Upon visiting Paris, one is immediately struck by the beauty of the city, especially by how the city presents both the magnificence of the past and a spirit of modernity.
To the ears of many, the French language is one of the most romantic-sounding. It is equally effective at describing the pleasures of gastronomy, at facilitating philosophical explorations, as it is at showering other drivers with flowery expletives. In that sense, it shares a great deal with the Italian and the Arabic language.
Its ability to be at turns very elaborate, very modern or very lyrical, effectively describes Paris and the history and culture of the French people. One element that is perhaps lacking in the language and the culture however, is the straightforwardness of English and the corresponding plain-speaking salesmanship of Americans, as the French are regrettably unable, despite their creativity and great products, to sell themselves or their products effectively outside of the realms of tourism and fashion.
Learning from the French
France has played a key role throughout world history, from the conquests of Charlemagne, to the French Revolution and the European project. More than most countries, France is a country of ideas and ideals, yet it is not an ideological country. France is a proud depositary of universal human values, it takes its slogan of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ very seriously, but there is no attempt to evangelize others on the French Revolution for example. French history is also marked by – often very proximate – highs and lows. Its Emperor of Italian origin, who had his own approach to European unification, was just as rapidly deposed and his Napoleonic Europe again broken up. The shrewd Talleyrand however still ensured through the Congress of Vienna that France remained one. At the height of World War II, the French opted for surrender over seeing Paris destroyed like so many other European cities. To me, this is one of the most remarkable decisions in French history, matching the courage of one Charles de Gaulle announcing that Algeria is not a part of France some two decades later.
Emmanuel Macron is attempting to combine his youthful vision, a modern sense of management with the strengths and talents of France and its people to ensure that France’s contribution to the world remains relevant long into the future.Hassan bin Youssef Yassin
Saving timeless Paris from wartime destruction ultimately preserved this beautiful forward-thinking city, marked both by monuments of the past and bold visions of the future, for us all. After the tragedy of two world wars, Paris attracted the world’s greatest artists, writers and thinkers. International conferences came to Paris, as did Hollywood, most memorably Gene Kelly in an American in Paris and Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in Funny Face. No other city could match the attraction of Paris, perhaps until this day. France is also a leader in science and engineering, as I am reminded every time I drive into Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport, passing alongside a stadium that looks more like a spaceship come down from the heavens, then glancing upon the diverse landmarks of Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to the bold constructions ordered by its successive presidents. The Louvre and its modernist Pyramid illustrate that very French juxtaposition of an incredibly rich history stepping into modernity.
The politics of France have often flirted with paralysis, as the political system gets blocked or the French assert their heritage of the French Revolution by walking out on massive strikes. But nor will they surrender to that continuing search for the needle in the haystack. France does not want to give up on its universal access to healthcare and education, on its protection of the poor, or on its multiplicity of cultures and religions. France is a nation constantly bubbling, constantly searching, never reaching the ending, but always reaching for something greater and intangible. France is busy trying to bring together and structure the best of Western civilization. Its young leader, Emmanuel Macron is attempting to combine his youthful vision, a modern sense of management with the strengths and talents of France and its people to ensure that France’s contribution to the world remains relevant long into the future.
Hassan bin Youssef Yassin is a Saudi writer.