I think it's time to discuss the hardest question in American-French relations (aside from the famous "body odor question", which I promise to address soon), which is the question of French "anti-Americanism". Of course, the term "anti-Americanism" has been warped beyond all recognition, to the point that disagreeing with the US position on the Coke or Pepsi question gets you tarred with the anti-American brush. It's certainly not a sign of confidence.
And yet, there are indeed some French people for whom my nationality is clearly a negative; I start speaking French with my accent and a chill descends. They're not rude, but it's clear that they're not happy. Or, maybe, that they're wary. Again, it's a negative with, maybe ten percent of them.
Even more troubling is that it's a positive with none of them. I'm sort of used to that. Canadians are almost supernaturally polite, and when they learn that you're from the states they will automatically tell you about their American cousin. But, I can "pass" for Canadian, and when there are supposedly no Americans around, well, let's just say that being American is not a positive with them either.
I know that Americans hate hearing the lecture about "our image in the eyes of the world". It sounds like you're telling them that they can't just live their own lives without worrying about Germany finding out they have spinach in their teeth. And yet, I am a history geek, and I think I can say with some assurance that something has happened. America is one of the great nations in world history, along with say France in the 1700s, Germany or Great Britain in the 1800s, classical Greece, Rome, etc. And now, I think it has lost its status, I'd say completely. Of course, it still has the strongest economy in the world, in spite of the current recession. And it has the strongest military in the world, in spite of the problems in Iraq. And yet, I meet no one from any other country that wishes their country was more like the US, and I know people from everywhere. Thy name is mud.
It's a historic shift and I'm wondering if it's total. Of course, if you live in the states and never go elsewhere, it's probably no big deal. But, it is for me. And if the rest of the world decides to stop bitching about the US and start competing seriously with the US, it will become an issue for others in America.
I think that this is what's so gut-wrenching for me about this Obama campaign. (Okay, hear me out here!) We haven't heard anything over here about this "issue" with his preacher, which is, in my opinion, stupid manufactured shit. The French press has a strict rule: they will only cover stupid shit if it has to do with Carla Bruni. So, it hasn't even been mentioned. I only know that there even was a controversy through the Internet, where stupid shit is King.
For me, his speech was particularly gut-wrenching. Strong, moving, and extremely intelligent, yes. But also gut-wrenching because Obama confronted the biggest taboo about Americans for me. And I don't mean race. In the speech, he refused to pander or talk down to Americans. He talked to them as if they are adults who can think seriously about race. And that's terrifying to watch. It's a gamble. Because (and this is seriously the hardest sentence I've ever written here), Americans often seem to be unwilling or unable to think seriously at an adult level about anything.
I know that's harsh, but I fear that the fustercluck in Iraq can be explained as "they never thought seriously about it". And the literacy issue, and the massive debt issue, and the environmental issue, etc. etc. etc. Over and over, there's an unwillingness to behave as if these things matter. Someone else can deal with them. Maybe Daddy.
Obama's speeches are terrifying because he's betting that Americans can think at an adult level even though they haven't been asked to in decades. And it's gut-wrenching for me because I hope that he's right, but I fear that he's wrong.
(Okay, let the flaming begin)