What Happens When French Politicians Use the “F” Word

Hollywood Comes to Paris

Since last Sunday, Paris, and France in general, has become the backdrop for a political sitcom and, suddenly, every UMP politician who is interviewed on television says the “F” word loud and clear.  I have witnessed a lot of political drama in France over the past twenty years, but no one has ever gotten dramatic enough to use the “F” word.  Americans, on the other hand, use it all the time.  President Obama used it in his acceptance speech on Nov 6th.  Mitt Romney spit it out regularly on his campaign trail.  And now, it’s here in France.  That “F” word is Family – a new political concept for the UMP and one which is not holding up well at all.
Funny Family Guys
You see, it is common practice for the UMP, the conservative right-wing party, to elect a president, a leader.  The 2 candidates were Francois Fillon, the former Prime Minister under Sarkozy and Jean-Francois Cope, rumoured to be a candidate for the 2017 presidential run.  The elections were close (actually reminded me of the Bush/Gore debacle of 2000) and have not yet been officially settled.  UMPers are taking sides and shooting each other in the foot at the same time.  But they keep talking family – saying they have to find a solution that works for everyone so that the family stays united.  But, the way I see it, this family is getting more dysfunctional by the minute.
How They Got There
Here’s a quick overview of what the problem is.  The vote was close; Mr. Cope said he won before all the votes were counted.  Mr. Fillon protested and continues to protest the

and the winner is ….me!

validity of the election.  Mr. Cope said, “tant pis” (too bad), “I’m the president of the UMP and thank you very much.”  He offered Mr.  Fillon the VP position but that went over like a cold day in hell.
Who’s in Charge Here?
Mr.  Fillon officially filed a court order to review the results.  That is happening today, but the majority of the members of this Commission are friends of Cope.  So, one of Mr. Fillon’s supporters left the meeting – slamming the door behind him.  There is a mediator, Mr. Alain Juppe, the mayor of Bordeaux, who is supposed to sort this all out, but he might just throw in the towel. Now Mr. Fillon is talking about separating and

we’ll just see about that …

starting a new political party with his friends.  And Mr. Cope still says he’s the man in charge of this wonderful family and he will do everything in his power to keep it together.
What about Instant Replay?
A simple way of solving this would be to insist on another election and throw that supposedly-biased Commission out the French window.  It seems fair.  One poll says that 67% of UMP members advocate this step.   It would be a simple enough event to organize; everyone could wipe the slate clean and start over.  And no one should speak up until all the votes are counted.  But both family guys have to agree to this and, only one thing is sure at this point, they are not agreeing on anything.
Clowning Around
As this blog goes to press, I can’t tell you who won since the name-calling, finger-pointing, sulking and whining are still going on and on and on. The only thing I am sure of is that the “F” word doesn’t work in France.  The typical values associated with that word – such as support, love, sacrifice, teamwork – are nowhere to be seen.  In fact, the “F” word has actually turned the whole political scene into a show – a full-fledged, unprecedented circus.   What we need now is for someone to send in the clowns – quickly.  Oh wait, they’re here.

Presidential Speeches in Paris and Chicago – Vive la Difference

Politics Everywhere

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

Obama and his family – up close and personal.

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

Here’s the French President’s girlfriend, close but not too close.

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.

Family Guys
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?)

Happy Endings
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.
Divine Separation
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.”

Mitt Romney and the French Dis-Connection

Presidential Dis-Connection

The US presidential campaign is blowing over to the European side of the pond bringing with it a recurring theme that I can no longer ignore – the French Dis-Connection. It seems that a candidate’s ability to speak French is seen (once again) as a slimy, unpatriotic and subversive act.  John Kerry got tons of negative publicity for being schooled in this romantic language back in 2004 when he lost to George W. Bush.  Maybe that’s why Mitt Romney, who is really into singing his own praises at this point, is not singing a French song.  He never lets France come up in the conversation.  He never talks about speaking about the fact that he speaks French; likes France and even spent some time in France.  I wonder why.

Even back in February of this year, during the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich, one of the more-famous “losers”, paid for an ad calling Romney all sorts of unfavorable names, but left the best for the end with the phrase, “Romney speaks French, just like John Kerry.”  The ad then flashed to John Kerry giving a speech which concludes with the French (actually, Cajun) phrase, “Laissez les bon temps rouler”, or “Let the Good Times Roll.”  There’s a bit of political justice in there since Gingrich’s “good times” ended quite abruptly – in English and in French.

Parlez-Vous Francais?  Mais Non!

Why would speaking a foreign language be a reason not to vote for someone? Is it any language or is it the French?  And why would having a good relationship with a foreign country and appreciating its different culture and way of doing things be seen as a political handicap?  I was brought up to believe that speaking foreign languages was a sign of intelligence.  Do we not want an intelligent President?

I investigated a bit and found out that Mitt is refusing to speak French on camera.  He is making a conscious effort to downplay the darker, “parlez-vous” side of his life.  Back in the winter, he is even accusing Obama of “cozying up to Europe and ignoring American values” – another example of vagueness that tries to equate Europe with socialism, the antithesis of what America stands for.  However, whether he wants to admit it or not, Mitt does have a strong, personal attachment to France.  Let me tell you about it.

Mitt on a Mission    

From 1966–68, Mitt Romney spent 30 months in France (that’s right, 2 and a half years!) on a proselytizing mission for the Mormon Church.  This missionary assignment gave him a deferment from serving active duty in Vietnam.  So, as you can see, while he was converting souls in France, France was giving him an excuse for his own military

Mitt Romney doing his own private “tour de France” during the Vietnam war.

salvation (a win-win operation).  His team was responsible for 200 Mormon baptisms while he was in France – that means about nine conversions a month, not a bad track record for a 21 year old.  (He probably would have converted more Frenchmen in Bordeaux if the Mormon religion allowed its members to drink red wine.)

France was important in Mitt Romney’s life – something to acknowledge and not hide from, right?   Really, who cares if he speaks French or not?   Some Americans dislike the French, but some actually honor them.  A case in point is this year’s Golden Globe awards.  The movie “The Artist” won for best film and best actor.  And that’s a French movie with a French movie star – ah, but I forgot, it’s a silent movie.  The actor doesn’t speak French; he doesn’t speak anything.  Just like Mitt Romney