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Rouge, White and Bleu

Diversity & Inclusion Perspectives

I landed in France on July 4 and flew back home to the United States on July 14. One vacation sandwiched between my two national holidays--Independence Day and the Quatorze Juillet, which Americans call Bastille Day. Many, even in France, have misconceptions about what the storming of the Bastille stood for, and historians disagree about its historical importance in the birth of the Republic. Still, its symbolic value is uncontested.

Before I left the United States, people were preparing for the upcoming holiday. American flags and related paraphernalia sprouted everywhere, in stores, on television, on people's houses and in people's yards. Driving around my French haunts before I left France, I saw no French flag. The French flag belongs squarely and only in and on official state buildings. Displaying the French flag in France typically is a sign of far-right nationalism. But in the United States, people of all parties and all walks of life cherish the flag. (Similarly, the French national anthem belongs only in official events and games featuring French national sports teams. Here, the anthem is played at local little league games. And American civilians are regularly asked to pledge allegiance to the flag. No such civilian pledge exists in France.)

Americans do not love their country more than the French love theirs. Patriotism and pride take different shapes. A French person in the US will be surprised by the pervasive patriotic fervor around the Fourth of July. An American in France may notice a lack of patriotic display and a certain nonchalance about the French national holiday.

It is easy to take for granted and consider universal simple things that are in fact cultural. And I find it important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to show love for one's nation.

Actually, the 4th and the 14th have one common denominator: fireworks. A popular, egalitarian celebration where every citizen is awed just the same by sound, light and a feeling of communion.

The rocket's glare. Rouge.

Jerome Mohsen is an Associate in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution Practice Group in the Milwaukee office.