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Jewish World Review July 6, 1999 /22 Tamuz 5759

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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America is home, sweet home --
SO I WENT to another country.

Not to become an expatriate, as I've threatened I might, given my occasional disenchantment with the state of the union. But to freshen my perspective, to see what I might see.

I admit that I tried not to look American as I strolled the streets of Paris. I even borrowed a friend's portable phone and pooch. Truth: One out of three Parisians owns a dog, which may help explain why one in four French is employed by the state. Someone has to clean up after the pups.

Meanwhile, all Parisians own a portable phone. People don't talk to the person they're with, because they're busy talking to the next person they plan to be with.

This phenomenon likely explains the pleasant temperament of French dogs, who get to scarf veal chops and creme brulee while their owners are otherwise distracted.

Thus accessorized, I would summon my best French accent and ask for directions to, say, the Eiffel Tower, where no native would be caught dead or alive in June. Somehow, they always pegged me for the Yank-ette I sincerely am.

And which, I hastily add, I'm grateful to be.

Despite our nation's plummeting intelligence quotient, our insistence on worshiping celebrities instead of heroes, our benign neglect in the face of encroaching government, I ain't leaving.

I love America, and I love Americans, a fact that surprises even moi.

Don't get me wrong. I love France. I love the French. I love croissants, the lilting greeting of "Bonjour, Madame," small cars, narrow streets, haute couture and cuisine, tiny dogs with jeweled collars, long days, cool nights and the humbling allure of architecture, art and history around every corner. I can't wait to go back.

But I'm glad to be home, not only because I understand what everyone's saying but because I like the way they say it. I'm surprised to feel this way because, honestly, I was sure that when I left two weeks ago that I would never want to come home. Once you've been to Paris . . .

Maybe it was the 11-hour return flight. Maybe it was the biological clock, saying, "Hey, fool, it's 5 a.m. Go to bed!" Maybe it was the lack of oxygen and the sight of lightning as we circled . . . and circled . . . and circled, waiting for permission to land.

Maybe, but I don't think so. I think the reason I wanted to kiss the ground when we finally landed in Atlanta is that everyone was, as my son put it, "eerily friendly." The fact is most Americans -- and certainly Southerners -- are nice, friendly, polite, considerate people who laugh easily and don't take themselves too seriously.

I like that in a human.

Americans hold doors for each other; they joke among themselves and strangers; they take turns, play fair and stand in line. Not insignificantly, they consider that others might be sleeping even though a cantata at 3 a.m. might be their stronger predispostion. Best, they laugh with their bellies.

My father once said his favorite thing about Americans is their sense of humor. No one laughs the way Americans do, he said, and he was right. Our history may be brief, our architecture little more than tornado bait, our cuisine a tad quick for the sophisticated palate. But American culture in the main is characterized by an esprit of goodness, optimism and generosity you don't find anywhere else in the world.

It's useful now and then to be reminded of that.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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