The high-profile violence in France over the past year prompts some to declare a doomed future for this magnificent country. In truth, years ago even a taxi driver in Paris lamented the school shootings we were … and are … experiencing in America. How easily we can slip into a fatalistic outlook about France and about America. Let’s choose, instead, to celebrate all we have meant to one another and all that we hope for tomorrow. Just a few of the many thoughts one could express follow.
We are all cognizant of broad-brush misconceptions on “both sides of the pond.” That the French hate Americans. That Americans are arrogant. The French are rude. Americans are loud, brazen. Within the comfortable confines of our insular thinking, we are wary of customs, work ethics and world views that are different from our own.
In these trying times, it is especially important to remember our strong common historical, financial and cultural bonds. The French support of the American Revolution enabled America to gain independence. France fashioned its Republic after our own constitution with Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité as cornerstones of the rights of man. Our capitol was designed in 1791 by Pierre L’Enfant. The biggest gift of all – our beloved Statue of Liberty. And not for one moment do the French forget the support and sacrifices of America during two World Wars.
On both sides of the Atlantic, we offer unique experiences and a boundless treasure of values to share. American culture permeates France – our music, books, movies, and television (except for the emphasis on violence). The French have embraced everything from McDonald’s and Levis to Disneyland® Paris and Starbucks – in the land of cafés, where coffee is the social bracer! Three Breakfast in America cafés attract huge crowds in their left and right bank locations.
Americans embrace croissants and crepes, chic fashion, French fabrics and many of those distinctly French expressions – rendezvous, soiree, esprit de corps and more. In the world of medicine alone, remember that blood transfusions, pasteurization, the stethoscope and understanding of radioactivity all started with the French
In our comparative youth, America has enjoyed decades of growth and innovation, power and progress. The French admire our entrepreneurial spirit and envision the frontier history that spawned such a vibrant people. The youth of France take to American cowboys, blue jeans and the infamous hamburger and long to mimic our ways and visit our country.
Yet, in a country with an aging population, a deep reverence for culture and a demonstrable social conscience; the French fear diluting their unique heritage. They reject the “my work is my life” notion and continue to fight for the balanced life – with strikes, marches and measures we have only begun to discover with the “Occupy” movements and, ironically, some of the rude and crude tactics on the political front. France manages to blend unimaginable history, art and architecture with innovative technology and a universally-admired flair for style. Their people couple intense pride and bureaucratic ways of thinking with joie de vivre and reverence for family.
France and America have much to be proud of, but we have everything to gain from looking toward one another with an appreciation of our differences and with a coordinated partnership to protect the ideals we all cherish. I particularly love a piece written for Travel and Leisure by Richard Reeves, a Senior Lecturer at the Annenberg School. In “An American in Paris”, he wrote,
“We speak with an air of detachment, even distrust, of the pursuit of happiness. The French just go ahead with it – and they’ve organized a country and a great city to make sure they catch what they’re chasing.”
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