Just when you think you know who your friends are, there’s a presidential election and suddenly some of your friends seem to have become your worst enemies–without any specific provocation from you. I know–it’s just happened to me–again–as it does every four years. So, who are our friends? Friendship means different things in different cultures, and each culture has certain expectations of friendship.
In France friends are your sparring partners and adversaries, as well as your companions and your guides, believe it or not, and as such, friends have the right to tell you when you’ve fallen off the straight and narrow, fallen flat on your face, or fallen short of your potential. French friends are not expected to agree with you on all of life’s pressing matters, including politics. In fact, it’s better if they don’t–that way you can have rousing knock down-drag out battles with your friends in which it certainly seems that at least one of you will die, only to walk off arm-in-arm once the battling has run its course, laughing about the good time you just had verbally pommeling each other into pulp. That is not what we do in our American culture, however–at least not to our friends; we reserve the pommeling part for our enemies–or so I’d thought.
Now it seems, for some at least, that battering one’s friends is acceptable behavior, especially if the impetus for the pounding is politics. I’ve learned that certain friends are self-starters. They just come running at you, hurling insults at not just the candidate of your choice, but at you too. This seems very unfriendly by American standards, and the last time I checked, we hadn’t all moved to France. So what makes us think that we can maintain friendships by putting them through meat grinders and then flinging what comes out at the wall? It seems to be a very strange way to treat one’s friends…unless we’ve all gone French without having moved to France.