Thursday, July 05, 2007
Independence Day in France
Ten years ago, I spent the best Independence Day of my life in Paris, France. In fact, I had so much fun, I forgot that it was Independence Day until a French person reminded me of it. What was I doing? I was staying with a French family I had known since 1992 when I started writing to a French girl. Christelle had invited me along to her friend's house. What started as an evening among friends (it was three French guys, Christelle, and myself) and me, the American interloper, ended up to be one of the great experiences of my life. I was shy at first, not sure what they thought of this American guy Christelle brought along. We played a round of an interesting game on a pool table (but wasn't pool), ate raclette (cheese that is melted and poured on vegetables like potatoes and tomatoes), watched "Batman Forever" (en francais, bien sur!), and then played Risk (my favourite game as a teenager). The cards were in French, of course, so they asked me if I could read and understand French, even if I rarely spoke it, much to their consternation.
We had so much fun that we didn't realize that the sun had long since set and was now rising. We had stayed up all night, and that was something I rarely did (it was a regular habit once I started college, however). What I most loved about the experience is that I was the sole American and whatever questions and curiosities they had about America or Americans, I was the "official spokesperson" for America. I know my conservative friends (and enemies) hate that fact, because they don't trust what I have to say about our country...but as I've told people before when I was in the Navy, the best American a foreigner could meet would be a guy like me rather than some ig'nant country boy with a cowboy hat, belt buckle the size of Texas, and an "America is #1" attitude. That type of American (and believe me, there are a number of sailors and Marines who pour into foreign ports everyday with their cliched American country boy outfits) would give foreigners a bad view of Americans. At least when they meet me, they are impressed that an American knows a little about their country and politics to hold his own in a conversation. And the reason why I love to be the sole American ambassador to foreigners, and especially the French, is because I get to disarm them in whatever pre-conceived stereotype they have about Americans. Its a mutually beneficial exchange.
I can't believe a decade has gone by since I was last in Europe and my beloved France. I want so much to tour Europe during the Bush years to hear what they think of our country now and the administration. When I traveled Europe ten years ago, Clinton was popular and well liked. America was admired. It's almost unbelieveable how one president could screw it up so badly, to turn allies into enemies. All that French-hating on the right during the lead up to the Iraq War revealed our ugliest side. After all, the French helped our nation become independent of Great Britain over 200 years ago, yet American conservatives want the French to remain forever indebted because we had liberated them from the Nazis in WWII. What kind of friend is that? No true friend will ever remind another that he owes the person something for a kind act of the past. Yet we do it all the time. Why?
So, this Independence Day, I couldn't help but wish that I was in France to celebrate the holiday. Somehow, being an ocean away from all the nationalistic, jingoistic, patriotism is tolerable when I'm discussing with French people what America means and how I see our country. There's a scene in the film "Jefferson in Paris" where the Marquis de Lafayette and other French aristocrats question Jefferson about slavery. To me, that's the kind of dialogue I relish and why I love the French so much. They keep us honest and that's why so many right-winger Americans hate it. The French won't kiss our collective asses like the Brits or the Israelis and we hate them for it.
Long live the French! Only nine days until they party with their own national holiday, Bastille Day. Bon fetes to all!