AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France - I’d like to clear up a couple misconceptions you might have about the French.
First of all, they don’t all speak English – and when they try, it’s often frustratingly incomprehensible.
And oh, do they try. I might as well walk around Aix with an American flag tattooed to my forehead, juggling figurines of the Statue of Liberty and singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” But I digress.
Secondly, they don’t all love Barack Obama.
Both are pretty easily dealt with, the first with my trusty six years of French under my belt, including one vital phonetics class, and the second ... well, the second I deflect mainly by keeping my mouth shut and not knowing a damn thing about politics.
The strategy’s proved rather bulletproof in conversations, which usually wind up going something like this:
“Where are you from?”
“A couple hours from Chicago.”
“OOH! CHICAGO! BARACK OBAMA!”
At this point I usually offer a slight chuckle, repeating “Barack Obama” in a French accent, and the conversation moves on to less of a hot-button, let’s-not-make-Katie-look-like-an-idiot topic.
Then came the Frenchman of Saturday night.
The conversation started smoothly, easy, despite his insistence on English. Then I realized that I was the only American in the group, and that this man was very, very drunk.
“You know, Barack Obama...” He paused.
“He is not Superman. He is great president for the United States, but he is not this black messiah.”
Both the introvert and the political ignoramus in me began to weep.
“What do you mean?” I asked, more than a hint of caution in my voice.
“He is not Superman! After George Bush, he is great president for the United States, but he is not Superman!”
I stared at him blankly for a few seconds, trying to see if there was a point somewhere in his drunken repetition. It wasn’t until Irish Gary pulled me away that I realized that he had not only a point, but a little bit of wisdom.
Americans weren’t the only ones worshipping Obama during this past presidential campaign.
Stateside, and apparently abroad, Obama seemed super-heroic, every speech inspiring enough hope to both land him in office and to harbor occasionally too high of expectations for our 44th president.
And so far he’s kept the shabbiness to a minimum.
We now have our first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, a deadline for the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and reduced transparency for presidential records – not shabby – as well as a delayed release of a report documenting the CIA’s use of torture, an inappropriate joke on national television about the Special Olympics and relatively little action regarding global human rights issues – pretty shabby.
So the French are catching on, just as we are.
Obama’s not Superman.
But great president?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.