I grew up in Canada, where we used to say that when the American economy sneezed, the Canadian economy caught a cold. For some reason this thought came back to me when I ran into Charlotte Borde and Geraldine Borde Ruderman at the beach club recently. Both Charlotte and Geraldine live in Paris with their families, though they have summered on East Chop all of their lives, attended American colleges and worked here.

When I asked the Borde sisters if America exported her economic problems to France, Geraldine responded: “Yes, of course, Rick. The economy here is so big. You export your problems and all of your wonderful products.” When I asked about specifics regarding problems, Geraldine cited fast food restaurants and the fast-paced American lifestyle.

Charlotte was more concerned with debt. “America is a credit-driven society. In France, the attitude was buy what you can afford. Now French people are credit-driven too.”

“Are there basic cultural differences between the two societies?” I asked.

“Yes, there are,” Geraldine responded, “but you must always be careful with generalities. With that said, take education, for example. In France, if a kid has no talent as an artist, the teacher points it out. French education is so harsh in that way. In America, everything a kid does is good. American education builds self-confidence. Maybe the truth is in the middle. Sometimes it’s good to know the truth.”

“You are a society of such extremes,” Charlotte interjected. “There is so much violence here. Everyone seems to own a gun. It’s scary. And yet, on the other hand, you are so creative. Your products and technology are the marvel of the world.”

“You see this tendency toward extremes on women’s issues,” Charlotte continued. “American women have progressed further than women in any other society, but there has been a price. We are beyond political correctness. French women want equal pay for a job and respect, but they also want to be seen as women. We cherish differences.”

“French women want to be seen as sexy,” Geraldine interjected with a smile. “We enjoy the seduction game. We still want guys to open doors for us.”

The bottom line for both women is that they feel privileged to live in the two societies. “We have lived and worked in a socialist country,” Charlotte said. “We know that socialism has good points and bad points. We have also lived and worked in a capitalist society. There are things that work brilliantly in America, and things that don’t work so well. Again, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. What is important is to solve problems, and to try to make things work.”

“Living in both worlds has made us see things as gray,” Geraldine concluded. “Nothing is black or white. We have also been able to pick and choose from the rich cultural traditions of both societies. We have been very lucky in that way.”

I have been lucky to live in a community with such fascinating people. Thanks so much for sharing your stories with me. I’ll be back next summer.