Gabrielle Pastorek is a senior majoring in creative writing and French. She is traveling to Avignon, France during Spring Quarter to study French and culture.
Politically speaking, studying in France this particular year is proving to be a very unique experience because it just so happens that both France and the United States are currently in the middle of presidential elections. Even though it can be a bit overwhelming, watching both campaigns simultaneously unfold is helping me to much better understand the differences between the two systems of government and is also giving me the opportunity to follow American politics from a foreign point of view.
The morning following the premier tour of French elections, I sat down with a cup of (very strong) coffee and dedicated an hour to watching a French news channel discussing the results of the night before. For the first 50 minutes or so, I tried to follow interviews, debates, and final projections; and I learned a little bit more about the big issues and stances of the two main candidates—current president Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party member François Hollande. Then, during the last few minutes of the report, the anchors turned their attention to the American elections. During this segment, I learned that Mitt Romney put his dog in the truck of a car and that Obama once ate a dog. Even though the French are even more serious about their dogs than Americans are, this report came off as completely ridiculous and even a bit sarcastic. And while I understand that news coverage in France is not going to spend equal amounts of time on American politics, I must admit that I felt a little embarrassed that we somehow gave the rest of the world the impression that all we care about as Americans preparing to elect a new president is trivial gossip. If there is one thing I have very quickly learned to appreciate about French media is the fact that it very seriously attempts to separate candidates’ public and private lives.
But media differences aside, the buzz surrounding the quickly progressing presidential campaigns is constantly a part of daily life here. My host mom, for example, has been getting together with friends to watch the presidential debates and results. She usually makes a whole night of it, preparing food to bring over and staying well past the actual event. Similarly, it is also very common for other students to bring up politics—both French and American—and want to have a serious, friendly conversation about both. My first experience with a conversation like this was with a group of French kids my age whom I had just recently met. While I was slightly taken aback at first when they very nonchalantly asked me if I liked Barack Obama or Nicolas Sarkozy, it was refreshing to find that they were able to bring up politics without creating an awkward or heated atmosphere. I was also very surprised and impressed by their vast knowledge of American politics, which made me realize that students in France generally take a more serious and active role in keeping up with world politics.
I feel very lucky that this corresponding election year is underway while I am studying abroad, as it has forced me to learn about and keep up with French politics in a much more conscious way than I would have otherwise done. Following the elections overseas has also surprisingly taught me a lot about American politics, while also providing me with plentiful conversation topics! So if you get the chance while abroad, I highly recommend engaging in a calm, friendly political conversation with native speakers—they will most likely jump at the chance to discuss American politics with an American and you will likely learn a lot about both countries!
French candidate François Hollande following the first round of elections (image from http://www.france24.com).