Back in France. It was only a week but it felt like a time warp. Just as always, going home to Minnesota brings me back to a time when I was still bringing my laundry home, or living at home, or wishing I could get the hell away from home. But inevitably, there I was, back on my parents’ living room couch again.
I thought things would be different this time – a new president was in the White House, a senatorial recount was in the works and my formerly republican cousin actually voted Obama.
But I didn’t so much as feel the subtle breeze of change. Where were all the leftover Obama banners? Why wasn’t anyone revving up into heated discussions about politics? Why did those Franken lawn signs look so tattered?
I guess in my pre-trip American fantasy, I expected to walk into a politically charged environment where all conversational roads led to Obama. I not only expected it, but craved it too. After almost a year abroad, I needed my fix of American political blatherings. And on my first night at home, I got it.
“It’s so embarassing that Sarah Palin took her $150,000 RNC shopping spree here in Minneapolis!” Said my Texan Aunt Penny, who was staying with us for the weekend.
“What?” I screeched? Apparently CNN (my major source for news here in France) had failed to mention the fact that Palin had done all her and her family’s shopping at the Minneapolis Neiman Marcus.
Horrified, I also learned that the U.S. was wrapped in the Proposition 8 controversy, whereas in France no one seems to even know what it entails. With voices almost shattering the window panes, my family went off on the recent election, race and gender relations in America, those Katie Couric interviews and the epic Tina Fey impersonation of Sarah Palin.
But after that initial night, I can’t say that I was engaged in any other political conversation during the rest of the week. Sure, I found out about one of my friend’s new love interests, and yes, I saw my other friend’s new baby. But no, I never once learned what those last weeks of the presidential election were like. I wanted the flavors, the colors, the images that exemplified the most exciting political race of perhaps the century.
But no, all I got were babies, boyfriends and bars. Because while politics is important in everyone’s lives, it is still rather rare to have intense conversations on the subject with everyone you meet. In the end, politics is just a small part of life and one that gets glazed over when your relationship is on the rocks, you’re about to lose your job or you learn that you have a terminal illness.
And so, here I am back in France, having gained not too much insight into this past year’s political process. I can tell you, though, that getting in and out of the U.S. has taken on new suffering. Shoes off, belts in the tray, and don’t even think about making jokes with the security officers (I can’t say that the guy liked it too much when I answered his question of, “Do you have more than $10,000 with you?” with “No, I wish.”). Not to mention the intense racial profiling I witnessed getting off of the plane in Minnesota.
The officers were lined up against the wall even before we met with customs, accosting people who looked suspicious: in this case, all non-white people on the plane. It was a sickening, embarrassing display of not-so-Minnesota-Nice. I can’t wait until January when I have to register with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ESTA system, which is computerizing the old system of green customs forms we all used to fill out on the plane. It sounds like just another annoyance in a travel process where I already can’t bring a bottle of water onto a 9-hour plane ride, much less enough fluid ounces of toiletries to keep me sanitary for 24 hours of travel.
So besides a few flying hiccups, I’ve come back to France without any grand revelations about the American political system, or even the overwhelming American political view (although I think voting showed us just a little bit about this). I’m just excited that, unlike in the presidential race, when it comes to Al Franken and Norm Coleman’s recount, my vote will actually count. Since absentee ballots are only counted after all others have been (and when there is a need to make up a significant difference) I finally feel like I got in on the American political process, even if it was from many ocean waves away.
Who knows, maybe I’ll have a viable shot in 2012.