Victoria Jelinek


XXI: Book Club

“My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.” Jane Austen

Geen-Tea-2I went to ‘Book Club’ this evening. Was loath to go after last night out at two bars with all the drinking, smoking and haphazard talk. Have been ‘twitchy’ and irritable all day as a result. My poor family. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d had one drink more than my ration. Which was already really hard, given that we were out for hours. Self-recrimination ‘cause I’d been visibly irritated and uncomfortable with the drinking and smoking around me, and that’s not nice for those out to have a good time. Self-recrimination because I should know better than to put myself in the line of temptation. And yet. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been near-to-tears all day. And, well, ‘Book Club’ is normally a large group of women in what is essentially a ‘book swap,’* drinking a lot of wine and chattering.

So I went late. And, I went only ‘cause it was a bonafide friend hosting it at her house and I wanted to support her. I brought a thermos of green tea and ginger to drink and in order to keep my hands busy and to keep me drinking SOMETHING while, ostensibly, everyone else drank copious amounts of wine. But it wasn’t like it usually is. For one thing, it was just our host, a dear friend of hers, another American who, while I may not agree with her politics, is an avid reader and I trust her judgment on books, as well as our host’s twelve-year-old daughter who is also a reader, and who makes short stop-action films. They were finishing dinner when I arrived, and the daughter had made a peach cobbler. They also weren’t drinking alcohol, just Perrier, and later, tea, so I didn’t feel tempted or preoccupied with others drinking. Best of all? The conversations were dynamic and interesting. We talked about films, and books we’d recently read, and television programs – both in French and English – and we talked about curricula – both French and American – and we talked about travel, and we talked about exercise ‘fads’ sweeping the globe. It was a good evening. Nothing was discussed in too much depth, as I would generally like to do, but, I am, arguably, too serious.  Ultimately, it was an entertaining evening.

What a happy surprise! There’s a moral here I’m sure. Perhaps it’s that I need to only hang out with people who enjoy talking about subjects I also enjoy talking about? Even if that means I am not as social as I generally like to be. There are several people in the valley whose company I find engaging. Perhaps it’s that I can’t be in bars? I suppose it’s like a junkie going to a shooting gallery. Certainly, I can’t be in them for too long. In my previous homes – Portland, New York, Los Angeles, London – I would have discussed the subjects we discussed this eve, such as literature, film, culture, education (and, ideally, some politics!) every time I met up with friends. However, perhaps in those cities it’s more obvious to find more people and situations in which to do so. I mean, my coterie of friends in each of the aforementioned places were filmmakers, writers, painters, musicians, artists, and conversational skill is highly valued as a source of creativity and collaboration. Moreover, these types of people are generally more expressive. Whereas where I live now, people are outdoorsmen. Mountain people. They like to climb, hike, ski, and maintain their fitness in the outdoors, preferably at altitude. That’s their passion and their focus. Not ‘wrong,’ just not me. While I appreciate the mountains, I am claustrophobic in them, preferring the sea always (“Homme libre, toujours tu chériras la mer”). As a result of both the environment and the community’s subsequent interests in general, I’m often self-conscious, frustrated, and isolated here.

More so now that I’m trying to substantially reduce my drinking, smoking, and drug-taking after 33 years of ‘caning’ it. Additionally, the social life I’ve primarily known here is centered on boozy lunches, afternoons, and dinners…at restaurants and bars…with those that flock to and spend a lot of time in them. However, for whatever reason, tonight I made the happy discovery that while the people and opportunities like this evening might be few-and-far between, there ARE, indeed, situations like tonight. I’ve experienced them here before. Evenings in which I will not spend the entire time ‘clock watching,’ leaning on, or ‘clucking’ for my ‘crutches,’ and can, instead, enjoy what I perceive to be good company. Is this a new direction? It could be. It should be. Is it evidence of a whole new me? Perhaps not. But, perhaps, it is a peek at what the future could be like here, for the remaining years I am here, and that’s a relief from the bleak perspective I’ve been viscerally feeling for the last couple of weeks.

*We don’t read the same book and then talk about it like a traditional “Book Club” does. It’s for Anglophone women to have a supply of reading material without having to buy books, which is a great idea in theory.

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XV: The European Elections 2019

I have long maintained that Russia has a long range plan to “bury the West” and it’s working (Brexit, Trump, US Tariffs, oil industry interests over clean energy interests, ‘dark money’ to campaigns of Le Pen, Salvini, hacking of Macron’s offices prior to his win).

Financing Assad’s war in Syria = refugees to Europe = opportunities for right wing politicians to rally their populaces to anti-immigration and Euro skeptic beliefs. And now, with the European Elections on the horizon, populations have bought into this hateful, fearful rhetoric and are poised to vote for these right-wing nationalists who are the antithesis of what the European Union symbolizes and who will undermine all of the great work the European Union has accomplished. Have voters learned NOTHING from the debacle of Brexit and Trump?

We ARE stronger together.

Here’s a reminder of all that the EU has given us, and that we take for granted (obviously) each day:

Je soutiens depuis longtemps que la Russie a un plan à long terme pour “enterrer l’Occident” et que cela fonctionne (Brexit, Trump, les tarifs américains, les intérêts de l’industrie pétrolière avant les intérêts de l’énergie propre, la “monnaie noire” aux campagnes de Le Pen, Salvini, le piratage de Macron avant sa victoire).

Financement de la guerre d’Assad en Syrie = réfugiés en Europe = opportunités pour les politiciens de droite de rallier leur population à des convictions anti-immigration et sceptiques vis-à-vis de l’euro. Et maintenant, avec les élections européennes à l’horizon, les populations ont adhéré à cette rhétorique odieuse et craintive et sont sur le point de voter pour ces nationalistes de droite qui sont l’antithèse de ce que l’Union européenne symbolise et qui vont saper tout le travail accompli. Les électeurs ont-ils appris rien de la débâcle du Brexit et de Trump? Nous sommes plus forts ensemble.

Voici un rappel de tout ce que l’UE nous a donné et que nous tenons pour acquis (évidemment) chaque jour:

what EU has done for us.jpg large copy 2



X: Call Me Old Fashioned

An excerpt from a letter to a friend today:

Prawn & avocado cocktailThank you my dear. Always.

I remember a friend who is a public defender in my home state (another thankless, hard job) telling me that he felt that it often feels like you’re rolling a boulder up a hill over-and-over again in an effort to help humanity, or at least to stave off its inevitable decline. However, if you CAN roll the boulder up the hill, you have a moral obligation to do so.

Which reminds me, I watched Macron give a (long) speech in response to the Yellow Vest protests and at the conclusion of a two-month series of ‘national debates’ in which he had been traveling around France meeting people in small towns in order to hear their views and complaints. I felt like weeping: his grasp of the complicated conceptual elements that make societies function, to thrive, are astounding. And his knowledge of the tedious, practical details of governance are impressive (can you imagine Trump doing this?!). He had notes, but he would ‘go off’ on tangents, addressing each-and-every point (the growing sense that governments seem inaccessible to the general public, for example), and explaining WHY he would not fight for one thing or another (blank votes, for example). I felt like weeping because I thought that I’m so impressed and relieved that there ARE politicians out there like him that DO know something about governing (history, sociology, law, economics, geography, rhetoric, etc.), and are showing accountability by the mere fact that they’re acknowledging the grievances and worries of their citizens; that these leaders seem to be SO few-and-far between, making someone like Macron a surprise; but it should be the standard we hold ALL politicians to! And I also felt like weeping because I know that in general the French don’t like him (they think he’s arrogant and a friend of big money  because of his background) and will consequently vote him out in the next election…

I fear, too, for the upcoming European elections, where cynical far-right politicians are exploiting people’s ignorance, impotence and anger – in France, Hungary, Austria, and Italy, for example, where they are promoting anti-immigrant and euro skeptic views – and these political parties will likely gain power in the EU parliament.

Why can’t people learn from history? Or even the recent history of the USA and England and the deteriorating state they’re in culturally and practically?!

That said, Spain did NOT vote for the far-right party that was promoting guns in every household, thank goodness. Hope lives another day. (Even as the far-right party there now has access to parliamentary power – a terrifying global phenomena akin to global politics in the 1930’s).

Am going to watch some good TV programming now and pour myself a large glass of wine. Finished watching “Fleabag” season 2 last night – breathtakingly excellent!

And excellence, to me, in any realm, is like ‘god’ (for want of a better word) – a raison d’être.

Love to you, my excellent friend, v.



December 18, 2018 VI – Brexit talk

“No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses.” Vladimir Lenin

Brexit SimplifiedI went to see Three Men in a Pub the other day in town. They’re three English men who create podcasts about current events that are aptly recorded in pubs. The topic for the evening was Brexit. It was held in an imitation of an Irish pub. Despite having lived in France for ten years, and knowing many of the expatriate community even by sight, as I looked around at the room, I didn’t recognize a single Brit present. There seemed to be none of the families who have homes here and children in local schools. Instead, the room was full of men who were drinking a lot of beer. There were four women, including me and the barmaid (who exclaimed loudly to a customer, “I don’t know what this is about! I don’t know a single thing about politics!” I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t be proudly broadcasting that these days love – it makes you look foolish. But, then again, perhaps, that was the point?”). Unfortunately, there was only one of the three men from the podcast, but he bravely outlined the argument against Brexit and the activism that he and his colleagues have been doing in response to the 2016 referendum. I’ll recount what he said, as well as recreate the environment in the pub as well as I can from the notes I scrawled over the course of the evening:

There is nothing grown or manufactured in the UK that can’t be made elsewhere more cheaply. Most folks don’t realize that Spain takes the UK’s garbage. The Welsh farmers who almost unanimously voted for Brexit don’t realize that Europe can find sheep elsewhere. Moreover, the tariff for Welsh lamb is currently 0%, but with a no trade deal, it will rise to 40%. Great Britain can’t feed itself. It’s possible that the UK could create 75% of the food needed to feed its population, but not the rest. 60% of Great Britain’s overall trade is with the EU. Currently, a single ship has 60k containers on it, and with the UK exiting the EU, each ship and each container on it will need to be checked by customs authorities in Europe. Meanwhile, there isn’t enough space to safely store the goods – particularly perishable goods, while the respective authorities check the shipments, nor are there finances to hire the man power to do this. As a matter of fact, Amazon (as in Jeff Bezos’s company) bought much of the warehouse space left in the UK over the last few years, and with the inability to export to Europe or elsewhere soon, the UK will need the space to store goods and Amazon will be right there to charge a fee for the service.

1.7 TRILLION dollars in trade agreements with 46 countries will be eliminated once the UK is out of the EU. To get back into these agreements, 45 of the countries have to say “Yes” to the UK, and Moldova has already said “No” to the UK joining. By leaving the EU, the UK is pulling out of 759 trade agreements – and by pulling out of these 759 trade agreements, those holding the agreements will sue the UK because they’ll want their money back for investment not realized. Recreating 759 trade agreements will be a “complete palaver.” The biggest hope is a trade deal with India or Paraguay in order to avert a 4% knock on GDP per year, which is “hilarious, given their respective situations.” The government and Leavers claim a trade deal with the USA is “in the works.” At this, the host rolled his eyes and then asked the crowd the likelihood that anything salient would come from that – at least anytime soon – given the man who’s currently in the White House. Leaver hopes that the commonwealth will agree to trade deals with the UK have “little promise” because the commonwealth is poor. In fact, putting all their wealth together, there are less financial possibilities in trade with all of them than through trade with a single country such as the UK, France, or Germany.

“Not everyone who voted to exit is racist, but everyone who’s slightly racist voted to Leave.” Moreover, a referendum is “advisory”– it shouldn’t be taken as legally binding. If a “regulatory election” had happened instead of a referendum, there would have been another election because of all the “irregularities.” For example, what is the source of all the money the Leave campaign had? What part did Cambridge Analytica play in propaganda efforts? There have been 45 years of peace throughout Europe and now this. Putin and Trump want to destabilize Europe and Europeans are falling for it. Already Poland, Hungary, Italy and France (of recent) have strong right-wing movements that want to see their respective countries pull out of the EU. Even so, the Remain campaign garnered 48% of the vote and they were “asleep,” with “shitty leaders,” providing “shitty information,” and there wasn’t a single leader that was popular, nor were any of the Remain activities organized. However, if a referendum was held now, “It’d be another story altogether,” because Brits are actually aware of what the consequences of leaving the EU are. According to the deal that Teresa May has recently negotiated, Brits may be able to stay and live in one country, even retire in that country, but they won’t be able to move to another country or do trade in another country without that country’s permission. The politicians are placating people rather than educating them about the facts.

Adding to the melee, Brits aren’t willing to talk about religion or politics, so no one is talking with each other. A no-deal with the EU means no trade deals with anyone (a few angry, drunk men began muttering that this information is “absolutely fucking false”). The World Trade Organization provides “basic deals” only. In Geneva recently, regardless of whether there is a deal or not, he discovered there would be 12-18 months for the agricultural production in the UK to survive. (At this point, men starting interrupting and arguing with him, and with each other, whilst a fat, greying long-haired English man squished my leg against the bar where I was sitting with a bar stool that he was leaning on for support and didn’t hear my squeal due to his inebriation and his focus on the increased tension in the room. I pushed him physically aside and he didn’t notice).

Before the ‘one man in the pub’ could continue, several men started openly and aggressively arguing with him and with each other. Their arguments were along the lines that farmers in the UK would “Rise to the occasion” and create more agriculture “If needed…” they’d “certainly” rise to the challenge of needing to produce food and trade for the British people (ever wonder why it is that the English seem to be the only ones that say they’re “British?” The Irish and Scots don’t generally use this, opting, instead, to say they’re “Irish” or “Scottish” respectively). There were statements called out that the UK “loses” 140 million a year in subsidies to the EU, to which the speaker replied, “Excuse me sir, but the UK gains much more in subsidies annually…” but he was cut off by more grumbling proclamations straight out of the Leave campaign’s playbook. The “Q & A” that the speaker then proposed essentially involved questions and statements surrounding economic tourism: one man, a builder, worked in Spain, then Italy for another season, and now in France, what would happen to him? Another works as a van transfer driver and is “hoping for the best” regarding Brexit, that he can come out to France “every once in awhile to ski and work…maybe apply for a temporary visa…” (I smothered a chuckle at this, knowing how difficult it is to receive visas to work and live in a given country). The ‘conversation’ then became more unruly, fuelled by beer and testosterone. There were no questions and answers, just men vehemently asserting that the “cost” of being in Europe was much greater than leaving, that the “independence” that the UK will now have outside of the EU is much greater than the dependency they had while in it. (It was grimly amusing to me, too, because before each of these statements, the respective men would begin by saying, “I didn’t vote to leave…BUT…” and then accompanying the aforementioned statements, they argued about the need for an “independent parliament,” and “no more back breaking subsidies paid to Europe,” and less “problems” with the “threat of terrorism” by refugees). An Irish guy reiterated what the speaker had said about the trade options facing the UK after Brexit, then pontificated for a bit about its being “normal” in Ireland for this sort of “political nonsense.” The same men who had been openly snorting and sneering at the  information about what the trade deals meant for the UK, were acting as orators at this point and answering questions from the room put to the speaker, who was too polite to cut them off. A few men, always beginning their statements with “And I’m not for Brexit…” went on about how the referendum was “democratic” and that it was “a democratic process” that “needs to be respected.”

At this point, the speaker attempted to focus their contentiousness and get them back ‘on side,’ by saying something about being “banned” from the USA in an attempt to get the audience on board with a common enemy. Meanwhile, the folks around me began giving each other advice about how to stay in a European country, “Get a residence card right now…it’s good for ten years…” One member of the group said that if you apply for a French passport, you’re “automatically” allowed to stay while it’s being processed, to which another replied, “That would be good, ‘cause I don’t know which country I want to go to next.” Another group around me bragged that they still pay their taxes in the UK despite having lived in France for a few years, and that they’ll “just” go back to UK if they need anything just like they always do, and if necessary, they’ll work in the black. (I again wondered where all the Brit folks were who have homes, who have children here who go to school, who pay their taxes in France — sic, as I know that many Brits do not pay French income taxes. They will be effected more than these single men renting apartments if they have to leave, sell their homes, uproot their families, move their pets…).

The speaker again gained control of the room. He said that the UK is an aging population and without immigrants, there aren’t the youth necessary to work and pay taxes. That there are 180k vacancies in the NHS right now, so the NHS will have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries, where corruption and credibility is an issue, “especially with medicine,” to provide doctors and nurses. The same applies with teachers – there are a “raff of vacancies” throughout the UK for teachers, and, again, “We’ll have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries to fill these posts.” (I then couldn’t hear the speaker because the people next to me were discussing what they had for dinner. A woman in their party complained that if she had known she’d be “forced” to listen to “political talk” then she would have stayed at home and watched telly. On the other side of me, there was a ‘discussion’ between men about their various misinformed ideas about what it “really” means for trade, as opposed to what the speaker had said, and how to “dodge” being expelled from the country). A man received ‘the floor’ from the speaker and said that he’s not a Brexiter, “of course,” but he has issues with an EU army, EU regulations, and the lack of a representative in the EU parliament, but he enjoys being in the EU “because we can be.” (He also enjoyed speaking into the microphone a lot during the Q & A. I didn’t hear what the speaker’s response to these erroneous assertions were because the barmaid was laughing very loudly at something a man had said to her). Another guy took the microphone and was talking about patriotism, a “duty” to country and “identity,” to which the speaker responded blandly that we all feel an affinity to our “home country.”

The speaker then took the opportunity to say that the buildings, spaces, parks, etc. in his hometown of Liverpool have all been regenerated and renovated thanks to EU money. To this a man called out that the “Beatles yellow submarine money” (Festival Park) was sponsored by the UK parliament, and not the EU “by the way!” The speaker then talked about a 1947 agreement made by the UK to take refugees, and the fact that the UK did help start war in Syria in the first place. Now, there are no refugees ‘streaming’ into the UK, as the propaganda will have you believe, but there is rising racism. He told us about how he had travelled to Syria and spoke with refugees who are teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, and who just want to stay home but it’s too dangerous. (Behind me the men talked about how all the ‘Paki’s’ can just go home. How this guy-the speaker- is a “tosser” because he thinks he knows everything but he hasn’t even mentioned the war in Yemen).

I decided it was time to leave. I supported something different happening in my village. I tried a local beer that was okay and I don’t generally like beer. I have material for a ‘background flavour’ piece on a hot topic that I’ll write up for my blog. And, I see first-hand the men and women who supported Brexit, because these are a micro example of them – a lot of very strong opinions, doggedly held onto in order to support overall constructs of reality, and despite their constructions lack of factual fortification. They’re not concerned with an overall picture of global events, or political and social foresight into how it effects societies as a whole – they’re concerned with how it affects them individually. A problem that we increasingly observe throughout the world, as we see the rise in nationalism and right wing fervour in many countries, and despite these same elements claiming to be collectively oriented. I find myself feeling that it’s an affront that these ‘secret’ Brexiters are in France profiting from the country. I comfort myself that hopefully France is gaining some income from them, even if it’s just their bar bills at pseudo English pubs.

Having spent 13 years in England, and another two years in Scotland, I familiarized myself with pub culture in Great Britain (and then some). My opinion is that one only begins to know a Brit after spending a half-decade or more in their company. Hence the popularity of their pubs and the amount of alcohol they generally consume. I believe it’s in a pub that the very stratified society fractures, the politeness, the ‘chin up’ stoicism dissolves and, in my opinion, it’s where the greatest sense of humour in the world is on display. While this evening at the “Brexit debate,” provided me with further evidence of my assumption that it’s in a pub that the English relax and become more equitable, it did not support my belief that it’s also where their humour shines. Perhaps it’s as Ricky Gervais notes in his stand up show Humanity: “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean that you’re right about the political opinions you hold; offense is about feelings and feelings are personal. Politics isn’t.” Or it shouldn’t be. But what Brexit has revealed is that there are very deeply entrenched feelings in the UK about what it means to be British and also historic feelings of suspicion towards Europe that are embedded into that identity.

***Just saw this article in The Guardian newspaper today about Brexit & ski resort jobs (though I DO believe there’s a two year transition period after March 2019, so nothing really changes till 2021?):

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/18/brexit-thousands-ski-resort-jobs-at-risk?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other



The Alpine Museum Chamonix

“O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Percy Bysshe Shelley

Alpine MuseeI went to the Musee Alpine in Chamonix yesterday. I had been reluctant to go, given that I don’t like the cold nor winter sports and figured this is what the museum is composed of. But, I went, and it’s good that I did.

The guide enunciated throughout her tour, was charming, informed, and a bonafide Chamonard to boot. What I discovered is that the name of Chamonix had changed perpetually due to boundaries being re drawn and small disputes between nearby communes. For example, St. Gervais had attempted to ‘claim’ Mont Blanc rather than Chamonix, despite its being miles away. And Turin had been a part of the Haute Savoie.

What is particularly interesting to me is how the village evolved over the last two hundred years. It was once solely inhabited by a very rural, agricultural people who were afraid of the mountains, believing them “cursed” by demons. I understand this – at the top of the mountains in the winter the howling of the wind is akin to what monsters might sound like. The residents scratched out a living during the six months of temperate weather with agricultural pursuits, then spent six months making garments out of wool, fur and wood. Now, it’s a place in which most of the residents capitalize on tourism, making it their primary source of income, from becoming mountain guides, ski instructors, and certified sportsmen, to the many shops and restaurants (only really) open during the winter and summer seasons. Additionally, many of the Chamonards have sold homes that have been in their families for generations to the wealthy French, Italians and Swiss who like to holiday in Chamonix.

Indeed, during the turn of the 18th and 19th century, Chamonix was much like Biarritz in that European aristocrats visited in droves, and as a consequence huge, grand hotels were built to accommodate them. These were later destroyed or turned into something else when the same aristocrats went elsewhere and France passed laws to give all French people the opportunity to go on holidays themselves.

From the late 18th century, Chamonix’s mountains also became a site for scientific study during a type of ‘enlightenment’ age. The stories of climbing Mont Blanc are astounding in their arduousness and danger. It’s no wonder the grumpy Jacques Balmat, who made the first ascent of Mont Blanc in the mid 1700’s, wearing wool and leather, is so famous around the valley. This eventually led to the arrival in droves of Victorians to Chamonix for ‘the mountain cure’ and glorious retreat for alpine sports, further cementing its designation as a tourism hot spot.

The culmination of the museum visit is a room that holds a series of paintings of the Mer de Glace, created by various visiting painters over the epochs. What one observes while looking at all of these paintings of the same subject, is that despite each of the paintings being almost identical in their vantage point, each of them looks slightly different. This is arguably not only a matter of perception, but also a metaphor for the dynamic aspects of the mountains and nature itself.

 

 

 



December 11, 2018 IV – Identity

My identity was a big issue when I was a teenager, and I had a lot of questions, like: ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who do I belong to?’ But when I was still quite young, I decided that belonging is a tough process in life, and I’d better say I belonged to myself and the world rather than belonging to one nationality or another. Hiam Abbass

thirdcultureI feel great sentiment for the land in which I was born, the USA. I feel pride that I’m from the state of Oregon, and I appreciate my childhood there as something rather exotic to my present reality, and I’m grateful for it. But I also feel sentimental about the other countries I’ve lived in – Scotland, England, France – and empathy with other countries that I’ve known well, Denmark and Germany. Each of them in their unique ways approximates my notion of “home,” which I define as where you feel a sense of familiarity and love. However, I don’t feel nationalistic about any of these countries, meaning that I don’t believe one is ‘better’ than another, or feel prouder with my affiliation with one country over another–I appreciate each of them in different ways, just as I’m also critical of each of them. Even so, I’m identified as an American – with all of its constructs and connotations – everywhere I go because my accent defines who I am for others. This, despite my peripatetic background, or the fact I’m also a naturalized French woman, and even as I don’t share the values, ideas, and desires most Americans have faith in, such as the American Dream.

That said, any latent Yankee tendencies in me – forthrightness, warmth, enthusiasm, and the propensity to vomit my life story upon meeting someone – came to the fore when I moved to France. Over thirteen years in London, with no American friends, had prompted me to be more polite, more discreet, more modest, and dryer in my humour. In France, being direct, even confrontational, and more opinionated, seems appreciated by the natives. I’m not sure if this dormant Yankee in me came to the fore because I moved from England, a country in which I shared the language, to being a complete outsider linguistically in France and, therefore, I reverted back to my American manners once England was not influencing me daily. Or whether American and French comportment compatibility, as well as a shared, allied history, instinctively felt more complementary than English and French. What I have discovered over the last nine years in France, as I observe how people speak to me, or behave towards me, is that a person’s perception of an American and the USA, can loosely be classified into four distinct types:

The first are those that are automatically and openly hostile to me because I’m a foreigner. This includes the English expatriates who have disdain for Americans (always the case, not because of Trump and his administration).

There’s the pseudo political sophisticate. They think they’re well travelled because they’ve travelled outside of Europe, read some news, enjoy film and television, and speak two languages. In discussion, these folks will proffer an opinion on American politics that is extremely critical, not particularly discerning, and then apologize to me for saying whatever they’ve said as though I’m personally responsible for American society and its politics or I hold these views myself.

True sophisticates exist. They are those who have lived in a few countries, perhaps had a few long time lovers or spouses from countries other than their own, and consider another person’s nationality only as information for a contextual perspective of a given person. I’ve learned a great deal from their example, too, such as learning to deprioritize my own trigger response to a person’s nationality or accent. For example, not all English people are funny, nor do all Russians hide money.

The fourth type, though not so prevalent these days, is the wide-eyed American ideologue. They have holidayed in the USA or they’d LOVE to visit the USA, especially Disneyworld, New York, and Yosemite. They rave about how friendly Americans are. These folks regularly buy clothing and paraphilia with American slogans, flags, and iconic images that they think are “cool” or confirm their romantic image of the USA. They generally watch a lot of television, perhaps a few popular films, and aren’t “interested” in politics. They think it’s great that I’m a “Yank” but they’ll never see me as anything but this.

And, like most people, I imagine myself as unique and complicated, not simply relegated to a national identity because of my deeply entrenched accent. I’d prefer to have the reasonable judgement against me that I’m a shit mimic or lack any real talent for language acquisition.

All countries have their merits and demerits, but one (ideally) chooses to live in a place that suits your needs and values most. While I believe in the competition inherent in Capitalism, I think that without concerted regulation, enforcement, and fair taxation, it manifests into the perversion of inequality we see today. Capitalism is the bedrock of the USA, and what I’m about to say might mark me as a “red” or a “commie” to many stateside, which I’m not: I don’t believe your work defines who you are as a person. I believe ‘success’ is measured by the amount of time you have for leisure in relation to material needs having been met. I value reading books highly, and those that read them regularly are those that I believe are intelligent. I believe healthcare, access to a good public education, and safe housing are universal rights. I believe in modest portions of food at regular sittings, and I’m disdainful of fad diets. I believe in minimal consumption of goods, and collective conservation enforced by law. I believe smoking only kills the person doing it, and negative judgement about it indicates a type of puritanical moralism. Likewise regarding drinking.

Perhaps it was the influence of my educator activist parents who took me with them on their many travels and sabbaticals, and were  embarrassingly progressive throughout my life. Perhaps it has been the influence of my fair-minded husbands, German and Danish, respectively. Perhaps it’s that I read a lot. Perhaps its that I’ve lived, been educated, and worked in several countries over the entirety of my life and been influenced by a variety of people of all creeds, races, cultures, and nationalities. I’m not sure, but it’s a curious and sometimes frustrating phenomena when considered in light of rising nationalism throughout the world. If there is any nationalistic tendency in me (and please note that I’m suspicious of humanity regardless of origin) it’d be towards France. I deeply love French culture – its food, its literature, its history, its geography, its weather, its films, its general philosophy on life, and its approach to governance. However, even as I’m French in spirit and hold a French passport, I will never sound like a French person and consequently I won’t ever be truly accepted as one of them. I will always be l’étranger.

My son, however, who has neither my propensity towards self-absorption (other than the normal level accompanying his seven years), nor the tendency to “overthink,” has a slightly different reality. One parent is Danish, one is American French. He speaks Danish with his father, English with me, and French at school and during his extracurricular activities. Additionally, when he speaks English, he has a unique accent – he doesn’t pronounce his “th’s” as English speakers do, his vowels vary between the French as well as the English expatriate influences, yet his dialogue is interspersed with American idioms. Recently, a teacher of his called together eight little boys from his class, including my son, who had been harassing others on the playground in order to have a conversation with them about the similarities and differences between people and why we should appreciate these contrasts. She told me later that each of the boys, when asked what their respective nationalities are, adopted their parents’ nationalities: “I’m German,” “I’m Italian,” “I’m Swedish,” “I’m English,” etc., despite the fact that most of them had been born and were being raised in France. My son was the only one who said “I’m French.” Not Danish, as his father is, or American, as I am also, and despite holding these passports, too. France is the country he unequivocally identifies with. In fact, during the World Cup 2018, France was playing Denmark in one of the quarterfinal games and my son’s father wanted him to wear his Danish football costume. Being considerate, my son did so, but at one point, out of earshot of his father, he told me that he felt “strange” wearing Denmark’s uniform when he actually wanted France to win the game: “You see mommy, I don’t know Denmark or the USA…yes, I’ve been to these countries and I have family in these places, and that’s something, I know…but I really only know France…and I really want to wear France’s football uniform.”

Arguably, my son’s a potential nationalist and is being indoctrinated to France’s mores given his environment. But I doubt this, given his parentage and the perspectives that provides. And, I hope, he’ll live, study, and work in other countries, garnering more information and consequent insights than even I will have experienced because I do not have multiple languages natively. But my point remains: my son is viewed as a foreigner by the French given his parents, and viewed as a Dane or an American depending on who the (other) expatriate emigrant is, but he, himself, does not accept any of this. Similarly, I may have a strong American accent that creates the impressions and judgements of others about me, but this is not primarily how I see myself.

In the interest of exploring nationalism and identity, I’m going to start asking people how they define themselves & others and why – watch this space.

 

 



December 10, 2018 III – Macron’s Address to the Nation

French flag blowing in the wind.“Europe and the world are waiting for us to defend the spirit of enlightenment everywhere.” Emmanuel Macron

I listened to Emmanuelle Macron’s address to the Republic and it was fantastic.

He was conciliatory, reflective, and humbled. He has realized that for his presidency and his party to survive, he has to change. This adaptability is ideal in a president. He was specific about the changes that he will implement in response to the Gilets Jaunes movement. He was emotionally sensitive to the issues around retirees, divorcees, and the poor in particular. He has listened. He accepted responsiblity for not paying attention to the vulnerable in the nation. And even as he has compromised, he made a point of reiterating the obvious – that protest is to be respected, but peace and collectivism is the objective, not chaos and violence. Communication has been a problem with this GJ movement ‘cause there is not, technically, leadership, and when Macron’s administration has attempted to speak with the protestors, and those from the GJ movement have tried to respond, they have been heckled by their compatriots for speaking to the government.

I respect Macron, and I believe he has absolutely paid attention to the grievances, despite their being arguably incoherent – they want lower taxes yet they ALSO want more public services. He has proposed that he will meet with citizens throughout the country and through discussion these people will, perhaps, understand how much it does cost to run hospitals, train stations, and in order to provide public services to the general public, including enacting clean energy policies to help the environment. It can’t happen without taxing the citizenry, though there is credence in making sure the taxation takes into account capability and geographic situation as much as is possible.

Even as there is justifiable criticism that the very rich are evading their taxes and are growing richer under Macron, he did not mention adhering to the wealth tax. He did say, however, that there is the need to enforce tax evasion and, ideally, that employers should pay employees an annual tax-free bonus.

This evening, Macron proposed the following specific fixes in response to the GJ movement:

  • Retirees will be tax free up to 2,000 euros received in pension per month.
  • There will be a rise in minimum wage of 100euros per month that will not be additionally taxed.
  • He has scrapped the fuel tax (even as it is necessary for environmental change).

These things might land him in trouble with the EU because it will cost the French government a great deal to pay for these changes, particularly without the additional tax revenue. And the benefits will not be visible for some time, lamentable in the ‘quick fix’ attention spans of today and with the individuals that compose this movement.

In response to the criticism that he, Macron, is too Paris-centric, he said that he will visit mayors and their citizens throughout France. In normal France, the France pre-En Marche in which the rulebook was torn up, those in power would create a commission to investigate, then pile it up with other findings. Macron will meet with local representatives in order to listen to the citizenry’s particular needs based on their geographic location and consequently unique problems, and together attempt to find solutions to economic inequality.