It’s Not A Question Of What Is Legal Or Not Legal…It’s A Matter Of What Can Be Tolerated
“France and the United States date to about the same time,” began French friend and legal expert Jean Taquet in his address to our group assembled in the St. Petersbourg Hotel in Paris this morning.
“The trouble in France was that, unlike in the United States, where the enemy of the Revolution wore red coats, the enemy of the French Revolution, the aristocracy, was unrecognizable on sight.
“Therefore, the French take it as part of the birthright of their Republic that no one and nothing can be taken on sight. Representations can be deceiving, the French believe. Therefore, they are interested in only what is written down, only what is on paper.
“This is the explanation for the French love of paperwork.
“I don’t say this excuses the perspective, but I hope it will help you to understand why, in this country, the document and the dossier are all that matter.
“Here’s another thing to understand about the French perspective:
“Ask a Frenchman any question, and his first answer will be,’Non! It cannot be done!’
“On the other hand, ask an American any question, and his immediate response will be,’Yes, of course!’
“This is not at all to say that the Frenchman will not help you do what you want to do. It’s simply to say that you must interpret any Frenchman’s remark, even one as seemingly straightforward as,’Non!’
“‘Non’ doesn’t necessarily mean no.
“I lived in the United States and practiced law there for 40 years. I learned that, in the United States, for the Americans, there is black and white, right and wrong, and clear and definite lines and limits as a result.
“This is not the case here in France. In France, for the French, there is small white and tiny black. Everything else is gray.
“In the United States, if you want, say, to open a bank account, you go to the bank and ask for the list of required documents for opening the account. You provide all the things on the list, and you take for granted that, all items on the list checked off, you’ll be given a bank account.
“In France, if you go to an official to request details for what is required to, say, obtain a residency visa, again, you’ll be presented with a list. However, I assure you that if you work your way through the list, provide every piece of information and document on it, as listed, your chances of getting your residency visa are nearly zero.
“In the United States, a list like this amounts to an informal contract of sorts. The one party says to the other,’Provide me with all the things on this list, and I’ll grant you the thing you’re after.’
“In France, on the other hand, a list like this amounts to a suggestion for how you might think about approaching an objective. Every item on it, though, is open to interpretation.
“Again, there is very little black or white in this country. It’s not a question of what is’legal’ or’not legal.’ It’s a matter of what can be tolerated, and, in practice, most anything can be tolerated…”