Strange France, Lovely Country of My Illusions

This summer was my first time in the country of Uncle Sam. Everything was new to me: Los Angeles’ beaches, the incredibly comfortable cinemas of Phoenix… Amidst all this novelty, certain discoveries were shocking to me, who is used to life in France. My story.

When you shop in the U.S., you cannot escape the “grocery stores.” First shock: the extortionate prices for some of the fruit and vegetables, while at the same time, a box of 13 donuts is worth a little over one dollar! Other discovery: I am used to French social security and having access to all sorts of state aid, so I was astonished to discover that American citizens do not face the same odds against disease. And I do not mention social rights, which are nearly nonexistent in the U.S.

This annoying tendency to compare these two States first allowed me to realize what privileges French nationality allows one to enjoy – which made me even more proud to be French. Notably we have the opportunity to enjoy much social progress, which is inconceivable in many other countries (even if each system has its limits). The more I compared, the more I idealized France, as if my brain had erased all the economic, social and security problems that we have to face here.

Let’s take the U.S. presidential election, which according to me is no more than a joke in poor taste, with a racist, sexist Donald Trump who nonetheless stands a good chance of being elected. Such a character in France? Unimaginable! That was my first thought. In my mind, the U.S. represents this perfect place for the holidays, but only for the holidays. No way was I ever going to leave France.

So I was basking in this illusion, I kept on comparing, sometimes I was relevant, other times a lot less so. But relevancy had little impact on Americans who got fed up with me praising my birth state at the detriment of the U.S. They told me, “If the U.S. were not there, French people would speak German now.” This is a reference, you surely have understood, to World War II and to the decisive help of the GI during the French Liberation.

First Disillusions

In the middle of summer, the hashtag #JusticeforAdama abruptly bursts my illusion bubble. The death of this young man in a police van forces me to understand that police brutality does not happen only in the U.S. against African Americans. It forces me to be less naïve regarding my country. As a French black man, the issue of police brutality is of particular interest to me.

My stay in the U.S. carries on regardless. I am trying to enjoy my holiday when I find out that a fresh terrorist attack has occurred in France, at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray precisely. As with every terrorist attack, the online fascist activists display the #IslamoutofEUrope in TT (trending topics) on Twitter. Impossible to hide from. From the U.S., I read French media coverage of the horrible murder of Father Hamel. Even U.S. journalists from Fox News are covering the event. A few days later one of the best hashtags that I have ever seen appears on Twitter: #TwitterFRvsTwitterUS. Through this hashtag, French surfers caricaturize the U.S. by comparing it to France – something I have enjoyed doing over the summer.

After a month in the U.S. I go back to France with a little twinge of regret. And imagine my surprise when I discover a country that is squabbling over a little piece of material. My outlook on France has changed. Some might tell me that a 17-year-old high schooler had an overly optimistic vision of things, but from now on, it is a future voter who is talking to you. I do not want a France where some politicians take advantage of people’s fears, and especially fear of a stranger, as a particular orange politician does in the U.S. These false debates do not bring anything to my generation. The trip back to France has forced me to ask myself lots of questions on my place in the society. How will French society move forward with this type of discussion, which is endless and specially without any substance? Where did the nation I boasted about in the U.S. go? Where did the love of freedom and of discussion go, the real discussion?


The burkini hashtag was trending for over a week. A week during which some shared their definition of what it is to be secular whereas others were inciting Muslim hatred. The red flag of an extremist secularist was brandished by some: they added to it pseudo feminist views, then proclaimed that these are the values of France.

Discussions around this swimming costume lasted all summer in France: from the fight in Sisco, in Corsica, to the photos of a woman that the police forced to undress when all she was wearing is a long sleeved top, to these mothers forced to leave the beach because they were wearing a small veil.

But where on earth did the human rights country go? This climate is the result of an accumulation of provocations on the part of politicians and of our media. Days go by, morals fall, and I am constantly shocked. As for example when I read an excerpt of a book written by our former president, Nicolas Sarkozy: “It is time to start a determined fight against multiculturalism.” We have become the laughing stock of Anglo Saxon countries, where the melting pot is widely accepted. The whole world is laughing at France. No one understands that this country allegedly of human rights forces women to dress in a certain way.

Our motto is: FREEDOM, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY! These three principles are at the core of our Republic. Of course it is impossible for us to reach them one day, but it is up to the French to keep fighting, as it is a goal that France must try to reach, come what may! I am hopeful that one day I will return to the U.S. with my head held high and that I will be able to laud France with a little arrogance. If our politicians continue to create and feed false discussions, one day hope will no longer be enough.

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