Avoiding debates about the debates: Why France is the perfect haven for Americans during the presidential election

My parents got to Paris from North Carolina the morning of the presidential debate on Oct. 3 — the one where Mitt Romney was proclaimed victor on both sides of the Atlantic, by both the left and the right.

My dad and I get a long really well, but we’re supporting different presidential candidates.

“So how about the debate last night?” he asked.

“Let’s not talk about this,” my mom said.

debate-romney-vs-obama-who-won.jpgThat seems to be the theme of the discussion around the presidential debates and elections among my American loved ones: For the sake of avoiding conversations as uncomfortable as what was broadcasted on Oct. 3, let’s not talk about this. After both presidential debates and the vice-presidential debate, I saw Facebook statuses pleading people to keep political discussions out of their newsfeeds, and expressing fatigue at the inundation of debate coverage.

“Huh. Is there a debate going on or something?” one friend posed sarcastically before the first debate, in Denver.

“Debate time. Time to hate everyone, y’all,” another friend said before the Oct. 16 debate.

And then there was a nearly 200-word missile from one acquaintance saying that, “it’s a debate, it get’s heated,” and pleading that no one take out their anger on Facebook. Which is fair enough: right after the Oct. 3 debate, another friend posted a status slamming Obama supporters for valuing coolness over substance.

“YOU SUCKKK!” someone commented on the status, in what I assume was only a half-joking manner. That comment got more likes than the original status.

So it’s nice to follow the debates in France, where, impressively, people are just as knowledgeable about the candidates and issues as they are at in the U.S., but less emotionally invested. Topics that are so divisive in the U.S., especially abortion, a key topic in the vice-presidential debate, seem to be non-issues here.

Also aiding the relaxed atmosphere around the debates is a near unanimity in opinion. According to a recent poll, 89 percent of French people would vote for Obama if they could. Only 2 percent would vote for Romney, and nine percent was undecided.

In comparison, my home state of North Carolina is split down the middle. As of the most recent poll, 51 percent of North Carolinian voters plan to support Romney, and 48 percent plan to vote for President Obama. Essentially you have a 1 in 2 chance of disagreeing with your neighbor, or, in my case, your father.

In most cases, diversity in opinions broadens the mind. But being in France has hardly closed my mind against the “other side.”

Like most Americans, I’ve known whom I’ll vote for since long before the first debate. But now my convictions are stronger, because they’re based on facts, and listening to both sides, rather than knee-jerk responses to attack ads or Facebook statuses about how a candidate “sucks.” I went to a screening of the most recent debate, and neither side was drowned out by booing or cheering. No one in the audience made any comments that made me go blind with anger. I actually heard what both candidates had to say.

Although the presidential election is hugely important to my future, and in that way, gravely serious, it also can be exciting, and — dare I say it? — fun. The debates have all the trappings of good TV: drama, conflict, relatively attractive leads, comic relief in the form of “binders of woman” and malarkey, and a great cliffhanger. And from this vantage point, the bitterness is contained on the TV screen, rather than spilling into my everyday life.

Maybe I’ll come to France for every American election season from now on — so long as I get here after France’s presidential elections have ended.