The French (Dis)Connection
by Jordan Small í06
Jordan Small wrote this essay while participating in the Collegeís overseas study program to France this spring. The program focused on Franceís language, history, and contemporary culture. Small, who grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, will graduate next May with a degree in international affairs. Read more about her real-life experiencesóand those of other Lewis & Clark students at Real Life at L&C.
Iíve been in France for over three months now, studying in lovely Strasbourg. Before leaving the United States, I hadnít really thought about what it would be like to spend six months in France. It was something I had always planned on doing, and it was a big part of why I decided to come to Lewis & Clark.
Thus, upon arriving in the land of smelly cheese, smelly people, and little black berets, I was completely unprepared to deal with the gaping cultural differences. Culture shock? Yeah, just a little. I quickly discovered that all those stereotypes Iíd heard about and pooh poohed in the past were true.
Yes, there are doggie surprises all over the sidewalk. Itís like traversing one of the worldís most dangerous minefields just to get to the nearest cafť. Yes, men urinate in public. Whether itís late at night or in broad daylight, whether itís under a bridge or in a corner, Iíve seen this act way too many times. Yes, slim, bitter-looking, scarf- clad women totter over cobblestones in ridiculous black high-heeled boots. Yes, cigarette smoke is impossible to avoid. Yes, cheese, baguettes, and cafťs are everywhere. But despite all the cafťs, not one offers coffee in a disposable to-go cup. Yes, people are cold. Itís a bloody miracle when someone says hello or smiles at you on the street. Yes, they are incredibly nationalistic, especially when it comes to food and wine. I honestly believe that most French would not admit it even if they thought an American wine was good. Yes, they work only 35 hours a week; yes, they have more vacation in a year than some Americans will ever see; and yes, they strike all the time.
All these things are hard to deal with, but what has struck me more than anything else is hearing how much my country, my home, is hated. Over the last several years, Iíve come to love and respect my country more than ever before. Whether my professors or my grandparents are to blame, I donít know, but somehow understanding my country, my government, and how they work has made me one of Americaís greatest patriots. And being in a foreign country, particularly one that doesnít have positive feelings toward the United States, has forced me to get much better at sticking up for my homeland.
One night I was sitting in a bar with my host dad and a friend of his, a French- man in his 60s. The latter told me he just doesnít like Americans. I quickly demanded why. As usual, he had no legitimate answer. The same man demanded to know if I was a patriot. When I answered yes, he wanted to know how I could love a country that had done so many awful things.
Loving my country doesnít mean I love everything my country has ever done, I tried explaining in my rudimentary French. I quickly reminded him of colonialism and all the horrid things the French and Europe, in general, had done all over the world. He seemed to think that that was different.
Later in the conversation, I voiced the opinion that Europe, via the European Union, wanted to be like the United Statesóto have comparable power in order to counterbalance Americaís influence in the world.
That comment didnít go over too well. The two Frenchmen would never admit that their beloved, cultured, mature Europe would ever want to be anything like the United States. Explain to me then, I thought, why your cars are getting bigger, why more and more frozen food is sold in your grocery stores, why 80 percent of your music videos are American, or why your McDonaldís are never empty. For hating us so much, you sure embrace some very American things.
With all the conversations Iíve had, which, granted, do not represent all the opinions of the French, Iíve come to discover that Americans are viewed as ignorant, money-grubbing, amusing fools who are obsessed with being beautiful, obtaining oil, and taking over the world.
Itís been quite the learning experience, and I now understand why the two coun- tries donít get along. I still have just one question: Which came first? The French hating the Americans, or the Americans hating the French?
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Lewis & Clark College.
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