Change the French Way

Although 57% French people believe that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is the victim of a conspiracy coming from the French right wing or the victim of a thirty-two years old immigrant housekeeper from Africa who couldn’t resist the legendary charisma of the sixty-one years old man, a few French are now exposing the dark secrets of my native land.
One of the hardest things is to observe one’s own country when living there. Moving far away from what has been my home for thirty years gives me freedom and, I hope, more objectivity.
I love France. France is home to my early memories, my childhood and youth. This is where I met the man I love and this where our oldest child was born before we moved to the United States. This is where my parents and sister live. This is to France that I want to return when I am homesick.
I miss France and its lively cafés where the conversations that surround me are familiar and natural even after so many years away. I miss France and its comforting food that reminds me of my parents. I miss the beauty of a country blessed with an ocean and three seas, countless rivers and lakes, mountains and valleys, cities and villages. And of course I miss Paris, the New York of the French.
But sadly, besides my family, I’ve never missed the French people. Strangely, the scandal France is facing now through the accusation against DSK, is clarifying the reason.
The United States, land described abroad as a violent and imperialist land, has been good to me. I have lived on both coasts of the country, in several different cities, suburban and rural areas and although I am aware that I have mostly lived in safe neighborhoods, I am living now near Fresno in California, a half million habitants town considered one of the most dangerous in the nation. I live a very ordinary life here and certainly not the sheltered life of many expatriates I have met over the last twenty years.
My children attend public schools and public universities for my two oldest.
My family is a typical upper middle class family who can afford more than many Americans but way less than the truly wealthy. More importantly, we have traveled extensively across the United States many times with our own car, meeting hundreds of different Americans, who live in states greatly diverse from each other.
It took me time to blend in my country of adoption but I know a few things about the people of the United States that few French know.
Violence is not what comes to my mind when I think of Americans. Respect would come high in my list. Generosity would come close.
Nothing violent has ever happened to me in twenty years in the United States.
This is in France that my apartment has been vandalized three times, that my purse has been stolen twice, and that the cars of countless friends have been smashed up.
Moreover, this is in France that several times I have been sexually harassed but never told about it. In the France of the 80’s, there was no place for a young woman to tell about a physician who touched her improperly, about a sport instructor who entered the locker room and grabbed her breasts while she showered. There was no place to tell about the gross masculine comments in the street or about a man who pressed his body against hers in the subway. I’m not talking of the countless encounters with exhibitionists in the street or subway.
Harassment wasn’t a French word when it came to girls or women in the late 80’s.
And I am almost sure it was the same way for many American girls and women back then.
The major difference is that it changed in the United States and has not in France.
The American friendliness surprised me when I arrived in the U.S. in 1990, as did the absence of men’s greedy eyes on me.
It is only when I return to France that I can check the difference of attitude between French and American men. It is true that most French men are courteous and respectful. It is also true that they treat women in a unique way that makes you feel the most important person in the world if only for the time of a smile or a door opened on you. It is also true that you are still a woman after the age of forty years old in France which is not often the case in the land of eternal youth.
However, France is still the place where checking out girls and women is accepted, a place where boarding the subway means taking the chance to have a man squeezing his way behind you or hearing comments on your body you don’t want to hear from a total stranger.
Now that I am not as young anymore, this is my daughters’ turn to report on the way many French boys and men make them uncomfortable when we visit my homeland.
None of us are anti-French neither are the American medias. The American articles I have read since the DSK affaire (affaire being French for case) show a deep understanding for a nation that many Americans still find fascinating.
As for me, I hope that the DSK affaire allows a time of reflection for my homeland.
Most French articles exposing what stands behind the French seduction are written by women but a few young men express the need to talk about what is really happening when it comes to men and women in France.
As always young people are the hope for change and I trust the young boys and men of France who are my American kids’ age to see girls and women as their true equals.
I am positive change will happen. The French way.

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