Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /


So far, my morning had been uneventful. Don’t get me, wrong, uneventful was good. I liked things to be simple.
I decided to fill some long overdue questionnaires that a company I had worked for had sent (I do the occasional freelance job for them. It pays the bills). I almost fell off my chair.
To cut a long story short, in the UK, your ethnicity or sexual orientation dont matter, except for statistical purposes. In France, such things are considered to be private. You NEVER EVER mention them, let alone  fill a questionnaire with your name on it for your company, for whatever purpose it might be. To make matters even worse, it was not the first time I had worked for this company. Hadn’t I already filled this? I couldn’t remember. Why do it another time? Maybe things had, well, moved on for me. You could never know.

Right, let’s start. I struggled with the questions on my ethnicity. I could choose White/Mixed/Asian/Black/Chinese or not stated/Please Specify. Right. What was I? I could say white, but I have some Arab blood. Does it make me mixed? I wonder. The options for mixed were White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, White And Asian or Other/please state. I could say Other/White and Arab. I was not too sure about this. If I were to choose White, the options were White British, White Irish or Other/Please Specify. Should I say White British as I have a British passport? Or should I say Other/French? As my grandfather is Italian, should I say White/French/Italian. How about White/French/Italian/British with a bit of Arab background. Or maybe simply White/European. This is becoming too complicated. Let’s pass, I will decide later.
Onto the sexual orientation questionnaire. Seriously, this was getting from bad to worse. Why did they care?
Let’s look at the choices:
For our company statistics, please state whether your are:
1.     A heterosexual male
2.     A heterosexual female
3.     A homosexual male
4.     A homosexual female
5.     A bisexual male
6.     A bisexual female
7.     Male to female transgender
8.     Female to male transgender
9.     Other (please specify)
I started wondering was the last category was. This was all becoming too much for me, and I was still deep in thought when a friend of mine joined me for lunch. I decided to have a glass of wine with her (I don’t normally drink during the day but all these boxes I had to tick were freaking me out). I must admit that filling in the questionnaires with a couple of glasses of wine in my system was a lot easier. I couldn’t remember what I decided to put in the end, but soon enough I hit the ‘send’ button. I was pleased to be over and done with the whole thing.
But I had spoken too soon. Of course I had. An hour later, the HR assistant called me to let me know that I had forgotten the questionnaire about my religious background. No, really?
Seriously, when does it stop?
Then, she said that if I wanted to, she could use the form I had filled 5 years ago.
Of course, please do.
The thing is, she said, my responses were not the same in the ethnicity questionnaire. What should she do?
Damn it. it will never stop. I told her to choose the one she liked most.
What about you? Do you think it is normal to fill in such questionnaires? Have you ever had to do it?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London
  • Other is hermaphrodite, asexual snd pre op transsexual. For all intents and purposes with your background it’s considered “white”. Very few people has a simple heritage.

    • When did life become so complicated? And why does it matter?

  • Never had to fill one out about sexual identity but the ethnic background all the time. For purpose of ease, I always put White British because a) I would make Dracula proud with my pale, pasty, bonelike complexion and b) I am British…I am also Iranian but that just confuses things….

    • Right. Of course you are right. So next time, I will put ‘White British!’

      • Hamar Fox

        Your ethnicity isn’t White British. ‘White British’ refers to people who are white and have British ancestry. Passports have nothing to do with ethnicity.

  • You can always look forward to the long-form US Census should you move here. It’s a similar doozy.

  • Anonymous

    Can’t say I’ve had the sexual orientation question, but the other yes. I guess we are all a mix of everything really. Gets you thinking though what business is it of theirs, I guess they have a reason?

    Mackenzie Glanville (reflectionsfromme.com)

    • Apparently it is to monitor the workforce’s diversity. I have to say that I am not convinced!

  • They forgot to ask for your knicker size….. And whether you buy them in M&S or Victoria’s Secrets. I am always very suspicious about such detailed surveys – generally they disappear into my trash can.

    • Are you sure that you are not French? This is a very French reaction…Just saying.

  • The day I gave birth, in mid-labour the nurse asked me what my religion was ( for the file, that I had already filled out by the way). I had inhaled so much gas I replied to her that in normal circumstances I was catholic but at that moment I really felt rastafarian! We both laughed, but in France, hospitals wouldn’t ask you about your religion or your ethnicity…

    • I had a similar experience. The first question I was asked when I was about to deliver my daughter was about my religion. I couldn’t believe it.

  • LOL… I wonder who creates those questionnaires 😛

    • Apparently there even have to follow certain standards…

  • Anonymous

    It’s fascinating, as a lifelong Englander who has very rarely visited other countries (and never lived more than 12 miles from my birthplace) these questions seem perfectly reasonable to me – purely because I get asked them all the time. But you’re absolutely right, they aren’t relevant at all. I recall being involved with the procurement of a firm that supplied car park machinery, and there was an issue because there was a question over their equality procedures – they gathered information on staff ethnicity and the like, but the question was “what did they do with it? How do they take the information into account when hiring new staff?” and at the time I remember thinking “Does it really matter as long as they don’t discriminate against anyone?”