LES DEUX AMIS EN FRANCE
Une Observation, 2006
We sat, harborside, in the small town of Honfleur. After a whirlwind, five-day visit to Paris, DeLinda and I both breathed deeply with the slower pace of this village along the northern coast of France. A large bowl of fresh, steaming mussels sat before us as we sipped sugar-rimmed glasses of kir normand, a regional concoction of black currant liqueur and local cider.
Honfleur was more familiar than Paris; it reminded me of Rockport, Massachusetts with its small streets and little shops. The seagulls and salt-kissed air brought me home in that way the carefully packed items in a suitcase remind you of the life you’ve briefly left behind.
We’d relaxed enough to slip into familiar conversation, not about the day’s agenda or sights seen, but about the this and that which make up the everyday.
And so it was that we found ourselves in this outdoor café talking about America. The differences between here and there were too obvious. It had been easy to spot les Américains in Paris. Easy to pass judgment on “their” behavior — rude and loud, pushy and arrogant. Easy to feel out of place, at times, awkward.
Our conversation wandered from being in France and trying to speak a foreign language, to people in the U.S. who don’t speak English. And then, as is so common these days, the tapestry of all things wrong in the U.S. unfolded across the table. Illegal aliens. The economy. Corporate America. Politics. The media. Iraq. Terrorism. 9/11.
“George Bush,” I whispered with a furtive glance over my shoulder. The French family behind us seemed not to notice.
I wondered what they thought of us, the obvious Americans traveling through their country. Were we what they expected? What they assumed?
At times, in France, I felt like a polite child tip-toeing through a room full of grown-ups: pardon, je suis desole. I was apologizing for not understanding. For not using the correct words. For seeming rude.
Perhaps I was just apologizing for being American.
The next day, DeLinda and I visited the Normandy beaches. It was June 7, 62 years and a day after the allied invasion of France. As we drove the winding roads along the coast, we were escorted by a convoy of Americans, World War II vets in uniform, an American flag waving proudly from the side of their jeep.
We beeped and waved as we drove by them—excited and proud. “Yay! America! Whoo-hooo!” we hollered out loudly.
The irony of the moment did not escape us.
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Les Deux Amis En France, ©2011 Jen Payne. All rights reserved.
Photos ©2011, Jen Payne, DeLinda Fox.