Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Meeting of Minds & Hearts

From the American Revolution to today, our histories are irrevocably entwined.
          On occasion it occurs to me that being an "expat" -- in my case for more than 25 years -- can give one a unique perspective on one's country of origin. Yesterday was one of those occasions.

          For hours we watched the American presidential inauguration and all the attendant festivities on two of France's all-news television channels. The news commentators and experts on the United States were sometimes giddy in their commentary on the "peculiarly" (but in a good way) American cocktail of tradition, gleeful celebration and major statement symbols woven into the ceremony.

         Those symbols: a gay Cuban poet; Beyoncé representing youth; Kelly Clarkson proving that dreams still come true in the land of opportunity; James Taylor, gently harkening back to "the good old days" for Baby Boomers; the Bibles -- and oh-la-la, not just one, but two, both rife with past aspirations, present progress and perhaps more hope for the future -- the coincidence of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech was prescient;  Michelle Obama's support of American fashion designers with multi-cultural backgrounds (business and the United States created through a rich history of immigration and integration), and on it went, the symbols.

         It's no secret that the French often have a love/hate relationship toward North Americans, though not with Canadians of course nor Mexicans either for that matter, but there is unquestionably a prevailing fascination with the United States. Yesterday was however more than that, it was a lovefest.

Do we like the dress by Jason Wu? I think we do, don't we? (Not that anyone is asking, but I think the bangs work better with the "flippy" layered style here than the straight locks during the day.)
          Reporters, commentators, historians and other experts heaped praise upon democracy as defined by the United States, all the while spewing out obscure historical data and references. I was enthralled. I was proud.

          Some lamented the dry, "stiffness, elite-ness" and not at all an "of the people" feeling of French presidential inaugurations, noting that they had none of the gaiety, openness and celebration that makes the one on the other side of the Atlantic seem like a party for the entire nation.  They highlighted the fact that it seemed that Democrats and Republicans set politics aside for the day, something that would be unlikely to occur in France.

Perhaps more symbols in this single, simple photograph of President Obama taking the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln's and Martin Luther King's Bibles than in any other inauguration.
          They praised the pomp of the official aspects of the day and then went into overdrive on how much they appreciated the parade, the balls, the interaction of President and Mrs. Obama with each other and their daughters. Several male reporters practically swooned over Beyoncé. One admitted it was the high point of his day. Another offered that even the gum-chewing of President Obama was a symbol, "it shows he's cool," he said. "It's probably nicotine gum," he added.

          At one point, spurred on by correspondents reporting back from the inauguration who told their peers at the anchor desk in France that the American press was obsessed with Michelle Obama's new bangs, the group on this side of the Atlantic took a vote. Women liked the new look, one man abstained, one preferred her hair pre-bangs and the other men mostly thought they worked.

          I'm not going anywhere with my story today, except to report from my side an experience that made me proud and happy. France sees the United States as a country of hope and opportunity and it seems that maybe that's a very good thing for all of us.

20 comments:

Kristien62 said...

I, too, watched every aspect of the inauguration as I did four years ago. After the discordant months of electioneering, it is a joy to come together in this way. The day was beautiful and the celebrants seemed truly happy and proud to participate. It is a uniquely American experience. I don't blame the French for being enthralled with our party.

Déjà Pseu said...

I was unable to watch much of it due to other obligations, but am planning to sit down tonight with You Tube to watch the speech and parts of the parade. I think Michelle Obama has great style and wears the heck out of clean, bold, colorful looks. I think she's been a great influence on style here.

60 going on 16 said...

Many of us in the UK watched too, equally enthralled: the inauguration appeared to be a perfect blend of tradition, history and the new. And more than a few of us were willing to set aside our increasing cynicism with politics - national and international - at least for a day. I certainly wasn't the only Brit thinking - hmmm, in the USA, they have Obama; here, in the UK, we have to make do with Messrs Cameron and Clegg . . .

Michelle Obama, incidentally, endeared herself to women (and a good many men) of all ages in this country, when she visited a girls' school in a socially and economically deprived area of inner London. She was utterly inspirational and gave those young women exactly the right messages about aspiration, application - and confidence. An unforgettable day.

Murphy said...

I love Michelle Obama's bangs, maybe because I have bangs myself and now I feel vindicated!

I really admire Michelle Obama's style. Do the French like it? My French teacher here in the States has been quite critical of it: she says it it the opposite of all the rules her Parisienne mother taught her, mainly because of all the bright colors and patterns. I dunno, it seems to me that wearing what you love and feel good in must have been one of the rules as well, but I didn't want to challenge a native-born Parisienne, especially with my limited vocabulary!

Kathy said...

I also missed most of it yesterday, but it is nice to hear that the world watched it. From the snippets I saw of it last night, it did look so celebratory and festive (as always) and made me quite proud as well.

Tish Jett said...

Hi Murphy,

The French love Michelle Obama's style. They like the all-American exuberance of it. They like the way she takes chances and goes high and low.

Your teacher has a point about neutrals, and we all know they can be wonderful and "safe", but not necessarily joyful.

Wouldn't it be sad if the first lady of the United States only wore black, gray, navy and camel? It's more fun for all of us to see her color choices and the French appreciate this.





French Girl in Seattle said...

Dear Tish. Your post made me smile. I understand exactly how you felt while watching the French news coverage... I feel the same way whenever I watch a Rick Steves travel show covering France and Europe :-) If it weren't for him, I'd probably never see or hear so much enthusiasm (and knowledge) about my country on American television... :-) Bonne semaine! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Sandy at You May Be Wandering said...

It is refreshing to be able to hear about the French perspective on the US inauguration. Living here and listening to our media, it often feels like our country is so increcibly divided these days and on the decline - it's nice to hear that some positive feedback from somewhere else. Thanks for sharing!!

That's Not My Age said...

It's a very good thing for the whole wide world!

Tree said...

Thanks for the report from your vantage point! Indeed lots of calculated "visual messages" in the US inauguration, and watching it from New England, I agree with the French reporters' determination of those message meanings. What was reflected out was a high level of diversity among people, a populist taste level, and a fitting level of economic austerity.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Proud to bursting here.
xo,
p

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Michelle looks fabulous and I love those bangs...
she has a great sense of style doesn't she?

Murphy said...

Thanks for answering my question, Tish!

Jennifer- The Adventuresome Kitchen said...

It was amusing to me that all the male reporters here stateside could not stop talking about Michelle Obama's bangs. I've always admired her style, and as she is quite tall (5'11") she can carry of big/bold/patterns in a way someone my size (5'3")just can't. I think her style is a reflection of her confidence, and embracing of her body type and personality- and how can you not admire that?

wellfedfred said...

and isn't it interesting that, in contrast to most European countries, the US has is celebrating almost 250 years of peaceful transitions of power - no coups d'état, no armed takeovers - and nevertheless has managed to contribute more to humanity than the cuckoo clock.

Belle de Ville said...

Not only did the First Lady look amazing, the Obama girls looked lovely too.

LPC said...

Tish, you are, as I knew but am always happy to remember, such a wonderful person.

anotherperfumeblog.com said...

It's so nice to hear about the US's actions engendering admiration and respect, as I feel that's often not the case. I was very moved by this inauguration, for many of the reasons you mentioned. Thanks for sharing the news from the French perspective.

Shelley said...

It is strange to see one's native land from outside and to hear others' perceptions of it. I found I had to develop a more open mind than I'd ever had and to see things from other people's perspective far better. I feel this is one way in which living abroad has made me grow. It is nice when people have nice things to say about the US, isn't it?

Food, she thought. said...

Thank you for such a lovely explanation of the French perspective on our auspicious day. We often hear what France hates about us, it is a joy to hear what they love about us. It echoes much of my sentiment on the day: Michelle's style & grace, the unity of the first family and more than anything the intelligent progressiveness of a man I am so proud to have elected. (Personally, I was thrilled by those gorgeous gloves!)

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