Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A weekend in France

An old friend of mine got married this weekend in France, and my mother and I went to the wedding together. We stayed at another friend’s place. And this is where the fun began. If I have ever complained about how clueless some Americans are about the military and the situation in Iraq, I would have to say that is nothing compared to the ignorance I came across in France.

It can best be summed up with the following exchange. I was talking about the Chinook crash in Afghanistan, and the shock of when death comes close to home. And I mentioned my widowed friend. After mulling this over, my French friend asks: “And is she angry at Bush?” That question was like a slap in the face to me.

I don’t know the answer to that question, basically because in our hours of discussion she never even said anything remotely to blaming Bush for her husband’s death. Perhaps she secretly does, but she never mentioned it. She did say that two weeks later they, and I am quoting her here, “caught the f*ckers” who had set the IEDs that killed her husband and his buddies.

I mean, I guess she could be angry at the guys who set the IEDs, or the guys who paid those guys. She could be angry that Bush decided to invade Iraq. She could be angry that terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center. She could be angry that Osama Bin Laden was responsible for that attack. She could be angry that the Taliban harbored Al Qaida and OBL. She could blame Clinton for not doing more against Al Qaida and OBL before. She could be angry and blame any one of the many dominos that fell and put her husband in a street in Baghdad in the summer of last year, near enough to the explosion of an IED that it ultimately led to his death.

But instead she chooses to focus her anger on the terrorists. Those who aim to destroy what her husband was fighting to construct. And I think she blames her husband a lot. For joining the National Guard. For volunteering for a tour he didn’t have to go on. For being on that street, and while helping others hurt by a previous IED, getting wounded in a second IED explosion.

This is not to say she didn’t complain about things…did you know for example, that National Guard soldiers don’t have APO addresses? Which means they can’t benefit from the fact that all intra-military post is free. For example, a spouse here in Germany or the US can send their soldier in Iraq a package weighing up to 70 pounds for free. Not to mention free postage for all letters. I hope that someone in Congress wises up about that one and will make it possible for the family of soldiers to send packages to them from any post office for free.

I digress.

I was so shocked by my friend’s question, that all I could muster was a stuttered “no.” They bandy about with such terms as the Bush Devil or Bishitler in France, and they pretend that they understand the world so well, however they seem to be perfectly okay with their president giving Robert Mugabe a state’s welcome to France two years ago. They seem to be perfectly okay with French and Moroccan UN soldiers raping children they are supposed to be protecting in the Congo. They turn a blind-eye to France’s involvement in the Oil-for-Food scandal.

It got even better when I started talking about the difference between Germany/France and the US when it comes to businesses. In America, businesses are seen as organizations which either produce a product or offer a service. And in Europe it seems like businesses’ reason for existing is to create jobs. But there seems to be a non-connect between the importance of a company making a profit, and the resulting ability to busy employees. All you hear about here is the social responsibility a company has to employ people.

There was a great short report on TV yesterday about German white asparagus. It is in season now, and the German growers, despite the highest unemployment rate in years, still have to get people from Poland to harvest the asparagus. One farmer was supposed to interview for employment 30 people referred by the local unemployment office, but none of the 30 turned up. The TV crew interviewed people going into the unemployment office about their unwillingness to harvest the asparagus, and they all gave reasons why they couldn’t: back problems, not interesting, the pay wasn’t high enough, etc. Then they interviewed the Polish harvesters about what they thought about the situation. They said Germans were lazy, Germans got too much welfare, and German obviously prefer eating to working.

In France they have more problems than in Germany, because at least German industry still has a good export market. Everyone is making more and more demands on their government, but doesn’t seem willing to do anything for it. The Front National, which is basically the French neo-Nazi party, got 17% at the last elections.

And I made some comment about Europe not being able to continue along this track much longer, when my French friend just exploded and said that America was terrible, it was unfair, blah blah blah. I don’t pretend that America’s system is perfect, but it is functioning. Clinton started tweaking the welfare system and Bush is now working on social security. Our politicians are capable of steering us on a different course, whereas the Europeans are still are aimed for a crash. And seeing that she is wrong, she says to me: “well, we just have different ways of seeing things, but they are both right. The French system has worked for hundreds of years and will still work in the future.” Um, no. My way of seeing things is realistic, yours is fantasy filled. I asked her if she honestly believed that the French system would continue to work in the future (not to even mention the hundreds of years comment). And she said, well, a few tweaks were necessary, but otherwise everything was okay.

I wanted to ask her if the French government had become more lenient in their drug policy lately, because she was obviously high.

There were a few moments of comedy for me over the weekend: at the wedding, one guy in his 60s came in uniform. I think it might have been the French Navy uniform. And he had one medal pinned on it. Well, now any American soldier coming out of basic training has about 3 medals…so it is strange to see an elderly military man with just one measly medal. It was a real indication of the lack of action the French military sees. I really had to bite my tongue to not ask: “Is that what you got for sinking the Rainbow Warrior?”

But I do have to say: I love France…it’s just the French that annoy me.

6 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

Great post, but one tangent...

It's not just National Guardsmen who don't have MPS; no one living in CONUS gets free postage. Even active duty families have to pay, which I agree is silly. I wish all mailing to deployed soldiers were free.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

hey ValleyGirl, good post.

I too think the French are little of course with their thinking. But I also think Bush is off course too. I'm glad you mention the tweaking of America's social system. Sure it needs some adjustments, but completely phasing SS like Bush wants to do is insane.

If a car has a flat tire, you just don't go out and by a new car.

I think Europe has a messed up view of socialism, but I also think conservatives do as well.

Also, and more to the point of your post, your friend asking if Bush was to blame is totally out of touch with reality. I like your reasoning behind it. If privately the widow blames Bush, then that's up to her. But for the French to notice the blood on Bush's hands is a contridiction.

You make a good list of things to blame and so on. But you forgot to mention Reagan. He created the jihad, openly supported, funded, armed and encouraged both Bin Laden and Saddam. Neither Bin Laden or Saddam would be what they are today without Reagan.

If we are going to pass blame- and not that you are, I don't mean to sound that way- then we should go back to the beginning and start there.

Thanks for the time. Miss seeing ya around.

9:33 PM  
Blogger CaliValleyGirl said...

MJ,

I was going to try to take the blame list all the way back to Roosevelt, or even the Founding Fathers but I was too lazy.

Miss your cantankerous commentary too. ;-)

12:17 AM  
Blogger katiedid said...

Wow, I didn't know the Guardsmen didn't get the free postage, or what sarah mentioned... that's a totally egregious oversight.

I just can't work up too much ire towards the French or any other peoples. Americans have their own assortment of ignorances and crazies. I think the bent of peoples' generalizations tends to wax and wane according to their own homegrown prejudices and experiences. I'm not convinced that the French have a real monopoly on that.

5:15 AM  
Blogger Yankee Tech in Germany said...

quote

I wanted to ask her if the French government had become more lenient in their drug policy lately, because she was obviously high.

end quote

you can tell you have been around Army people, thats just a polite way of saying "are you on crak?" something i hear round my office (army contractor) atlest once a day. normaly to people that are just so wrong its funny.

10:40 AM  
Blogger CaliValleyGirl said...

Katie,

Yeah, I usually say that Americans don't have a monopoly on ignorance...people always seem surprised that I know the words ignorance and monopoly and can say them in their respective languages...that about shuts them up for a few minutes...

However, I don't change my position: the French are just unbeatable in their intellectual arrogance.

11:09 AM  

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