Expat patriotism: what flag do we fly?

10th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

10 May 2007, My kids surprised me by getting all weepy Sunday night after being informed that Ségolène Royal would not become their Présidente after all.

10 May 2007

My kids surprised me by getting all weepy Sunday night after being informed that Ségolène Royal would not become their Présidente after all.

They felt strongly that Royal was the candidate who would "make good decisions". I don't remember really discussing this choice with them but, after all, who am I to rob them of their right to a ferociously held opinion? Still, it is a mystery to me exactly how my seven and five-year-old acquired this conviction.

I've got to wonder: does this come under the description of 'shaping young minds' in a teacher's job description— a job description that Ségolène vowed not to lay a finger on? Or are French children simply so precociously intellectual that they sit around analyzing policy positions in the cours de récréation?

As for me, well, I haven't been able to figure out how I feel about this new era we've been told France is about to embark on. While I've been intensely curious to follow every stage of the campaign—and have learned a lot about the process and tone of French politics—I'm finding it difficult to really identify my feelings about it all.

First of all, are we even allowed to have feelings about it all? I don't think the contrat d'accueil that incoming migrants are supposed to sign covers this part.

It's an odd position really. After all, we do live here; whatever happens next will effect our lives, perhaps profoundly. For some of us, whoever heads the French government will have a lot more influence on our futures than the leaders of the countries we left behind.

But, except for those few who have taken French citizenship, it's not our country, we don't vote, and lots of French people seem frankly surprised that we'd even take an interest.

I read an article in the 'Sud-Ouest' last week, for example, about the English following the campaign; that was pretty much the gist of the whole story: "They're English and they read French newspapers! Some of them even watched the debate!"

The reporter quoted a correspondent for French News, a monthly newspaper primarily for British expats in France, as saying: "[Expats] talk about it. They want to know what's going on in the country they live in. And they have the same questions and anxieties [about the election] as the French."

This is true and good for her for saying it. The surprising part to me is that what seems to me a fairly self-evident concept needed a full page to explain to French readers.

That article serves to illustrate how the French are coming to terms with the large population of British expats now found in the South-West and South. "They not only live here… they give a damn!"

This realisation counts as a positive development for expat-French relations. But it doesn't really help clarify how far we are allowed to go in having and expressing real political opinions here, at least not in mixed company with French people. If the French don't, as a rule, explicitly announce to each other for whom they themselves vote—and don't even know about the existence of bumper sticker—then is it kosher for us to announce our political preferences at dinner parties?

Maybe not. So I won't do it here either.

Instead, in keeping with the idea of expats paying attention, I will content myself to enumerate some of the things I have noticed and appreciated about the French democratic process during this campaign.

—France hasn't forgotten that voting is an essential part of the whole democracy idea. True, some of them seem convinced that the losing side is morally obligated to burn cars and I believe they're confused on this point. But even Tony Blair went out of his way to say the rest of the Western world has something to learn from France's high turnout.

—In France, people don't have to take up precious time debating whether or not women have the right to choose to bring a pregnancy to term nor whether

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