Patrick Ouriaghli coordinates “Workshops without Borders” in Romania, an organisation which succeeded to provide workplace for hundreds of disadvantaged persons and integrated on the labour market tens of persons from vulnerable groups. All this while recycles IT components and donates recycled computers to schools. The workshops model comes from France, the same country as Patrick. He lives here for seven years already, together with his Romanian wife and their two children and appreciates the authenticity of people here and especially the fact that they have the ability to work together even after they fight. Instead, he does not like the attitude “that’s that, these are the Romanians, they will never change”. Patrick gave us an interview about his integration in Bucharest and the French community in the capital city of Romania.
Where were you born, where did you go to school?
I was born in Nice, France. I spent my childhood in Morocco, Casablanca, where I went to the French school. I went to the high school in Nice and then in Paris at the Higher School of Commerce (ESCP).
How was your first “meeting” with Bucharest?
I came for the first time in Bucharest at the beginning of spring 2008 to visit my friend. I was coming straight from Rabat, Morocco. The thermal shock, many cars and few people on the streets, gray blocks, cables and advertisements everywhere. I was not immediately seduced by the city. In exchange, I met open and hospitable people and I liked the authenticity, the fact that the passage of time is visible on the city walls. For example, the old neglected buildings speak about economic prosperity and decadence, the blocks covered in polystyrene and painted in bright colours tell us a lot about the smart spirit but also the architectural stall of the city etc.
What did you know about Bucharest before arriving here?
Very little, like the common foreigner. Former communist country rapidly joining the ultra-liberal capitalist world. I have not seen images except the “trial” and execution of Ceauşescu, orphanages, People’s House. I was imagining Bucharest as I saw it for the first time, with big apartment blocks, huge boulevards, characters who got fast very rich and who want to show off.
What was proven to be false from what you knew?
The first thing was the fact that the uprising in 1989 was not really a popular uprising. In France I regarded with enthusiasm, like everyone else, the images of the fall of the communist regimes in the East after the fall of the wall; I saw real liberation of the peoples without thinking about many details, without being interest in how these “liberation” happened, these uprisings were made by whom they were made. Now it is much more clear.
When did you settle here and why?
At the beginning of 2009. I wanted to live with my girlfriend, we had a baby, we started together the workshop of the organisation “Workshops without Borders”. Untill the end of 2008 I worked in Morocco for “Ateliers sans Frontieres”, the association which initiated the Workshops without Borders adventure by sending a volunteer in Romania.
How was the adaptation? Do you consider yourself a “Bucharest citizen”?
As in all large cities, capital cities, there are only a few “Bucharest citizens”. Especially if you are a foreigner it is nice that you don’t understand every conversation in the public places when you do not want that. But at the same time, I have been living here for almost 7 years, my life is here, my family, my professional projects, part of my friends are here. I like what I do here and also the fact that there is still much to be done, many opportunities, there is room for new initiatives. Plus, I have lived 8 years in Paris, so I am used to the lack of politeness and the indifference of the service providers and of the citizens in general. For me, it is harder to adapt to winter.
What were the cultural differences which were most difficult to understand / overcome?
First of all the low diplomacy. In France somewhat, but more in Morocco, people are less direct. In a way, more polite, but in another way more hypocrite, and here I was surprised by the ability of people to say what they think even if it is unpleasant, to fight at work meetings and to manage to work together afterwards. Another strange feeling for me is this way Romanians are proud and at the same time ashamed that they are Romanians. They love but they are also very upset with their people. What tires me most is the fatalism “that’s that, these are the Romanians, they will never change”, the lack of involvement in politics, especially on social themes – probably as a result of the communist dictatorship fall this lack of trust in all that means social policy, community, mutual help systems etc. anchored.
What was the role of the family during this period?
My wife’s family helps us a lot by being close. My family is far, but my mother helped us also and we communicate often due to the modern communication means. Actually, it is harder for her than for us the fact that we are far and this will be more and more true in time. My wife and the two children play a central role, they are the engine and the motivation for everything else.
What can you tell us about the French community in Bucharest?
Again another positive aspect the French community is quite large and keeps close, by networking, organisations such as CCIFER (the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Romania) or more informal around the events proposed by the embassy / French Institute / French high school. There are some expats who stay only 2 or 3 years. But there are many French who came a long time ago and stayed, created their own business, they are independent or work with a local contract and they stayed because they like it here. The majority of them are married with Romanians. Many of our friends are in this cathegory, we surely have many in common. On a wider scale, for our association the French community and the important presence of the French companies in Bucharest helped us a lot to create a network of partners / supporters / clients, especially at the beginning. The French work a lot together and “Workshops without Borders” is quite active within CCIFER but not only, in organising social responsibility activities “à la française” with the French origin companies.
You coordinate an important organisation in Bucharest which integrates vulnerable persons on the labour market. How do you think your work is influenced by the fact that you are French?
First of all, I saw this sector – insertion through the economic activity – in operation, so it is easier to believe in it. In France, this model exists for more than 30 years. Social economy is a real sector of the economy, it plays an important and proven role in society and insertion through the economic activity is one of the social economy forms which purpose is to activate marginalized or excluded persons, their support in rebuilding their lives and to become contributors of the society, actors of their own lives. There are many successful examples of persons who succeeded to (re)integrate themselves through work, which is a lot less true in Romania, where this social action model is at its beginnings. This experience / trust plays an important role. A funny “side effect” of being French is the Romanians trust in strangers (of certain nationalities). Many times, I was told by our partners, that they would not have trusted me if I was Romanian, they would have wondered why do I do this, what am I hiding, “what is it in for me?”. But being French, ”ah, ok!”.
Last but not least, related to the French community, I had easier access to many companies who agreed, tested and then hired the persons who were in difficult situations at the end of the insertion process, because they knew about the insertion and they were not so afraid about who are they going to meet at the interview.
How do you appreciate the attitude of the Bucharest citizens towards minorities?
There is a lot to talk about here. It is not so easy to deal with this problem. It is not only about the minorities, but more about the attitude of the common people “integrated” in society towards those who are not integrated, from multiple reasons. It can be ethnic discrimination or from other causes. Most people think like this: if this person does not try as hard as me to earn money, why should I help him/her? People understand that children or old people must be helped but with the adults who have the working age … is another story. Eventually, life is hard for many persons in Bucharest, prices are high, debts suffocate them, people must take multiple jobs, they do everything to improve their life. Temptations are high, everyone wants what the neighbour has or more and wants to show off. It is hard to think about others when you consider yourself disadvantaged or, if you are not, it was hard for you to reach a certain level and you do not understand why others should have this without fighting or with support. So I understand them and the social integration of marginalized, excluded, discriminated persons is not an easy one everywhere. We must show concretely that it is possible and that it is much better that these persons work, are integrated, pay duties to the state, than to depend for life on social benefits. Even if this means costs at the beginning, they are an investment for the future, especially in a country which has jobs. When salaries are increased and people are doing better, it will be more easy for them to accept those who are less resourceful, more easy to understand that life accidents can happen anytime, but even until then, we must fight and show citizens that each person, no matter how low he/she fell, can rebuilt himself/herself through work and with confidence.