Come the 20th of January the day of inauguration, there was commotion and, to my surprise, a sentiment of excitement. These French, who had always been accused of hating Americans, were not following the behavioral norms I had come to expect. During the inauguration, while I sat with goosebumps listening to the first African-American president accept his duty to my homeland; I was picked up by an African-French gentleman and kissed right on the mouth. Quite the surprise, if you ask me! But this was more than “getting rid of Bush,” especially to the French. This represented a shift in the ideological foundation in Washington: the emergence of youth in social change, the new role of mavericks in politics, and the capacity to change international relations instantaneously. In the span of his roughly one hour ceremony, Obama changed the face of America.
The point to be made here is not just a numeration of implications brought on by a new world leader of a different ethnicity (although there are many), but that the French were just as involved and occupied by happenings in America as were Americans. This is not era-specific, as the importance of international politics has existed for centuries, but it is time-sensitive. For me, it was the awakening of a new concept: that I was a global citizen concerned with the events happening not only in my native country of the US, but with what was happening in the EU and France as I was now to be directly affected by their current affairs.
Now while I could not directly be employed or even vote, I was still acutely aware of my many roles as an American living in Paris. Not only was I a student representing a group of youth with investments in higher education, I was an American student studying abroad representing an investment in foreign culture. It was through an open-minded demeanor and international interest that I was able to converse with like-minded Parisians and Parisians who opposed many of the ideals and beliefs that I held and still hold dear. In discovering my position in a global society, I came in contact with many ideologies and paradigms of thinking.
This could be a core component to the meaning of global citizenship: understanding the microcosm of my world in the context of internationalism and globalization. Because some of my courses actually focused on these as topics, such as the “Economics of the European Union” and the “History of Islamic Art,” I was able to constantly be reminded of greater affairs and international perceptions of things that before, I had only seen from the American— or democratic or capitalistic— viewpoint. From studying the formation of the EU, a greater political body monitoring many sovereign nations, to the transmission of cultural advancements across Orient to the Middle East, and lastly to Occident, I was able to see that the unquestioned importance of the US hegemony in the world no longer existed in my mind.
I started to question many things at this point and was even able to discover a relatively new field within the study of economics. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study at French universities in Paris (specifically Sorbonne and L’Institut Catholique de Paris) and take courses in economics at these institutions. It was in a “Contemporary Economics” course that I read the works (Vers un Nouveau Capitalisme) of Mohammad Yunus, an academic and self-proclaimed banker to the poor. Never in American economic curricula had I found this particular theory of social business presented. I was immediately excited at my discovery or rather new found interest, but concerned for the quality and breadth of American economic programs and their implied narrow-mindedness. I was thrilled to see that other political systems and financial systems could adapt the concept of capitalism to fit their structural framework and political establishment. Furthermore I was directed towards a field in which I hope to pursue a career.
Without these sorts of realizations, understandings of the real world and its workings, I would be back where I started. By having the opportunity to live in another country, live in another culture and assimilate into it as best I could, I was able to redefine my role as an American living in the world, and as an American living in America.
When I had arrived in France, a friend of mine, who is French and who had recently moved to Paris, asked me, “Do you feel proud when you see your flag?” I had answered her blandly saying, “No, not yet at least…” because I was embarrassed of America’s reputation [at the time]. It was not until I reached Normandy, months later, that I saw my flag waving on soil that had been given from the French to America (at Omaha Beach). It was then that I realized that I was so proud of my country that I could not conceive it. I was proud of my inherent civil rights guaranteed to me by my constitution and citizenship; I was proud of the oppression and evil that the US helped to destroy during WWII (though who knows if it created it during the post-WWI era); and I was proud to represent a global subculture of people who espouse the equality of all people and right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. It becomes painfully obvious as one travels more and more that these privileges that I so often take advantage of or that I rarely even think of are notrights for most of the global population.
Turning here from my personal epiphanies to the role of globalization and global status within the French (again, specifically Parisian) society, I hope to offer some basic observations of my experience. Simply speaking, it is obvious that globalization has enormously affected not only France, but Paris. Walking around the winding boulevards and rues of Paris, I was able to see Pfizer (which was right down the street from my apartment), Coca Cola, Cisco, AT&T, J.P. Morgan, Pricewaterhouse Coopers Audit, Microsoft, as well as hundreds of other American based or American oriented firms. Much employment and international business is done between Paris and countries all over the world. Paris is increasingly experiencing an augmentation in migration, with larger and larger numbers from Arab countries or North African nations. Aside from French, I heard Arabic on a regular basis; and if I stayed in the 14th arrondissement (in the south part of Paris proper), I barely heard any English.
When moving from Paris to the whole country of France, the impact of globalization becomes even more apparent. The last 50 years has represented the most liberal period for French in terms of internationalism. The growth and development of the EU has transcended national frontiers to establish a rapport between Europeans as a collective group in an increasingly competitive global environment. The Schengen Agreement allows for the free movement of labor across borders of any country within the EU, which means that there are more and more ethnicities and nationalities throughout the whole of France. While in Nice and Monaco I was able to meet many people of Arab descent and while in England I actually made friends with several French and German girls.
As a matter of fact, it was in Nice that my two friends and I, during spring “holiday,” decided to dine Moroccan. As it was in the reputable French Riviera, we trusted the authenticity. We spoke polite French with our garçon, saying “please” and “thank you” as one would expect. It was then that the man, who happened to be the owner, stopped his service and sat down with us. Actually he got us some small cakes and warm green tea first, but nevertheless…He told us to treat him, to treat any foreigner we encounter, with the same rapport and behavior as we would in our own country. He told us that he would enjoy a broken conversation given in a good humor above cold, yet polite utterances dictated by perceived modern norms. It was then that we broke the ice and he showed us his restaurant, brought out his kanun and played it singing in Arabic, wrote our names in calligraphy (the highest of arts in Islam), and welcomed us into his hospitality. We never acted the same in a restaurant afterwards.
Not all aspects of globalization and in the previous case—aspects of increased acceptance of internationalism—are so positive. The economic crisis and eventual recession caused much discussion and melee among the French press and ordinary citizens. It was obvious that greedy American consumption annoyed the French and that the repercussions they felt, in a socialist regime, [which regime is this?] would be of a longer duration and of a potential greater magnitude. The actions of Americans and American banks affected millions of non-Americans. As my “Economics of the EU” course picked up more and more the current events in the newspapers, we were able to analyze the consequences of globalization; between nations and between greater political/financial bodies. The EU couldn’t agree on the true definition of chocolate—should it be Belgian or should it be Cadbury (English)? The EU and the US couldn’t agree (and still cannot) on international agricultural regulations and standards—which pathogen reduction treatment should the US adopt that the EU will allow? France even threatened to walk out of the G20 summit if its requests were not met—where does the meaning of negotiation or multilateral discussion go when this occurs? France, Italy, Germany, and numerous other countries tried to adopt protectionist policies—is this not the complete reversal of the principles of globalization? I gave a presentation on the new wave of economic nationalism in my “Contemporary Economics” class—highlighting the negative repercussions in a world that continues to globalize regardless of individual country’s behavior.
France, one of the most developed of the European nations and one of the leaders of the EU, experienced political and economic tension just as the US did—in the name of a globalized and highly interdependent world. The affairs of multiple nations became and are still becoming so intertwined the hazy line of civic proprietorship, whether in capital or intellectual property, is becoming impossible to distinguish. Cultures are mixed; economies are inter-reliant. Beyoncé and Chris Brown performed in Paris while Sarkozy vacationed in the US. China and India are starting to compete with advanced economies. While I know that I am certainly an American among all of the confusion, I personally find it more intriguing the continue exploring my citizenship of the globe.