Thursday, 6 November 2008


Foreword: I know that I am making some sweeping generalizations about the French and I do appologize if I offend anyone.

Politics and money: these are two subjects that are often taboo at a French table.

People often ask me about American salaries. But it's often in a way that makes me talk about my own salary. Salary is not something French people like to discuss with others because many French people are suspicious and jealous. It's somehow engrained in the culture. Everyone's a potential thief in France so lock your doors, don't leave anything visible in your car and don't ever let a stranger see into your front hall because it could be the taxman checking to see if you lied about having a TV so you wouldn't have to pay your annual TV tax.

Politics is a rather strange taboo since the French are so passionate about being right (and self-righteous). For instance, we know that my in-laws are liberal but they never told us who they voted for for President even though we know they never would have voted for Sarko. Same for my husband. When I asked him who he voted for, knowing full well it was Royal, he hesitated. So this American election year in France has been full of French people breaking taboos. Granted, I went on TV and said I support Obama, have been wearing a button for a couple weeks, have an Obama-Biden sticker on my bike, a poster at my desk...need I go on? But still, in meetings, people have no problem asking me about my political preference, assuming I'm for Obama. And what if I wasn't?

I had this email from a nice professional contact I've met twice in my inbox this morning :

Dear Reb,

I want to congratulate you for the interview you gave on the regional channel, but moreover for this great election allowed by the people of United States you are a part of! It is really full of hope for many people in the world like the ones of my family.

God bless the United States of America! Kind regards, X

In stores, where I'm a regular or not, the merchants ask me if I'm American and who I'll be voting for. At work meetings, people ask me if Obama will win, what I think of W, what I think of Iraq, why I moved to France. And somehow it's ok to talk about MY political choices because I'm foreign. And now it's also finally ok to talk about race. I went to see my doctor (whom I adore) and he says to me, 'if I were American, I'd vote for Obama just because he's black." WHAT? In fact, what he explained makes some sense: that Obama is more representative of the American people than an old, rich, white man.

Somehow being foreign negates the taboos. Which makes me wonder : does one taboo negate another? Like a double negative?

Anyway, I am overjoyed, elated, hopeful and yes, no longer embarrassed to be American! I can hold my head up high and hope that Obama will successfully repair damaged relationships, forging friendships where W made enemies.


Andi said...

I experienced the same double-standard when I was living in France. My husband is French but seems to by atypical when it comes to those two topics so he ends up being an anomoly when we are with other French people. I was in France for the 2004 election and went through the same thing at the office. I am came back to the US in 2006 but was still immensely involved in the French presidential campaign, but could not get much out of my French friends. They knew I was pro-Sarko, but I NEVER knew who they voted for!

Beth said...

I have to agree! It seems that it's open season on Americans when it comes to money and politics, but Zoroaster forfend that you ask a French person his/her income or voting preferences!

Great post!

NewWrldYankee said...

Funny enough, those many Europeans I know are the same - especially with the questions, Hungarians just do not seem to care - at all. Maybe they are too morose with their own internal issues to care about America. On the other hand, I've gotten random high-5s all over the place from Europeans, so yay!

Elisabeth said...

Very interesting comments about the French and politics. I had never really thought that hard about that issue but, now that I think of it, even though I do know for whom my brother voted in the last French presidential election, I don't know for whom any other member of my family voted.

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