An American in Bordeaux

Generalizing people is a dangerous thing; I try to judge people on a case by case basis, not by where they were born. For me, this attitude was essential during my stay in France because I was in a foreign country where I met not only French people, but also people from all over Europe and the world (at the language school I attended). Despite what many people might think, I honestly did not experience much anti-American sentiment while I was in France. However, I did hear some ignorant, untruthful remarks.

One afternoon, I had a conversation with my host mother at the kitchen table and she said that all Americans eat fast food and that is why so many of them (us) are overweight. While there is some truth to this statement, not all Americans eat fast food on a regular basis. For instance, I don’t. I told her that my mother prepares home-cooked meals nearly every night. I also said that there are many people I know who dislike fast food. My host mother’s misconception about Americans bothered me because I knew that were probably others like her who believed false stereotypes about Americans. For the first time, I felt that I had to defend myself as an American. I felt better, however, knowing that my response to her comment may have changed her outlook.

There was another time that I felt singled out as an American. I remember that uncomfortable day in class when the topic of conversation was politics. Being the only American in the room, I cringed at the mention of President Bush’s name, knowing that criticism of him or his policies would likely follow. It was a small class, so I could not avoid participating in the conversation. Since I was the only representative of America in the room, I felt pressured to defend my people and my country. When it was my turn to speak, I simply said that I do not always agree with Bush’s politics and that I do not have a strong interest in politics in general and would prefer not to talk about it.

My teacher, Karine, sensed my discomfort; she came up to me after class to see if I was okay. I learned that she and I shared a similar philosophy. She believed in separating a people from their government. Just because I am an American does not imply that I support every American policy. I realized that I had put too much pressure on myself thinking that I had to speak for Americans as a whole, when the only person I could speak for was myself.

Although I had a few uncomfortable moments, on the whole I was treated very well in France. In fact, most people (outside of my host family and school) did not even know that I was an American:

“You’re not French, are you?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Then where are you from?”

“I’m an American.”

I had this conversation (in French) with a lady who sat next to me on the TGV on my way home from Paris. She was not the only person to ask me where I was from, either. Perhaps it was my not-so-Anglo accent that saved me from anti-American sentiment, but I believe it was because I met some great people who think the way I do, who judge people for who they are, not what they are or where they are from. I went to France with an open mind and a friendly attitude and I think I had a richer experience because of it.