Last fall, I was studying abroad in Paris during the final months of the Obama/Romney showdown. While I had expected occasional publicity over the campaigns and speeches, I never could have imagined the buzz and excitement over a foreign country’s election that engulfed the country.
French people like to joke that politics is in fact the national sport of France. While it is quite taboo to talk about work and money, the French don’t really beat around the bush when it comes to touchy topics for Americans such as sex and politics.
And as much as they thoroughly enjoy bitching about Americans and everything America in general, much to their own chagrin, they can’t seem to get enough of our politics.
I mean, you couldn’t walk by a newsstand without seeing at least one magazine or newspaper featuring a US candidate. And God forbid, once they found out you were a real live American, the election was literally all they wanted to talk about. Seconds after hearing my broken French and picking up on my California accent, people right off the street would flat out ask who I was voting for. No warm up preamble over topics or policy, just straight to the point: Romney or Obama?
What was most incredible about their fascination was that none of them even had a say in the outcome. They watched the speeches, debated the platforms, but at the end of the day, all they could do was sit back and watch to would unravel.
It kind of made me proud to be an American again. Don’t get me wrong, even before then I loved my country and took pride in where I came from, but it’s no secret that being an American in Europe (and of all countries France) has long been out of style.
But in these people I saw see true jealousy and envy. Here was an event on the forefront of everyone’s minds and I was the only one who could actually take part in it. My decision seemed to impact af their lives.
Now put that into perspective of life in America. Of course, people follow the election vigorously here too, but that pride in our right to vote seems to have lost its luster a bit. Further still when you consider our generation and our apparent apathy to voting, it was as if more people around the world wanted to possess an American vote than actual Americans themselves.
Something else to consider is how many foreign elections you’ve followed in your lifetime. If you’re anything like me, than the number probably resonates close to zero. Hell, I didn’t even know the name of the president of France, François Hollande, until I was getting ready to move overseas. Americans show a relative ignorance to politics of the world, which speaks poorly about our priorities and highly of other countries. We can name the members to a band we vaguely liked ten years ago, but would be hard-pressed to give an intelligent opinion on, say, the politics of a country with whom we weren’t actively occupying.
Nevertheless, being in a foreign country during an American election made me proud to be an American again. Yeah, they really do like to bitch about us a lot on that side of the Atlantic. And yeah, we’ve got a lot of shit right now that isn’t working in our own country. But you know what? Other people still care about what we do. We still matter, in our own messed up way. Score one, USA.