Sunday, June 28, 2009

National styles of behavior

For years, one of my favorite innocent pastimes (serving no useful purpose) has consisted of comparing characteristic behavior from three nations that happen to concern me in different ways: Australia (my native land), France (my adoptive home place) and the USA (which hits me in the face every day or so on my TV and computer screens). Hardly a week goes by without my being tempted to write an article entitled It could only happen in X... where X designates one of the three above-mentioned nations. In my title, I've used the term "styles" for such idiosyncrasies. If nations had brains, I wouldn't hesitate in referring to the cases that intrigue me as national neuroses.

In Australia, a couple of weeks ago, the press published an alleged email suggesting that an automobile dealer was receiving favors from Kevin Rudd, maybe because this fellow had once made a gift of a utility vehicle to the prime minister. It was soon revealed that, like countless emails that all of us receive regularly (requesting our personal banking details, for example), this one was an amateurish fake designed to smear Rudd. But this affair is still making front-page news in the Oz media... along with the death of Michael Jackson.

In France, a case of behavior characteristic of a brain-damaged nation was provided by the president Nicolas Sarkozy himself when he used a big bag of taxpayers' money to stage an in-house show for parliamentarians and senators in the ancient royal palace of Versailles, with the aim of spreading the message that the French people will have to accept the fact that times are hard.

And the background to this sermon was a recent audit revealing that never before in the history of the 5th République, from a budget viewpoint, has the president's Elysées Palace lived so extravagantly. As a young queen with her head in the clouds (prior to falling into a basket) might have said: "The people are crying out for a better deal, more jobs, increased purchasing power and overall prosperity? Let them admire us, eat cake and listen to my sweet songs!"

In America (only in America, to use CNN-talk), another story of sinful sex has come to light with the brief disappearance of Mark Sanford, the Republican governor of South Carolina.

Believe it or not, he was down in Argentina with a lady friend, following up on an encounter established during a state-funded economic-development trip. "She's no lady; she's an economical female contact."

I liked a joke from the senator John Kerry, whom we don't normally imagine as the funniest celebrity in the US: "Too bad, if a governor had to go missing, it couldn’t have been the governor of Alaska. You know, Sarah Palin." Meanwhile, we are told that Sanford's dear old mother is praying for him, whereas Sanford's wife didn't give a screw about where he might have been. "Don't pray for me, Argentina." As for Sanford himself, he has promised his electors to reimburse the cost of his fact-finding mission to the land of Evita Peron.

As I said, the common feature of these three trivial happenings is that each one could only ever have occurred in the land where it did in fact take place. Can you imagine Kevin Rudd disappearing for a week in Bali, say, with a mysterious local lass? Or Sarkozy getting into trouble because a friend gave him an old 2-horsepower Citroën? Or Obama renting a palace in Las Vegas to make a down-to-earth policy statement? Who are the idiots who claim that the world has become a more uniform place, where everything's the same?

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