Having a laugh (she finds me, at times, hilarious it seems), my English, recently U.S.-naturalized wife, directed me to this web page yesterday:
As with most such lists, some observations – even if trite – should ring a bell:
4. You can spot Americans in France from a mile away. They’re wearing a t-shirt, and probably speaking English loudly, as if the reason they’re not being understood isn’t the language barrier but that they’ve yet to make themselves sufficiently audible. Also, they’re likely smiling. Who does that?
It’s Saturday, so whether you are American, or not, let’s, uh, risk a smile.
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Reading that paragraph, Woody Allen films immediately jump to mind; but noting Americans’ distinctive national attire while traveling abroad is not all that new. That said, another giveaway, on men over “age 55,” is they are wearing white sneakers, blue jeans, and a baseball cap (sometimes with the name of a U.S. naval vessel emblazoned across it). It is not just older men who like baseball caps either: young American women also appear partial to them.
True, Americans do tend to speak somewhat louder than Europeans. (That speaking style may have become even more exaggerated in the last several generations due to technological changes at home, particularly their having to try to converse over U.S. TV commercials, which are often of eardrum-bursting decibel levels.) Yet bear in mind also that there are exceptions to softer European speaking habits – which you may encounter if, for instance, you ever find yourself in any European pub/ bar when the national soccer team is on the TV.
The London Underground’s Piccadilly line is perhaps the epicenter of American tourism in Europe. I commuted on it for years. My sense in bumping into Americans on it, in Britain more generally, and elsewhere in Europe as well, is many are seen smiling so much for a remarkably simple reason: they are…. on vacation.
I admit I have not engaged in any refereed research into this subject. But I am willing to risk going out on an intellectual limb here. Allow me to posit that being on vacation usually makes people happier, and more likely to smile, than when those same people are at home, trudging to work, day in and day out.
Believe me, on many a dark and rainy work morning, taking a jammed bus just to get to the jammed Underground, or actually trying to drive the 10 miles that it often took me nearly 60 minutes to do in London traffic, I was not often smiling.
Interestingly, I have also noticed this: Europeans at Yellowstone, or in Florida, or visiting the Statue of Liberty, or walking around on the Empire State Building’s Observation Deck, or about to be seated at a Broadway show, do lots of smiling also.
That even applies to the French among them.
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Other signs “your soul belongs in France” naturally may be of a thought-provoking, philosophical nature. It being France, that is probably unsurprising. For example, you may contemplate (invariably while sitting along the Seine) the possibility of human perfection…. and if an oppressive capitalist and globalist framework demands we debase ourselves before a subcapitalist exploitation of, and by, an artificially and arbitrarily constructed feminine ideal:
8. You wholeheartedly agree with the phrase: “Mélanie Laurent is a goddess.”
However, being “thought-provoking” is also to offer up sometimes inaccurate observations. For everyone knows the correct phrasing there is not “Mélanie Laurent is….” At least, not yet.
Obviously, the most accurate statement is “Juliette Binoche is….”
“Marion Cotillard” being one is the other acceptable response.
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Then, there are the historical:
9. Your non-Francophile friends don’t understand why you care about dates like July 14th and 1789.
Yes, that definitely applies to non-French friends. But when it comes to the Revolution, non-French are best advised to be cautious before shooting off their non-French mouth about it among French new acquaintances. Probe a little first, and make sure of where everyone stands, before you take to proclaiming how the Revolution was “fantastic” and that Robespierre is sadly misunderstood.
Years ago, a French inspiration for one of my characters told me, point blank, that she was never pleased when Bastille Day rolled around. To be clearer: she despised it. And why did she feel that way?
“They cut off my ancestors’ heads,” she seethed.
Another dismissed that product of the Revolution, Napoleon I. He would be, by the way, the same Napoleon we Americans are taught is a hero to everyone in France. You know, the one with the magnificent tomb in Paris, which AEF commander General Pershing visited solemnly in 1917, applauded by French generals and civilian dignitaries.
“Napoleon was a butcher, like Hitler,” she decreed.
Incidentally, during World War I, General Pershing (who had tragically lost his wife and daughters in a fire in 1915) would fall in love in France with one Micheline Resco, a Frenchwoman some thirty years younger than himself. They would be together for the rest of his life. In 1921, she painted his portrait.
She was an artist.
Of course she was.
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Lastly there are those “signs” that don’t seem, as the English might say, entirely “spot on”:
16. You find yourself cursing British people without really knowing why.
You may believe your soul belongs in France, but any true French person who “curses” the English knows why. The likes of the Eurostar’s London terminus having for years been at Waterloo International probably harkens back to one of the reasons. On the other hand, many French would claim they don’t actually “curse” the British, and would assert it is really the British who hate them.
Confused? Well, you should be. Because if you ever claim France doesn’t confuse you, then you will really look ridiculous to your French friends. :-)