Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

World Expo: America vs. France
by Laure Chipman

On the topic of the French, I'd like to relate my observations on their presence at the World Expo near Nagoya, Japan, which I recently attended. Many nations had pavilions, ordinarily devoted to showing the world what the nation considers special about itself. We ended up going to a lot of third world pavilions, since the lines were shorter! Typically, they would display handicrafts in the native style, and often had shops where you could purchase some trinkets. Some had exhibits designed to encourage tourism. Mexico had quite a nice pavilion, mostly focused on Mexico's natural environment. (I liked it, being a Tucson desert-dweller myself.) Italy focused on its achievements in stylish design, from automotive engineering to fashion and home accessories.
The United States used a Benjamin-Franklin-visits-the-future movie as its centerpiece. The overall theme of the World Expo was supposed to be "Nature's Wisdom," so Franklin made the obligatory mention of a couple of inventions inspired by nature, such as bats' echolocation and radar. But the focus was basically, "Look what you've achieved in the 300 years since I was born!" And he constantly used "you" in an inclusive manner; he wasn't just congratulating Americans, but celebrating all the achievements of our time. It was an uplifting presentation, put a smile on my face. As we exited, we walked through an exhibit of NASA achievements, from the moon landing to the Mars Rover.

Then there was France. As we waited in line, my husband and I speculated about what the French would want to show the world. "What do they think is special about their country? The Eiffel Tower? The Arc de Triomphe? Joan of Arc? The art?  Ooh-ooh- the language! They are very proud of their language, I bet they'll work that in."

We entered a cubical room with a movie projected on the ceiling and all sides. There were brief subtitles throughout the movie in English and Japanese. They began with some pretty scenery ... but it didn't last long. We were hit over the head for 20 minutes by ugly images of forests being cut down, rag-pickers in city dumps, pollution, squalor, disease. The French theme was, "Look what you've done to the world. It's your lust for material comforts that's destroyed all these third world nations. DOOO something!" They ended on a young African man plaintively telling us that he doesn't want to live like this, all raggedy and unclean and starving. He wants a job and clean clothes and a decent place to live.
When the presentation ended, I just walked out shaking my head, wondering what the heck that was supposed to be.

I guess the attendees will have learned to equate the American sense of life with optimism and achievement, and the French sense of life with pessimism and guilt.
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