Come on now, you had to expect a tad of gloating following the U.S. election. Once we got the time difference realigned (France did the “Fall back one hour” thing a week ahead of the U.S. so for a week we were five hours ahead rather than six), we tried to go to bed early Tuesday night but failed, sucked into Downton Abbey, which BBC airs four months before it reaches PBS at home (email if you want to know who marries who, and doesn’t marry, and which servants get fired, or not). Nonetheless, we woke at 2:00 a.m. Wednesday – 8:00 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday – and switched on the TV. Sandra had consented to swing the satellite dish from the French to the British satellite just for Election Day (Europe has free satellite reception since television is as much a universal human entitlement as is health care, right?) Thus began the marathon.
We switched between BBC News and France 24, an English language channel broadcast from France. And, we’ll confess, after a few hours we also watched ABC and CBS news on the internet. The contrasts among the British, French and U.S. coverage of what was essentially the same event – endless analysis of the results of 3 percent of the returns from Nebraska – was fascinating. BBC, a disappointment, appeared to be doing its best to become the unacknowledged offspring of a mating between CNN and ABC/NBC/CBS nightly news. Lots of makeup, lots of hair, lots of flashing lights and computer animations. Worst of all was the rotating cast of guest commentators in matched American pairs of Democrat and Republican offering two heavily slanted interpretations on the mistaken assumption – the rule of thumb in U.S. news coverage – that two opinionated viewpoints will average out to reality. The broadcast was chaired and managed by Brits but most of the commentators were American. They seemed more interested in playing with their computer displays than in any substantive discussions.
French election coverage was quintessentially French. Men sported the mandatory three days’ facial hair, Steve Jobs issue black mock turtlenecks and mock serious, mock snide expressions. The women lacked the heavy makeup, hair spray and poofing of the women on BBC – who were truly CNN-esque. Most of the commentators on the French broadcast were French journalists from magazines and websites. They offered their own analyses. Sometimes we agreed with them. Sometimes not. But they presented a contrast with the “balanced must mean fair” methodology of the BBC, and the U.S. networks.
Both French television and the BBC had teams of their own correspondents reporting from throughout the U.S., although their locations seemed odd, particularly when the BBC host segued into “and now here is Alistair reporting from the Peppermint Lounge in Las Vegas. He’s got a nice gig tonight.” Alistair then proceeded to interview the Nevada Republican chairman, who appeared to be spending election night perched on a stool at the bar, quite understandably firing down repeated glasses of scotch on the rocks with barely a pause.
It was a long night with long interludes between anything of any significance. Both the British and French broadcasts filled the gaps with discussions that would not have reached a U.S. audience. BBC spent five minutes on a discussion of why the Republicans are “Red” when they are not communists and the Democrats are “Blue.” An equal amount of time was spent on the French broadcast with a roundtable discussion of the question “is there anybody in France who supports Romney.” The conclusion was that maybe a few French billionaires were Romney fans, but most of them moved out of the country when Francois Hollande announced he was raising income tax rates to 75 percent for them.
By the end, which for us came just as the sun was rising, we’d switched to Peter Jennings and ABC News. It was an American night.
Today, it was fun telling our friendly boulanger (Auxonne has three boulangeries, two side by side, the third directly across the street; all are busy, all day) on today’s baguette run that “Je suis un Américain” (I am an American) and that “Je suis très heureux aujourd’hui” (I am very happy today). She smiled, replied “Obama est magnifique” and tossed in a free pain au chocolate as a sign of Franco-American comity.
It was an American day, and a tad sad not be in America to experience it.
One final note: Monday’s New York Times included an irritating op-ed article by somebody from Paris asserting broadly and with no factual support that (1) nobody in France likes Obama and (2) that there is no interest in the U.S. election. This prompted a letter to the editor, which, since it didn’t make it to the Times, will get published here, since we are our own editor.
To the Editor:
A.A. Gill (How Obama Lost the Europe Primary) needs to get out and about more. He proclaims broadly that – apparently to the last man and woman from the Urals to the coast of Ireland – Europe has given up on President Obama and that “this election has met with barely a shrug of interest in Europe.” We apparently live in a different Europe than he does. Here in France, home of Freedom Fries, to quote the Congressional cafeteria menu, and of “cheese eating surrender monkeys,” to quote The Simpsons, evidence of some cultural animosity between our countries, we have found just the opposite to be the case. My wife and I live on a barge flying an American flag, cruising the French rivers and canals. Folks seeing our flag universally wave, grin and shout “America,” almost always followed by “Obama,” often with a thumbs up. As the election approached, we’ve been repeatedly asked, worriedly, either “will Obama win” or, more worriedly, its variant, “does the Other Guy have a chance.” We expect our neighbors who join us watching election results will bring bowls of frites – a.k.a. Freedom Fries – and platters of the world’s best cheeses.
Barge Hoop Doet Leven