French Cuisine: With a Side of Protest

Georges Restaurant in the Pompidou Centre is a work of art. Encased in glass and steel, the restaurant is popular for its view of Paris. Look around and you will see that the food as well as the furniture is modern. On top of that furniture sit illegal immigrants. But they aren’t there to eat, they’re present for protesting purposes.

In less reported news, Georges has become a setting for protests by immigrants from Senegal and Asia who work at the eatery and are fighting to get recognized in order to obtain France’s version of the green card, the “une Carte de Séjour.” They sit there all day, in the restaurant and outside of it, quietly hoping to get the attention of the French government. They have been doing so since October 23, and have no plans to cease their demonstrations until they are recognized as French citizens.

Senegal protestors sitting in Georges as part of their demonstration, one that has been going on since Oct. 23rd. Photo taken by Adam Sage of Timesonline.com

Senegal protestors sitting in Georges as part of their demonstration, one that has been going on since Oct. 23rd. Photo taken by Adam Sage of Timesonline.com

“French cuisine is famous throughout the world,” says Mamadou, a 36-year-old man from Senegal and assistant chef for Georges who was interviewed by the UK’s Times Online news. “But without the Africans, the Sri Lankans and the Asians, there would be no one to cook it. It just wouldn’t exist.”

Georges isn’t the only restaurant facing the wrath of their foreign employees. There have been sit-ins all over France, not including the many other protests and hunger strikes staged over the past few years, that have taken place at popular eateries where illegal immigrants are employed. The site claims that there are 4,700 illegal immigrants floating around the country, and many say they pay taxes and do the things that French men and women born in the country do, but know they do not have the same rights. “I’ve been in France for nine years and I’ve worked all the time. I pay my taxes and social security just like any Frenchman,” says Dramane, a 38-year-old man from Mali involved in the demonstrations. “But every time I go out, it’s with fear in my stomach, because I could be arrested.”

The response is slow at the moment. The restaurant continues its daily tasks while trying to ignore the demonstrators, as do the customers who walk in, glance at the demonstrators, and go on about their business. The immigrants are benefiting though. Through the protests, protestors have made connections with a network of other immigrants that can relate to their struggles; something these men and women had a hard time finding before. It is unclear who has replaced the demonstrators in the kitchen at Georges.  And not every immigrant who has a hand in making French cuisine is protesting, but  those who are demonstrating at Georges are hopeful that their presence will slowly but surely have an impact on their status in the country.

The interior of the illustrious Georges Restaurant in the Pompidou centre in Paris. Photo courtesy of Jakob/MacFarlane of Flickr

The interior of the illustrious Georges Restaurant in the Pompidou centre in Paris. Photo courtesy of Jakob/MacFarlane of Flickr

Obviously, this story is reminiscent of many of the issues that Americans hear about daily regarding illegal immigrants from nearby Latin American countries. Many of the immigrants whom Americans complain about do the work that most feel they are above: janitorial work, working in hotels, landscaping work, etc. The same can be said in France, but the question arises from the above story about the protest in Georges: Would French cuisine, a major symbol of French culture, be as huge as it is (including the much lauded kabob) without the hands of illegal immigrants making it? Who really knows who is in those high class, five-star restaurant’s kitchens slaving over France’s world famous food? Whatever your response, it is interesting to see that problems with illegal immigration aren’t just a huge deal in America, but in France as well. Will these individuals stay parked in Georges for months, waiting to be recognized or arrested? Or will their demands continue to be ignored like the hopes for citizenship of many illegal immigrants here in the States? Only time will tell…

There have been many protests of this kind.  To see one done in 2008 by illegal immigrants and the response  it received, check out the video below:

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