Four years ago, I became a US citizen partly to vote in the presidential elections.

But as election day started this year, it became clear that you didn’t have to be a citizen to be fixated on the election. Early on, e-mails started pouring in. They weren’t from political party representatives asking me to vote. They were from friends in France, urging me to vote in their stead. They wanted Barack Obama to win, but there was nothing they could do to make that happen.

On Tuesday afternoon, Julie, one of my best friends, called from France when I was out. She sounded worried and excited at the same time. “They’re saying Obama’s winning on TV here, I’m not sure if I should believe them, is it true? Are they saying the same thing in San Francisco?”

Julie and Jessyca, my two best friends, often ask why I’ve settled down here—the French have not liked George W. Bush since the Iraq war started in 2003. Well, actually, they never cared for him. Each trip to France, and most phone calls, include explaining why I still like living in this country.

The French have a love-hate relationship with Americans. As children, we watch American movies and TV shows. When my family traveled to the United States for the first time, I imagined that Arizona—where we were headed for my father’s work—would look like a scene from Dukes of Hazzard. However, when it comes to politics and economic models, the French and U.S. perspectives often differ.

Jessyca lives in Marseille, a city with a large immigrant population, with her boyfriend Abraham, a naturalized French citizen originally from Côte d’Ivoire. Earlier this year, they asked me to mail them an Obama shirt for their two-year old, Keyah, who is half black.

When Senator Obama traveled to Europe last summer, thousands and thousands of people gathered in Berlin to hear him speak. My friends started talking about the change he could bring.

As elections neared, friends e-mailed me links to websites such as www.theworldfor.com where residents around the world could vote for their favorite candidate.

“When America votes, the world holds its breath,” David, another friend, wrote in an e-mail.

Today, in Marseille, people were happy, Jessyca said. Abraham said he called all his African friends to talk about the news. His Kenyan friend said “one day, my son, Kitaro, will become president of France.”

Their daughter, Keyah, got on the phone and said with a slight French accent, “Yes we can.”

“In 2000, we made fun of Florida for its issues with counting votes,” my cousin Olivier wrote this morning. “In 2008, we’re thinking we need to get with it and include more minorities in government.”

This election, my friends and family got the candidate they wanted.

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I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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