When I was in the Navy, I was in the habit of starting an overseas cruise by buying a small pile of t-shirts with my ship’s name on them. I would trade them with random people–barmaids (by nature, I am shy, but I can fake outgoing when the occasion demands it), sailors from the navies of other nations, whoever. By the time I transferred to shore duty, I had quite the collection. One day I threw them all in the washing machine. A red shirt from Sardinia bled, and I took them all out of the washing machine a sad shade of pink. It was the last time in my life that I’ve ever owned a piece of red clothing.
French people do not hate Americans. This fact comes as a surprise to plenty of Americans. I know this because plenty of my countrymen ask me some version of the following:
Isn’t it hard to be an American in France? The French hate Americans, right?
In fact, the opposite is true. No one, be they American or French, is “average.” But, on average, you will meet about as many French people who hate Americans as you will meet Americans who hate French people, which is to say: hardly any, ever. Ironically, there is a non-zero proportion of French people who think that Americans hate the French, too. You will meet as many…well, I just told you: hardly any, ever.
Where do these beliefs come from? I can only guess. Certainly there is some very small number of Americans around who are old enough to remember a time in the late 1960s when if you wandered into a bar in a solidly Red neighborhood in the ceinture rouge (the “Red belt,” the ring of mostly Communist suburbs that surrounded Paris at the time) wearing a military uniform, you might have gotten some dirty looks. Of course, you would have gotten similar dirty looks if you had wandered into many American bars frequented by hippies in the late 1960s wearing a military uniform, too–that’s about being on the left in the 1960s (for context, I’m both on the left and a veteran of nine and a half years in the American military), not about being French. And, certainly there are many French people my age who can remember a small number of overly-publicized stupid Americans talking about “cheese-eating surrender-monkeys” and renaming their French fries and French toast to freedom fries and freedom toast. (I have no idea what they called their French windows, French braids, French presses, or French kisses, if they were cool enough to get to French kiss anyone, which seems unlikely.)
What’s the truth? The French in America: to Americans, French people are, first and foremost, super-sexy. As Gerard Depardieu’s character put it in some movie whose name I have long since forgotten: begging an American character not to destroy his life in America, he says something like this: “In France, I’m a nobody. Here, I can read the phonebook out loud, and women throw themselves at me.” (Do I need to explain what a “phonebook” is? Scary…) Of course, every high school (lycée) student knows that American girls hate the French girl exchange students–because the American boys all fall in love with them. If there is one piece of advice that I have for every French speaker of English: do not, not, not work too hard to lose your French accent. In America, it will be your loveliest charm.
Americans in France: women are not exactly throwing themselves at me in droves in Paris, but from what I’m told, American accents are considered pretty adorable here. This is another thing that surprises Americans: they are mostly convinced that the French can’t stand to hear French spoken with an accent. As I point out to them: to speak French with an American accent, you have to actually speak French. Butchering “komente alay voo” isn’t going to be enough to get you a date with that pretty French girl/French boy/French bulldog, or at least it isn’t going to be enough based on your Midwestern vowels alone. But, for the American in France, it goes beyond adorable accents. Europeans in general, and most certainly the French, have a sense of history for which we have no analogue in the United States, and many Americans who have visited Normandy, where the Allied forces landed during World War II, have told me of random Norman shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and passersby saying to them Thank you. Thank you for what you did during the war–and I’m not talking about Americans who are old enough to have actually been there, either.
So, my t-shirts… I own very little in the world, but back in the US, I have an entire dresser full of t-shirts. They’re mostly souvenirs–a visit to the Kodokan, a much-loved bookstore in Manhattan, the summer that I had one of everything on the menu at a wonderful ice cream shop in Ohio—and almost every one of them has something written on it–in English. They’ve always been my go-to upper-body coverings, along with the sweatshirts that I habitually live in when I’m on the road, which mostly have the name of some university or another on them. But, I’ve stopped wearing those things in France. The reason: I got tired of random drunks stopping me on the Paris streets to tell me how much they love America. This was super-cute the first 20 times or so, but one day I was sunning on a cafe terrace absorbed in a book when a drunk came over to tell me how great the United States is, and I thought: I find the atypical-in-Paris open friendliness charming, but at some point in this particular journey, I just wanna be left alone to mind my own business like my fellow parigots.
My solution: the other day I walked to the shopping mall in the ritzy part of my arrondissement (which is by no means my part of my arrondissement) and bought a small pile of t-shirts. There’s a photo of them below. As you can see, they have nothing written on them. That’s their point–to give me a bit of anonymity in Paris: because the French most definitely do not hate Americans.
countryman: someone from a specific country–typically used with a possessive pronoun. Examples:
- Friends, countrymen, voters: Every republican who has released a statement so far supports Trump‘s firing of Comey. This is unacceptable. (Twitter)
- I feel unhinged thinking that I’m here, working, faking normalcy while my countrymen are being terrorized and slaughtered in Marawi. (Twitter)
- Trump is a disgrace to our countrymen and a laughingstock to the world racking up criminal charges worldwide. (Twitter)
- Thanks. Researching the life of your remarkable fellow countryman was a pleasure and a privilege for me. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Hezký den! (Twitter)
- My dear countryman, you remind me how little our culture has advanced. (Twitter)
- Trump supporters have taught their children that it’s ok to stab your fellow countrymen in the back if it advances your agenda. (Twitter)