As part of signing the integration contract with France (un contrat d’intégration républicaine or CIR) at your OFII meeting, you have to complete two required modules on French civics.
You must have the two certificates of completion to renew your visa, and it is preferred that you complete the sessions within six months of arriving in France. During your OFII meeting, you will be given a choice of dates depending on what language(s) you understand, and it is not required to complete the modules in order, though they are named Module 1 and Module 2. I completed my sessions in Paris, so my experience is based off the program there.
What are these sessions like?
Module 1 is called: “Principes, valeurs et institutions de la République française.” (Principles, values and institutions of the French Republic).
Module 2 is called: “Vivre et accéder à l’emploi en France.” (Living and getting employment in France).
We’ll go over what each session covers in more detail below, but there are some aspects that are similar in both seminars.
These are all day sessions, so don’t make any plans for the afternoon. My modules both ran from 9am-5pm, with about an hour break for lunch and two shorter coffee breaks. Lunch is provided for free, as well as coffee and tea. In Paris, we were fed at an Indian restaurant down the street from the learning center in the 11th arrondissement.
Sessions are offered with translators in many different languages. However, everything will still be first presented in French and the slides are all in French. This is because the only official language of the Republic is French, so the government can’t be giving sessions directly in another language. This makes the session longer, but is also a good way to practice the language.
The aim of these modules is to teach you more about your new country and give you some information and tools to make daily life easier. After taking a short test on the information given during the day, you’ll be given a certificate proving you completed the module.
These sessions could really be condensed into about two hours each if not for the translation time, breaks, and time spent wrangling everyone in the class, but this is the way it is so bring a book and some snacks and power through. Most of the information is actually interesting and/or useful, so while sitting in a room (without air-conditioning) with 25 other people for hours wasn’t the most enjoyable experience, I did learn something valuable.
Finally, don’t forget to bring your passport because they ask for an ID when you sign in.
Module 1: Principes, valeurs et institutions de la République française
The first module (which I actually completed second), is all about French history, geography and founding principles of the Republic. Here’s an overview.
We first went over the basics of French geography: the location and size of the French mainland (metropolitan), the islands and outer regions and the administrative organization of districts. They were clear to emphasis that former colonies, where some of the people in the class came from, are not part of France anymore.
There was a little bragging: 6th most powerful country economically in the world, 3rd most powerful politically (not sure how they got this) and French is the 6th most spoken language in the world.
Then we got started on history, beginning way back in the year 486. I learned who Clovis was– first king of France who made it a Christian nation and gave the country its name. He was part of a Germanic tribe called the Francs, hence the name became France.
We covered a lot of wars, the colonizing of Algeria and Indochine and subsequent independence, the abolition of slavery (17 years before America), women’s suffrage (24 years after America) and a lot more ending with the 5th Republic and modern presidents. I didn’t know many of the details given and found it quite interesting.
Finally, you go over the founding political principles of the Republic (liberté, égalité, fraternité, and so on) and the symbols of France (flag, Marianne, national anthem, etc.).
We spent a lot of time on secularism — laïcité in French — and the role of religion in the public sphere. This is a confusing and often touchy subject in France. It was summarized as: “my freedom will not disrupt other people’s freedom.” So you can practice whatever religion you want, but you can’t worship in public and if you are getting a government paycheck you can’t wear religious signs or clothing. Many private businesses follow suit, though they can allow religious items as long as all are allowed (no allowing some but not others).
Same for freedom of expression in France, which is different than in America. You can criticize a religion (or other ideology), but you can’t be discriminatory towards any group — be it religious, ethnic, gender, sexuality, etc. That is considered hate speech which is illegal. The line of where criticism becomes hate speech is what isn’t always clear.
There were a lot of questions and confusion around laïcité in my session, and we even took a little quiz posing various scenarios and whether someone could wear their religious items in them.
Module 2: Vivre et accéder à l’emploi en France
The second module, “Living and getting employment in France,” offers more practical information for day-to-day life.
There is a lot of emphasis on working and the need to work for proper integration in France. Quote: “Integration is economic integration.” This may be in response to France’s reputation for providing a lot of social benefits without the need to work much.
The session is broken down into six sections:
- Daily life
How to open a bank account, get a drivers license or library card, what the mairie (city hall) does, and where to go for what services. A lot of people had been denied services by banks in France despite having a passport with the proper visa and proof of residency, which is illegal but happens all the time. The government has an interest in people having bank accounts in order to decrease tax fraud. For some reason it was emphasized greatly that polygamy isn’t allowed in France, a fact which was brought up in my other session as well.
- Healthcare access
How to get a carte de vitale, how much coverage pays for (70%), how to get a mutuelle (private insurance) to cover the rest, child and maternal care (covered 100% no matter what), and emergency numbers.
- Educational access
This mostly regarded children. When school is compulsory and when optional, the differences between public secular education and private schools (86.7% of children in France go to public schools) and childcare options for before and after school.
Information on finding housing, public housing options and average costs of housing in different regions of France.
- The balance between rights and obligations in France
This is the section that would strike fear into the hearts of many American politicians. Much is about taxes and public services and the word “redistribution” is thrown around casually. It is explained that everyone must declare their income and pay taxes if necessary, and that this money is used to provide a plethora of public services, including the very session we were in at that moment.
- Help finding work or starting a business
First off, we were told that learning French is imperative and we will have a very hard time finding work if we don’t. Then information is given about how to get French translations and equivalency certificates for foreign diplomas and education, the types of work contracts in France and general tips for interviewing (dress nice, use the “vous” form, shake hands don’t bises).
Some interesting facts I learned in this session:
- Cash payments over 300 euros are forbidden in France. This is to cut down on tax evasion.
- Abortion is not legal after three months of pregnancy.
- You can request a spot at a crèche (government subsidized daycare) at two months pregnant.
- Certain types of businesses can only be owned by French nationals (I assume this is in order to avoid foreign competition and protect French artisans).
Congrats! As long as you passed the language test at your OFII meeting you have nothing left to do until it is time to renew your visa. Four to five months before it expires, you’ll need to call to make an appointment at your local prefecture for renewal.
Be sure to make copies or take pictures of the module completion certificates because you’ll need them for your visa renewal, and as with anything government related in France, it is a hassle to get a replacement.
Did you take these courses in another city? Have an interesting experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.