Politics and food

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Last night, Gui invited a friend from work to celebrate America's triumph with us. His friend, Louis, is an intern from Senegal who's studying business at a school in France. We exchanged enchantés and sat down for a coupe of champagne to discuss the new president and our respective countries. Louis's never been to the States and he was as curious as a six-year-old about my home country and life there. When I first arrived in France, I was a little naive to the idea that many Parisians hadn't ever visited the US, and it struck me as absurd when an 18-year-old girl in my French class told me she'd never seen a black person until she came to France. I think that's when I realized how sheltered of a life I'd really been living. Sure, I'm far more cultured than my grandparents ever were, but I've never learned so much about the world as I have since arriving here.

After explaining to Louis that subways don't exist in every major US city, that nearly everyone drives a car and that people can actually pick up an entire meal from a drive-thru for less than 5 bucks like you see on TV, we got on the topic of what being American is all about. He wanted to know about this patriotism idea that he so frequently hears about when Americans speak of their country. What Louis found so fascinating about being American is that regardless of heritage, religion, or skin color, American citizens (generally speaking) identify themselves as Americans first and foremost. It's the kind of pride that France tends to shun, and Gui gave an example of waving the French flag at a demonstration to be something that many in his country would see as divisive. France has a history of problems concerning the treatment of immigrants and the acceptance of other cultures and religions. I find many of the government's answers to a divided country to be absurdly backwards. I understand that as a secular country, provisions must be taken to ensure religion does not play a role in policymaking, but most of these provisions simply ignore that religion exists altogether. Take the headdress and cross-wearing laws, for example. Disallowing someone to express themselves freely for fear of how others might discriminate is tolerating discrimination. Let's not waive our country's flag because we might be flaunting our national pride too much and don't want to offend any immigrants. Let's just tell everyone with dark hair to dye it blond because, let's be honest, people will discriminate. I know there's a ton of French history that needs to be considered when taking great steps to unite this country, but it seems to me that the politicos running the country today aren't moving fast enough in the right direction.

I don't want to turn this into a political blog - at all - so, take this as a simple culmination of my thoughts about a very interesting conversation I had last night. After polishing off the last drop of champagne, we headed out for an authentic American dinner which required waiting in the cold for an hour first. We all ordered the bacon cheeseburger and fries, I had a vanilla milkshake (can't believe they didn't have strawberry - What-A-Burger, here I come!) and a side of apparently, what French people are fooled into believing is good ranch dressing (it's on my list of things to bring back). Even though I was the only one at the table who ate my entire meal with my fingers, my nostalgic pangs were more than satisfied, and I felt a little closer to home.

Tomorrow, we're off to Caen to visit our dear friends once again. Tuesday's a holiday, so in typical French fashion, Gui's off from work on Monday, too, and that means a long weekend in Normandy for us! We expect to eat and drink incredibly well while we're there and I anticipate much more champagne in my very near future - all of France is celebrating American democracy, and hey, who am I to argue?

My vanilla milkshake.


The lovely Louis.

The lovely us.


Zelda said...

You know what I remember from when I studied abroad? I remember having more political discussions than I ever had in America. Every young person I met was eager to discuss politics..especially American politics. Granted it was 2003, so the Iraq war was still fairly new, but I was shocked. Unless you know people have the same view as you, you don't really discuss politics much here in the states...well unless its election time...but even then people are rather reserved.

Anyway, I thought those discussions I had with students from France, Algeria, & Tunisia were some of the most educational of my entire study abroad experience.

Oh, and I've totally been to Breakfast in America!! I think we went to the one in the Marais. I'm such a dork...I get so excited when you talk about places I've been before!

Dan said...

When I went to McDonald's in France they had vanilla and strawberry shakes but not chocolate. I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.

Candy said...

i am emailing you an awesome photo...i think it's blogworthy. ahem.

Milk Jam said...

have fun in Normandy!!! :-)
try the cider, galettes, teurgoule, and anything with cream, butter and apples... YUM :-)

Ksam said...

Have you tried their banana milkshake yet?? YUM!! And I'd been wondering how their ranch & honey mustard was...now I know to at least cross ranch off my list!

Mathieu said...

Hi Sarah.

Gui is right with his French flag example, but I think the way we perceive patriotism in France has actually nothing to do with immigrants or the acceptance of other cultures and religions.

To put it in a nutshell, I would say it's the World War II and the Vichy regime in particular that changed the way we look at patriotism. It may seem so far away in time, but it's not (my grandparents lived through that as teenagers). The point is, during this period patriotism has been used and promoted by the Vichy regime, for the worst. So even today, there is this idea in French minds that apart from national celebrations, exhibited patriotism is kind of suspect, that in a way when you're "too proud" of your country and people, you're just one small step away from thinking you're superior, and then obviously that other people are inferior... You know what dreaded consequences can easily follow this reasoning.

Mathieu said...

Oops... The previous post was supposed to be a "preview", not a "publish" :P

I just wanted to make it clear that I'm not saying patriotism is bad in itself, it's just that in France we have in our recent history an example of how it can go really bad.

Headdress and cross-wearing laws is a completely different subject, but enough politics for today. :) I'm sure we will have the opportunity to discuss that later anyway. ;)

misplaced texan said...

zelda: I feel the same way when I recognize places on your blog!! :) And I agree, it's crazy how much more often I discuss politics with strangers than I usually do in the States.

dan: Gui was as shocked as you were when he got the same response at McDo after asking for a chocolate shake - it is pretty weird that they don't stock that popular flavor, especially in France!

milkjam: Thanks! I'm responding to my comments late, but we had such a good time. I wanna move there!! Wahh!

Ksam: The banana shake was tempting, but I wanted to be safe with the vanilla before going all wild and crazy and being disappointed. I'll definitely be trying it next time!

Mathieu: That's a really interesting observation, so thanks a ton for sharing it. It makes perfect sense, and it's true that French people seem much more informed and ingrained in their long history than most Americans. Plus, our history is all about establishing a country of immigrants and celebrating our pride in squashing our ties with a powerful and dated monarchy. And, I think that's what we continue to celebrate as time goes on. Thanks again for sharing.

TEXAS SARAH. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.