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Mariage gris

Muddying the issue

The French minister for immigration and “national identity”, Eric Besson, has denounced a phenomenon he calls by the new term mariage gris (“grey marriage”). ((Thanks to Carole.)) He defines it as d’escroquerie sentimentale à but migratoire (“an emotional swindle with the aim of migration”). Le Monde explains further, in exactly whose voice is unclear:

Ces “mariages gris” désignent des mariages conclus entre un étranger et une personne de nationalité française en situation de faiblesse, au détriment de cette dernière, considérée comme abusée par l’autre partenaire de ce contrat. [These “grey marriages” are marriages between a foreigner and a vulnerable French person, and are harmful to the latter, who is considered abused by the other partner in the deal.]

Of course, plenty of marriages between French people and other French people, as between human beings in general, end up in tears and considerations of abusiveness, but Besson does not seem so exercised by this long-familiar phenomenon. ((Found in the HTOED: the English word “marriage” dates from 1297; before that we had wedlock (1225), and before that, the rather-too-revealing bridelock (from Old English till around 1230). Update: checking in the OED reveals that the -lock of bridelock (and subsequently wedlock) is from OE lác meaning “play”, which is nice?)) He was careful to say that mariages mixtes (“mixed marriages”) were a source of “enrichment” to French society, but that their defence must go hand in hand with a lutte (“struggle”) against the other kind of marriage, in which cunning foreigners prey on the weakened French in order to enter France.

In French, a mariage blanc (“white marriage”) is a purely business transaction (something like our “marriage of convenience”). A mariage gris sounds somehow dirtier, more polluted. Of course, grey is also what you get when you mix white and black: too much of that, perhaps, is considered threatening to the “national identity” as it is presently constructed by the French government. ((Talking of fears of miscegenation, the only use of “grey marriage” in English I could find (where grey is not a proper name) is in this innocent forum question about the desirability of intermarriage with extraterrestrials.))

What colour of marriage do you prefer, readers?

  1. 1  Tom Cruise  December 4, 2009, 10:29 am 

    “What colour of marriage do you prefer, readers? “

    Lavender of course.

  2. 2  Roger Migently  December 5, 2009, 6:53 am 

    Moi, je préfère un mariage jaune – un mariage heureux. C’est-à-dire, un mariage terminée. (Nous restons les mieux des amis, bien sûr – et pardonnez mon français, je vous en prie.)

  3. 3  sw  December 6, 2009, 1:50 pm 

    Thank you very much for that little footnoted update – the easy assumption (or rather, one at least I easily made) has been debunked and a much more delightful origin put in its place.

    It sounds as though in mariage gris that the French, through some of their kinder and yet more vulnerable citizens, are being exploited; this notion is such a common one in immigration rhetoric: floods of Mexicans and Guatemalans and other nationalities pour across the border of the US every year and are perceived as freeloaders, exploiting the public health systems, the educational systems, the welfare systems – as if these migrants are not exploited in every imaginable way. Worries about mariage gris and “anchor babies” and Mexicans siphoning off educational tidbits shift the focus – if not unspeak, they certainly unimagine the real balances of vulnerability and power, of exploitation and the exploited.

  4. 4  Steven  December 7, 2009, 6:57 pm 

    I AGREE. But mariage gris does, I think, have an inevitable extra unspeaky connotation of sullying whiteness.

    Meanwhile, I had not heard of “anchor babies”?

  5. 5  sw  December 7, 2009, 7:46 pm 

    No, I agree, you do NOT err: mariage gris definitely connotes pollution.

    “Anchor babies”: anybody born in the United States is immediately a U.S. citizen (someone correct me if I’m wrong? Does it also include various territories and military bases?) An immigrant, “legal” or otherwise, who has a child in the United States will therefore be a parent to a U.S. Citizen – and who wants to deport parents of U.S. Citizens? Well, the sad answer to that question is too apparent. But, it makes deportation more difficult, more gris. “Anchor babies”: unspeak? Unspeaking the political fact of the child’s nationality; unspeaking the adorably light heft of a baby; turning a baby into an instrument, as if there were no other reason someone living and working in the United States might have a child, and so unspeaking the parenthood of the parents?

  6. 6  Steven  December 7, 2009, 11:38 pm 

    YES YOU ARE RIGHT. Gosh, “anchor babies”. Doesn’t this, further, portray the parents as utterly cynical paedocides, happy to let their peculiarly massive infants drown on the ocean floor so mom and pop don’t drift away to another country?

  7. 7  richard  December 8, 2009, 5:41 pm 

    yes. Anchor babies is brilliantly unpleasant: good work.
    Elsewhere I’ve been thinking about church buildings as “anchors:” they often seem to be discussed in this way, offering stability to a community, that sort of thing, but they are also expensive to maintain and not scaleable/adaptable once built, so for a community that is ailing financially they can take on the other connotations of “anchor” – that heavy thing that sinks the boat.

  8. 8  richard  December 8, 2009, 5:57 pm 

    What I like best about “anchor babies” is that it exploits the children for political purposes by implying that the parents are exploiting them for personal purposes.

    Now I’ll try to stop jumping all over your comments.

  9. 9  dsquared  December 8, 2009, 10:03 pm 

    Elsewhere I’ve been thinking about church buildings as “anchors:”often seem to be discussed in this way, offering stability to a community, that sort of thing

    in property development, a big shop like Marks & Spencer which attracts customers to a mall, and which gives other shops which might be considering locating there confidence in the long term viability of the project, is known as an “anchor tenant”, and such tenants usually get very favourable deals on their leases reflecting their status.

  10. 10  sw  December 8, 2009, 11:06 pm 

    What I like best about “anchor babies” is that it exploits the children for political purposes by implying that the parents are exploiting them for personal purposes.


  11. 11  Steven  December 8, 2009, 11:47 pm 

    Now, perhaps inevitably, I am thinking of Will Ferrell in Anchorman?

  12. 12  sw  December 9, 2009, 2:10 pm 

    One should frequently find oneself thinking about Will Ferrell in Anchorman.

  13. 13  Steven  December 9, 2009, 3:32 pm 

    I concur 100%.

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