Monday, January 7, 2013

Bonne année 2013!

After a long absence (I have no excuse), I am back at the keyboard, ready to turn my discerning gaze upon unsuspecting new subject matter. And subject matter there will be this year, for I am simultaneously embarking on two new Franco-American adventures: becoming my own Boss(!) and becoming a first-time Parent(!!!). So yes, 2013 will be no small year for me, and thus, no small year for Le Mot Juste!

In mental preparation for such formidable life changes, my first managerial decision was to give my star employee (myself) a nice long break to relax and gather her resources Stateside. Besides, one cannot seriously critique life as a pseudo expat without going home from time to time to re-immerse oneself in one’s own culture. So here I am, re-immersed. 

Fellow patriots.

There is a certain “honeymoon” period every time I return to the US, during which I marvel, newly-arrived-immigrant style, at what now seems so exotic about American life after 10+ years abroad. Eight-lane freeways, for example, or unlimited refills, or just about anything from Costco. Sometimes I just wander through Target, amazed at the availability of so much stuff, at such low prices. Good mascara for 5 bucks—oh! In France, I shell out so much more than that for the same damn thing.

Yesterday we stepped out (i.e. got in the car and drove for an hour “to the city”) to see the new Matt Damon flick, Promised Land. To my surprise, the theater offered IMAX, 3D and vibrating seats! When did this start? Anyway, the movie I liked. I also liked the big empty theater, which was a nice change from France, where I have long become maniacal about showing up early for fear of being left with a front-row seat, or worse, no seat at all.

Hurry up and wait.

Regardless of a few flops, I remain a big fan of Matt Damon, whom I prefer any day to both Leonardo, who for some reason bugs me, and especially to Brad, whom I flat-out cannot stand. Why the entire world seems to judge him a great actor is beyond me. I’m tempted to go to Google and type “Brad Pitt is a mediocre actor,” just to see if it will guess what I’m typing before I’m done typing it (thereby proving this has been typed many times before and I am not alone in my distaste), but I’m sure the second I type “Brad Pitt is...” Google will instead suggest one of its perennial favorites: “gay” or “dead.” A lot of people must be searching for these things if Google is spontaneously guessing them. It’s an interesting insight into our national hang-ups I suppose. Compare with Google France, which judging by its most frequent suggestions seems to suspect that everyone is Jewish (or gay or dead). So whereas American Internet surfers appear to be obsessed with sexual orientation, French ones appear to (still) be obsessed with who exactly has Hebrew ancestry. I shudder to imagine the consequences had Google existed during the Occupation.

The movie was quite good. Early reviews don’t seem to agree with me, but I like seeing an American film that dares to question the practice of fracking, however half-heartedly. The subject has been a big fat deal in France for some time, much as have GMOs, while both seem to be relatively new buzzwords on this side of the world. I was delighted to see a California measure on the ballot this November proposing the compulsory labeling of all GMO-containing foods, yet my “health conscious” home state voted it down! I see this as perfectly bizarre given the success of all those “they’re out to get us” diet books topping best seller lists and striking fear into the hearts of those who would dare consume sugar/carbs/meat/milk/soy/corn and now, wheat. That’s right, wheat is now what’s making America fat

The new face of evil.

I wonder whether the paranoia we seem to have in this country about what our food may be doing to us is at all related to the paranoia of those who harbor an obsessive fear of our government. I remember a day in my 12th grade AP Civics class, during which the teacher took out a long strip of paper and wrote the entire political spectrum on it, beginning with the extreme left (anarchy) and ending with the extreme right (fascism). When she was done, she joined the two ends together, forming one continuous circle. The point of course was that in the end, both forms of extremism stand shoulder to shoulder. I won’t go so far as suggesting that right-wing militia who arm themselves to the teeth with automatic weapons on the off chance that federal agents one day show up on their lawns in an attempt to seize their “freedom” are in the end not so different from left-wing activists who are convinced that the Department of Agriculture is purposefully trying to poison us all with genetically modified organisms, but it does give one pause for thought. “I love my country but fear my government” seems to have universal appeal in states both blue and red.

And there you have it.

This notion of fearing one’s democratically-elected government is among the most difficult to explain to the French, for whom the government has long lost its fear factor and could more aptly be likened to a doting mother nursing her hungry child. Fear the government? Whatever for? The government means health care, education, justice, jobs, transportation, vacation, retirement, and much more. As Adam Gopnik has observed in his own book of reflections on life in France, Paris to the Moon, “The American populist belief is that there is a secret multinational agency ready to swoop down from the skies and make everybody work for the government; the French populist belief is that there is a secret government agency that may yet swoop down from the skies and give everybody a larger pension.”

This government love fest of course comes at the price of exorbitant taxes on everything from how much you eat to how many televisions you own, yet doesn’t seem to bother anyone all that much. Consider current French President François Hollande’s attempt to hike income taxes on France’s wealthiest to a whopping 75% (that’ll teach THEM to be rich!), which very nearly became reality. Such a proposal in the US would not only be met with categorical refusal, while surely spelling the political demise of whoever was foolish enough to suggest it, but would doubtless be considered by many as irrefutable proof that government is evil.  

Just another reason why sharing my life between both shores provides so much to ponder. But that’s all the pondering I can muster for today. Thanks for hanging in there, and stay tuned for future rants and reflections at Le Mot Juste.