Today is Sunday and I’m relaxing in my pajamas, watching the daily American special on the channel France2 about three French citizens who have moved to the U.S. to pursue their dreams of singing, rodeo and architecture.
The French woman is auditioning for a gig to sing The Star Spangled Banner at an event, and the French reporter’s question is “Why is the hymn important to Americans?”
To me, as to the American producer who answers his question, it’s obvious: we learn it from a young age, we sing it at school, and we sing it at every sporting event (even at the elementary school level) or other large gatherings. This display of patriotism fascinates my French friends because in their country, the national hymn is used sparingly, for international sports games, for their national holiday, or other important national events. A teacher told me that it’s not used at school or at school events because of their rules about separation of church and state.
Even if they are sometimes baffled by strong American patriotism, the way in which they are presenting the American elections this week is almost just as dramatic, in-depth and enthusiastic as it is in the States.
This week, France is focusing on America.
On television, several stations are hosting “American Week;” some are showing a variety of documentaries, talk shows and investigations on American culture and history, some related to the election and some not.
During a walk downtown yesterday, all of the front pages of the all of the newspapers at a stand were American-themed: photos of Old Glory and the Statue of Liberty covered with headlines (in French) such as “Elections: The Final Push,” “The Election As Seen by Americans” and “How Can Obama and Romney Mathematically Win?” (It always makes me smile a little when reporters take the time to explain the concept of a “swing state” or “electoral votes,” as the Electoral College is an unfamiliar process in France… although to be fair it puzzles many Americans too!).
Online publications such as LeMonde are promoting special offers such as “Special Election Quiz: Win and Fly to the US!” http://www.lemonde.fr/elections-americaines/jeu/2012/10/30/quiz-special-elections-jouez-et-envolez-vous-pour-les-etats-unis_1781168_829254.html.
The FNAC, a three-floor book and electronic store downtown (think Best Buy and an enormous Barnes&Noble combined) has draped a huge American flag across their section on the U.S. and are promoting books about Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and guides to the American electoral system (One book, a French version of “The USA for Dummies,” made me laugh: Chapter 16 is entitled “The Automobile, My Love” as French people definitely rely on public transportation way more than Americans and are fascinated by our attachment to cars).
It’s fun to see the way the French perceive our culture and when I watch the reports and read the newspapers in French, the images and photos seem so familiar. Yet at the same time I feel very much that I’m seeing my country from the other side of the thousands of miles of ocean between us.