Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Parlez Politics?

In the US, you can know people for years and never discuss politics. Here in France, the topic can come up just a few minutes after meeting someone.

The Brit and I were browsing in a shop when the shopkeeper began making polite conversation. After a few exchanges, he asked if I was American (he used “vous” so I wasn’t sure if he meant me or both of us). I told him I was American and the Brit was English. He immediately asked if I had voted and started talking about the election and how happy he was that Obama had won. He said Obama winning meant that the US was a true democracy and he hoped that things in the US would change with Obama in office. It’s funny that he automatically assumed I was an Obama supporter. Maybe he thinks any American abroad is a dem or perhaps the Brit and I give off a strong liberal vibe.

When this type of exchange happens it still catches me by surprise because talking politics can be rather taboo back home unless you’re amongst people you know share your political views (or you’re prepared for a very heated and often nonsensical argument). In France, it seems that it’s always open for discussion.

So far I’ve managed to get by with only a few “You have a slight accent where are you from isn’t Obama great” conversations. If it happened more often, I’d have to consider printing a cards to give to the shopkeepers/cashiers - “I’m American. Yes, it’s great Obama won. Can I just pay and skip the political dialogue?”



10 comments:

Isabelle said...

When French people start talking politics among each other, the conversation becomes heated and agressive very quickly...

The French are comfortable talking politics with Americans, because they happen to like Obama, it surely wasn't the same when Bush was re-elected last time!

deborah said...

did you hear about the incident where Obama was asked if he was a socialist? last week i think...

Shani said...

Well, yeah, but I for one am enjoying the honeymoon period, it's nice to be liked again.

But on the US and political discussions...you think? Man, ain't that way where I'm from, we like talkin' about our politics, right up there with religion. And Seattle seems to be one pretty political town to me (which I love btw).

Jann said...

My French friends are thrilled that Bush is gone.....it was embarrassing to be abroad with him in office...having lived in Redmond,WA, my Wa friends are thrilled, too! Got to love politics!

martine horovitz silber said...

sad. when in Rome do as the romans do...give it a try with the natives.

A Seattleite in Paris said...

Isabelle – I agree, if two people differ even slightly on an issue, the conversation can turn into a heated argument very quickly. The French were comfortable discussing politics when Bush was in office (especially when he was re-elected), but those conversations were usually along the lines of - how/why did he get elected??!!

Deborah – no, I missed that. How did he respond?

Shani – I never really thought of Seattle as being that political, but perhaps that’s because I grew up there. Political conversations amongst like-minded people in Seattle are usually ok, but if there’s just one person who disagrees it can very quickly turn emotional and irrational.

Jann – I think most of us are thrilled. I have yet to meet anyone who actually admits otherwise.

Martine – I’ve been giving “the natives” a chance for years. I live with a French person, I work with French people and am surrounded by them every day. I’ve even discussed politics with French people I know and strangers (like the person I mention in the post). But sometimes I just want to be left to do my shopping in peace. Once every blue moon, I think it’s not so much to ask.

grace said...

Great blog! I came across your site while doing some research in preparation for my trip to Paris in a few weeks. My husband and I are New Yorkers who don't want to fall into the category of "obnoxious tourists." Btw, I agree with your statement about political discussions being taboo in the States. My friends and I rarely discuss politics. Heck, I rarely discuss politics with my immediate family members as I am the lone "liberal" in a clan of conservative Republicans.

jonnifer said...

I'm just impressed they say you have a "slight" accent. With me it's like, "Whoa, what's that accent??" Bravo.

A Seattleite in Paris said...

Grace - as long as you're polite and remember to say bonjour, s'il vous plait and merci you should be ok. Btw - let me know if you like tea, armagnac or steak - I can recommend some places.

Jonnifer - they're probably just being kind:)

Anonymous said...

I read a number of ex-pat blogs and if my memory serves me, not a single one who expressed a political opinion during the presidential campaign was for McCain. So, perhaps the shopkeeper was astute in assuming that you were for Obama.

I live in the U.S. South. You may talk all you wish about politics and religion, but never ask how much anything costs. I find that newcomers from some other parts of the U.S. are quite surprised to be asked almost immediately about their religious affiliation.