3 Things that France Taught Me
“The French are like Cats. Americans are like dogs.”
One of the many things that I was terrified of during this trip was my lack of any foreign language, and for good reason. Many times, I had heard from friends that the French didn’t like Americans and I thought, ‘Oh no! That’s silly! I just won’t be one of those Americans!’ That’s not entirely true. Even with an utter attempt to not be one of those Americans, anyone within 50 feet of us in France likely knew that we were Americans. And, yes, you can sense it. And yes, it’s quite clear that they hate it.
It’s interesting to me that an entire culture (and especially one such as the French, which I perceive as highly revered) would be so negative towards tourism. Of course, if you live in Paris, I’m sure it’s much like any US tourist city (I’m looking at you, Orlando!) where the locals are constantly being swarmed by people who have absolutely no idea what they are doing. I could only imagine that people staring around in wonderment gets excruciatingly old after awhile.
However, one friend told me something before I left and it was highly relevant to my entire time in Paris: The French are cats & Americans are dogs.
Let me explain, because likely your entire back just bristled at the idea of being called a dog. Which, of course, is not what i mean in this context. But, there are dog people and there are cat people.
Personally, I’m a cat person because I enjoy the fact that cats don’t need constant reassurance and attention. They come and go as they please and likely, they wouldn’t care if you simply just disappeared one day. That’s exactly like your typical Parisian. Completely uninterested in you as a human and more than likely, you’re in the way and being a nuisance. Please leave, I’m sunning myself in this corner.
Americans, on the other hand, are big, clumsy, slobbering dogs. I’m so excited to be in your city and eat all your food and I want you to acknowledge me as the GRAND AMERICAN that I am and pet me and give me all the love. PET ME RIGHT NOW. Hi. Hi. Pay attention to me please. Like me please. We barrel through the city, completely unaware that we speak little to no French, but we’re not really that concerned because you should like us right now! Tell us all about your French things! Give me your bread and cheese. Where’s the wine, see-vou-play?
Sigh, even typing that out I realize how true that it is - and in many instances, I saw it happening around me so I can only understand why the French hate us Americans so. I’d hate me as well, but then again, I’m a cat person. Aside from any and all historical differences, you really can’t make a cat like you if you come at it all wrong. You’ll likely be annoyed at the cat when it hisses at you and the cat is even more annoyed that you tried to pet it like an asshole.
But, that brings me to my second point…
Americans are ignorant
Yes, English is a universal language, but too often, I find that we are very rarely introduced to anything outside of the American way. While we are often proud of referring to America as a melting pot, how many of us actually know another language? I took almost six years of Spanish, but find that I use it rarely, if ever. Now, instead, imagine that you live in Europe, with hundreds of other languages. If you take a train, you can be easily be in another country in as little as 30 minutes, sometimes quicker. Many people grow up knowing a variety of different languages and it frustrates me that I only know English!
On this trip, Kendall and I did our best to learn how to say some familiar in passing phrases (please and thank you will always go a long way!), as well as starting off most conversations with “Please excuse my poor French.” While many times this seemed to work in our favor (as we did request to learn more words!), there were a few times when we were ushered out of a restaurant because we weren’t having dinner or we simply were ignored. In that case, the dogs left in search of someone who would scratch behind their ears.
It made me realize, however, how truly ignorant Americans can be. We are so proud of our “mixing pot” of cultures - bring us your poor, your tired, your weary - the “best” country in the world, yet, we make no attempt to learn about any others. We don’t speak multiple languages (which, for future travel, is something I do want to work on!) and mostly expect others to cater to us. Speak English to us in YOUR country. It’s likely that people who are reading this might find that unfavorable, but it’s entirely true. The French are a proud people, absolutely, but are we not? Why do we feel as though we should go into another’s country and not adopt their customs or language? Don’t we do the same in the US?
American Excess is Astounding
On that same line of thinking, France made me incredibly aware of our American excess. I’ve never been a person who needed lavish things or a huge house. In fact, I’d much prefer a modest place that allowed for me to travel and experience more. But, even by what I would consider modest “American" standards, we live in excess.
Take, for example, our AirBnb. It was a studio apartment in a six-floor walkup! Let me just say, you definitely earned your breakfast getting up and down the stairs each day! And no, of course there were no elevators! (Cue two American girls struggling with stupid oversized luggage.)
The apartment was small, but it had everything you needed and only what you needed. All of the apartments and living quarters are tiny, but again, why do you need any more? The key to happiness definitely does not come from stuff and it truly resonated with me that, as Americans, we just have so much stuff.
While I’m at it, let me make a stop over on portion size. I’ve always been amazed at the huge portion sizes in the US, but it’s at odds even more so in France. Order a dessert and it comes as a tiny slice. A typical meal is easily a quarter of the size of a typical portion in the US. And here’s the thing - it’s the perfect size! I never felt like I was truly hungry with any of the portions.
Hunger tip: Even though I said I was never hungry, if you’re traveling through Paris (and I’m assuming the rest of France), most local shops, your cheese and meat shops, especially - will be closed on Sundays, and even some on Mondays. If you’re like us, and looking to stock up for a cross country trip, I would highly recommend doing it on a Saturday so you don’t run into the hunger pains on your train!
You’ll also never see an overweight French person. This seemingly common occurrence of seeing large people is predominantly American as well. Thanks sugary, processed, genetically modified junk food and lack of physical activity! Someone told us that the easiest way to spot an American is our round faces. I’m sure that that has much less to do with structural shape of our faces and more to do with our weight. But when did we allow ourselves such excess?
I would love the chance to return to France again and explore more of the French countryside. The architecture, food and wine were some of my favorite on the entire trip and I look forward to the chance to return!