Since the Trump election, living in Paris as an American is kind of like being a registered sex offender.
People in my neighborhood are still polite. They greet me as they’ve always done with a bonjour smile as I walk my kid to school, but I can see on their faces they really don’t trust me anymore.
And why should they? That thing that happened Nov. 9th can’t be undone, and there’s a giant cloud now that hangs over my head. Yet my fellow Parisiens have been raised to reintegrate even the most depraved, and so they squint through their suspicion and ask John how he is.
Some I can feel are tantalized by my presence, a bit voyeuristic even. They want to know more about what happened that November 9th, because the America they know couldn’t possibly have done something so awful. Could it John? There had to be a reason right?
And so I explain to them my version of events as a way to reassure them it’s not me who’s dangerous. I want them to know they can trust me again. I promise. Just look at my Bernie button.
But the more I try to rationalize and explain, the more my story changes. For some, I’ve said “it’s all Hillary’s fault,” which only makes me seem more guilty – typical to just blame it on the woman. Other times I opt for the caught adolescent “It’s what everybody’s doing!” line. “Just look at Brexit. Just look at Le Pen!” I stammer, but the words roll out like fake alibis hiding obvious guilt.
When I tell others “Nobody paid attention to the Trump voter,” I sense a polite skepticism on their end, as they grip their bag harder looking me in the eyes with a slight tilt of the head.
“Well, we all our now, aren’t we John.” And at that they turn and descend into the metro leaving me standing there fake checking my FB feed on my cellphone.
Since last week, I no longer try and explain myself, choosing instead to flee the looks and judgment. I drop my kids off early, and hustle off to work now, and at my office, I dive into my computer or fake like I’m on the phone when someone passes my desk. Invariably though there’s that moment where I’m face to face with someone in the elevator or in front of the coffee machine or in the checkout line, and the big gorilla we both know is there demands some acknowledgement.
It’s actually more bizarre when people don’t bring up the election these days when they talk to me; when they just smile and ask banal questions as if nothing at all happened last week. “What did you guys for the long weekend? When’s Otto’s birthday anyway? Did you see they haven’t repaired the street light yet?”
I play the game and answer back, side-skipping the obvious. And as I fill up my bag with groceries, I wave au revoir with a “We should do a dinner or drinks sometime soon,” outro.
“Definitely,” they respond, but without offering up a date, which I interpret only as the kiss of death.
In fact the ones who truly scare me now are the ones who are overtly nice, like the woman in the village boulangerie near our country house, who smiled last weekend when I came through the door. When she asked if I wanted the better baguettes that would be ready in two minutes, I could tell she wasn’t afraid of me like the others were. She’s not about to be influenced by the mob because she’s been raised to take in the misunderstood outsider; the free thinker, someone who society can’t appreciate…at least not yet.
And what’s worse is I’m suddenly flattered by her warmth. Because if just for a moment, I’m not that registered sex offender anymore. There are people, I say to myself, who won’t ask me questions about Nov. 9th, because for them, there’s nothing really to say.
My country made a choice that fateful day, as will France six months down the line. And what a relief it will be, my new best friend and I both think to ourselves, to no longer feel like an outcast.