Interview with Frédéric Jung, the New Consul General of France in San Francisco
Before Frédéric Jung and his family arrived in San Francisco, he sang songs about the location of his new Consul General assignment with his two young daughters to help get them excited about the move from Paris.
“San Francisco is present in French culture in many ways,” Jung said. “In order to have my three-year old daughter dive into San Francisco before we left, I would sing or play her some songs about San Francisco. There are many of them in the French culture – very traditional ones and some more typical ones from the ’70s also.”
An example that Jung showed off was a 1961 song, Santiano, that was inspired by a sea shanty. Made popular by French singer Hugues Aufray, it’s a tale of a French sailor headed to San Francisco on the ship Santiano to take advantage of the 1850s Gold Rush and the courage it took to make the journey.
Tiens bon la vague et tiens bon le vent
Hissez haut! Santiano!
Si Dieu veut, toujours droit devant
Nous irons jusqu’a San Francisco
Hold on to the wave and hold on to the wind
Hoist high! Santiano!
God willing, always straight ahead
We will go to San Francisco
Courage is probably a good word to hold onto as the three to four-year assignment brought Jung, his wife and two daughters (the second one is now seven months old) to California in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in August, along with raging forest fires in California and Oregon and the resulting intense air pollution. The family had to quarantine for two weeks at the French Residence, which means the kids could not immediately explore Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks, Sutro Forest, much less the city, all which can be seen from the residence’s windows. But both Jung and his wife were happy to be there.
Jung spent 16 years in the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs in various positions including Paris, Brussels and New York. His wife had attended U.S. schools as a child and later a U.S. university and wanted to pass on that cultural experience to her daughters. Jung wanted a position on the West Coast to find out more about the west side of the U.S. The Consul General position covers 10 western states, including Hawaii.
“The core of a consular job . . . is in helping out the community and I have interest in that,” said Jung. “So, my wishes met perfectly with the needs of the position. I’m a lucky person.”
Responding to the needs of the French community in his 10–state territory right now is largely focused on keeping people, when possible, circulating between the U.S. and France. For example, currently France has restrictions on U.S. citizens travelling to France requiring documentation that their travel is essential. For American entrepreneurs with business in France, the consulate provides the correct travel papers so they can continue their work. Another example, if one of the couples is French and they are separated between the two countries, the two are allowed to join each other in France.
“This is France, so we consider love now,” said Jung. “If partners who are in love but not married are separated in the two countries, they deserve to unite. It takes a bit of research to prove it, but we propose exemptions so couples can unite.”
There are also many more requests to renew French passports by French citizens in the West. Some have U.S. passports and see a renewed advantage to having both passports current so they can easily move back and forth between countries.
There are also social support aspects managed by the consulate. Jung’s team has $2.5 million for tuition fees to help French families, including single moms, for example, who have lost income because of changing economic issues due to the pandemic. Currently, there are about 150 children who can continue their chosen schooling because of this social assistance.
Another focus is continuing the special high-tech economy support between the Bay Area and France.
“It’s important to continue to keep the flow of support for French startups in the U.S., along with international expansion of markets and investments,” said Jung. “This area is a nest of venture capital and it’s important to keep engineering and creative business people diving into this universe.”
But the West Coast is also active in culture, although how art and other cultural events are attended have changed due to the pandemic. Villa SF is one of the cultural exchanges the consulate is supporting. Originally conceived as a place where rotating French artists could come to San Francisco for a couple of months to share and explore each other’s work with Bay Area artists, the pandemic has changed that process. It is still a place to share and explore artist’s work, but it is done digitally now, and the support is currently more for San Francisco artists.
The Night of Ideas also needs to reinvent itself, but Jung and his team are dedicated to make it work. Originally an all-night program held in cities throughout the world, it features a wide variety of artists, speakers, writers, musicians, even athletes presenting their art and ideas to a large, flowing crowd. Last year, San Francisco’s version was in the city’s Public Library, but this year’s social distancing will require changes.
“We wanted to do something even greater than last year’s Night of Ideas, but the pandemic requires that we reinvent ourselves,” said Jung. “It will be online.”
According to Jung, the toughest part of being a diplomat now is there are no in-person meetings.
“Diplomacy exists because it goes beyond the phone call,” he said. “But the best thing is working with the consulate team. There are difficulties for each of us, but we have to cope with the impatience of the public, and I remind them that their role is important for the consulate.”
Jung looks forward to taking advantage of exploring the outdoors of the Bay Area with his family plus mountain biking, surfing, plus traveling to all states covered by the consulate.
“I’ve already hiked with my family in Muir Woods and we want to go to Yosemite,” said Jung. “My bigger daughter is always concerned we might see a bear up close but if she has a little bell, she will be fine I tell her.”
If she learns her dad’s lessons about courage in the Santiano song, she will indeed be fine.
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