French Dream?
December 7, 2006 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Here in the United States, we are fond of referencing "the American Dream." I think it is safe to say that there is a commonly and widely accepted definition of the term that, each of us, if asked, could readily provide. I've always wondered: Do people in other countries do this as well? Is there a "French Dream?" Do Swedes speak of the "the Swedish Dream?" Etc. If they do, what are they and do they differ from the American Dream?
posted by pasici to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I guess you are referring to an Eldorado Vision , which is the vision of a future of opportunity, freedom from The Oppressors, wealth and good life.

In Italy many call that the "american dream" , but I am not aware of any "italian dream"...I guess that the common denominator is the Eldorado one.
posted by elpapacito at 6:10 AM on December 7, 2006

We have the Great Australian Dream: owning your own house on a quarter acre block. There's a tiny disscussion of it here.
posted by jacalata at 6:14 AM on December 7, 2006

The United States is a revolutionary country, with a revolutionary ideology and all the pomp and circumstance that comes with that. Examples are the pledge of allegiance, extreme reverence for the flag, extra special treatment/respect afforded to military veterans and military funerals, attempts to export "democracy" as foreign policy (irrespective of contradictory imperialist aims) and "the American Dream".

As always, there's a book on the history of the American Dream: The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped A Nation by Jim Cullen. I'd say it's more an idea that shaped an ideology.

There's no equivalent European "dream". The French have their revolutionary principles of "liberty, equality and fraternity", but governments have risen and fallen since then.

I've heard Australians describe their country as "a fair-go country" (as in, everyone is given a fair chance when they get there). But that doesn't really tie up with a white-only immigration policy and history of discrimination against Aboriginal Australians.
posted by xpermanentx at 6:29 AM on December 7, 2006

Well, the idea has seeped into other cultures. There is an amazing documentary called "Český sen" (Czech Dream) about the opening of a fake megastore. Near the end there were quite a few people commenting on what the "Czech dream" is in their mind. (More info on the film here. I just really love the film.)
posted by piratebowling at 6:39 AM on December 7, 2006

I've definitely never heard anyone here refer to the "Canadian Dream". If I did, I'd have to ask what the hell it meant, because there are so many different kinds of people here and probably almost as many Canadian Dreams.
posted by loiseau at 6:52 AM on December 7, 2006

I would say that Israel and Zionism has, or had, some sort of "Zionist dream" associated with it. The idea of a Jewish land in the lands spoken on the Bible, where Jews would work the land and be involved in every level and occupation of society.

I think that settler societies have their material attraction, but in selling that material attraction and increasing its value a "dream" or "idea" is developed.

Also, societies that consider themselves revolutionary and started out with a revolution (especially in a society that the revolutionaries believe needs a lot of developing). So while the Eastern European states probably didn't necessarily have it, I think that the USSR and China had a motivating dream (promoted heavily by the Party).

So combine a revolutionary experience and a settler experience and you get the United States focus on manifest destiny and immigration to partake in this manifest destiny.
posted by Gnatcho at 6:55 AM on December 7, 2006

The Canadian Dream is the Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:06 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm an American, and I'm not really sure that there's an agreed-to definition of "the American Dream." In fact, as someone who's asked a few dozen successful people about their definitions, I'm pretty sure there's not.

For some people, the American Dream means opportunity and education for all. For some, it means that the next generation is better off than the generation that preceded it. For some, it's about commerce and wealth and financial success. For some, it's about a comfy life in the suburbs.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:34 AM on December 7, 2006

DNAB: No, that's the Ontario Dream
posted by carmen at 7:36 AM on December 7, 2006

The Canadian dream is Toronto falling into a black hole.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:46 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've always considered the basic framework of the American Dream to be acquisition and comfort. I think a good argument could be made that that's pretty much what every human is hardwired to want, for better or for worse.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:47 AM on December 7, 2006

Highly recommended: An American Dream (apparently out of print) by Norman Mailer, in which the basic idea is that the real American dream is getting away with murder.
posted by bingo at 7:58 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm an American, and I'm not really sure that there's an agreed-to definition of "the American Dream."

I agree. So, really the American Dream is the freedom to decide what you want and to pursue it. Excellent question pasici!
posted by The Deej at 8:02 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Some of the common definitions of the American dream come from phrases in our history and pop culture, I think.

"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," in the Declaration of Independence.

"A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage," not actually promised by Herbert Hoover, but associated with him.

And of course,

"A matchbox of our own
A fence of real chain link,
A grill out on the patio
Disposal in the sink
A washer and a dryer and an ironing machine
In a tract house that we share
Somewhere that's green."

(from the wonderful "Little Shop of Horrors" musical.
posted by GaelFC at 8:21 AM on December 7, 2006

I think the American Dream comes from the supposed historical ideals of the country, in which each individual was supposed to be measured on his own worth, and able to succeed based on that worth. Class as it existed in Europe was not supposed to matter, and so Americans were supposed to have unlimitied social mobility based solely on their skills, intelligence, and drive. Because of that, each person should, theoretically, be able to accomplish their dream, with no institutional structures to hold him back.

I (obviously) think that we as a nation have severely failed to live up to these ideals, but I do think the essential component of the American Dream is our social mobility, even if it has become more of a myth than a reality. That's the underpinning of the idea that you can "be all you can be," and from what I've seen when I lived in Europe, that's pretty much why they all thought we're crazy :-) That constant striving toward something bigger, better, newer seems peculiarly American (and it doesn't matter whether the goal is material or emotional or mental or something else entirely, it's the act of striving itself, of assuming that problems should be solved and progress is always good, that's a national character trait).

I can't speak of non-American non-European cultures, but it's always seemed to me that it's hard to have a "dream" without the assumption that the common citizen can drastically change his or her lot in life, which is not an assumption that exists in much of the world.
posted by occhiblu at 8:35 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm an American, and I'm not really sure that there's an agreed-to definition of "the American Dream."

Smoking a pound of bud every day, having a big screen TV, having the dopest shit out on the streets.

Answering the question, you would never refer to the British Dream or the English Dream and I don't think that, even without that label being applied, there is a similar concept.
posted by ninebelow at 8:42 AM on December 7, 2006

Carmen: Met any Sens fans recently?

The Canadian dream is Toronto falling into a black hole.

Let's play nice now. Rudeness is definitely not part of the Canadian Dream!
posted by sid at 9:05 AM on December 7, 2006

I remember talking to someone in China who said that people aspire to have (and I can't remember the exact phrase) "the big five," which were five appliances like a refrigerator, dishwashwer, washer, dryer, and television, or something like that.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 9:06 AM on December 7, 2006

To provide a more cynical perspective, one could call the American Dream a rather successful version of Plato's "noble lie". (Plato's noble lie in the Republic was that there were three types of people, born with "metals" in their souls: gold, silver, and bronze. The golds would go on to lead the community, the silver to fight for it, and the bronze to to everything else (farming, trading, cobbling, blacksmithing, and so on). It was important that people kept to these roles and didn't try to do other peoples' jobs in order to have a harmonious society.) In our society the American Dream serves a similar purpose, to motivate productivity and keep tax burdens off the rich, even though it is not clear that the same opportunities really are available to everyone, and are certainly much, much easier to make use of if you are born to wealthy parents.

With that in mind, I think other countries have been more or less successful with their own versions. Communist Russia certainly used camaraderie in such a way. Allah and the Christian God have been used this way in the past, and India still has a sort of caste system. I'm sure there are many other examples.
posted by ontic at 9:46 AM on December 7, 2006

I think the American Dream has a lot to do with mobility- the ability to go somewhere else for opportunity; the possiblity of reinventing oneself by getting the hell out of Dodge. I think that immigration to this country was driven by that idea as well, so it's a constantly reinforced meme. I'm not sure there are other places in the world that have that sort of base mythology (Go West, my son, the Land of Opportunity, &c.). At some point this lofty ideal was basically codified to further political and business aims, such as settling the frontier, which incidentally removed the native inhabitants and secured resources; or recruiting cheap expendable labor, e.g. Chinese immigrants or Okie migrants. It's sort of a unique confluence of events and situations that gave us the American Dream as a concept that stuck around beyond just a rallying cry. I sort of think France's republican ideals might be similar in some ways but "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" now seem like more of an expectation than any type of workable personal manifesto.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:59 AM on December 7, 2006

I don't think there is any unified Canadian dream. As with all things culture many of the American indiviual ideals have bleed into the english speaking Canadian goals.

dirtynumbangelboy writes "The Canadian Toronto Dream is the Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup."
There, fixed that for you. Believe it or not there are some of us who are ticked right off that, for example, the only time we see Ottawa on the CBC is if they are playing Toronto.

posted by Mitheral at 10:59 AM on December 7, 2006

Thus spake Eddie Izzard.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:05 AM on December 7, 2006

The Quebecois dream is to see Quebec legally separate from Canada and become its own country.
posted by PowerCat at 2:33 PM on December 7, 2006

jacalata beat me to it, but they definitely use the phrase "great Australian dream" down here to refer to owning your own home.
posted by web-goddess at 3:06 PM on December 7, 2006

I think you are confusing the language used to describe a concept with the concept itself.

'The American Dream' is a recognizable, idiomatic phrase used to describe a concept that everyone, everywhere has always had, to one degree or another: affluence, happiness, freedom, health, success, peace, all in a bucolic Happy Life Bucket. If 'Happy Life Bucket' had been the phrase to describe the yearning and the nebulous goal, it would be a little strange to ask if people in other countries also yearned for Happy Life Buckets.

The answer is that everyone is the same, but everyone used different language to describe their (near universal) aspirations for a better life.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:33 PM on December 7, 2006

uses, damn it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:04 PM on December 7, 2006

The Canadian Dream is to win the lottery and retire someplace warm.
posted by meringue at 7:01 PM on December 7, 2006

Well, the recent trends of politics in Latin America are turning the Bolivarian Dream (or Bolivar's Dream, if you will) into a common term.

It's an interesting concept, if you ask me, though it was first introduced by Francisco de Miranda, not Bolivar. Long story short, it is the dream of making a single nation out of Latin America.

Those two names (Francisco de Miranda and Simon Bolivar) should give enough to get started if you want to research more on your own.
posted by micayetoca at 6:50 AM on December 8, 2006

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