It took me a number of years to obtain my French passport. Many hoops to jump through, many documents to provide, many departments to liaise with. But to me, the process was completely worth all the blood, sweat and tears shed to get it in my hands. For a lot of people, a passport is simply a document that allows one to travel outside of their home country to other destinations around the world. That in itself is a wonderful, amazing privilege (and many say a right) to have.
But for others, like myself, this document serves as an opening to an almost different universe, one that celebrates its culture and is fiercely proud of both the differences and similarities in its citizens. Yes there are certainly elements within that universe that look to divide and inspire fear, but judging by recent history, it is not something we back down against easily. I only wish that Australia could more often follow the lead of its European counterparts to inspire on social progress and harmony.
Unless you have indeed been living under a rock for the last 12 months, the recent events to which I allude in the title will be well known to everyone who follows news and current affairs in some format, whether on TV, online, through social media, etc. Each of those have shocked me to the bone everytime, but have made me affirm my European pride later down the track:
THE 13 NOVEMBER 2015 ATTACKS IN PARIS
Although not many people knew at the time, I was 2.5 weeks away from flying to France for a month when I first heard online about a terror attack in Paris, where around 100 people were callously murdered inside the Bataclan theatre, and dozens more elsewhere around the city. Not for a long time had something like this cut me right to the core (you are more than welcome to read my previous post from that time where I went into this in more detail).
I actually went into a little mini depression for about a week after the attacks. Many emotions were going through my head about my family, my fellow countrymen, and about France itself. Earlier that year there had been the Charlie Hebdo attacks in the same city, and while that also affected me to a degree, it had nowhere near the magnitude of emotional devastation in my mind as 13/11/15 did.
I, along with numerous other people around the world, were stunned beyond belief when a majority of UK voters elected to leave the European Union. I personally am of the opinion that while the UK has a number of issues to work through, it’s relationship with the EU was not one that was a root cause, so to speak. A number of my British friends were beside themselves at the result, and I couldn’t help but feel that sense of loss with them.
And like the UK, the EU also has its faults. For the most part though, it has served as a way to bring together many different people from different walks of life, and help create a sense of stability for the region in the years following World War 2. My French passport (like the passports of the other countries who are members of the EU) allows me to travel, live and work anywhere within the EU. It is one of the reasons that I am fiercely proud to be a European citizen.
This was no more evident than when I went to Europe last year. I stayed a month in total, and included 5 days in Paris and another 5 days in London. I had done a number of trips to Paris previously in my childhood, but it was my first time to London. And I was totally blown away by its sheer size and yet the ease of getting around. I can honestly say that I fell in love with London in those 5 days, and really want to go back soon.
Which is another reason why I was so blown away by the Brexit decision. It may be one of the last opportunities I have to do so while the UK is still part of the EU.
THE 14 JULY ATTACKS IN NICE
And if 13 November wasn’t enough heartache for France, a truck driver decides to plow through a large crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day, killing 84 people and injuring hundreds more. They say that the more a certain type of situation occurs, the more people become desensitised to it. And to be honest, that was almost the case for me.
But it still horrified me to see something like this occur again. The lives lost, the countless other lives forever affected, a country inflicted with carnage yet again. It does feel like sometimes that this is becoming the typical situation (I hate using the word normal) where we live in constant fear of another attack happening at any time.
However, if 13 November taught me anything, it was that being French (and hence European) was not something to cower away from. Quite the opposite in fact – it made me even prouder of and become even closer to my French heritage. The French are not the type of people who will back down easily. They are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. And it shows in the Motto Of the French Republic: Liberté Égalité Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood).
EUROVISION SONG CONTEST 2016
On a more positive note, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Stockholm, Sweden in May this year for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. The coming together of people from all around Europe and the world was an uplifting experience for me, and something that I will never ever forget (incidentally enough, the theme for this year’s Eurovision was Come Together).
Stockholm is a unique place in itself, with a lot of heritage mixed in with more modern times and an equally modern society. I was lucky to meet so many like-minded people (including a fellow Aspie) in the one place. The only regret was not staying there longer to have a more thorough look at the place. As such, I will certainly be making a return trip there in the future.
To me, Sweden is the epitome of what an ideal European society should be like: modern, progressive, respectful, harmonious. And I feel honoured that as a European citizen, I can potentially come to live and work here.
Reflecting back, I find it an eery coincidence that I happened to obtain both my French passport and become officially diagnosed with Aspergers at around the same time. But in a sense, they have both helped me to finally establish some concrete identity for myself and allowed me to flourish and express myself a lot more about things that are passionate for me and are close to my heart.
So thank you, my European passport, for symbolising a part of who I am.