This morning I awoke to the nicest news from France, only to then hear some of the worse and it made me reflect on the state of Franco-American relations.
I woke up this morning and did my morning prayers. I woke up a little late and had a doctor’s appointment so I was in a little rush. I had enough time though to open my phone and check my e-mail.
There I saw the most lovely message from my friends in France, Dorothée and Mayeul Fournier. They were wishing me a Happy New Year. It felt great to get that note from France and to know that I was in their thoughts. I was smiling.
But no sooner had I began to smile, that that happiness turned to shock and sadness. I then checked social media and saw responses towards Islamic terrorism. I wasn’t sure what was going on but I knew something wasn’t good. After a few more moments I soon learned about the horrific massacre on France’s media.
This post is not to talk about our shared threat, Islamic extremism, but to touch more on the friendship between our two countries.
How Many Americans View the French
Americans, unless we know it or not, are taught, subtlety, to hate the French. This may come as a shock to my French friends, but not my American ones.
I truly and honestly believe that it comes from a defensive reaction. Americans think that the French don’t like us so we in turn don’t like them. It’s like an act of preemptive hate. Ridiculous.
Now there have been some strains with our first ally, no doubt about it. During the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, France was one of the loudest voices against military action in Iraq. I, and many other Americans, were furious that our so called ally, would halt us from stopping what many considered a clear and present danger to the United States and her allies.
I remember telling people that, if I ever travelled to Europe and had to do a layover in France, I would ask for a wheelchair so that I could get transferred across the airport so my feet wouldn’t touch French soil. Yeah, I hated France that much.
And it wasn’t hard either. At the end of the day the blame falls solely on my shoulders for being so naive but it didn’t help that I was brought up in a culture where disliking the French was part and parcel with watching baseball.
How Many French View Americans
Then, a few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to France for the first time. I had gotten over my anger and was genuinely looking forward to it. I was there for humanitarian reasons as the World Hemophilia Conference was being held in Paris that summer and was on my way to Macedonia, where I was helping their Hemophilia community.
I remember my first day on the Champs-Élysées, strolling and looking at the sights (the girls) when I started noticing something strange. I started seeing tons of people in pro-American clothing. Mostly takes on the American flag, but still, there was a large number of French people wearing American themed outfits. I was stunned. By the end of the day I counted at least five French people wearing US themed garb.
The next day I hit the Champs-Élysées again, this time, with a more open eye. I was sure that all the French people wearing USA stuff must’ve been a fluke, some type of strange chance that I just happened to be upon. And sure enough by the time I had lunch at my favorite French restaurant, Quick (it’s there McDonald’s), I had only counted three. The world seemed right again.
Then, like clockwork, I saw more French people in USA clothing. In the next hour or so, I counted up to seven people! I couldn’t take it anymore and I saw a French girl standing outside a clothing shop wearing American flag shorts. I had to ask what the deal was.
“We fucking love America,” was her response. Consequently, she also designed the shorts herself.
I quickly learned that the French not only like Americans, but they loved us. And when I thought about how most of my countrymen hate the French, I felt horrible.
But Aren’t the French Rude?
Yes and no. I tell people this; how would you like it if people came up to you and spoke gibberish expecting you to understand them? You wouldn’t like it either, in fact, it would probably make you angry to the point that you may come off rude yourself. Armed with my limited French, I could say things like, “Excuse me, I don’t speak French. Sorry. Do you understand English or Spanish?” One-hundred percent of the time I would get a happy response, friendly smile, and help that almost became embarrassing. When I would ask a French person for directions they would literally walk with you for a bit to make sure you would’t get lost. I haven’t felt that sort of welcome in any other country. The reason they were so nice? I tried a little, that’s it. I spoke enough of their language that they then became receptive towards me. They weren’t rude because I wasn’t rude.
Which brings me to another point. A friend of mine pointed out that one time, in Paris, it took them forever to get serviced until they had to call the waiter over. At first I was understanding but then later realized his unintentional mistake.
Would you like it if some stranger came into your house, didn’t say a word, and just started grabbing food from your fridge? No, of course you wouldn’t but that’s nearly the same thing as walking into a restaurant in France and not announcing yourself with a hello. Walking in and taking a seat without being shown is the near equivalent.
How were they dressed? Was it the “American suit” of a t-shirt and baseball hat? Americans have some of the worse hygiene in the world, visually. We stink up places with our sweatpants, shorts, and t-shirts.
In short, the French and Parisians can be rude, just like any other culture. We just have to remember that we can be the ones that are being rude and not actually knowing it.
Americans like to remind the French and the English that they wouldn’t be under German control right now if it wasn’t for America, but Americans also tend to forget that without the French, we would still be kneeling to an English crown. Next to George Washington, the most important man in creating a free United States of America is Lafayette, a Frenchman.
Yet here we are, 2015, and Americans feel closer to our first enemy, the British, than our first friend, the French. Meanwhile anti-Americanism sentiment is higher in Britain than it is in France. We have it so backward here.
What Should We Do?
Americans should do two things. One, remember our history and, two, have the same love and concern that the French have for us.
I’ll close with this final thought. I have only cheered on two national soccer teams in person in my life, the US and France. It doesn’t make me less of an American because I support the French, if anything, it makes more of one.
Allez les Bleus!