La Difference

     Walking home on Friday, I was talking on the phone with my aunt about the week’s news. She commented that while she is not proud of our nation’s military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, she is proud or our nation’s equal application of the laws.
     She was talking about the the French presidential aspirant charged in New York.
     The rich man had to answer for such actions just as the poor man did, said my aunt.
     I too believe in that principle. But I feel it is honored in our nation as much in the breach as in the observance.
     Not only because of the stuff that the bankers and mortgage hustlers got away in the run-up to the nation’s financial meltdown, but because it still goes on in the stock and real estate markets today. The game is rigged.
     From the real estate market in Carlsbad, that I have observed personally, where agents feed the heirs-suckers to their buddies with sales well under the market price, to the stock market in New York where the underwriters fed the principals of Linked-In to their favored clients through an underpriced offering.
     Preceding the tattered American principle of justice for all is one that is also taking some knocks lately with stories of wrongly convicted men released after years in prison the principle of presumed innocence for all.
     Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who had been expected to be the Socialist candidate for president in France, is only accused. He is presumed innocent.
     But he has left behind him quite a remarkable wake of similar complaints from women, which will not make it into the New York court where he is charged, but which does pretty much convict him in the court of public opinion.
     Based on that past, there has been a great deal of talk in the news about whether the relation between the sexes is measured on a different yardstick in France than in America, with many French commentators denying any such gap.
     But I say it’s true. There is a difference.
     As my first witness, I would call my mother, who no longer has a corporal presence but who nevertheless wanders into my thoughts whenever she wants to.
     A petite, beautiful, dark-haired French woman who lived through the German occupation of Paris and the artist, bohemian culture that followed, she told me once that in Paris, when a man brought you back to your apartment, sometimes his ardor was just too great and you would simply give in – it wasn’t that big of a deal.
     I remember saying, “Mom!”
     I don’t remember how I told her that in the U.S., that would be considered rape or some rung on the ladder of crimes leading up to it.
     Second bit of evidence. A scene from the holidays in Paris.
     It was just closing time for the shops, evening was growing deep and cold, the streets were lit lamps and Christmas lights, and lots of people were out out shopping and walking along.
     I looked into a butcher shop – and you have to imagine a butcher shop in France during the holidays with wild game and the most delectable cuts of meat displayed in the ornate front window. The shops are full of French shoppers willing to pay dearly for the precious holiday fare.
     The “boucherie” had just closed but inside you could see the help putting things away. A man behind the counter was grabbing and chasing a woman. They were both in white aprons and white caps. She we was fending him off energetically, but laughing, excited and in clear good humor.
     I remember thinking to myself, oh, the employees could not do that in the U.S.
     Another bit of evidence. As a high school student in France, I was a bit shocked when the wife of my French uncle told me about their best friends, a man who ran a small import-export business and his wife.
     The man kept a mistress, and everybody knew about it, I was told. The wife accepted it, as long as she kept the role and privileges of wife.
     Lastly, I don’t know how anybody can forget in the overall discussion of the matter that the former French president Francois Mitterand had two families, both living very important in Paris in nice apartments that the government paid for. That fact has not tarnished his political legacy.
     Compare the reaction to recent revelations that the former governor of California has a child by a woman who worked in his household, which is one of shock, immorality and scandal, and one that will dog him forever.
     Force and oppression have no place in the relation between the sexes. The spot where the French draw the line of what is tolerable in that relationship, however, is different than where we Americans put it.

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