Of the eight languages I have some competence in, French is near the bottom. These days, though, it may be moving up. The reason: my current French email correspondence and occasional Skype session with our lovely French goddaughter, Marie. So that’s perhaps the reason that the title for this week’s blog came to me in that language, and an important proverb it is: en anglais, LONG LIVE DIFFERENCE!
Even non-French speakers in the Anglophone world know this proverb and its meaning. Nevertheless, in Boris Johnson’s Brexited UK and a US still infected with the pandemic of America Firstism, the concept of aliens has an unequivocally negative connotation. Differences in taste, presentation, and ingredients may be fine when it comes to cuisine, but let’s keep foreigners, especially brown and black ones, with their dangerously different ways out of our countries. The supposition seems to be that difference is bad. Homogeneity is good. And the melting pots of our countries have more than enough diverse elements already. Oh, for the good old days of less difference seems to be the sentiment of the America Firsters and of Britain for the [white] British. In the words of French poet Baudelaire, “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” [“Où sont les neiges d’antan?”] And snow, we’ll remember, is white, at least at first.
As a member of a non-Mainstream group anywhere outside Israel, I may come hard-wired to appreciate the different. But then, many of my fellow Jews are not so sure about that. After all, we invented the concept of Gentiles, members of the [other] nations, and the latter, especially when we resided in “their” lands, have not always been so kind to us. In my case, love of difference may have been caused more by the non-white Americans, “foreigners,” as well as non-Jews who have been influential in my life, both in person and through their written and other works. Then there is travel. I’ve visited 48 of the 50 U.S. states and perhaps 40 countries. Moreover, I’ve lived and worked in Germany, Denmark, and Indonesia as well as in the U.S. and should also mention my 17-year residency in Hawaii, where only 19% of the population is Caucasian (haole).
The important truth, encapsuled in the French proverb, is that differences, both cultural and individual, make it possible for us to learn new approaches to living. We have no problem when it comes to material things or cuisines from abroad, so why do so many of us draw the line at people and cultures? By doing so we increase the chances for misunderstandings and even war while missing opportunities for expanding our horizons. In this sense, then, I say and mean, Vive la différence and hope that you will too.