France On Fridays: Les Américains

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.

• • •

Les Deux Amis En France, ©2011 Jen Payne. All rights reserved.

See also:
C’est La Vie
La Plus Longue Journée
À Travers La Ville
Petits Oeuvres D’art
Escalier au Ciel
Plus Escaliers et Alors Nous Arrêtons
Le Voyage de la Route!

Photos ©2011, Jen Payne, DeLinda Fox.

6 thoughts on “France On Fridays: Les Américains

Add yours

  1. i recently read something, i think just yesterday or the day before, that said, “If you’re not a Native American, you’re an immigrant” – just by default, i suppose – it gives one pause…

    the last part, about waving and hollering at the American soldiers passing you on the road, seems like something out of a WWII movie, only instead of you two being American tourists, I can envision what it must have been like in the 1940s after the Allied forces chased the Nazis out of France – the people of France must have also given the troops an enthusiastic welcome! so you were, in essence, re-enacting a scene from the past – such deja vu…

  2. It’s definitely hard to escape the feeling of being American when traveling overseas. I felt it in France, but everyone was always so nice to me, (as they were to you). I think that has a lot to do with how we both approach traveling. We are there to learn and experience new things, rather than view everything with an American bias. We are willing to see things as though we aren’t perfect or better or more dominant than anything else. In other words, we are willing to make mistakes without hesitation. To the French, I think that attitude means a great deal. :-)

  3. Actually, in Normandy, I’ve often been thanked for being an American instead of feeling a need to apologize for it.

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