When I was growing up in France, the USA incarnated a way of life that was foreign to me and my friends: swimming pools in people’s backyards, Hollywood stars, and wild rock bands.
The USA smelled of unlimited freedom, ocean breezes and eternal youth. When France’s social conscience weighed on teenagers’ shoulders, America irradiated the possibility to escape the social shackles. School taught French young people about the risk of unemployment and of the necessity to make wise professional choices. The USA, on the other hand, promised endless opportunities leading to roads paved with gold.
Of course, growing up in France in the late 70s between two working middle class parents meant listening to frequent criticism toward the American capitalism. These ideals were the ones that my parents taught me. Although I shared them as any teen who hasn’t yet acquired her own opinions, I longed for a world of wide open horizons. Before moving to the USA, I was ripe for the opportunities of a larger world although I had no idea I’d leave one day for the other side of the Atlantic. Even less that I would become a US citizen.
For the last weeks, I’ve been following the French news related to the pension reform. Thousands of people have been protesting every day in the streets of the major French cites. Among them the most active are high school students.
Since some are as young as fourteen, it’s hard to believe that their concern is only the age of retirement. And I’ve been wondering if decades later, French high schoolers feel the way I did, limited and confined in an aging country that offers, despite a social safety net, a bleak future.