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French pressed: Nov. 6 edition

Submitted by Pauline Mothu on November 12, 2013 – 2:22 pmNo Comment

“Do you believe in God? What is your religion? Are you a Christian? Which church are you going to?”

I have been asked these a lot since I came to the U.S. It may seem normal for Americans – especially those who live in the Bible Belt – to be asked this kind of questions, but it is not something I am used to. You may wonder why.

France is a secular country – the government institutions are separated from the religious ones – and French people do not talk much about religion, especially at school.

French schools are ruled by the government (except private ones), so they are free and secular. Students are not allowed to show any kind of religious signs. For instance, Christian students are not allowed to wear a necklace with a cross and Muslim girls are not allowed to wear a veil.

Things are a little different in colleges. Students are allowed to show their religious affiliation as long as the religious signs are not too big. However, students – and teachers – are not allowed to talk about religion in class or distribute religious pamphlets. Religious practices in colleges may change soon though.

Indeed, the French government may forbid the allowance for students to show any religious affiliation. For instance, the French government does not want female Muslim students to wear a veil . I do not know if this will happen soon, but I know many people do not agree with this proposal.

I believe France has more religious diversity than the U.S.; there are Christians, Muslims and Jews. Knowing this, the proposal may  be a good idea because there have been some issues related to religion in some colleges.

For instance, some students use their religious affiliation against their professors. Some would say they received bad grades because their religion was not the same as a professor’s – which may or may not be true. Others would not want to be paired with – or be in a group with – students of another religion. Fortunately, this does not happen often, but it happens and it is a problem.

Talking about religion, showing our religious affiliation and distributing religious pamphlets in school is seen as a normal thing in the U.S. Knowing that it is not allowed in France may be shocking for some Americans, especially here in the South. French people and Americans have different conceptions about whether or not religion should be part of the education system.

I have been to church both in the U.S. and in France. I can tell you it is very different. Here, many people go to church every Sunday; French people usually go to church for baptism, communion, wedding, Christmas, and Easter. Only a few – mostly old people – go to church every week and pray before eating.

France being mostly a Christian country, you may wonder how churches are different. First, they do not have the same architecture; American churches, for me, look more like a hall. French churches have stained glass, statues etc. I would say they are more traditional than American churches.

The services are also different. The first time I attended a church service here in the U.S., I was shocked and surprised to see how different it is from a French mass. For instance, there is no band during a French mass, only an organ. The mass is told by a priest, not a pastor, and it lasts longer than an American mass. I am not sure how long a mass lasts in France, but I know that some weddings or funerals can last two hours at the church, and people constantly stand up or sit depending on what the priest says. There is no shouting, putting hands up or singing like here in the US. The Catholic mass is very traditional.

I enjoy going to church in both countries but the church I go to here in the U.S. is colorful and has a lot of diversity. Adapting oneself to another culture is not easy, especially concerning religion, but it is nice and interesting to see how people do things differently.

A bientôt pour de nouvelles aventures! (See you later for other adventures!)

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