When your country is collapsing, it’s easy to idealize another country. We often hear about how the sought-after aspects of American culture, such as McDonald’s and blue jeans, were in the Soviet Union, which is collapsing. Wanting what you can’t have must be one of the most frustrating human emotions of all. From unfriendly partners to simple carbs, nothing on the planet is as attractive as the off-limits.
That said, I never thought gasoline was so attractive. It certainly smells good. But I don’t drive, and it’s something I’ve never really thought of until my country started running out of it. But this is what I saw deploying from a safe distance in France. A place that now looks like utopia to the British, who live in a place that looks like a failed state of thief politics.
It is a country where wine tastes good and tomatoes not only taste like tomatoes, but also have real infrastructure. Especially for Covid.
On my way to my partner’s mom in the Burgundy countryside via Paris, I was humbled to see the entire coach filled with masked people. Something that most people seem to give up altogether, at least in London. In addition to this, the French vaccine path system, which effectively excludes unvaccinated people from public life, has a Covid rate of about 7 times higher in the UK than in France today (according to Reuters Covid-19 Tracker). It may be a high reason.
What surprises me about France (and, for that matter, many other mainland European countries) is how individualistic Britain is. Everything from refusing to wear masks to actively assigning power to landlords and real estate developers.
Even under solid neoliberalism like Emmanuel Macron, it’s hard to shake the feeling that France is at its very heart, to the left of Britain. Maybe it comes with killing your entire aristocrat. The French are belting “La Marseillaise” while we are looking for “the god who saves Her Majesty”.
Idealism, even romanticism about France is inevitable while looking at pictures of an Englishman meandering a row of petrol from a village in Burgundy where you can see cows from the kitchen window. After all, media discourse is as toxic in France as it is in Britain.
For those who don’t know, the words “awakening principle” and “cancelling culture” made it through the channel in their confused glory. Islamophobia has pierced the roof, and far-right critic and potential presidential candidate Eric Zemmour called immigrants “robbers, murderers, and rapists” on French television last year.
But my god is their fresh produce, and does my god have French access to petrol? Still, there are Europeans who envy us. At a recent supper with her French dad and his right-wing companion, my partner asked their Kuu over Brexit and what “smart” moves it was. All of this while they eat beautiful, affordable food in a restaurant driven by a fuel-rich car.
How was it that you always wanted something you couldn’t have?