As the American election is approaching, you can find many articles about American politics in the French and German press. I thought it could be fun to list the words which have a totally different political meaning in America and in Western Europe.
Red and Blue
The colors of the political parties can vary from a country to another. In America, the Republican Party has the color red, whether the Democrat party has the color blue. The color red belongs in France to the communists and in Germany to the social democrats. The color blue belong in France to the right: light blue for the moderate conservatives and dark blue for the nationalist extreme right. In Germany, blue belongs to the controversial extreme right party AFD.
This is apparently more a Europe/USA difference than a language related difference because in Great Britain, the Labour is also attached to the color red and the Conservative party attached to the color blue.
For American people, the word liberal is attached to the Democrat party. It will be used to describe people who have progressive views on different social issues such as LGBT rights for instance.
In French, the word liberal is attached to the Conservative party. Indeed, it describes someone who is supporting free-trade and a state limited to its sovereign functions.
In America, the Republican Party is a Conservative party. In France und in Germany, the word is traditionally used to simply describe someone who is attached to the Republic as a political system.
For a few years, however, Sarkozy who was then the leader of the French Conservative party decided to change the name of the party from UMP (union for a presidential majority) to LR (Les Republicans), shamelessly copying the Americans. The new name was adopted and is still being used but there were very strong critics, especially from left-wing parties.
Indeed, until then, left-wing French politicians were much more likely to describe themselves as republican than the conservative ones. The word also includes for French people a will to protect the republic against any possible threat, including religion. As an example, the left-wings politicians Arnaud Montebourg and Aurélie Filipetti gave their daughter a “republican baptism”, which is a non-religious baptism.
Conservative politicians were also critical of the new name because the French Conservative party is quite different from the American Republican Party. Indeed, many French conservative politicians see themselves as gaullists (followers of former president and resistance hero Charles de Gaulles). Gaullism supports a strong, centralized state and has a strong social dimension.
In America, the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party. In France and in Germany, the political parties are not connected to any animal. However, the leaders of the French Parti Socialiste (actually a social-democrat party) are sometimes called elephants.
Democrat is also a word that for French and German people simply means someone attached to the democracy as a political system.
In Germany, nearly all the parties have the word democrat or democratic in their names: CDU means Christian Democratic Union, SPD means social-democratic party of Germany and FDP means Free Democratic Party.
In France, as politician Francois Bayrou left the conservative party, he got inspired by the American Democrat Party and called his new party Modem, for Mouvement Democrate. Bayrou’s party was positioned as a centrist party.