About the Author: Adnan Siddiqi serves as Information Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Throughout this weekend and heading toward today’s Inauguration ceremony in Washington, the air waves, metros and sidewalk cafes of Paris have been abuzz. Media commentators, politicians, professors, corporate leaders, movers, shakers, immigrants and young people will all be focused on one historic news story -- Barack Obama’s swearing-in on the Capitol’s steps, live on TF1, France 2 and France 24. French bloggers will also be typing away overtime, exchanging thoughts and hopes about what lies ahead.
There are multiple reasons behind Obama-mania in France (some not entirely rational), but we’re not complaining. It’s nice to hear the refrain “Yes, we can” (especially in a French accent by people who barely know English). Nearly everyone in Paris seems to agree -- according to published polls as well as anecdotal feedback we get at our Embassy and Consulates -- that January 20, 2009 is a turning point, a genuine “moment historique.”
President-elect Obama visited France as a candidate last July. Local media are comparing him to some historical greats: to Roosevelt and Lincoln for bravely taking on monumental challenges, and to Kennedy for his energy and uplifting oratory. At last summer’s press conference at the Elysee, French president Sarkozy told Obama that “your adventure is a story which speaks to the heart of French people, to the heart of Europeans.” When the election results came in on November, the City of Light lit up with posters of Obama and excited talk of “turning the page” on race. Now the much-anticipated day of “Inauguration” is here – “L’investiture” in French -- and indeed for many in France, the ceremony is an “investment” in hope, democracy and world peace.
Yesterday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), our Embassy economic and political officers participated with French officials and scholars in a colloquium sponsored by the National Assembly’s U.S.-France Friendship Group, headlined “Where are transatlantic relations headed under an Obama presidency?” The mood was upbeat, the sense of hope and optimism palpable.
Today, many of us from the Mission will be heading toward the Mayor’s office for a gala event being described as “the hottest ticket in town” – a live transmission of Inauguration on large screens at the historic Hotel de Ville, followed by speeches and a concert by the Golden Gate quartet. More than 1300 French guests, including 90 journalists will attend the event, sponsored by the city of Paris in partnership with Democrats and Republicans Abroad.
For those Parisians who can’t get into either of the above events, they will still have plenty of venues to choose from, according to This French Life. Several restaurants and bars in exclusive neighborhoods are advertising themselves as the “place to be” to watch the live transmission from Washington and to share a glass of champagne. For those more soberly minded, the American Church in Paris is offering a special worship service and a gospel choir. And for the espresso-sipping intellectual crowd, the American Library of Paris is offering a book display and panel discussion chaired by a leading political analyst. Political discussions and festivities are expected to continue into the night, not only in the capital, but also in Marseille, Toulouse, Avignon and Strasbourg. All in all, it promises to be a remarkable day in France, or as the banners flying in Cannes joyfully claim: “Yes, we Cannes!”