Two or three months ago I was watching a program on French TV, it must have been “Envoyé Spécial”, about wealthy French and German people who can avoid having to pay taxes in their home country by buying a house in Switzerland where taxes are significantly lower and officially moving their permanent residence to that country. These people did not relinquish their citizenship, they just bought another house in Zurich or Geneva to save some money.
I remember that a French journalist on that program was explaining the difference between the attitude of French people and Americans like this: When a Frenchman sees a rich man driving in his Jaguar, he will say something like “fils de pute” (SOB) and spit on the ground. When an American sees a rich man driving in his Jaguar, he will smile and happily think to himself “someday I too will be rich and drive a Jaguar”.
It has been working like this in America for a couple of centuries, at least. It was John Steinbeck who said “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires“ almost a century ago. It is really amazing how effective the propaganda of the ruling class has been for such a long time. The poor here, and most people in America are now either below or barely above the official poverty level, will never be even able to buy a new car, let alone a Jaguar. But they “know” that they will be rich one day anyway. This belief is the true American religion.
Unlike the Americans, the French seem to have figured out that since rich people are the ones with the money, that’s where you have to go to get it. Personally, I think that they might have overdone it just a tad. L’État will take 75% of your income after a million Euros? That seems a bit too drastic to me. So I do understand the indignation of Mr. Depardieu. Although I think that he probably does not really mean it, he is mostly just making a big, theatrical gesture intended to embarrass the French Socialist government.
After all, he could have just moved his permanent residence to Switzerland or Belgium (which I understand is now unlikely to give him another passport because, as the Belgian Foreign Minister put it, “one does not collect nationalities”), which is the way the wealthy have been traditionally trying to make the German and French government see that it makes no sense to tax them out of the country.
So I think that Mr. Depardieu will keep both passports (if it is allowed, which is probably the case), and that he will probably never learn Russian and become a real Russian. But who knows what he’s really up to. In any case, I thank him for bringing a smile to my face again, as he looks so funny in this picture in an article in the Independent, holding his Russian passport dressed in a traditional Russian “rubashka” (shirt).
The article also says that he is planning to play Pugachev, the leader of a Cossack uprising in the 18th century, in a new Russian movie. I saw a Russian movie about Pugachev that I really enjoyed a long time ago when I was about 10 years old. The Russian actor who played Pugachev in that movie was very credible, scary and skinny. I think that Mr. Depardieu would have to lose a lot weight to be credible in that role. But he could probably do that if he really set his mind to it, he must be a very determined person. And he could probably pull it off even without losing too much weight because he is such a good actor. But the film director would probably have to change the last scene in which Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, was showing off captured Pugachev in Moscow in a cage on wheels prior to his execution, which would be a shame because that scene made such a big impression on me that I still remember it after several decades.
And if Mr. Depardieu could also learn Russian at the same time, he would ultimately find out whether he really was just a temporarily embarrassed Frenchman most of his life who was a Russian deep down inside, or whether he really is and always will be a Frenchman who is just temporarily changing his nationality to save himself a lot of money.
I think that learning the new language is not really negotiable in this case because you can only really find out what it means to be French, Russian, American, or Czech or Japanese, if that is what you originally were, if you move to a different country, learn a different language and live in a different culture.
After all, it was Charlemagne, another Frenchman, who said almost 13 centuries ago that to speak a second language is to possess another soul, as I explain in this post.