Life in a foreign city can be difficult but Lao culture still prevails
The 12 hour flight from Laos to France is well worth it for the attractions such as the beautifully preserved Roman architecture or the sheer civilisation of Paris, but I did wonder if Parisians take life too seriously, are in too much of a hurry, or if they really cared about each other.Of course, I come from the small city of Vientiane, where people are easy-going and friendly when they meet each other, whether friends or strangers. But Paris was completely different. People there seem to find it difficult to smile or make friends – even French people of Lao descent.
I met up with some Lao-French people at a restaurant and their faces seemed far too stern, their personalities over-serious and they seemed to suffer from an inability to smile! But I understand that living in a city the size of Paris, you do what you need to do in order to survive.
However, I had the pleasure to discover the ways in which the local Lao community attempts to conserve Lao tradition by holding a big Buddhist Lent party every year in order to build solidarity among members of their community as well as to remind themselves of the traditions of their homeland.
One French woman of Lao descent who left Laos in 1980, told me during our conversation at the restaurant that it was difficult to find a Lao woman in Paris who wears the traditional long skirt (sinh).
Most prefer to wear jeans, t-shirts or mini skirts as they are more comfortable in the rushed hustle and bustle of Paris life.
However, she said that some women, particularly older women, still wear a sinh on special occasions.
The lifestyle of the Lao community in Paris tends to focus more on work than taking care of the family, with the majority of young people leaving for work early in the morning and returning late in the evening.
The civilisation and modernity of living in a western city has changed the Lao people living there. They now appear to be somewhat unfriendly and money orientated.
With a smile, my new acquaintance explained that she worked hard in order to take care of her family, but she still made time to visit the temple to make offerings to the monks.
But the temple is far from her home so her visits are infrequent and the Buddhist monks in Paris don’t receive offerings in the street like in Laos.
The lady had a sad expression on her face when speaking of her hometown. “I will never forget Lao culture and traditions, even though I am now a French national.”
She laughed loudly as she told me that even now she still eats sticky rice every day and enjoys Lao cuisine, adding that the food sometimes lacks the traditional taste of fermented fish which is difficult to find in France.
I then hoped to see more examples of ways in which Lao traditions are preserved among the Lao community in Paris when I met the President of the Lao People’s Association of France, Mr Souvanlang Phetchanpheng, who plays an important role in encouraging former Lao nationals to remember and celebrate the value of their culture.
The association was founded in 1980, under a French initiative to encourage solidarity through community activities for people of Lao descent.
Every year, the association arranges various events including a Lao New Year picnic as well as activities at Buddhist Lent to ensure the French-Lao community is reminded of their culture by sharing the traditions of their motherland.
Mr Souvanlang said he encourages people to visit their hometown as a way to hold onto their knowledge of Lao culture and traditions so they can pass them on to the next generation.
I found Europe was a difficult place to make friends but I did manage to meet some friendly people in my French guides and the Lao family I stayed with in Paris.
However, if you are Lao, wherever you find Lao people you will be welcomed like family with a welcoming smile and friendly hospitality.
Source: Vientiane Times
By Ounkham Pimmata
(Latest Update January 7, 2012)