Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
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MAY 6, 2012 2:51PM

France has a new President!

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f cool
François Hollande casting his (pretty important, considering how close the race was) vote. (image source
There are times when all of France fairly hums with enthusiasm, speculation, and hope.  Today was one of those days.

The second round of France’s presidential elections sent people out to vote. Candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande were like night and day – Sarkozy standing behind his conservative, pro-austerity, anti-immigrant policies, Hollande backing increased government spending in areas where it’s needed, like education, and even promoting the idea of giving immigrants the right to vote.  Then again, for many people, Hollande’s policies didn’t matter so much as his not being Sarkozy, a President many see as a failure in terms of taking France out of the financial crisis, and forceful, even dictator-like, having gone so far as getting journalists fired for not supporting him.  

This afternoon, the boyfriend and I spent some time with our friends Juliette and Arthur, who, like my boyfriend, had just voted.  “Don’t ask them who they voted for - that's private,” the boyfriend told me as we walked towards where we were meeting them.  I rolled my eyes – what did he think, just because I’m American I have no discretion whatsoever?

A few minutes later, after saying our hellos, Juliette breathlessly turned to my boyfriend.  “So,” she said, “who did you vote for?”  

This was an election people were excited about.  Many Hollande supporters believe he’d be able to make a difference in just about every aspect of life in France.  Many Sarkozy supporters believe he’s the one who would keep France’s spending, and thus debt, down.  Each kind of supporter found it scary to think about what could possibly happen if the opposing candidate were to win.

“People would run out into the streets,” one of my students told me fearfully earlier this week.  “You do know what Hollande is going to do if he gets elected,” she went on, her voice full of dread.  “He’s going to let immigrants vote!”

I held back a laugh and a protestation all at once. My perplexity helped;  I’d been working with this student for several years, so obviously she knew that I am an immigrant. But I think her terror just got the better of her.

From the people I’ve spoken with, it really did seem like it was going to be a close race, even though the press and most of those same people, regardless of who they were voting for, figured Hollande’s victory was assured.

A few minutes ago, it was announced that the speculation was right – no “Dewey Beats Truman” situation for France this time around.  But it was really close in the end: 51.9% of the vote for Hollande versus 48.1% for Sarkozy.

We watched the results at our friends’ apartment in the 20th arrondissement, a fascinating area that’s a mix of the very wealthy, immigrants from around the globe, and residents of project housing.  When we saw that Hollande had won, the boyfriend told us to listen to the noise outside.  We opened the window and I was astonished to hear cheers going up from all the buildings around us.  People on the streets were shaking hands.  Cars raced by, horns beeping.  You’d have thought France had won the World Cup again.  

I’m writing this from their apartment, and the cheers and honking are still sporadically going up, nearly half an hour after the results were announced. Sarkozy is on TV, speaking to his devastated supporters, his speech now and then drowned out by the commotion outside.

The noise is most likely not the same on the streets of the richer neighborhoods in Paris, although even some of those people may have voted Hollande.  The air feels full of change and promise.  The Left is in power after seventeen years.

It may not end up meaning much at all, of course.  I’m personally far too jaded to believe politicians’ promises before an election.  And I don’t think all of the people cheering are doing it for purely idealistic reasons.  As another friend we spoke to put it, “Oh no, we can’t have another five years of Sarkozy.”

So there it is, Hollande is President, and what can I say about him?  In addition to giving his approval to a very cool campaign video, he’s goofy-looking
francois goofy 
but an intelligent speaker, he’s a Socialist, he didn’t try to find some excuse to be in Paris for his victory but chose to stay in the backwoods town of Tulle, where his offices as Deputy of the National Assembly and President of the General Council of the Corrèze region are located.  A humble, intelligent man from the Left  – very refreshing.  And if you like scandal, rest assured: Sarkozy had his troubled marriage, then divorce, then remarriage to a supermodel.  Already, François has reconciled with his ex-wife*, 2007 French Presidential candidate Ségolène Royale and she will probably be a member of his cabinet.  And his girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler, is pretty enough that some are saying she easily fills Carla Bruni's shoes.  So there’s an interesting element there, too. Something for everyone.  

I’m no expert in any way, shape, or form when it comes to politics, and I don’t know what will happen during this presidency.  People have said national debt will increase, as will taxes.  Others point out, on the other hand, that there will be more freedom than under Sarkozy’s rule, and perhaps changes to controversial laws the latter put into motion.  Only time will tell.  For now, as an immigrant and someone who really, really didn’t like most of what Sarkozy stood for, I just might stick my head out of the window and add to the cheers.
*UPDATE: I'm surprised I didn't know this - I guess it's due to the French way of being so nonchalant about people's personal lives, but though they lived together in a committed relationship for a long time and have children together,  Ségolène Royale was never Hollande's wife.  Also, to be clear - they "reconciled" in the let's-be-friends-and-stop-hating-each-other way, not in the let's-get-back-together way.

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Great report. I hope you did stick your head out the window and add to the cheers.

I loved the way Juliette immediately undercut your boyfriend's admonition to you. That was rich.
Congrats on your new President--
I love hearing about the cheers!
I'd *love* to hear loud cheering outside after a Presidential vote here....seems unlikely somehow.
How do folks feel about Ms. Bruni over there?
Just curious...
Interesting times on this side of the pond.

I was listening to the reports on the BBC--sounds like a great big party!
It sounds like a reason to cheer to me. Thanks for the "I am there" report.
Perhaps the Occupy movement here finally had an affect in the polls. Next, the Spaniards will be voting the monarchy out and reclaiming their land and wealth for Spain. The French may be celebrating the real success of democracy (even on a close call)- that the importance of the citizen is part and parcel to the success of any government or economy. I hope this sparks a greater change all over Europe.
All I can say is "Thank God," and hope that the Greens and other progressive parties in Germany can unify in their voter turn out to kick Merkle out of office.
Hope. I feel good about Hollande from what you have written. I get most of my news from OS now days so your account was very valuable to me. Thank you for the excellent reporting.
Hurrah! Socialism forever!
Excellent reporting, Alysa. Good luck with "Goofy."
Good reporting! Glad you gave us some insider's perspective. Gotta watch politics, religion and sex as topics of conversation!
To France: Mazal Tov, for whatever Hollande is and will be, it will not include Sarkozy's pandering to Le Pen, et. al.

Lucky you, an American in Paris with a French boyfriend experiencing and writing about an historic moment.
Yay. I think I told you the last time you wrote about the election that I wished I could vote for Hollande. I wish we had viable Socialist candidates here! Of course, I can't imagine anyone who was known to have a wife and girlfriend, simultaneously, being elected in the USA. Here, we want our politicians to sneak around. Sheesh! Anyway, even though, like you, I don't believe all the promises made politicians (even nice, smart, progressive politicians) will ever be kept, it seems that the French people might be better off under Hollande's leadership and I'm pleased for them.
I am not a big fan of austerity in a recession. So, WTF. Maybe it will work.
Not that I know anything at all about French politics, but this sounds like a positive change to me! Congrats :)
Thanks for sharing this information.

"...Hollande backing increased government spending in areas where it’s needed,..."

Glad to see that more people there than here believe that the government is not the enemy (even during economic difficulties). However, I already knew that when I visited France two years ago.
Cheering sounds warranted.
Time for a fresh new perspective.
Have immigrants ceased to contribute to France's GNP?
I think everyone of age must be allowed a say at the polls if he or she is a resident and paying any taxes there. Period.
Nicely written
You are happy? Then I am happy. He sounds promising.
Thank you for writing about the French election! I can't tell you how happy and proud I am of the French people. I heard Eleanor Beardsley's report on NPR, and was so happy to know good had triumphed over small. C'est magnifique, n'est ce pas?
Nice work, Alysa, and Bonne chance, France!I had a sense of deja vu reading this, with our 2008 election. Last time I felt really hopeful. Regarding this: "I’d been working with this student for several years, so obviously she knew that I am an immigrant. But I think her terror just got the better of her" ~ I think the immigrants that so many of the French object to are a bit different in background than you. Anyhow, nice reporting from our gal in Paris!
Thanks for your congratulations and good cheer, everyone!

Just Thinking – People here liked the glamour of Carla Bruni, though most of them saw her as yet another flashy element of Sarkozy’s very flashy persona, and they also felt she’s the kind of woman associated with power – especially because she’d had relationships with very Left-leaning people before. Since having her baby, she’s appeared a little out of shape and has been dressing very frumpy. Many think it was a way for her husband to get more voters: look, now his wife is the everywoman! The transformation is kind of fascinating, actually.

Eva – Sorry, I think I wasn’t clear: Hollande and Royale aren’t re-married, they just don’t totally hate each other anymore (at least it doesn’t seem that way).

Poor Woman – I like how you think. Though I have to admit, I’m not necessarily for giving every kind of vote to immigrants. I think we should be able to participate in local elections, like for mayor. But not for the major ones. The reason is that, though I hate to admit it, many immigrants here do not follow the French Republic’s beliefs of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Secularism. I can understand that they wouldn’t want these people voting – and I know it lumps me in with them, and that’s okay, because I also want to preserve the basic things France stands for. It’s a tough thing to have to say, because I want all people to have their voices heard, but I also know that many people who come here, are only here because of the quality of life – for example, for universal healthcare and great welfare programs – and I don’t blame them. But they aren’t in France because they love France and believe in its values.

dirndl skirt – You’re probably right about what my student meant by “immigrants”. And as I wrote to Poor Woman, above, though it’s hard for me to admit it, I do see her point. The only problem I have is that I just wish she could have not said anything – or at least told me, “Present company excluded”. It just seemed odd that she didn't add anything....
Thanks for this, and my congratulations to Hollande. I can't imagine how he is going to face up to his challenges - specifically, a global crisis in a globalized economy - but I wish him well and will follow his progress closely!

It's about time! Viva la France! More fries More fries! :D
Interesting first-person take on a historic night. I'm looking forward to what Hollande will do. Oh how the Right will gnash its teeth if Hollande follows basic, Keynesian principles and France's economy strengthens. It's going to be fun.
Thank goodness that 51.9% of French voters are smarter than Europe's top economists. Austerity has been a miserable failure. On both sides of the Atlantic, conservative economic policy is delusional.

Valerie is too good-looking for Francois. That said, I miss Carla already.
Oh you gotta be kidding me…a wife AND a mistress? That aint gonna sell in the Homeland, Alysa.
Not a chance in hell.
Socialist wicked man running France.
Damn Germany all high and mighty too, tryin to suck up to France AND Russia!

I suppose the next nightmare is mz merkl, that german gal, getting ousted..yikes.


I think we Homelanders oughta pick a fight with Russia!
Or maybe…well,not Iran, but maybe…
Saudi Arabia! Haw!

Gosh the world is a misera ble place. Thank heaven and all the saints we got a good godfearin man in the wings, mr. mitt! He gonna get back at France. Cuz..that is where he did his missionary work…those frenchies were not receptive… to say the least.. damn imbibers…smoking up a storm…

Well, I guess radical gals like u are happy. Also all yer radical lil friends… just wait til the crisis… o I bet it has something to do with a muslim woman wearing a sack and a hood…

France? We americans prefer to sneer atcha. Elitists morally depraved…etc…

Why cant France get invaded again , so we can come to the rescue? Maybe ..ah…Spain?

Sorry for the fascetiousness at this fantastic post, A , re. a sane man gaining power..
I did think of you as soon as I heard the news, and I wondered what you'd have to say!
Alysa, thank you so much for giving us a ringside view, or should I say, a window side! When you say immigrants would be able to vote, do you mean if they become citizens? Otherwise, it doesn't make a lot of sense, without that commitment. This election sounds refreshing, and I hope France surges ahead with this new President. What is Hollande's relationship with DSK? Is DSK now totally discredited? I sure hope so.
OMG thanks for the added insight. This is a real pleasure and a big moment in time .
How interesting to read your comments on Ms. Bruni...she definitely strikes me as a woman who likes the power. Why else Sarkozy? I always thought...
Funny you mention her now, post- bebe. Not that I look where she might be photo'ed much, but I haven't seen one photo of her stateside in a long time.
Thanks for the gossip on her...kind mild gossip. : )
In the last election, I was very disappointed that Segolene Royale was defeated by Sarkozy. They were saying she was just like Jackie Kennedy, only much more intellectual. I have a friend who is french and he said it was just a fluke of the electoral system in France, that she lost. Sarkozy certainly lived up to all my expectations. I read that France has had over forty complete changes in the organization of its government since the Revolution. That sounds awfully unstable, but to me it seems to be just more interesting than unstable.