Monday, January 12, 2009

Shalom, Obama

I stopped by our bakery the day we came home from our trip. M. le boulanger came out from behind the counter to wish me bonne année et bonne santé with a kiss on both cheeks. Vous avez passé des bonnes fêtes aux Etats-Unis? he asked. Vous les avez célébré avec Obama?

But of course, I said. We went to Hawaii and celebrated with him there.

Gilbert--I'll tell you his name; we've been on first-name basis for a while now, which is not a minor accomplishment--inclined his head conspiratorially. You know, I've changed my mind about Obama.

Gilbert was the only français we knew who had supported McCain. I had extrapolated from that--and from a few conversations about immigration--support for all sorts of political stances, none of them similar to my own. But that's the beauty of a foreign language and culture: we could agree on fresh bread and pastries and leave politics out of it.

He pointed out the window of the shop, towards the newspaper stand. Prominently displayed was a copy of the current Tribune Juive, the monthly magazine of the Jewish community in France. Its headline, under a flattering photo of the president-elect, was Shalom Obama. The baker nodded in that direction.

I bought that magazine, and I read the article. He turned back to me. I'm Jewish, you see.

Really? I was genuinely surprised. The Jewish population of France is small, the Jewish population in our region, microscopic. C is Jewish, too.

You never told me,
he said. Now we have to shake hands. You must tell C that although I liked him before, now I like him even better. He came out from behind the counter and shook my hand before continuing: I read the article about Obama, and did you know that most of his advisers are Jewish? In fact, I think that his mind is almost a Jewish mind. He thinks like a Jew.

All I could come up with was: Vous croyez? Do you think so?

Mais si. Bien sûr. So now I am supporting him, with you. Nous sommes tous démocrats. We are all democrats.

And so it came to pass that Gilbert, the only Frenchman we know who would have voted for McCain if he could have, changed his mind. Shalom, Obama, indeed.

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