As I walked home from the Métro in my village-like neighborhood in Paris’s 15th arrondissement, a small, brown, furry creature stepped out of the fresh-produce store in front of me. Not a rat—it was too big for that, even by New York standards—but a dog. French dogs, I’ve noticed, are welcome guests in stores and restaurants, but I’m still caught by surprise when I see one in those settings, since the only dogs in New York restaurants are those on the ubiquitous “No dogs allowed” stickers. What is behind these differing approaches? Do French people train their dogs better, so no exclusionary rules are necessary? Are Americans’ hygiene concerns too prohibitive, resulting in man’s best friend becoming untrustworthy in certain spaces? Did the culture produce the law, or did the law shape the behavior?
Living abroad while in law school has enriched both my experience of Paris and my legal studies, inspiring me to wonder about such arcane subjects as dog laws.
But my legal studies here have also inspired me to consider bigger-picture comparisons. Rather than studying “other” legal systems while in the US and comparing them to our own, I am learning European law from European professor-practitioners and building the comparisons for myself. The comparisons include those different rules for canine companions in Paris and New York, of course, but also the aspects of European Union economic law and disputes on which my classes are centered. The realities of Brexit, which may seem abstract from an American perspective, hit home as we learn about the intricacies of the EU, from carefully negotiated restrictions on plastic bag use in supermarkets to cultural heritage protection to the future of reciprocity for British lawyers in Europe and European lawyers in the UK. From professors who have personal experience working in and contributing to EU law, I have gained a deep appreciation for this experiment in economic cooperation, whose founding objective—so often ignored in today’s discourse—was in part to ensure lasting peace in Europe. Does culture produce law, or does law shape behavior?
With my greater understanding of the EU, as I listen to French news reports I cannot help comparing two other French and American approaches: the rise of the far-right, Euroskeptic “populist” Marine Le Pen, and the nascent presidency of democracy skeptic and “populist” Donald Trump. I find myself thinking about our respective institutions that exist to ensure democracy, justice, and economic stability, and the challenges they face. I’m also considering what we might learn from each other about those challenges. As the semester goes on, I hope to keep learning.