Vive la Vote

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Photo: Photos: iStockphoto.com; Jed Egan (frog).
Illustration: Jed Egan.

France will vote in a hotly contested presidential election Sunday, and French expatriates in New York, who vote tomorrow, are both obsessed and ravenous for their shot at making a change. After twelve years of Jacques Chirac, a new face, or at least a prettier one, is a certainty. The three mainstream candidates (out of a field of twelve) in this election are all younger than 60, and for the first time a major-party candidate is a woman, Socialist Ségolène Royal; the other two major candidates are centrist François Bayrou and right-of-center former minister of the interior Nicolas Sarkozy. And, in this tight race, they're all gunning for expat votes. For the first time, the French Socialist Party in New York stumped for its candidate, Royal, trolling for votes at such Francophile events here as the French film festival. And French New Yorkers registered at the consulate recently got personalized e-mail messages from both Sarkozy and Bayrou. (In a campaign promise seemingly tailor-made for New Yorkers, both hinted at increased government scholarships for French private schools abroad.)

Expats are returning the attention, sitting transfixed in front of French cable channel TV5 or the seven o'clock French news on channel 25. They're debating with fellow expat colleagues sotto voce (et en Français, bien sur) at work, or calling home and agonizing with the relatives on the other side of the pond. Half the expats we contacted are backing right-leaning Sarkozy; all said they wouldn't vote for Royal, the Socialist. But whatever the result, French New Yorkers, being French, remember what really matters. The election-day lunch party — think of it as a Super Bowl party, only with good food and wine — is the subject of big debate among Mathias Cohen's friends. More than a dozen French New Yorkers, he said, are discussing "different options, different themes — we have not yet settled on a menu." But everything will be settled before the big day arrives, naturellement. "I would even argue it's more important than the election," he said. —Danielle Reed