From May 6th to November 6th, as an American living in Paris, I got to follow two political adventurers in their bout for their respective Presidencies. For the French election of François Hollande the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were omnipresent. For the American election of Barack Obama, the campaign, the debates, the hype and Election Day coverage were also omnipresent – and I live in Paris, France, not Paris, Texas. Why the French follow the US Election almost as closely as their own is beyond me. I was just happy to be able watch it live from this side of the pond.
Declaration of Love
As I listened to President Obama’s acceptance speech and heard the words “love”, “family”, “spirit”, “hope”, “God”, I thought about the wonderful differences between France and the US and started smiling away as I imagined President Hollande accepting his new job using the same buzz words – especially the love buzz. Barack made a public
declaration of love for his wife, Michele Obama. He said he wouldn’t be the man he is today without her. He even said how proud he was that America had fallen in love with her too during these past four years. The President mentioned family as well – his view that Americans are all one, big American family.
Stand By Your Man – Maybe
As an American, this habit of using one’s wife as part of the political platform didn’t surprise me. But, in the French mindset, that just wouldn’t happen. I saw flashes of all of Mr. Hollande’s women during his candidacy, but they were always in the background, not in the forefront. And, since Mr. Hollande is not married, and his girlfriend tends to be outspoken in a bad way, he would just not “go there.” In France, the wives and/or
girlfriends of politicians are not running for office with them. No one cares what happens behind closed Presidential doors. This is so NOT true in the US where the wrong companion choice can make or break a candidate.
Calling the nation an “American family” may sound a bit corny but it did get a huge round of applause from the public at Obama’s acceptance speech. I cannot even imagine the President of France addressing his constituents as a “French family” – it would seem ludicrous to the Parisians. Such a remark might be greeted with shouts and tomatoes. French families are blood-related, not ballot-related – no exceptions.
One interesting thing I noticed as I re-read Hollande’s acceptance speech is that there is a bit of flag-waving (but no French flag pin on his lapel) as he says, “we are just not any nation on this planet, or this world, We are France.” He had also mentioned that all of Europe was watching the results of the French elections – for Obama, of course, it was the whole world (but who’s counting?)
The difference in the endings of the speeches was striking, even if predictable. I think Obama was really over the top with “Together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth. Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.” I mean seriously, “the greatest nation on Earth?” Now who says the French are arrogant?
However, I re-read Hollande’s last words and noticed they centered on serving his country; enforcing the values that were made clear by his election. The French President emphasized that these values will be heard all over France, Europe and the World. And then he repeated the traditional “Vive la République et vive la France !” It was a bit boastful, as close to patriotism as a Frenchman can get but subtle compared to Obama’s declaration.
There was no mention of God, since there couldn’t be – one of France’s cornerstone values is the separation of Church and State. They actually enforce that belief in their political system.
The political roller coaster ride on both sides of the Atlantic is over for now. It’s funny how wives, girlfriends, family, flag-waving and God can be such relative matters in a Presidential election. That’s why I say, “Vive la Difference.”