To many French people, the northwest region of the United States, from the Golden Gate Bridge to the vast landscapes of Utah and Montana, is like a giant movie set. But according to Frédéric Jung, who was recently appointed consul general of France in San Francisco, the film now playing is a great tragedy. The 40-year-old diplomat from the town of Mulhouse, in France’s Alsace region, spoke with us about his first two months in office. So far, his term has been marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, tensions and violence at Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle and Portland, and wildfires that have devastated parts of California and Oregon.
France-Amérique: You arrived in the U.S. and took office at a turbulent time. What were your first impressions?
Frédéric Jung: My earlier memories of the U.S., and of San Francisco in particular, were more laid-back than what I experienced in August. I arrived at the peak of the epidemic, in an extremely tense atmosphere. Massive forest fires had just broken out in California and Oregon, causing heavy pollution, and protests were being held throughout our consular jurisdiction, particularly in Portland. We were facing a number of unusual events. When speaking about the wildfires, the governor of California warned: “This is America fast forward.” Between the pandemic, climate change, and today’s highly polarized society, we may be getting a glimpse of what the future has in store.
How has the French community in your jurisdiction been faring?
It’s been a challenge for everyone in more ways than one. Several French families were evacuated because of the fires. We also offered to help teachers who had just arrived in Santa Rosa and who were forced to abandon their home. Shortly after my arrival, I visited Newton Vineyard in Napa Valley — eight days later, everything was destroyed by the fire. The vineyard is owned by the French company Moët Hennessy, and Jean-Baptiste Rivail was in the process of transforming their wine into an exceptional cru. The tech sector is doing alight despite the economic recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and many French people continue to travel between Silicon Valley and Paris. But other French entrepreneurs, such as restaurant owners and winemakers, are struggling.
What are your priorities as general consul?
My first priority is to answer any questions French citizens may have and to assist anyone trying to travel between the United States and France, anyone who has been unable to be tested for the virus, and anyone trying to reunite with a loved one in France. It’s a big challenge, given that we have a very small team and receive dozens of requests each day. My second priority is the economy. France’s recovery plan has made new technologies a central pillar in the effort to revive our economy. We need to make use of the tools at our disposal to help French start-ups grow internationally — the U.S. is a key market for French companies looking to expand outside Europe — and show venture capitalists and investment funds how creative our entrepreneurs are and how skilled out engineers are. The consulate is therefore an intermediary, and this is a vital function that we must continue to perform with Business France, the French Tech community in San Francisco, the French-American Chamber of Commerce, and foreign-trade advisors through meetings, visits, and incubators (virtual at the moment), as well as invitations to the consular residence once circumstances allow. Such gestures of economic diplomacy are important to American investors. My third priority is to offer continued support for cultural projects. The cultural services of the consulate in San Francisco has supported a number of emblematic projects in the U.S., such as the Villa San Francisco residency program, which put the city on the map of French residency programs, and the Night of Ideas event, which drew over 5,200 people to its latest edition at the San Francisco Public Library in February 2020. I intend to support those projects over the long term, despite the current context.
How do you manage a consular jurisdiction seven times larger than France?
That’s an important question. The consulate general of France in San Francisco is in charge of the entire jurisdiction [over 60,000 French citizens]. Seattle has a large French community, as does Portland. There are also French citizens in Boise, Missoula, Salt Lake City, Hawaii, Anchorage and Guam, as our jurisdiction extends across the Pacific Ocean. I intend to travel to each state within our jurisdiction as soon as possible. We have a volunteer honorary consul in each state, who serves as a vital intermediary and assists French citizens with administrative procedures. They are playing an important role at the moment.
Before taking office on August 28, had you been to San Francisco?
I had been to San Francisco as a tourist, sometimes visiting for a week, sometimes just a few days. The mysterious quality of the city has always fascinated me. I know New York well, having lived there for five years when I was working at the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, but San Francisco offers a whole new experience. French singer-songwriter Hugues Aufray sings about the long journey to this port at the end of the world. It’s also a city of hills, valleys, and a unique climate: always somewhere between summer and winter, with a peculiar fog that locals have dubbed “Karl.” The city has many faces and provides an ideal setting for all sorts of stories. Countless movie directors have set their films there, such as Hitchcock, Fincher, and Coppola. The city is like a movie set, but I arrived at a strange time when all the life seems to have been removed. I look forward to seeing all the actors return!