In 1986 I flew to Ireland with my family. It was my first time in Europe and I was hooked. My world grew with that first trip. A year later I was in Spain, driving cross-country. I wanted to absorb everything. I wanted to be a part of the culture although I knew that was impossible. There was a dry spell in my travels for about 10 years when my life fell apart and slowly was rebuilt. I came back with a vengeance, six times to Europe in the past 6 years. We scrimp, save and do without for the sake of travel. As regular readers of this blog know, France holds a special place in our hearts; we’ve been there three times and will move to Paris in August.
When I first visited France it was the beginning of the war. French- American relations were at an all time low. A woman and I were watching the movie stars drive up for their big walk up the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival- She asked where I was from and how I enjoyed France. I was overwhelmed with her country and all it had to offer but that I was a little nervous about the perception of the French to me as an American. “No one blames the American people for the war- it’s the politicians, it’s always the politicians” I’ll always remember that brief, kind exchange. In Paris, two years later, I was treated to a different kind of person, one that hated Americans. It’s hard to argue with someone who feels all Americans are fat, rich, war mongers etc- I don’t even bother to argue with this kind of ignorance when I’m a guest in another country. In my own country I do discuss it I have not found that many people who hate the French, but I know they are out there. The few that have questioned why I would want to live in France general will cite every old stereotype and cliché they can think of to explain why they don’t like the French. Invariably the people that rely on these stereotypes of hatred have, generally, never been out of their own little world. They have no interest in leaving the safety of their own counties, their own little worlds and their own comfort zone. These people, and I find them very annoying, are always the loudest and speak the most but know the least.
What I have learned throughout my travels is that there are ignorant assholes in every country, but that there are many more kind and interesting people in these same countries. I, too, fell into the stereotype of the rude Parisian. When we first visited Paris, the bathroom in a café perplexed my wife. It was just a hole in the floor with two places for her feet. Having never seen this set up she asked a woman, in broken French, how this all worked. The woman explained in French and in pantomime. My wife looked dubiously at the hole and her ability to balance. The French woman held my wife’s hands so she could keep her balance while she used the bathroom. Anytime someone suggests the French are rude I tell them that story and then I suggest they visit New York City*.
*The woman, for all I know, could have been Canadian but the story wouldn’t be as much fun. Canadians are awfully nice people.