By Addison Nugent
Nearly seven years ago to the day, I married a French man. I was 24 years old, fresh out of college, and my student visa was going to expire in a matter of months. Of course, I loved my boyfriend at the time — I had left my life in America behind for him after a whirlwind romance of just two months — but our marriage, which has since ended, was equally about the fear of me having to leave. At our wedding, I wore a flower crown.
My dad flew over from the United States, and all of our friends showed up and threw rice at us as we left the courthouse. By all appearances, it was a wedding like any other, but both my new husband and I were unsure what it really meant to us. Was it just a way for me to stay? A way for us to keep dating? Or were we really making a lifelong commitment to one another?
Our situation was, apparently, not unique. In fact:
MARRIAGES BETWEEN FOREIGNERS AND FRENCH NATIONALS HAVE TRIPLED IN FRANCE SINCE THE 1970S.
As of 2017, 15 percent of marriages in France were between a foreigner and a French person, a number that rises when marriages involving a French person abroad are added to the total. According to recent data published by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, 33,385 of the 220,582 marriages celebrated in France in 2017 were between a French national and a foreigner. Compare that to 1974, when there were more than 394,000 marriages but fewer than 20,000 involved a foreign partner.
According to 2015 comparisons from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, France had a higher percentage of so-called mixed marriages than the U.S., Korea, Japan, Spain, Italy or Germany. France is now the country with the highest inflow of family migrants in Europe, with 105,000 in 2015 alone. This number represents a sharp increase from 2008 when that number stood at 85,000. Today, l’Hexagone — where 62 percent of migrants come for family reasons — has the fourth-highest inflow of family migrants among OECD countries.
The increase of mariages mixtes in France can be explained by migration patterns and globalization: 37 percent of the mixed marriages celebrated in France in 2015 united a French spouse with a person of North African nationality; 22 percent a French national with another European; and 14 percent with a national of sub-Saharan Africa. These numbers are reflective of general immigration patterns in France.
Another factor is the civil solidarity pact, known as a PACS, which is a form of civil union introduced in 1999 to give same-sex couples who didn’t have the right to marry at the time more rights. About 95 percent of couples who do this are straight, and it’s increased about 800 percent since it became available. “The PACs overtook marriage for French citizens,” explains Magali Mazuy, a researcher at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, “but marriage is the more attractive option for foreigners because it gives them more rights.”
Periods of study and work in France also offer an opportunity for foreigners to meet French spouses, with France currently ranked as the fourth-most-popular country in the world to study abroad. “Marriage just made it so much easier for me to get a visa,” says Caitlyn Bertin-Mahieux, an
American citizen who met her husband while working at the American University of Paris in 2017. “It took away a lot of the stress.”
With increasingly fast and cost-effective forms of transportation, more people are traveling the globe than ever before, and in the process meeting partners from countries and cultures far different from their own. More than 2 million French citizens live abroad, marrying foreign spouses and creating culturally blended families.
Furthermore, more women are now migrating alone to study and work, accounting for 50 percent of foreigners residing in France. As a result, in nearly half of French mixed marriages in 2015, the woman was the foreigner — a marked increase from earlier decades, when nearly two-thirds of such unions involved a foreign man.
So, why France? It’s certainly not the easiest country in the Schengen Area to immigrate to — it’s rated as one of the hardest countries in the world for foreigners to settle in, according to the annual Expat Insider survey by InterNations. I found it very difficult to navigate French culture, make friends and generally feel at home even after receiving my marriage visa. Perhaps foreigners, like myself, are drawn by France’s romantic reputation, and the promise of an archetypal French lover.