I can’t think of a better place to get into a deep philosophical conversation with a total stranger than in a bar.
There’s a bar/restaurant just a few blocks from my apartment in the 15eme, that I have been going to ever since I moved to Paris four years ago. It’s the kind of place where I can walk in and shake hands or kiss all of the waiters and waitresses, as well as a couple of familiar customers who share the same enthusiasm about this locale’s ambiance that I have. It’s also the kind of place where I go for happy-hour, for one drink at 5:30 and end up staying there until 11 pm or later. They have amazing food which makes it all the more difficult to pull myself away when I start to become hungry.
A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend and I had just returned from the US and decided to walk over and say hello to our friends. Within a couple of hours we were sitting at a table with two middle-aged men that we had just met after they heard that we liked good beer. One guy was a beer distributor and asked what beer we liked. We named one and when we came back two weeks later, we saw that the beer we named was now on tap, and according to the staff, thanks to our suggestion.
Back to that first evening, we decided to order food, and in the meanwhile, the other gentleman asked if I could review his song lyrics that were written in English, just to make sure that they were grammatically correct and did not sound ridiculous. We exchanged contact information, though I still haven’t received those lyrics.
Patriotism or extreme right?
Somehow we got on to the subject of patriotism in France. Before I came to Paris, I had the impression that the French were very patriotic. My father told me that when he lived in France in the early 1960s, it didn’t take much to stir up patriotic fervor amongst the French populace. One line of ‘La Marseillaise’ could be enough to instill pride in anyone with French blood. This was also during the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, perhaps the most popular public figure in France in the 20th century, so he might have helped this cause.
My girlfriend and I commented on how no one seemed very patriotic here anymore. The two gentlemen agreed and added an interesting viewpoint, summed up as follows: “If you act patriotic these days, then people will think you support the extreme right, and no one in Paris wants to be mistaken for that.”
It’s a valid argument, as many right-wing politicians essay to arouse patriotism amongst their political constituents, much more so than any other political group here. So perhaps it is a reason why many here in Paris are reluctant to be thought of as patriotic for fear of being associated with these groups, such as Front National. This could certainly be part of why patriotism has declined here, but there has to be more to it.
On the 14th of July we usually join the masses at the Champs de Mars to watch the fireworks by the Eiffel Tower and hang out with a few friends. In 2008, my girlfriend wore a French flag around her shoulders and put a couple of miniature French flags in her hair. She’s proud to be French and she does not care if others are aware of it.
When I went to watch the festivities that year, I was surprised by how much my girlfriend stood out amongst more than 100,000 spectators. There were hardly any French colors or flags anywhere! As we walked into the crowd, a couple of adolescents taunted her. A few others whispered jokes about her. We enjoyed the evening anyway, but coming from a country where flags are displayed virtually everywhere, especially on our national holiday, I was surprised.
That it appears that not many young Parisians know the words to ‘La Marseillaise’ is perhaps another indicator that national pride is declining in this city. I feel that most non-French students who have studied the French language for more than a couple of years have had to learn the lyrics to the French national anthem, and every now and then a few remember the lyrics.
At times when I have hung out with both French friends and others from abroad, those French present were usually impressed that someone knew a few lines to their national anthem. I’ve heard quite a few of these French acquaintances say that they probably knew less of the words themselves than those from abroad who studied French. It didn’t seem to be terribly embarrassing to them, rather they just thought it was funny that foreigners who have studied French probably knew their national anthem better than them.
Paris might not be the best place to judge patriotism in France, as seemingly most Parisians don’t really care about anything anyway. I know that many Frenchmen are proud to call themselves French, though their displays of patriotic affection might have changed over the years. Perhaps their displays of patriotism are exuded in other ways, or maybe it comes in a self-satisfaction that while many want what they have, few can have the privilege to call themselves French.
If anyone has some opinion on this subject, I would love to hear it. Has French patriotism decreased in recent years? If so, why?All Images © John Paul Fortney