PiU (samedi) wrote,

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While browsing through history books at the university bookstore I overheard two girls talking about their summer plans. One girl mentioned taking a trip to Italy, which prompted the other girl to ask if she knew any Italian. She replied in the negative, which brought the following reaction from her friend:

« Not that it will matter much; I'm sure everyone there will be happy to talk in English. It's not like France, where everyone is rude and has a giant ego that keeps them from being nice. »

Naturally I couldn't let a statement like that stand unchallenged, so I turned to the pair and asked the francophobe girl where she had travelled in France.

« Oh, I was only in Paris. But they're the same everywhere. »

No. They're not. I explained to her how everyone I'd meet in southern France had been quite the opposite to what she was describing - whether they were French, Algerian, Tunisian, Quebecois, Armenian, or Russian. How you can even make a generalization like that after visiting one city for a limited period of time is beyond me. Rather than ask for details or consider revising her opinion this girl - quelle putain - instead stated that it was obvious things would be different in the South, as it was the Italian influence rubbing off on the French. But didn't she just say they were the same everywhere?

At this point I was too frustrated to try continuing the conversation and left her alone with her faulty logic. This is why I dislike Americans who go to Paris - the automatic assumption tends to be (a) everyone in the city enjoys monolingual English conversations, (b) anyone who doesn't speak English is an inconsiderate jerk, and (c) Paris is a microcosm of greater French society, so whatever happens there can be extended to the rest of the country and the entire francophone world. An annoyance of mine is telling people that I've been to France and then immediately hearing them ask "So, how was Paris?" Most of the time, when they hear I've never been to the capital, they get a dejected look on their face and comment on how sad that must make me. I'm quite fine with never going there, contrary to public expectations. [*]

Americans don't want to hear that though. They want to wallow in their ignorance and give knowing smirks about Parisians and the French in general. Little do they know there's a whole country out there with other (indigenous) ethnic groups, ways of doing things, and attitudes toward visitors. But how many American tourists want to do the work of discovering an area that hasn't already been rated and reviewed in a handy travel guide? Is a safe and sterilized tour really that much fun?
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[*] I have even had people tell me that it's impossible to be in France without at least using an airport in Paris (although if you check a map you'll find that the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport is in - quelle surprise! - Roissy-en-France and not Paris, but who's keeping track?). It's really quite easy though - my own flight stopped in Frankfurt before continuing on to the Rhône-Alpes and the Aéroport Lyon Saint-Exupéry. Who could get upset over using an airport named after the author of The Little Prince with little paintings of the main character on the tile walkways?
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