Family and friends have been asking me how things are in France. We are now going on three weeks since my adopted country got shaken by the worst acts of terrorism most of the French have seen in their lifetimes. If the horrific images of November 13th are starting to grow distant, they are still in the back of our minds. If the hunt for the terrorists isn't the top story on the news, we keep wondering if something else will happen soon.
One of my students asked me if it was perhaps easier for me to deal with since, as an American, I'd already experienced 9/11. As we were sitting there five days after what people were already calling the French 9/11, I had to say, no. It doesn't make it any easier, I said, as I wiped away the beginning of a tear. And besides, as France is also my home now, it was like they were attacking my second homeland.
After the rawness started fading more into resolution that life in France had changed, I noticed something else starting to happen. Resistance. "The danger is eveywhere, so the danger is nowhere," an older stage actor said on the news as he encouraged people to keep going to the theatre. And not more than a week after, I saw Parisian ladies drinking mojitos on TV and proudly saying they were going out anyway.
That's when I realized, the French are gonna be alright. And it's for the very reasons they are sometimes mocked around the world. But now those "faults" have become their strengths.
It's because they're proud and stubborn. How many times have I bemoaned these very things on my blog in some gentle French-bashing? Like how they love to brag about how their country and food are so great, for example. But now that pride will serve them well as they remember how much they love their country.
And as they keep going to concerts, even if they are afraid and check out the exit doors before, as one TV report showed, they are also one of the most hard-headed nations I've ever seen! Just look how many train strikes these people can pull off in a year! Never try to win an argument with a Frenchman.
It's because they love life. Joie de vivre. It's a French expression that has even crept into English. As one journalist mentioned after the attack, it seemed that's what the terrorists were targeting when they so cowardly shot people on terrace cafés. But you can't kill the spirit of a people who love life this much, who can go into ecstasy over the subtelties of cheese and wine and pastries. I know, 'cause I teach French people, and their capacity to talk about the little things in life is endless. And in these dark days after the attacks, that will help them get through things.
It's because they are more like Americans than they realize! For all the jokes our two nations may trade across the ocean, we are actually eerily similar. After the attacks, there were more French flags put proudly on display. The president even encouraged people to hang them from their windows two Fridays ago during the national "hommage." The flag that used to be reserved for sporting events and Bastille Day has come out of the closet. The French are just as patriotic as we are, just in their own way.
So even though I am still worried about the threats out there, I know the French are strong. Strong-willed, too. It takes one to know one. And just like America after our 9/11, they will keep on going. Keep on living and laughing and fighting.