Blue Christmas in the Red Zone

ImageRed Zone/Blue Zone jokes were never really funny. And today as Paris expats head to their former homes in the Deep Rouge of Duluth and Denver, Dallas and Detroit to share the holidays with family and friends the bittersweet irony of color-coded bad blagues causes high anxiety among the chronically transcultural.

We have never been less sure than now of where we belong.

One college buddy from North Carolina transiting through Paris this week reminded me that there were really no choices in these past presidential elections, and I scratched my head trying to figure out what that meant. Did he really mean that he voted for the incumbent because the challenger was so flip-flopesque? I pressed him for clarification. “If None of the Above was on the ballot it would have won,” he explained before excusing himself to rush over to the lone Starbucks near his hotel at the Opera. “Only about 10% of the country really wanted Bush and only about 10% really wanted Kerry. The choice was a lose-lose from the start and so we lost.”

This logic made me nervous. And I accused him of being a Red. (Funny how pinkos are now Republicans.) He laughed but didn’t deny it. If in doubt the American thing to do these days is to laugh it off. Anything from regime change to the Foxification of information.

This got me thinking: Christmas dinners deep in the Homeland this season will be sociologically eventful for expats, I thought… As Parisians how do we talk to the neighbors? Can we keep our minds on the K-Mart eggnog? Can we forgive and forget? What if the Palestinian question comes up? Please pass the broccoli.

The political jokes in any case continue to nourish freely the Blue People on the Internet while our 52 million-strong emotional flags keep flying at an uninspiring half-mast. Denial is an effective form of coping. We try to keep our sense of humor in these direst of political moments. But political humor covers today’s truth like a coat of cheap paint smeared over a gray wall. The reality of November 2 keeps bleeding through, and late-night wit and online whims just don’t help much. Will they ever forgive us for living in Paris? I keep watching the Blue Faces shaking dull disbelieving heads: “We got what we got for another four years.” Reports have reached us here in Paris that many scattered Kerry people are still refusing to unearth their lawn signs. The rest are just trying to take on philosophical tones.

You know times are tough when the British owners of French’s mustard are forced to issue a press release saying “The only thing French about French’s Mustard is the name!” Watching the elections from Paris expats felt a chill as Bush menacingly intoned that he would never allow national security to be vetoed by “countries like France.” And if things weren’t bad enough the No. 1 movie in the states last month was “The incredibles” which features a French villain named “Bomb Voyage.”

The Paris flights back to the Homeland are pretty much fully booked… Parisian San Franciscans and New Yorkers, supersonics from Seattle, and revived spurs from San Antonio are all heading back for their former stocking-stuffed digs. With the greenback at an all-time low, prepare yourselves for outrageously cheap donuts with absurd names, outlet stores with brand name jeans and Timberlands going for a song, and a blatantly general absence of healthy and informed tableside debate on anything political.

Don’t ask your uncle how he voted. Don’t start in over cocktails by demanding if dad’s brother Dick liked Fahrenheit 9/11. Don’t goad your twin cousins if they’d enlist for Iraq. Don’t breathe a molecule about Arafat. And forget Guantanamo Bay. Keep quiet and keep repeating how beautiful Paris is. The beauty of Paris should be safe. But don’t remind anyone that we’re talking about France.

Idle chatter is rumored to be “in” this season.  The weak dollar isn’t weak if you’re not comparing it to a foreign currency, so that’s a non-starter. If you bring up the Patriot Act 2, be prepared to lose your dessert rights. So, buckle up for safety: your impending trip to your sister’s or to your aunt’s or your son’s wife’s parents in Cincinnati or Phoenix or Lincoln or Bismarck this year should be exceptionally scary. When all else fails, remember the Richard Pryor mantra for suburban white people: “Please pass some of that gravy.”

The home in Dorothy’s heart-wrenching incantation “There’s no place like home” fell solidly into the Deep Red in the Kansas race of 2004 of course, but one wonders if Auntie Em would have really voted for George W. God-fearing, she may have. But, one would like to think that her mushy husband, the lily-livered Uncle might have silently opted for regime change in the country’s capital. One thing is for sure; can’t you just see Karl Rove playing the role of the conniving Wizard?

So brace yourself. This Christmas, points across the Atlantic divide will be particularly weird. And the presence of the Parisian, you, won’t make it any smoother. The fault lines of the Red and the Blue shall not ride along the geo-politically divided states, but in the color-clashing divisions of our cities and our neighborhoods. Robert Frost is nodding in his New England grave “Good Fences Make Good neighbors, I told you in 1928.”  And even worse, the political Mason-Dixon line this Yuletide crisscrosses families, not slave states, with Dad and sister Carrie having happily voted for the security of more of the same while Mom and brother John are stuck in reckless mourning.

The Reds are meeting the blues not on the coasts or in the middle of the country but somewhere beyond that festive ham or pumpkin pie, slightly to the right of the gravy bowl, and in the murky middle of the pitcher of apple cider. Red and Blue fists will both be grabbing for the Jack Daniels, and the remote control of the Sears flat screen Home Entertainment center that overshadows all forms of verbal disagreement. The Democrat and Republican voters will agree only that the green beans need salt and the key lime pie is darn good – as long as the conversation doesn’t slip into the grips of Walmart, where the Dems will raise the labor issues and the Reps will hail the K-Mart buyout.

Bonnes fêtes !

David Applefield  is the author of PARIS INSIDE OUT and THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO PARIS. He is also the publisher of //  and the Paris newsletter “My Mercredi.”