Friday, November 7, 2008

American Elections in France

After Bush was re-elected in 2004, many many French people asked me, "How can you Americans be so stupid??" Yes, they said it just like that. There was no sugar-coating. They had been hoping that we Americans would show the world how angry we were with Bush by voting him out of office. Of course they were disappointed. But since then, their hope for Americans to redeem themselves has only grown.

The French's interest and enthusiasm for this year's elections has been overwhelming. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many people waiting and hoping for Obama to be voted into least not so many people who are not American. Of the nine classes I'm teaching this semester, I think the students of eight of them wanted to talk in depth about the elections at some point. The question that everyone had on the very first day of class (in all my classes) was, "Who will you be voting for?"

Everyday on the French news there were multiple reports about the American elections. I knew everything that was going on, but my students (embarrassingly enough) always seemed to know more. One Frenchman who was interviewed admitted that he was more interested in the American elections than in the French ones.

And of course there are the Guignols de l'Info, a satirical puppet show that does not hesitate to make fun of Americans...or French people....or anyone for that matter. (see pic* above) They portrayed John McCain as the tough war hero whose body parts had all been replaced by machines or transplants. And Obama was the candidate who replied to nearly every question with "YES WE CAN!" or something that almost rhymed with it (Genghis Khan! Nicole Kidman!). His guignol ad campaigns played like movie trailers. The jingle "Do you believe in magic?"was always playing in the background, followed by an American-accented "Je suis Barack Obama et j'approuve ce message."

I highly recommend that you check out the Guignols just to get an idea of what they look and sound like, even if you don't understand French:

And the day of the elections? Everyone was waiting. Cafés held mock elections where the French "voted" for Obama. Later, there were all-night parties where people stayed up and waited for the results. And the next day? My students said they got text messages at 5:00 am telling them that Obama had won. There were big celebrations everywhere, with more French people than Americans. People were comparing Obama to the Messiah, and some of my students told me their faith in the American dream had been renewed. When Gaby went to the university, one of his classmates clapped him on the back and exclaimed, "On a gagné!" (We won!) We. Oui.

I finally had to ask my students why the French were so interested in the US. And they said that it was simply because the US influences so many other countries economically and culturally. Many did admit however that they did not think things would change in France just because Obama had been elected. Others said that they felt better about the US's image, and they thought Obama would take care of his country. "After all," one student informed me, "the US has lots of problems."

Obama is a symbol of hope and change for so many people in America and abroad. Am I hopeful? I am always hopeful. But do I believe in magic?

* image taken from