Well, Saturday marks 100 days since President Donald Trump took office, and what a 100 days it has been. Like any other American, I’ve labored to keep up with the goings-on in Washington (and Mar-a-Lago) since the inauguration—only I’ve been doing it from France.
My husband and I moved to Paris for his job in early January. (It was not, as we often joked, a decision made in light of the election.) In addition to improved language skills and a newfound appreciation for taking wine with lunch, our expat status has afforded us the opportunity to observe Trump’s prolific presidency as outsiders do. Herewith: an account of his first 100 days, as seen by an American in Paris.
Day 1: An inauguration, a laptop, and a bottle of French wine
I stream the inauguration from my itty-bitty apartment and watch President Trump’s combative address through interwoven fingers, like how one might watch a horror film. It’s hard to say if the surreal fog shrouding my emotions is a result of sheer disbelief or the wine I’m drinking to cope. Afterward, I text my husband—whose gainful employment prevents him from joining me to watch perhaps the strangest swearing-in of a president in U.S. history—that he’d need to pick up more wine on the way home.
Day 2: The women march
Today my husband and I join thousands of protesters marching in solidarity with those in Washington, D.C., and around the world. I walk with a French woman for a few blocks and we talk about the significance of the crowd. “When women’s rights are threatened in America, they’re threatened everywhere,” she says. Then, she adds: “He’s not just America’s problem.” I don’t need to ask who “he” is.
Day 4: “How do you say embarrassing in French?”
The cashier at a corner newsstand and I get to talking about Trump after we both dryly laughed at his illustrated depiction on that week’s cover of The New Yorker. “It’s a disaster,” she says. “He’s already making abortion illegal.” She’s referring to the executive order barring government agencies from providing funds to NGOs that perform abortions in other countries. I want to correct her, but I don’t know enough French do so clearly. Instead I say, “No, that’s not true. Not yet.”
As I leave the store, I read the A1 headline on Le Monde: “Trump dismantles the Obama years.”
Day 8: The travel ban
As I walk through the city today, the news of the president’s executive order suspending entry of refugees and immigrants from seven prominently Muslim countries into the U.S. weighs heavily on me. I pass dozens of Syrian refugees taking shelter in subway tunnels and huddling together near street corners. I think of all the people across the U.S. who will be left stranded in airports and separated from their families, and I wonder what impact the order will have on Cincinnati, recently named a sanctuary city.
Day 9: Uncle Don
I was naïve to think I could escape America’s new reality by leaving the country. Our president is everywhere, like on the cover of the weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, his cartooned likeness facing a set of four red buttons and contemplating his choice. Did he want the espresso, the hot chocolate, the coffee without sugar, or the atomic bomb? A few times I’ve seen him depicted as an angry Uncle Sam, with lines like “Make America Hate Again” and, less subtly, “F*** you.” He pops up just as frequently in conversation, too. When showing me to a table for lunch, one waiter paused to ask if I was a democrat or a republican, as if my answer might have determined my seat in the house. My friends often send me SOS texts with links to Trump’s latest maneuver. “I know,” I reply. “I heard.”
Day 15: Attack at Le Louvre
A radicalized Islamist terrorist rushes armed guards at Le Louvre with a machete and is shot multiple times. Soon after, a friend texts me a screenshot of Trump’s tweet about the incident and asks if I’m alright. That message is followed by half a dozen more from friends and family members checking in. The gestures are comforting, but their misinformed questions aren’t. The texts become increasingly frantic, from wondering whether I was on lock down to asking if I’d been near the mass shooting in Paris.
Later today, a judge in Washington issues a ruling temporarily blocking Trump’s travel ban. This is the first of a string of many legal barricades to the order, the news of each of which would issue a little ding on my phone for the weeks to come.
Day 26: “I just don’t watch the news.”
I have an annual checkup with my new doctor, an American who’s practiced in Paris for nearly 20 years. We talk briefly about Michael Flynn, who resigned yesterday as Trump’s national security adviser, and about the election. Her mother voted for Trump. “I ask my mom,” she tells me, “ ‘Are you happy? I hope you’re happy.’ And do you know what my mom says? She says, ‘I just don’t watch the news.’ ”
Day 36: “Paris is no longer Paris.”
While addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump says he’d been warned by a friend to avoid visiting Paris because, after a recent string of terror attacks, “Paris is no longer Paris.” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo responds to Trump and his “friend Jim” on Twitter, sharing a photo of her with Mickey and Minnie Mouse near the Eiffel Tower. That night, as a bartender hands me and my husband our beers, he coyly asks if we’re political refugees.
Day 40: Obama for President…of France
News breaks that more than 40,000 French citizens, demoralized by their own contentious presidential campaign season, signed a petition in favor of allowing former U.S. President Barack Obama to run for president of France. The petition, started as a joke by a group of friends, circulated throughout the city in tandem with mock campaign signs that read Oui on peut [Yes we can].
Look, if we can’t, you can’t, OK?
Day 48: No rose for you
Is International Women’s Day always this sonorous? Certainly the context within which we celebrate today offered some oomph to the annual day of recognition. The banners are flying in Paris, too. At my husband’s office, each woman received a rose when they entered the building. My husband, like the other men, received a pamphlet outlining the ways in which women continue to suffer inequality. I read it tonight word for word, mostly for the French practice. These issues are universal.
Day 54: What about Trump?
A snowstorm smacks the Midwest. Don’t worry, though, I’m enjoying a good book on a sunny-and-75 day near a riverbank in Lyon. A man asks me to take his photo, and my reply, in bumbling French, gives me away. “English?” he asks. “American,” I reply, after briefly (only briefly!) considering to feign Canadian. His eyes widen as he asks, “So…what about Trump?” Without fail, that is the very first thing people want to talk about once they learn you’re American. Clearly they find Trump’s election and subsequent behavior both entirely shocking and irresistibly entertaining. It’s like he’s the prom king who was caught cheating on his SATs and you have the juicy details of his fall from grace. I quickly change the subject.
Day 68: Déjà vu
As France’s presidential election nears, coverage of the U.S. government’s latest follies dims in favor of those of France’s own news-making candidates. Where we had 24-hour coverage of hidden emails, undisclosed tax documents, and a nauseating incident with a hot mic, France’s populus is suffering endless news of gay affairs, fake job scandals, fancy-suit bribes and public apologies over racist tweets. Candidate Marine Le Pen’s populist, nationalist, anti-immigration voice sounds especially familiar. I begin to realize that the people who make jokes and offer unsolicited commentary about the current political climate in the U.S. aren’t insulting me or my country. They’re commiserating.
Day 77: President Trump orders an airstrike on Syria
I’m asleep when Trump announces he ordered a targeted missile airstrike to the area from which the chemical weapons attack was launched, but my news apps are quick to alert me when I wake up. The move garnered support from world leaders, including French President Francois Hollande and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who issued a joint statement calling the response “just” and “proportionate.” Russia’s Vladimir Putin did not agree.
Day 85: “Plus basse”
Just when we thought our commander in chief couldn’t be any harder to keep up with, he proved us wrong this week. We learned, among other things, that NATO is no longer obsolete, we are in fact going to get involved with Syria, and relations with our former “great ally” Russia are at an all-time low—“plus basse,” as a French headline told me.
Day 92: Future imperfect
During my French lesson today, I’m learning how to conjugate verbs in the future tense. As an exercise, my tutor asks me to describe what I think will happen in America over the next four years. I think about this. After what feels like a very long time, I’m still searching for the words to respond. I realize I don’t have them, and it’s not for my lack of French vocabulary. There’s only one phrase I know that comes close to summing up my deep uncertainty: Je ne sais pas.
Day 94: And then there were two
On the campaign trail, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen often pointed to Brexit, Trump’s victory, and the rise of populism in Europe as signs that the tide was shifting in favor of her and her National Front movement. Indeed, she’s one of two candidates advancing after today’s election in France. But her opponent in the May 7 runoff, centrist Emmanuel Macron, earned the most votes in the first round, and, if the polls can be trusted (fool me once, as they say), he is likely to win. Cue a major sigh of relief should that happen: It just might trigger the renewed sense of optimism we all desperately need.