The French Order

by Marissa Rosenberg-Carlson

The French love giving orders – to everyone, about everything. They even give orders to nature, according to Alan Riding, former European Cultural Correspondent at the New York Times. Riding riffed on this idea during a morning tour of the Luxembourg Gardens. He passed an apple garden, whose trees were clenched in wires that prevented their branches from pushing fully outward. At that image he claimed, “The French say to the apple tree: you will grow in two dimensions, not three.” Never missing an opportunity to milk the metaphor, he later came up to a playground and said, “See? The French children play only in straight lines.”

Though Riding spoke in hyperbole, he was right about French people’s obsessions with order. This theme serendipitously appeared in other contexts throughout the day. During dinner, Princeton Associate Dean Rebecca Graves described the rigidity of French public education with respect to course requirements and behavioral expectations. “In France, difference is punished, not celebrated,” she said. Young journalist Bérengère Sim transferred that sentiment to her experience of French national identity. Bérengère is half-Scottish and half-French, but grew up in Singapore and the UK. At parties she has to justify her background to perplexed Parisians. She feels that French people don’t know what to with her, since culturally they cannot conceive of a French person who holds multiple nationalities. In other words, French identity is exclusive. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be French enough for France,” said Bérengère.

Order is also taking center stage in the campaign rhetoric of Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate of the far-right National Front party. Le Pen spins the concept of order into government control over who and what belongs in French society. In the first presidential debate, Ms. Le Pen railed against the European Union. She claimed that the teaching of pupils’ native languages in French schools prevents integration. She preached this all as part of her desire to “order” French identity, saying she doesn’t want to be president of some “vague region of the European Union.”

What types of order will manifest on the streets of Paris tomorrow?

Ordered apple trees at the Luxembourg Garden.

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