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Monday, February 14, 2011

What do the French Think of Americans?

A few days ago, I realized that I have not written on this subject yet. I feel like I talk about this a lot, and yet for some reason, it took me a year to think of writing a blog on the subject. At last, I will address some opinions I have heard from the French on what they think of my country and its people.

1. Everyone Has a Gun: This may seem pretty laughable to someone from the United States, but on several different occasions I have been asked about safety in the United States. A perception I have heard from some people is not only do they think that everyone has a gun, but many people have one on them when they leave the house. This might be the result of the popularity in France of such shows like CSI, Bones, and NYPD Blue.

This also might be the result of both the French and American medias' tendency to blow the other countries news stories out of proportion. When I was here in December 2005, the American media was still reporting about riots in Paris and continued to advise Americans against travel to Paris. Meanwhile in Paris, the French media had stopped reporting on the matter at least a week or two before, and furthermore, there were no signs in Paris (minus a few suburbs) that any rioting had taken place.

As I said, the French media acts in a similar manner. In the last few months, the last three documentaries on the United States that I have watched in France were on the following subjects: polygamy in the United States, the Tea Party, and violence in the inner cities. I guess if these are the subjects that are the focus of attention on French basic cable, then maybe I can see why they have the impression that we are all packing a pistol in our undergarments.

2. We've held on to Puritan Ideals: Of all of the American stereotypes I have heard over here, this one might be the most accurate. It's not something that crosses the mind of an American on a daily basis, but there are certain ideals which we have upheld since those times. For example:

-We frown upon those that are not punctual. I remember having not one, but two teachers in high school who gave me detention for walking into class as the bell was ringing, in effect being less than one second late.

-Perhaps most importantly, too much pleasure is a bad thing. Americans think that the French get nothing done business wise because they spend all their time at caf├ęs and bars; eating, drinking, and smoking their lives away. People just are not working hard enough to their tastes. There is no rush (Paris, by comparison to the rest of France, is very rushed. Paris, in comparison to an American city, is very relaxed).

-The best way to achieve happiness is to work hard. Working hard brings the satisfaction of accomplishing something, or maybe it's just way to keep oneself busy. Either way, people in the United States that don't work hard are also looked down upon.

-Kissing and other forms of sexual interest being exhibited in public is viewed as wrong. These are things that are supposed to be done behind closed doors, where there is no risk of being seen by others.

-Alcohol, though allowed, is treated as sinful. By American standards, pretty much everyone in Europe is an alcoholic. The biggest difference I feel is that while in France, alcohol is taught to be respected, in the United States, alcohol is taught to be feared.

3. We are oblivious to what is going on in the world: In a sense, this might be true, but in my opinion, no more so than any other country. The reason why this stereotype exists results from lots of media exposure in the U.S. As we are perhaps seen as a hegemon, pretty much every country focuses on relations with the U.S., whether to build good relations or to antagonize the US to show that they are a country that matters and boost popularity with the citizenry. One way or another, everything we do is closely examined by pretty much every country, if not all of them, in the world. But just because everyone follows what is going on in the U.S. doesn't mean that people follow what is going on anywhere else. Could an average French person answer who is charge of Belgium? Or the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe? Probably not. If another country took over as hegemon and the world's microscope focused on its everyday activity, I guarantee that the world would not be so critical of the United States.

This article is just a starting point on what I've seen in terms of what the French think of Americans. If you have another to add, or have a comment to add to the discussion, don't hesitate to write!

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