to the French Ambassador
Once again the French Ambassador to the US kindly hosted a discussion, this time taking it on the chin a bit from a fellow compatriot, an attorney law professor, who seemed to want to blame anything he thought was wrong with France on the "political class", the August vacation recess and the stores being closed on Sunday. Ambassador Arnaud defended the Republic by noting one should not live to work but work to live and quality of life consists of Sunday family time together, worship and reading Proust. The character of the Republic depends on the creativity spawned by the day of rest and a month repose to reconnect with one's humanity. France is after all historically Catholic and I was happy to hear the Ambassador affirm it in noting Sunday worship is a good thing. Bon Dimanche! He affirmed there are better things to do than go shopping on Sunday. Here Here.
Along with the affable Steve Clemons, who discussed gay adventures of marriage of gay Tunisians in France assimilating meeting immigration obstacles, with the esteemed Stanford law professor bemoaning the backward "political class" the Ambassador held his own quite nicely fighting the false "France is sunk" paradigm, in stating that the politicians in most countries have to catch up to the vision of the people, this is not either especially a French phenomenon nor seriously the root of the issue. France, he explained, is fundamentally a welfare state with the best health care, child care, and education for children in the world. That requires people pay tax to subsidize the system and it is a challenge to keep industry and the people capable of and willing to support the system in the country. Shades of famous actors becoming inexplicably Russian as tax avoidance schemes comes to mind. France is a fundamentally fantastic country but has its challenges duly noted by the Ambassador. Everything seems better over the French wine he serves at the reception complete with fois gras and brie and blue cheese. Can anyone seriously doubt the French menu is worth joining the Foreign Legion over? (On that note Le Grenier on H Street, the newest French Restaurant in town is fantastic and I highly recommend their champaign brunch.)
Racial integration is a serious challenge now in France. The Ambassador noted that when he went to public school it was all white, caucasian and that is not the case now. The cohesion of the European Union is also a challenge. He described France as a country originally agrarian which didn't welcome much immigration. They stayed insular. The issue of the migrants poses a challenge to French people in terms of fighting fears and prejudice, real and/or imagined, especially in light of the radicalization of Islam and acts of violence such as they witnessed at the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year.
The Ambassador noted that Germany is only now the leading power in Europe by virtue of the fact that it has economic power, but France is going to be catching up because France has a higher birth rate. France has babies, the Ambassador delighted in saying, reminding me that I wanted to have one even being in Abraham's Sarah territory of too old to dream.
The subtly snarky critic of the French "political class" attorney Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, (who excused those of the political class who were lawyers (of course) in his book "What's Wrong With France" (I am only on page 20 but the trashing of the Political class theme continues), was a bi-continental Paris-New York big deal lawyer before starting his own firm and teaching at Stanford. He bemoaned being the only one in his building in Paris in August to which I thought - why were you in the building in August? Shouldn't you be at the beach?
Thanks for hosting this at the Sofitel- much easier to get there after work. I hope more Embassy events are hosted there.
My only criticism- i wish the whole discussion was in french. Je T'aime.