|From the American Revolution to today, our histories are irrevocably entwined.|
On occasion it occurs to me that being an “expat” — in my case for more than 25 years — can give one a unique perspective on one’s country of origin. Yesterday was one of those occasions.
For hours we watched the American presidential inauguration and all the attendant festivities on two of France’s all-news television channels. The news commentators and experts on the United States were sometimes giddy in their commentary on the “peculiarly” (but in a good way) American cocktail of tradition, gleeful celebration and major statement symbols woven into the ceremony.
Those symbols: a gay Cuban poet; Beyoncé representing youth; Kelly Clarkson proving that dreams still come true in the land of opportunity; James Taylor, gently harkening back to “the good old days” for Baby Boomers; the Bibles — and oh-la-la, not just one, but two, both rife with past aspirations, present progress and perhaps more hope for the future — the coincidence of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was prescient; Michelle Obama’s support of American fashion designers with multi-cultural backgrounds (business and the United States created through a rich history of immigration and integration), and on it went, the symbols.
It’s no secret that the French often have a love/hate relationship toward North Americans, though not with Canadians of course nor Mexicans either for that matter, but there is unquestionably a prevailing fascination with the United States. Yesterday was however more than that, it was a lovefest.
|Do we like the dress by Jason Wu? I think we do, don’t we? (Not that anyone is asking, but I think the bangs work better with the “flippy” layered style here than the straight locks during the day.)|
Reporters, commentators, historians and other experts heaped praise upon democracy as defined by the United States, all the while spewing out obscure historical data and references. I was enthralled. I was proud.
Some lamented the dry, “stiffness, elite-ness” and not at all an “of the people” feeling of French presidential inaugurations, noting that they had none of the gaiety, openness and celebration that makes the one on the other side of the Atlantic seem like a party for the entire nation. They highlighted the fact that it seemed that Democrats and Republicans set politics aside for the day, something that would be unlikely to occur in France.
|Perhaps more symbols in this single, simple photograph of President Obama taking the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s and Martin Luther King’s Bibles than in any other inauguration.|
They praised the pomp of the official aspects of the day and then went into overdrive on how much they appreciated the parade, the balls, the interaction of President and Mrs. Obama with each other and their daughters. Several male reporters practically swooned over Beyoncé. One admitted it was the high point of his day. Another offered that even the gum-chewing of President Obama was a symbol, “it shows he’s cool,” he said. “It’s probably nicotine gum,” he added.
At one point, spurred on by correspondents reporting back from the inauguration who told their peers at the anchor desk in France that the American press was obsessed with Michelle Obama’s new bangs, the group on this side of the Atlantic took a vote. Women liked the new look, one man abstained, one preferred her hair pre-bangs and the other men mostly thought they worked.
I’m not going anywhere with my story today, except to report from my side an experience that made me proud and happy. France sees the United States as a country of hope and opportunity and it seems that maybe that’s a very good thing for all of us.