A Personal Visit from French Relations Re-Ignites the Beauty of Americana During our Turbulent Times.
In the midst of American political turmoil, I had a lovely visit from my Parisian family. Who they are and what they do is far less important than the impressions that they elicited during a three day visit in the rural south.
First and foremost, they were completely taken aback by the number of different people who were up running for an elected position on the county level. They wondered why we, in America, had to vote for the tax collector, sheriff, appraiser, school board, and superintendent of schools.I laughed to myself when I realized that I had taken for granted the fact that in my town/county everything depended on local politics and not on which person or party was in the White House.
I introduced my family to many of the candidates running for the different positions. These candidates included liberals, conservatives, African-Americans, Hispanics, Christians and God only knows what else. Some of these candidates were actually “NPA” no party affiliation!
Each candidate explained to my relatives that the state constitution mandated that every office at the county level had to be up for election every two to four years.In turn, my family explained to the candidates that in France, a Socialist country, every person at the local level was appointed from the leaders of the ruling party in Paris.
In fact, my relatives were completely surprised to realize that in my tiny town of barely two thousand denizens, we had no mayor, judge, court house; nor police force. More importantly, they were amazed at the fact that we had no other taxes other than the ones related to our own respective real estate properties.
Similarly, they began to understand why America never had, nor would ever have a national police force. After the “meet and greets”, I took them to a combined gift and gun shop [both in one].
My relatives were completely surprised when they encountered wonderfully tolerant men/women who were eager to explain to them why we, Americans, enjoyed the Second Amendment and bought guns. In fact, my relative knew a lot about guns because she worked for a unit of the French government where she had to use a Sig Sauer.
My cousin revealed a sad truth to the lovely gun vendors who in turn were asking them about the state of French terrorism in Paris and elsewhere. She very calmly answered that she had lost two colleagues in the November massacre in Paris while they had been sitting drinking coffee at a popular café.No one said a word; nor was any expression of hate or anti-Muslim sentiments expressed on either side of the gun case.
Finally, we drove down a state route and my female cousin said to me that she had not seen so many churches in her life.I told her that we had something like thirty churches in two miles of state roads which had only two stop lights. More importantly, we have churches of so many denominations that no one was clear as to who was praying where and no one really cared.
She had told me that she had grown up Catholic in the town of Toulouse where Protestantism had been discriminated against some fifty years ago.I too had remembered how the Protestants had been discriminated against in the French schools, jobs and housing.
She remarked how her family was one of the first Toulouse families in which both religions had been successfully merged in marriage.The visit was topped off by a stop at a local BBQ restaurant where the young waitress was patient enough to explain in her mellifluous southern drawl about each menu offering.
By the time the three day visit was over, both my French family and I were absolutely delighted by what had transpired.They thanked me for making a simple family visit into a lesson about American democracy and religious/political tolerance.
I embraced them for reminding me what Alexis de Tocqueville, the brilliant French aristocrat/writer, wrote in 1835 in ‘Democracy In America’:
“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free; but, nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”
Then he added:
“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
“The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”
Let us continue to be who we have always been: a free, determined, entrepreneurial nation of doers and believers!