right tools. I hope this year will be different.

[i] I would like to ask you a philosophical question. Let us imagine that Paris is a person, a woman for example. You’ve been living with this woman for 7 years, can you give me a portrait of this woman when you first met her, 7 years ago, and today? She may be shy, perverse, kind…

[r] Perverse… so there, never!

[i] Good.

[r] It is often said that expatriation is a very difficult thing to bear. I have lived through two expatriations, I didn’t find it very hard.

[i] Here in France?

[r] No, the first time when I came to France… and also my different stays between Syria and Kuwait.

[i] Here then?

[r] Let me tell you about Syria. Once, I stayed a month in Palmyra, in a camp, and it was very difficult for me to bear the separation with my family. Back to Damascus, I saw a car registered in Damascus, I almost got off the bus to kiss the car. Here honestly, I immediately felt good, as I already told you…. Paris I see her as a nice girl. She is beautiful, she has a sense of humour, very active, hardworking, she has a practical sense, but she never has the time, she is very, very busy.

[i] Well, I think we’ve clarified a lot of things, do you have anything to add? Something we haven’t talked about?

[r] I would like to thank you, and I hope to be able to realize my dreams, for my studies and for the work. I wish all the best for Paris, not just Paris, all of France, the whole world, and especially safety… health… education… Thank you very much.

[i] Thank you very much [name]