It’s Wednesday, May 9, less than 3 days after François Hollande became the French President-Elect in a moment that many, myself included, had dreamed would come. There are many reasons why I supported Hollande, not the least of which is his support for same-sex marriage equality. I am hopeful that under his presidency, the French government will finally recognize the fact that I am married to a French citizen and I’ll be able to apply for a visa on that basis. There are other important reasons for my support, of course; the older I’ve gotten, the more politically liberal I’ve gotten and—yes—I now consider myself a Social Democrat, firmly allied with the interests of the French Left.
If only they seemed more welcoming.
This afternoon, I came across an article in Le Monde, posted on the French newspaper’s Facebook page. I don’t always read the French press—I admit I should do it more often if, for no other reason, than to improve my French skills—but this article caught my eye:
“M. Hollande reste un inconnu ‘socialiste’ pour nombre d’Américains”
(“Mr. Hollande remains an unknown ‘socialist’ for a number of Americans”)
It was an interesting little article, one that focused in part on Americans’ perception of what a Hollande presidency means. Le Monde cited a commentator from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a UC-Berkeley professor of political science who had discussed this issue during a PBS special on Monday evening. The professor, Jonah Levy, noted:
“Aux Etats-Unis, un socialiste n’est pas un réformateur de centre gauche. C’est quelqu’un qui est opposé au système capitaliste et hostile à notre modèle américain.”
“In the United States, a socialist is not a reformer of the center-left. He’s someone who is opposed to the capitalist system and is hostile to our American model.”
That’s a fair characterization, I’d say. It’s political science. It’s an observation about what people think and the labels they use.
The Le Monde article went on to discuss points of friction that might arise between the Obama and Hollande administrations over issues like Hollande’s intention to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan before the end of 2012, and the merits of austerity measures to bolster the European economy. The article finished by pondering whether Obama and Hollande will get along, especially since “the horror of European socialism” will probably figure in the presidential campaign this fall.
Against my better judgment—and to my chagrin—I went on to read the comments posted (almost exclusively by those on the Left) in response to the article on Le Monde‘s Facebook page. It was surprsing … disturbing … infuriating. Even though I’d been reminded by a friend just a week ago that there is a deep, swift current of anti-Americanism on the French Left, I wasn’t prepared for what I read. Maybe that was because I expected well-reasoned commentary that would at least be germane to the topic at hand. Boy, did I have misplaced expectations!
Instead, I read a stream of insulting, sometimes vicious comments calling us Americans a “band of uncultured nags” who should mind our own business. Others obsessed over Americans’ understanding of the world (or lack thereof), especially geography (which really hit a nerve because it’s one of my strong points). We were accused of being unable to locate France on a map or, in a more tangential post, place Buenos Aires on the right continent. (Apparently, Americans prefer to put Argentina in Africa.) Another commentator was more pointed in her criticism of our ignorance of French geography; she was appalled that most Americans would place the French town of Tulle “in” Paris! Quelle horreur ! (Tulle, Hollande’s hometown, is a “city” of some 15,000 souls located in, well, the middle of nowhere, France. Without questioning the credibility of her source, I retorted by asking this commentator if she could, with precision, place Scranton on a map of the United States. By the way, Scranton, the hometown of Joe Biden, is a city five times the size of Tulle with a metro area thirty times the size of Tulle. I thought Chicago would just be too easy.) One commentator even blamed Americans’ fear of the word “socialism” on our misunderstanding of politics in general and our taste for the “easy clichés” of so-called journalists like those of PBS. (Wow, there’s a Frenchman who’s clearly never listened to PBS, or at least the American Right’s characterization of it.) Another commentator just called us fat, uncultured exporters of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. (I certainly hope he doesn’t have a McBaguette and a Coca Normal for lunch tomorrow. The indigestion would certainly kill him.) Thankfully, a few commentators pointed out that such criticisms were hypocritical non-sequiturs at best, one of them defying the critics to identify all 50 U.S. states and their capitals on a blank map. That didn’t deter the wave of nasty diatribe, though.
It was enough to make me feel lost in the middle. Neither here nor there. Unwanted by the Right because I’m a homosexual immigrant. Unwanted by the Left because I’m an “uncultured” American.
I drafted a quick comment, seeking to appeal to reason and invite a bit of decorum, not that it succeeded. I subsequently reworked and elaborated it with an introductory paragraph for my Facebook Wall. I leave you, my dear readers … French, American, or other … Right, Left, or other … with these words:
(I apologize for my French mistakes and for the quality of the English translation since it was written in French to begin with.)
Ce n’est pas que la droite qui sont cons après dimanche soir, c’est clair. L’anti-américanisme dans les commentaires des gauchistes sur un article du Monde posté sur Facebook cet après-midi est écœurant. Au lieu de fêter un grand changement politique avec leurs alliés outre-Atlantiques, ils préfèrent de prendre en gros le peuple américain pour des “incultes notoires” car il y a des Américains qui ne comprennent pas les différences entre nos cultures et nos systèmes politiques. Quel bon commencement !
S’il vous plaît, mes chers amis français de gauche, n’insultez pas le peuple américain, dont un grand nombre vous ont félicités et ont fêté avec de la joie dimanche soir. On a tous nos propres incultes, n’oubliez pas ceux de la France qui étaient nombreux aux urnes le 22 avril. Oui, c’est vrai, ils existent en France aussi, tout comme les Américains qui ne le sont pas. Au moins pour moi, ma devise reste toujours “Vive la France, vive l’Amérique, et vive surtout le changement.” Le reste, c’est à vous.
It’s not just the Right that are jerks after Sunday evening. That’s clear. The anti-Americanism in the comments by some Leftists to a Le Monde article posted on Facebook this afternoon is sickening. Instead of celebrating a great political change with their transatlantic allies, they prefer to characterize the entire American people as the “notorious uncultured” because there are some Americans who don’t understand the differences between our cultures and our political systems. What a great start!
Please, my dear French friends of the Left, don’t insult the American people, of which a great number congratulated you and celebrated with joy Sunday evening. We all have our own “uncultured.” Don’t forget those of France who were numerous at the polls on April 22. Yes, it’s true—they exist in France, too, just as Americans who aren’t uncultured also exist. At least for me, my motto still remains “Long live France, long live America and, above all, long live change.” The rest is up to you.
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved