Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Zipidee Doo Dah...

Almost exactly one year ago during a visit by French friends to London the inevitable dinner argument broke out over America. Any Briton living in France will know how it goes...Why are you British so fond of America? versus Why do you French hate America? The widespread anti-America sentiment in France always winds me up but this spat became particularly animated when one of the French friends sneered after I said - and the Frenchman agreed - that however you feel about the United States you have to admit it is the greatest democracy on earth. Our anti-American friend said the French for "rubbish": America was not a democracy because poor blacks had no political voice and elections were all about who had most money. I thumped the table and said the French might be in a better position to give lessons on democracy if their own black and North African citizens were better represented. He stuck to his argument that America was not democratic, the "American Dream" was rubbish and a black man could never be president. This was half way through the two-year presidential campaign when the Democrat candidate had not yet been decided and everyone's money was on Hillary Clinton. It was when Barack Obama was still raising campaign funds with $5, $10, $20 donations from members of the public before, it is true, the big bucks waded in. It was also well over half way through several bottles of red wine.

I said: "Perhaps you are right but at least America has Barack Obama."

And he said: "Barack who?"


Dumdad said...

Nicely put: I'm with you on this one.

Jaywalker said...

I've been following the coverage on antenne 2 with amusement. The blond guy was SO excited to get out of the studio he couldn't stop grinning. But then tiny Pujadas came along and spoilt his fun.

But also, yay!

Cimon said...

I am surprised comparisons are made about blacks representation in France vs US.

It is forbidden to have ethnical statistics in France, I remember having been asked what race I was to enter college in the US (and it cost me a lot to find out I was Caucasian, I just thought I was white - or maybe pink).

Gerrymandering is also different (and not as extended in France), which leads to bias in political representation.

Still I don't understand what the argument was about : what is a great democracy ? Under which standards ? What does it mean (that is what I often conclude after a good argument with my wife to conclude it was a draw) ?

Btw, you should read superfrenchie's article about blacks in French politics. It is about as pointless as counting out how many blacks are députés now.

parisgirl said...

Cimon, the point I was making is more pots-and-kettles/hospitals-and-charities than direct comparison: ie: in my experience, French people frequently take the moral high ground over the plight of blacks in America and their lack of rights while failing to address the plight of blacks and members of ethnic groups in France, which is often no better. And yes I know you cannot count them in France and they are all supposed to be French, which is a fine ideal, but is not the way they are actually treated.
Gerrymandering has been used historically by both political sides in the US (and in the UK for that matter). This election was one of the most examined and analysed in history and there were accusations of many things; gerrymandering was not among them. The 'first-past-the-post' voting system is different from the proportional representation system in France: both have advantages and flaws, fans and critics.
We can argue about what 'democracy' means until the cows come home, but when I described the US as a "great democracy" I was using the accepted definition of democracy as "government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system". Having followed the American presidential elections I feel that counts as "great democracy". Then again what does "free" mean?
As for superfrenchie...I have followed his blog and find his relentless America-bashing as tedious as the reverse. French man insulted in America, shock horror. It was pretty unpleasant for Americans (and Britons) in France after the Iraq invasion too. C'est la vie. He cites Rachida Dati and Rama Yade, neither of whom have been elected to government by any kind of suffrage except for the one-man vote of Nicolas Sarkozy. If he wished to cite them he should have also cited Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Superfrenchie also remarks on the small number of black senators in the 231 years since the United States of America came into existence in 1777. He fails to mention that black men were only given the vote 93 years later. Black women, though given the vote along with other women in 1920 were not entirely enfranchised until the 1960s. It just proves that you can pick statistics to show whatever you want.

Iota said...

Maybe your friend should eat a bit of tarte humble (that's my best guess at humble pie...)

Do people make jokes about his name: baraque?

parisgirl said...

Iota, I can guarantee you my friend will not remember the argument! I've not heard any name jokes yet. I don't know what "humble pie" is in French; perhaps it doesn't exist.

Frances Penwill-Cook said...

Hi Parisgirl,
Just wanted to let you know you've been tagged. Sorry if you're busy. Really pleased about the result it has been a long time coming.

Parisgirl said...

Frances, thanks for tagging me. Makes me feel like I've been covered in spray-paint graffiti!

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