This post is going to be less snarky than usual because since Tuesday, my equilibrium has been thrown off. The sarcasm and cynicism that generally guide me have subsided, and my heart has been flooded with unfamiliar feelings… warmth, genuineness, humanity, hope and…. could it be… patriotism? As patriotism is a feeling I have never before experienced, it took me a while to recognize it. I never realized how badly I wanted to like my country until, at long last, I kind of do.
When I first moved to Paris, I felt that my non-Frenchness attracted a lot of attention—both negative and positive—that I didn’t necessarily want. One early acquaintance asked me if I owned a gun, which was kind of funny except that he wasn't kidding.
So just when I’d learned to blend in a bit more and spent hours working on my French scowl, Obama went and turned the tide of history. I threw a little Gobama soiree on Wednesday night, and when I was shopping in my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but gush to everyone I encountered… the wine guy, the cheese guy, even the saucisson guy. I’ve never been so thrilled to announce my citizenship and to declare Il faut fêter! (“We must party!”) They concurred and were equally eager to share their opinions about the election.
Here’s the thing: French people care about American politics. The opposite is not always true. For many Americans (Sarah Palin included), their knowledge of the French political landscape extends no further than Carla Bruni’s evolving wardrobe. But from what I can tell, your average French person is informed and invested in American politics. Most of the French people I know were following the election as closely as I was, which leads me to the reassuring conclusion that French people want to like the United States; they just need a good reason to do so.
And now they have one!
In the mayhem following the announcement, I was a little sad not to be in New York to celebrate with my compatriots, who pranced through the streets like a pack of wild squirrels on the loose. One friend wrote, “Union Square last night was a big hippie party with drum circles and thousands of people chanting ‘yes we can.’ I think you would have enjoyed it.” Friend, what are you implying?
But in all seriousness, it has also been amazing to experience the election from abroad, where its potential global impact is truly tangible.
Last night, I was walking with a friend and two girls asked us for a lighter. Then they asked us where we were from. A week ago, I would have said “Canada.” But last night, we were excited to say “We’re from the States,” and after we did, the first thing they said was “Vive Obama.”
It was an incredibly poignant moment—almost too poignant—except that it was completely genuine. We chatted a bit, and they went on to say how impressed they were that the U.S. had elected a black president—a possibility they felt could not happen in France anytime soon.
In a state of stupefied joy on the day after the election, I agreed to be interviewed (in French) on RMC, a French radio station. I’m sure I made no sense, but I didn’t care. After eight years of darkness and shame, it was amazing to be able to speak openly, freely, and happily about the (now very real) concepts of hope, change, unity, teamwork… and a new puppy in the White House! I told the crazy French talking heads that I’m finally “not embarrassed to be American,” and I think I meant it... for now.
So I may continue to have trouble opening various doors around Paris. And I may drop my shoe into the Metro tracks once in a while. And I may be conspicuously not-French…
But I did help to elect Obama, and I’m going to assume that counteracts my past and future faux pas.
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I come on about 1/3 of the way through and ramble for a couple minutes.