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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?
* * * *

[*] 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?


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 5th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC)
Most French people can speak English at least passably, as I am sure you know. But people like her are the reason they are not motivated to try.

Thanks for sticking up for us! :D
Apr. 6th, 2006 02:17 am (UTC)
That's very true. In fact, the main linguistic problem I encountered in France was coming across people who wanted to practice their English at the same time I wanted to practice my French.

Hey, my ancestors are originally from France as well! :D
Apr. 6th, 2006 02:21 am (UTC)
*gasp* Another Frenchie? Yay! The more the merrier! ;)
Apr. 6th, 2006 02:44 am (UTC)
I should probably point out that they came from Alsace, which is a little different. ;)
Apr. 5th, 2006 07:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks for defending the french people...
As far as the parisians are concerned, they can be friendly, it's true i swear.
But you can't come in Paris, as a tourist, speak english and think that you will be the center of attention immediatly...
It's not a big secret, french people are not madly in love with the english language and the american culture..
They are proud of their own culture, of their cities and their language, and i speak for myself too..
I will be more inclined to help somebody who tries to speak a little french that someone who just stops me in the street and begins to speak in english to me like it's perfectly normal i should understand what he is just saying.
Apr. 6th, 2006 02:28 am (UTC)
I don't see why the French should be in love with the English language or American culture when they have a history and culture of their own. China is becoming a larger economic power, but I don't know any Americans who would want to give up their own culture to adopt the government and culture of China.

I think it's important to learn at least some of the local language before travelling to a different country, as it shows that you're aware of the local culture and people. Even if it's only two or three words, it still makes a difference.
Apr. 6th, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
Americans don't want to hear that though. They want to wallow in their ignorance and give knowing smirks...

That is another generalization.

Apr. 6th, 2006 02:39 am (UTC)
It is indeed. ;)
Maybe I should have added an "it seems" to the front of that sentence?
Apr. 6th, 2006 08:45 am (UTC)
All of my French friends speaks excellent English, if not perfect. Admittedly, all of them are really well-educated. On the other hand I can't judge the whole population since I always speak French to the French. Maybe that is the reason that even Parisians are friendly to me.;)
Apr. 6th, 2006 09:27 am (UTC)
Did you catch me generalizing as well? :D
I am by no means fluent in French but the family I stayed with said I picked up the local accent on my second day there, which no doubt helped while speaking to other people. However, once they heard I was from the United States there were several folks who wanted to speak with me in English instead of French!
Apr. 6th, 2006 09:29 am (UTC)
Maybe that is the reason that even Parisians are friendly to me.;)

Oh, and I bet it has nothing to do with your wonderful personality? ;)
Apr. 6th, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
#1) Long time no seen! (in fact, I am around, lurking... :P)

#2) er, I have been to Paris but I remember people were generally nice there. And when they don't speak English and I don't speak French? Our very own self-created Sign Language(tm)!

#3) I don't mean to say this about all Americans, or rather, scratch that, I don't mean to say this about any nationality/ethnic origin/*insert appropriate word*, but I usually make a note to myself that whoever is stubborn enough to make such assumptions and not budge even after a good explanation, they themselves are the jerks.

#4) a bientôt! (excuse me if missed any accents, rusty memory to blame :P)
Apr. 7th, 2006 12:00 am (UTC)
01. I've been wondering about you, Kata. It's good to see that you're still around, even if you aren't posting! ;)

02. You didn't try Macanese to see if that would work?

03. Very true. At least I made an effort, right?

04. The one on the [o] was perfect, although the first letter is really an [à]. I'd say that's really good. tchuß!
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )