After my amazing (although rushed) tour of Versailles I arrived in Paris around 8 pm. Vanessa and I settled into our hotel room and at 9 pm I went downstairs to wait in the lobby for Charles, who lived in the states a while back and went to ECHS my senior year.
I recalled him telling me he lived near Paris, so about a month prior to the end of my stay I facebooked him and mentioned I would be visiting. Turns out he lived only 20 minutes away and could easily meet up with me via the metro. He met me at the hotel and asked me if I had eaten dinner yet. I hadn’t, so he offered to show me a street of great restaurants a couple blocks from the hotel. The street was very Parisian, jam-packed with cute restaurants that spilled out with patio seating onto the street, lighting it up and creating a great French atmosphere.
The dinner itself was delicious as always, I can’t even remember now what I ate, but I do remember talking about French food, A LOT. Charles kept asking me what I would miss about France and what I loved about it. Sadly I mentioned the cheese, pastries, meusli, yogurt, produce and other unprocessed, un-American goodies more than anything. I articulated my love of French cuisine to the point where he was actually said, “Yes I know, you like French food”. Haha, oh my American appetite!
There are many (non-food related) things I love about France, but I think the main reason I was afraid to bring them up was that I was avoiding one touchy subject: my opinion of the French themselves. Finally he just blatantly asked me and I tried to delicately describe my overall experience, which I hadn’t completely figured out by this point. Upon reflection here at home I have had some interesting revelations, however at this time, I wasn’t sure how to put my overall unease with the French into words. I lived in their society for four months and still had no idea what to make of these people.
Much to my relief, when I did bring up something negative, Charles wasn’t offended at all. “He even said something as blatant as, “Yes, the French are rude. Very Rude”. Hearing a Frenchmen admit this was a bit of relief. And he himself despised the work ethic and strikes as much as I do. Since misery loves company, I eagerly complained about my horrid experiences in the service industry, as well as dealing with SNCS; he completely empathized.
Eventually I turned the tables and started asking him about his thoughts on the states. I was kind of surprised to hear he thought Americans are extremely fake. I later realized I had been thinking the same about the French. He didn’t appreciate many of the students at my private high school, because of how fake they were. Americans are rather infamous for smiling too much, apologizing too often and he felt we pretend to care about one another, but in a way that obviously lacks sincerity. I’m sure the school of Eastside Catholic did nothing, but emphasize that impression. Charles also mentioned that he found Americans to be rather stupid. He said each time he thought he could possibly date an American girl he would get to know her and realize she was, well stupid. Once again, the dating pool at ECHS was rather stereotypical for preppy rich kids. I know plenty of intelligent girls from the school, but for each one I could name off ten stupid ones. And this kid is very mature for his age, the entire time I felt like I was speaking to someone older than me, when he is actually two years younger.
I must say I appreciated his honesty. He was completely and utterly blunt with his views on American society. It wasn’t insulting, just interesting. It definitely got me thinking from his point of view. What a shock to be uprooted from a Parisian life and forced to move to the states for two years! I’m fortunate enough to have grown up in the same area. Even switching from public to private school was completely my choice.
After dinner we walked around the blocks for a while (fun fact – there is no word for “block” in French). Time flew by, as it always does with old friends. Before I knew it, the time came for him to catch the last metro home. His opinions on the US and France definitely lingered in my mind for a while and the discussion was a good conclusion to mon sejour en France.
I kept thinking about the French for a while afterwards, because there are few French people I genuinely like, (only this guy and one or two people in Pau). Not that I hated most of them, it was more of a consensual indifference. Overall I’ve decided that I love French, but no so much the French. There was something about them I couldn’t relate to that just irked me…..
A couple weeks ago I figured out what it was. I went to get my eyeglasses fixed and spent a long time talking with the worker there, who was from Russia originally, but considers himself American after having lived here for twenty years. We started speaking about the French and he said he has a friend in Paris who has worked there eight years and still cannot tell whether or not his co-workers like him. “They are so fake” he told me, “you never know what they think of you”. At that moment it was like a light bulb clicked. I found the French just as fake as my French friend finds Americans. I cannot tell you what any of them thought of me. I don’t know if my French friends liked me, if my French friend himself considers me another stupid and fake American or even if my host mom liked me (towards the end I got the feeling she did not). That was it! I was irked by the fact that I didn’t know what anyone thought of me! No idea! What makes you more insecure than living in a country surrounded by people who you cannot relate to in that way?! No wonder I was so worn down by the end of my stay, Elly and Vanessa were the only true friends I made.
Despite this, I’m glad I studied abroad alone. Flying to France I couldn’t stop thinking about how I wouldn’t see a face I knew well for four months (That was before I knew I would meet up with Marco). I know it made my confidence stronger in the end, but it is not a voyage I would embark upon again.
I’ve been home for over two months and it is good to be back. I know I will visit Paris and other parts of France again – and it will be wonderful. I can’t wait to show family and friends the beauty of the French culture. For now though, I am going to enjoy and be thankful for my family, friends and the presence of home.
Adieu Pau et au revoir France!