A few years back, when I was living in the US, a lot of people asked me if I were proud of being French. I always found this question very strange and never knew exactly how to respond without getting into a two hours long argumentation… because no, I am not proud to be French. Of course to be fair I have to mention at that point that if I were born American I wouldn’t be proud of it either.
So here’s my humble written reflexion that I will redirect people to next time I’m asked how I feel about my nationality. Note that I won’t get into the negative aspects of national pride because I think it’s beside the point. I can get how people are proud of their countries without being radical nationalists.
To me being proud of one’s nationality makes very little sense. I’m usually proud of the things I accomplish or, at the very least, that I helped create. If I work months on a project that succeeds, obviously I’ll be very proud. If I spend time helping out a friend and she turns out very successfull, I’ll share a subset of the pride while being happy for her. Being proud of where I was born sounds a bit like being proud to be blond, or being proud to be right handed. It’s a fact about me, true, but it does not define me and I had no choice in it.
I can honestly say that I love France and that being French is a good situation to be in. I’m not necessarily a big fan of every aspect of it, but it’s a great place to live. I don’t have to pay ridiculous tuitions for my education, I get a fair share of freedom, Paris is one of my favorite cities, I can go in most places in Europe without having to worry about visas and being able to speak french will make me seem sophisticated and charming abroad.
It’s pretty cool if you ask me!
The thing is that, while I can feel glad to be born french, I won’t take any pride in the mere act of being born that is really a product of pure luck.
If my country achieved a lot 300 years ago, what does it has to do with me and why should all of this influence the way I feel? If I start to think this way, then comes the question of what events I should take into account to make up my mind about the way I “live” my nationality. It’s a hard question because France did great things and was host of amazing minds, but also had some dark sides, both relatively recently or way back. I’m sure it’s a harder one for countries with a harsher history.
Of course I’m not asking for a clean slate or to forget what happened in the past as it’s obvious that we be able to look back at what occurred before and learn from it. I just think that such a gut feeling as pride (or shame) has no place here.
There are situations where I could be proud of be a part of my country, but that would be more the pride of of belonging to a movement I judge positive or important than something related to my nationality. To illustrate, if I lived in Canada and the country as a whole, myself included, did something great, I would have the exact same feeling even though I’m not Canadian.
To conclude I’ll leave you with a song by Brassens, another one of my most talented fellow countryman.