Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A New President

Where do I vote? 
The French presidential election has just wrapped up and I enjoyed every minute of it. When the whole process (first round, second round, call the moving trucks a new president is in town!) takes a mere five weeks so you have the energy and patience to participate fully.

I found the whole thing to be as charming as can be.

Candidates must first obtain 500 signatures of support from local officials, then two weeks prior to the first round of voting France says, ready... set... go! And all of the candidates start their campaign. This year we had 10 candidates to choose from during the first round, right wing extremists, utopian communists, a stylish green party représentative with unusual glasses and a Scandinavian accent, a people's man who proposed eliminating public debt by simply not paying it, Hollande who is a socialist often compared  caramel pudding by the French media and bien sûr, Sarkozy, fighting hard to keep his job. What an interesting mix of characters.

Green glasses. Green party. Get it? I do. 
Two days before the first round of voting takes place, every registered voter in France receives a large envelope containing a collection of four page color brochures produced by each candidate (paid for by the government) explaining their various positions. Over coffee and croissants Gregoire and I read through the possibilites.

The French are a dramatic people and will often make a wild theatrical vote during the first round for someone who they know (and deep down hope) will never take office, just to make a statement.

I don't yet have the right to vote (as a side note this was interestingly a big topic of conversation during this campaign, should foreign residents have the right to vote in local elections? Wouldn't cover presidential elections so a mute point here but still an interesting topic if you ask me) Gregoire is the only French person of legal age in our household and thus holds the family's vote. We talked it over and decided to go Green. Yes, she's not French, yes, she has crazy glasses, but she loves the environment, gay people, and foreigners, she chose to live in France which shows that she loves this country by choice not obligation and more importantly through her environmental policies proposed several feasible solutions to jump starting the economy outside of the whole tax or cut debate between the traditional left and the right.

Unfortunately only 2.7% of the population agreed with us. And unfortunately for her she didn't make it to the magical 5% mark, if candidates are able to pull in at least 5% of the vote they are reimbursed by the government for most of their campaign costs. That's right! No need for endless fundraisers here or selling your soul in order to raise enough money to print posters and buttons.

Let the debate begin.
Once the field has been narrowed to two, those candidates battle it out for a solid two weeks. Hollande and Sarkozy went head to head. Traditionally there is one televised presidential debate. Sarkozy, known for his sharp tongue and argumentative personality, challenged Hollande to three debates this year instead of one claiming that there was too much to discuss for one debate. Holland, AKA flamby or caramel pudding, prudently declined. 

"The man. The president. The candidat." Slick photos from Sarkozy's website done by actual marketing experts, something the French public find suspicious and displeasing in a political candidate. 

This debate, held a few days before the final election, was from my standpoint a little disappointing. After such honest and direct campaigning, such simple and effective distribution of information, I assumed the two candidates would speak to the public from their hearts but instead they simply spoke to each other using cryptic acronyms and debating percentages and numbers so obscure that the audience largely lost interest and had the time tease the debate mediators and analyse the body language of the two men. The mediators, two famous journalists, were barely able to maintain the debate on course and where compared to office plants in the news. Sarkozy to me looked like a rooster in a cage fight, twitching with agitation at his cool and dopey faced opponente. The piece of this debate that I thought was a brilliant addition, was a running stop watch set under the candidate's desk insuring that each person had spoken the same number of minutes, I found this delightfully fair.

Here on the other hand is one of the only images to be found on Hollande's website where there isn't a whiff of marketing or pr to be found. Just this odd photo of Hollande (right) in an unattractive meeting room drinking inexpensive bottled water. 
In the blink of an eye the campaign was over and it was already time to vote again! Just as before,  we received an envelope from the government containing two brochures and two white slips of paper about as big as an index card, one marked Hollande, one marked Sarkozy. Gregoire, Colette and I all went down to our assigned voting station. Two bits of paper in hand Gregoire took an envelope and stepped behind a shower curtain. In the privacy of this little both Gregoire put the slip for the candidate of his choice in the supplied envelope and recycled the other one. Then we all marched up to the big book where Gregoire signed his name and after dropping his envelope into the official box it was announced loud and clear for all to hear that Monsieur Gregoire a voté, has voted! We left the hall to the sounds of madame a voté, monsieur a voté, mademoiselle a voté!

That night very same night at 8pm on the dot the announcement was made, Hollande would be France's next president.

"Be dignified, be patriotic, be French. I love you. Signed, Nicolas Sarkozy. " This was the now ex-president's good bye message on his website, La France Fort, The Strong France, after his defeat. 
Et voilà. Here we are, almost a week after the vote. Sarkozy and Carla are packing up their things and Hollande is ready to move in. Done. France can now move on to talking about other things and politicians can get back to work.


Kristin said...

thanks Mary, I can't say that the French election even made the news over here...the fact that Mitt Romney was a bully in high school certainly trumped all other news. Love this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/16/world/europe/francois-hollande-sworn-in-as-president-of-france.html
Sarcozy passing the torch and twitter password, love it. And Hollande is the first unmarried French president!?! Quelle scandale!

Simply Bike said...


I just learned of your blog through your interview with Rick Steves for the recent Mother's Day episode. I'm sorry but this comment will have nothing to do with this current post on the French election, but since I can't see an email address with which to contact you, I thought I'd try it this way.

I'm also a mama of a Colette :) only ours was born (also in August) in Iowa. My husband is American and I'm Romanian and I write about bilingual parenting (among other things) on my blog. I'd love to interview you for my series on bilingual parenting, should you be interested.

Thanks for considering it, feel free to contact me if you're up for it (simplybikeATgmailDOTcom).


Laura E. said...

Ever since I discovered your blog (and promptly read every single entry), I've been checking back basically at least once a day to see if there's anything new. You're welcome for all the hits. :-P I want to hear more about your experience in culinary school, where you're working now, and about raising kids in Paris!

Mandy said...

What happened to my favorite France blogging American? It couldn't possibly be that having 1 child, 1 husband and another 1 on the way is keeping you away from your avid fans! Missing your Internet presence, but wishing you all the best in whatever endeavors you are up to!