The World Will "Come to Terms" with Migration Stopping Them

Holocaust survivor and Labour Lord Alf Dubs, sponsor of legislation to bring some very self-described "unaccompanied minors" from the "Jungle" camp in Calais to Britain, said: “The world has to come to terms with the fact that migration flows are going to become a norm.”

This the typical refrain of the Great and Good: They're coming, there's nothing we can do about it, so just lie back and think of England. The funny thing about migration flows, the thing Dubs doesn't mention, is that they are all one-way. From the Third World to Europe (at least in this hemisphere). Not a whole lot of people are clamoring to move from, say, Andorra to Angola.

So actually, he wants us to lie back and think of the millions of random strangers in Pakistan, India, Burma, Sudan, Chad, Eritrea, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Georgia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Egypt who are sitting on packed suitcases, desperate to relocate to the (comparatively) safe, prosperous, well-governed, orderly, clean nations of Europe.

Lord Dubs is sympathetic to this undifferentiated mass of random strangers because he was rescued as a child from the Holocaust. But the Holocaust isn't happening today, nor is anything like it happening today (Yes, I checked). What's happening today is the same old stew of ethnic conflict, civil wars, corrupt elites, and economic stagnation which has always plagued the Third World, and -- in relative terms compared to the West -- always will. And in fact there's a lot less suffering in the Third World than there ever has been in human history, thanks to mankind's ever-increasing ability to solve conflicts peacefully and provide for a growing population.

The overwhelming majority of the population of Europe, however you define it, does not believe the solution to the world's problems is to allow millions of random strangers to stream across Europe's external borders:

“We don’t want them!” shouted the demonstrators in this village of 1,900 people, 80 miles from Calais, where the migrants were bused from a camp known as the Jungle on Monday.

“This is our home!” others yelled at the darkened, disused retirement home where the migrants were being housed. Inside the building, a young Sudanese man pressed his face to the window and looked out at the angry crowd, bemused.

All over France, tiny communities like this one, in the old battlefields of the country’s north, are being forced to deal firsthand with Europe’s migrant crisis.

It has not been easy. The effort to relocate many of the 6,000 or more people who had made the Jungle their home has thrust France’s divided view of the migrants into plain view....

But outside on the sidewalk, the mood was grim. “No migrants in Croisilles!” read a banner that more than 100 people — men, women and children — milled around. A half-dozen police officers, incongruous in the quiet country town, stood warily by....

Some places have gritted their collective teeth and accepted the migrants without fuss. Others have haggled over the number and demanded that it be reduced, as in Saint-Bauzille-de-Putois, in the Cévennes mountain range.

In other places, residents, anticipating the migrants’ arrival, have hurled stones at the housing sites or set them on fire, as in Loubeyrat, in the Puy-de-Dôme department.

In Pierrefeu-du-Var, in the south, pro- and anti-migrant groups have held dueling demonstrations....

The divisions have been starkly evident this week in this plain-vanilla brick village, once an agricultural center. It was leveled by the Germans in World War I, then rebuilt, and is now largely a bedroom community for the nearby regional capital, Arras....

But it has been hard. “It’s been hell here,” said Raphaëlle Maggiotto, a City Council member and an ally of the mayor. She had not slept in days. “Demonstrations every day. They came to my home. They yelled my name.”

On Tuesday morning, the central square, with its monument to the World War I dead and its 1920s Art Deco city hall, was calm after the previous evening’s noisy demonstration.

“The village is divided,” said Sebastien Okoniewski, who runs the cafe in the square.

All around him, his customers grumbled about the new arrivals, but his own name testified to the immigration — a Polish influx in the early 20th century, along with Italians and Portuguese — that has shaped their region....

“There is hatred in Croisilles,” said a volunteer at the retirement home, Guislane Poutrain. “I’ve never seen this before. I don’t recognize Croisilles anymore. I’m really disappointed.”

Dubs still clings to the notion that "the people" can be convinced to accept mass migration. As this story from France shows (one of a million data points), he is deluded. French people like France the way it is. Or to put it more precisely, they like France the way it is infinitely better than they imagine it would be like after the influx of 5 million Africans. And the same goes for Italians, Poles, Czechs, and Finns. As someone who's come to appreciate the many achievements of European cultures, I agree with them.

The reception of the migrants in France shows the explosive power of this issue to divide people and erode trust in leaders and institutions. Following Dubs' recommendation to "come to terms" with non-selective mass migration flows is not just foolish, but dangerous. It reflects ignorance about how European societies actually see themselves right now (as opposed to how they might or should see themselves in the fond dreams of academics). It's an idiotic gamble, like taking a bunch of random volatile chemicals, throwing them into a big heated pot, and hoping the outcome will be gold. Or at least, you know, non-lethal.

There will still be a few years of haggling and last-ditch resistance, but the world will come to terms with "migration flows" stopping them. And that will be a good thing, both for Europe and for the countries from which the economic migrants come.

Paul Berman Finally Makes Some Good Points

Paul Berman, eager supporter of the Iraq War, has a lot to answer for. But in this essay in The Tablet, on how Americans see the French veil/burkini debate, he makes up for some of his past grievous idiocies:

The assumption is that France wants to regulate Islamic attire because the French are fundamentally biased against their Muslim minority. The French are frightened of the “Other.” They are unrepentant in their imperialist and colonialist hatreds for the peoples of North Africa. They are, in short, hopelessly racist. Worse: The French left is just as bad as the French right in these regards, and the Socialist Party, as exemplified lately by the prime minister, Manuel Valls, is especially bad.

And yet, the American interpretation acknowledges a complicating point, which is this: The French, who are hopelessly racist, do not appear to believe they are hopelessly racist. On the contrary, they have talked themselves into the belief that, in setting out to regulate Islamic attire, they are acting in exceptionally high-minded ways—indeed, are acting in accordance with a principle so grand and lofty that French people alone are capable of understanding it.

This principle is a French absurdity that, in its loftiness, cannot even be stated in down-to-earth English, but can only be expressed with an incomprehensible, untranslatable and unpronounceable French locution, which is laïcité. Over the years, the word laïcité has figured repeatedly in the American commentaries. The French, we are told, invoke this word to defend their unjustifiable and racist persecutions. And yet, like all words that are untranslatable and incomprehensible, laïcité turns out merely to be a cover. It is a ten-dollar word employed to justify France’s fear of the “Other”; France’s zeal for maintaining the racial superiority of the non-Muslim French; France’s enduring imperialist and colonialist hatred for native peoples; France’s obsession with telling women what to do; and generally France’s urge to be parochial, petty, ultraconservative, and intolerant....

The French controversy over the veil—which, in the French debate, has meant the Islamic headscarf or hijab, too—got underway not with the arrival of the Muslim immigrants, but with the arrival of the Islamists. This was in 1989. Schoolgirls in the town of Creil, outside Paris, began to insist on their right to wear the Islamic veil in school. This was unprecedented, and the school authorities forbade it. The schoolgirls insisted, even so. And the question of how to interpret this dispute became, very quickly, a national debate in France, with plausible arguments on both sides.

To wit, pro-veil: Shouldn’t a woman and even a schoolgirl have the right to dress in accordance with her own religious conscience? Isn’t religious attire a matter of individual right and religious freedom? More: If Muslim schoolgirls are displaying fidelity to their own religion and its traditions, shouldn’t this be deemed an enrichment of the broader French culture? Shouldn’t the French welcome the arrival of a new kind of piety? And if, instead, the French refuse to welcome, shouldn’t their refusal be seen as the actual problem—not the pious immigrant schoolgirls, but the anti-immigrant bigots?

To which the anti-veil argument replied: No, the veil has been brought into the schools as a maneuver by a radical movement to impose its dress code. The veil is a proselytizing device, intended to intimidate the Muslim schoolgirls and to claim a zone of Islamist power within the school. And the dress code is the beginning of something larger, which is the Islamist campaign to impose a dangerous new political program on the public school curriculum in France. This is the campaign that has led students in the suburban immigrant schools to make a series of new demands—the demand that Rousseau and certain other writers no longer be taught; the demand that France’s national curriculum on WWII, with its emphasis on lessons of the Holocaust, be abandoned; the demand that France’s curricular interpretation of Middle Eastern history no longer be taught; the demand that co-ed gym classes no longer be held, and so forth. The wearing of veils in the schools, then—this is the beginning of a larger campaign to impose an Islamist worldview on the Muslim immigrants, and to force the rest of society to step aside and allow the Islamists to have their way. From this standpoint, opposition to the veil is a defense of the schools, and it is a defense of freedom and civilization in France, and it is not an anti-immigrant policy.

The French have engaged in a very vigorous and nuanced public debate over these matters. And yet, for some reason, in the reporting by American journalists and commentators, the nuances tend to disappear, and the dispute is almost always presented in its pro-veil version, as if it were an argument between individual religious freedom and anti-immigrant bigots, and not anything else. To report both sides of the dispute ought not to be so hard, however. The French government held formal hearings on these questions, with both sides represented. It was just that, once the hearings were over, the anti-veil side was deemed to have been more persuasive. Crucially influential were Muslim schoolgirls who, given the chance to speak, testified that, in the schools, Islamist proselytizers had become a menace to girls like themselves. And the National Assembly passed a law banning the Islamic veil, along with all “ostentatious” religious symbols, from the schools. The purpose of this law was not to suppress Islam. Students could continue to wear discreet symbols in school, according to the new law, and anything they wanted, outside of school. But ostentatious symbols were banned from the schools, in the hope of putting a damper on the Islamist proselytizing....

What about laïcité, then—this French concept that gets invoked in the debate, yet cannot even be expressed in English? In reality,laïcité is entirely translatable. It means secularism. There is no reason for English speakers to use the French word. And the concept is perfectly comprehensible. It is the Jeffersonian principle of a wall between church and state, in its French version. The Jeffersonian principle in America means that, regardless of what the churches may do or say, the American state will remain strictly nonreligious. The French version is the same. The public schools, for instance, must not become creatures of the churches—which, in our present situation, means the Islamist imams.

It is true that, in France, people take their secularism a little further than Americans tend to do, and this is partly on historical grounds. In America, we worry about freedom of religion, but in France, where everyone remembers the Catholic past and the religious wars, people worry about freedom from religion. They do not want to be tyrannized by theological fanatics. The Islamist movement is, from this point of view, all too familiar to the French—one more clericalist current that wishes to imposes its theological doctrines on everyone else. And, in the face of the Islamist fanaticism, the French are grateful for their secularist traditions and laws.

Then again, the French take their secularism a little further than we Americans do also because they are willing to grant government a larger administrative role than Americans tend to do. Americans are allergic to government regulation, or pretend to be, but the French do not even pretend to be. I realize that a great many Americans believe that, as a result of the French willingness to accept government regulation, France has become an impoverished Communist despotism. But have you been to France? Perhaps it is true that labor regulations have lately become an obstacle to high employment. Even so, France is, in many respects, a better-run country than the United States. And the French naturally look to the government to apply secularist principles even in areas of life that Americans might regard as outside the zone of government, local or national. The permissibility of religious attire, for instance. And the French see something attractive in their government regulations.

"Merkel is Le Pen's Ally" Say French Socialists and Conservatives

Deutschlandfunk sends Ursula Welter around Paris to interview (g, my translation) some French political bigwigs about Merkel. Merkel has good relations with French conservatives and considers them allies. But they have had it. First up is Pierre Lellouche, foreign policy spokesman for the French conservatives:

"I don't know, I ask myself just like all the others why she changed course so brutally. She has fueled a crisis, a crisis that can no longer be contained. When she made the decision [to stop enforcing Dublin and open the borders] she sent out an immense clarion call of temptation to millions of people currently housed in Turkey, in Lebanon, in Jordan, not to mention those in Africa and those about to venture a journey over the Mediterranean.

"It's clear that Madame Le Pen will be able to exploit these fears, not us.

"But you can't simply speak of European values when it suits you. German cannot demand quotas from others. If I were Alexis Tsipras, I would demand quotas for Greece and say please take a share of my debts. If I were Francois Hollande I would say give me a quota of German soldiers or helicopters for our operations in Mali."

Xavier Bertrand, a senior conservative figure running against Le Pen in regional voting in northern France says: "German policy is complete nonsense. I will not accept a purely German Europe." When asked whether this crisis threatens Europe, he says yes, clearly. 

The reporter encounters a Socialist deputy, Malek Bouthi, in a TV studio: "One can welcome the generosity of the German people, but Angela Merkel made a serious political mistake for Europe. The truth is that Merkel's behavior triggered crises in neighboring countries, particularly in France. Merkel is Le Pen's ally."

As I've said before, this migrant crisis seems likely to bring solid, long-lasting governing coalitions between the center and nativist right all over Western Europe. This will work out differently in France, since only one person can win the Presidency, but the background dynamics are the same.

'My First Zonen-Gaby': An Exegesis of Two Famous Rude German Jokes

Trigger Warning: This post contains discussions of racial stereotypes and East German hairstyles.

After the Charlie Hebdo attack, there were cultural misunderstandings galore about whether the French satire magazine was an obnoxious racist rag. Some of the Charlie's satirical cartoons contained stereotypical depictions of black people and Muslims, which was enough for many non-French speakers to denounce the magazine. Those who spoke French and knew the French media landscape countered that the editorial line of Charlie Hebdo was left-wing. The use of rude caricatures -- whether of blacks, Catholics, gays, or royalty -- is simply par for the course in the rollicking, adolescent world of European satire. To those in the know, which includes me, there is no debate: the latter point of view is correct.

Here's another magazine cover that's sure to provoke controversy, this time in Germany. I will now explain the background to you before the controversy erupts. I happen to have learned a lot about Germany, even though I've lived here for over a decade.

The roots of this joke go back to November 1989. The Berlin Wall had just come down, talk of unification was in the air, and thousands of East Germans were traveling freely to West Germany for the first time. The West German satire magazine Titanic decided to weigh in with a cover. Titanic, you should know, follows the dictum (g) of Kurt Tucholsky: Was darf Satire? Alles. (What is satire alllowed to do? Everything.)

Here is their November 1989 cover:

Zonen gaby

The title reads: 'Zonen-Gaby (17) overjoyed (BRD) : My First Banana'. Let's unpack the cultural signifiers. First, the name. Gaby (short for Gabrielle) is a common name all over Germany, but was especially popular in the East. Zonen-Gaby refers to the fact that she comes from East Germany. Now, there is a whole code governing how one may refer to residents of the former German Democratic Republic. The most polite way is 'People from the New German Federal States'. Quite a mouthful. Then comes East Germans. By the time you get to Ossi, you're in the political-correctness danger zone. And that brings us to Zonies. Right-wing Germans, who never accepted the notion of East Germany as a legitimate, independent state, referred to East Germany as the 'Soviet Occupation Zone' to emphasize its temporary and non-democratic character.

'Zone-Gaby' is 17, and now residing in the BRD, the German initials for West Germany. She has several characteristics of people from the East, including the half-hearted perm and unisex denim jacket. East Germans were very much into these things. If you don't believe me, just look at the footage from the fall of the Wall. East German women were also delighted by geometric plastic earrings. There were lots of dangling red plastic triangles. Gaby has what looks like a peach-colored plastic wind-chime hanging from each ear. Also the teeth. Basic medical care in the State of Workers and Peasants was quite good, but there was neither the money nor the will to provide comrades with bourgeois fripperies like cosmetic dentistry.

And finally we come to the cucumber. Bananas were rare in East Germany, and one of the stereotypes of East Germans coming for a visit to the West (which was allowed under strict regulation) is that they ran to the nearest grocery store to devour exotic tropical fruits unavailable in the East. Poor Zonen-Gaby is evidently unfamiliar with bananas.

This is, without a doubt, the most famous Titanic cover in history, perhaps comparable to National Lampoon's 'If You Don't Buy this Magazine We'll Kill This Dog.' The number of people who found it grossly offensive was outnumbered only by the number who found it funny, which was only outnumbered by the people who found it both.

And now, 25 years later, Titanic has just outdone itself:

Refugee joe

Even if you're not German-Powered™, you can probably see where this is going. The more sensitive among you should click away now. I'll give you a few seconds.

OK, we're back. I will now continue to dissect the joke, solely in the name of cross-cultural understanding, and perhaps Science. Our old friend Zonen-Gaby is back, this time in the company of 'Refugee Joe.' The title reads: 'Refugee Joe (52 cm) overjoyed (asylum): My First Zonen-Gaby'. As we also see, Zonen-Gaby is (still) overjoyed at meeting her new friend. Her thought bubble reads 'Hee-hee -- Banana Joe'! The black band promises 'Even more asylum critique in the magazine!'

The reference to 52cm should be self-explanatory. Although I should note for accuracy's sake that the current owner of the world's longest penis is an American (of course) and his glistening missile of sin is only 13.5 inches, or 34.2 cm long. Erect.

Where to Avoid in Paris

While we're on the subject of neighborhoods you might not want to visit in the USA, here's a long and well-written post by Ms. French Mystique on TripAdvisor about places you might wish to avoid in (or more accurately around) Paris:

Now it seems like I am the only true life long Paris suburbanite here so I suppose it qualifies me to comment in further detail about living in the Paris suburbs. Which I do happily and by choice. However I must warn you that it is VERY LONG to read even though I will only say a fraction of what I could say about the suburbs. It will include some family history as my family is quite typical of an era that shaped Paris's recent urban/suburban history.

As someone from a working class family who grew up in a bourgeois suburb, all I can say is I am grateful my parents did not decide to move to one of the these northern "bad" suburbs. In the 1950's my mother lived in Saint-Germain-des-Prés while my father had moved from central France to the 9th arrondissement. At the time there was full employment in Paris but the housing situation was terrible following WWII. There was a big housing crisis due to the massive WWII destruction and the babyboom, there were slums in Paris and a lot of apartments did not have modern comfort or much hygiene. The 6th may have become the most expensive arrondissement in Paris now but it wasn't always this way. My mother was dirt poor when she lived there with a roommate. Needless to say she wasn't hanging out with Sartre and Beauvoir who despite their so-called social commitment wouldn't have touched people of her class with a ten-foot pole. She was attending an Ecole Ménagère, where you learn cleaning, sewing, ironing, in other words she was learning how to become a servant (she indeed worked as a servant in her late teens), not to become part of the ruling class. Both my parents moved to the working-class southern suburb of Ivry in the early 1960's and that is how they met as they were neighbors.

At that time, the 'cités hlm' (the vast high rise subsidized housing blocks of flats that give some neighborhoods a bad reputation) were built as an answer to the housing crisis. Both inside and outside Paris. But the largest ensembles were built in the previously semi-rural zones of northern Paris inSeine Saint-Denis and Val d'Oise. Others replaced vast shantytowns that existed outside Paris. When these huge apartment buildings were built people were overjoyed at the possibility of living there. They were coming from no home of their own or terrible housing and the prospect of having better lodging was appealing. Compared to what they would have had in Paris or just outside the périphérique, these new apartments offered everything they could dream of: they were large, bright, clean, had central heating and bathrooms. Something that the poorer classes in Paris did not have.

Now for most of you the bad housing projects of northern Paris (and to a lesser extent other suburbs) are just something you read about or hear about in the news. But for me I can't help wondering what my life would have been like if my parents had made the terrible mistake of moving to one of these brand new neighborhoods (built in the middle of nowhere in the middle of fields far away from any town center, cultural life or services) and I had been born and raised there. They instead moved to Ivry, an old run down industrial town and when they got together they decided they wanted to move to a better neighborhood. They looked into the bourgeois town of Nogent but ended up buying a small condo in Saint-Maur which took them over 30 years to pay off. I grew up in a 60 sq.meter condo with no balcony and where my parents didn't have a bedroom and had to sleep in the sofa bed in the living-room but at least I grew up in a safe, geographically beautiful and culturally stimulating environment.

Now another reason these bad suburbs ring a little too close to home is my job. As a middle-school teacher I am in one of the professional categories that are the most exposed to urban/youth violence. Public school teachers in France are public servants employed by the state, as such we don't choose where we work. We are sent where we are needed. School districts throughout France are divided into 'académies' and mine is the académie of Créteil which includes 3 départements: Val-de-Marne (zip code 94), Seine-et-Marne (77) and the infamous Seine Saint-Denis (93), the most "dangerous" part of France. While the other two départements have their share of bad areas, they are still the minority, whereas they are particularly prevalent in the 93. So when you are a young teacher, your biggest fear is to be sent there. When at age 23 I received my appointment letter and the first thing I saw in the letter was the dreaded 93 figure, I immediately had a big lump in my throat, I could feel my face flush, my heart thumping and my eyes water. In France when you tell people you have taught middle-school in Seine Saint-Denis they look at you as if you were just back from fighting inIraq or Afghanistan. And the reputation of Seine Saint-Denis being a war zone is not unjustified. Ask the many teachers who have been victims of physical abuse.

Now luckily I have never been one of them. When I called my parents to tell them where I had been appointed my father quickly reassured me as he knew it well. The town I was going to spend the next 9 years of my career, Gournay-sur-Marne, is actually not typical of the département and despite its zip code is one of the safest suburbs around Paris. That put an end to a prejudice lumping all the towns of Seine-Saint-Denis into one undiscriminate category. Actually 60% of Seine Saint-Denis's 40 communes enjoy a much lower violent crime rate than Paris. However the violent crime rate of Seine Saint-Denis as a département is very high, but the violence is highly concentrated into certain zones. As a teacher in Gournay I got to set foot in several towns of Seine Saint-Denis either for work (meetings, workshops, etc) or to visit co-workers who lived there so I have a decent idea of the variety of neighborhoods. I also have relatives living in Pierrefitte sur Seine that I visit occasionally. As much as I love my cousin I dread driving there: it is so depressing. Last time I went was a few weeks ago, traffic had been exceptionally smooth and I arrived really early for lunch. Since it was a beautiful sunny day I decided to walk in the neighborhood for half an hour. I was seeing it in the best conditions possible, gorgeous weather and all, yet all the while I was wondering how anyone could live there by choice. I have no desire whatsoever to live in Paris or in rural areas for instance but I can at least see what appeal it could hold for others, but there, I failed to find any appeal: a few blocks of charmless suburban houses surrounded by ugly high rise buildings, a train track cutting you from the rest of the town and the only shopping available was a mini-mart at the end of a parking lot at the foot of a cité. Not a single market street in sight, nothing that felt like a city with a town center, no bus stop or métro or RER station or service of any kind and above all, no beauty anywhere. Not my idea of a pleasant neighborhood and the complete opposite of where I live. This cousin is from Saint-Ouen and she grew up in a cité at first and then in a small condo near the town hall. Her father, my uncle, worked at the car factory in Boulogne-Billancourt, was an active unionist, so I can see how people with strong left wing political values can feel ideologically attached to working class neighborhoods and do not want to leave a sinking ship. But even they sometimes admit things haven't been changing for the better and I know they feel a little trapped now, as pleasant as their house may be. As someone who has lived and worked in the suburbs all my life and who knows people who live in very different neighborhoods from mine including the cités hlm there are dozens of other anecdotes I could tell you but it would be too long. In any case, my experience is well beyond just 'setting foot' there.

Now in this thread phread and I have expressed disagreement with kerouac's introductory sentence to his report in regards to the media. I don't blame the media for depicting some of the northern suburbs as dangerous. Some districts are indeed dangerous there. That being said, let's keep in mind that danger can mean different things to different people depending on where they are from and what type of crime is prevalent in their country. Here homicide is extremely rare compared to North America for instance. There are dangerous districts in Paris itself despite what is often reported on this forum (good luck enjoying your midnight stroll on Place Stalingrad) and elsewhere in the suburbs, including the safest départements where you can have very isolated but violent pockets of crime. For instance the Yvelines, west of Paris is extremely safe, posh and beautiful overall but it has some of France's worst cités (in Trappes and Mantes-la-Jolie). What I blame the media for since the 1990's is lumping anything outside the périphérique as being bad and unsafe when statistically you are much safer from violent crime outside the Paris city boundaries than inside. Or they depict suburban living as boring, as if the towns outside Paris were not real towns with jobs, market streets, cinemas, theatres and artistic or cultural events within walking distance. We have all that in most of the urban suburbs, thank you. And settlements going back to prehistory, town centers from the Middle Ages and historic monuments galore. The suburbs are real living cities, not bedroom communities depending on Paris for employment and culture. The only thing the suburbs don't have is night life. Which for some people is an advantage.

I live in the suburbs by choice because I have a passion for the riverside atmosphere and guinguette culture in the towns around me, because I am surrounded by natural beauty where I can enjoy lovely walks, because I can have a little backyard of my own to enjoy with my animals (remember I grew up in a tiny condo with no personal outdoor space) while having absolutely everything within walking distance and yes, because it is very safe.

Drawing conclusions on the safety of the suburbs from listening to incidents in the news is akin to declaring air travel extremely dangerous because the only times it makes the news is when a plane crashes. Almost 100% of the time it is safe to fly. It's the same thing in the suburbs. Drawing conclusions about what the suburbs look like from driving along a route nationale lined with strip malls or getting off the RER in a soul-less modern district is as if I was commenting on the beauty of Paris seen from the périphérique. Because when you drive on the périphérique on the Parisian side apart from the occasional glimpse of the Eiffel Tower or Sacré Coeur, all you see is Paris's high rise housing projects whereas on the other side (that would be the suburban side) all you see is office buildings. These views would hardly define what is on either side of the périphérique, would it?

Working in and visiting Seine-Saint-Denis on several occasions has put an end to some of the prejudice I had against the place as a whole and has also confirmed that there is serious ground for the ill reputation in some areas. The suburbs of Paris are way too varied for me to describe in detail (and I obviously don't know them all) but most of them are very pretty and interesting with a rich history (not just local history but major national events), some are charmless, some are ghettos, some are urban, some are quaint rural villages with no direct transportation link with Paris, some are grand royal suburbs or UNESCO heritage cities visited by international visitors. Overall most are great for residents to live in but would not be worth a trip for tourists unless they are interested in getting a bigger picture of Paris within its region. But the suburbs are for the most part what 9 million of us call home.

Full disclosure: I like to get off the beaten track, so I've wandered around in many of the bad neighborhoods in Paris and nothing happened to me. Did get stared at a lot, though.