06 April 2007

The Other Side of the Coin


Seriously though, maybe we bring it on ourselves. In the previous post I argued that people in general tend toward a habit of victimization and egoism. I wrote about this in the context of the bevy of anti-American sentiments that I've encountered here.

Naturally there's another side to this coin. To put it mildly, I've been less than impressed by the comportment of my compatriots. It's an unfortunate paradox that the Americans that spend the most time abroad are generally those that we would want to be represented by the least. They are a self-centered, ungrateful and inconsiderate lot. They are characterized by being, by and large, white, female, and decidedly upper-middle class. They are loud and opinionated and exude a pomposity typically reserved for old-timey oil barons. They are American university students, in their sophomore or junior years (placing them at that age of grand wisdom, 19-20), engaging in the revered ritual of the "semester abroad."

If you would like to become a member of this rarefied breed, here is a crash course:

  • Come to class about 60% of the time
  • When in class speak in English to your neighbor (of course only if neighbor is American, if neighbor is not American ignore him or her completely)
  • Make no attempt at concealing the fact that you are speaking in English (even though you are in French class, in France)
  • Repeat funny-sounding French words until you are doubled over laughing at your own hilariousness
  • Never follow along so that when the professor calls on you you have to mumble and flip through pages in an attempt to answer
  • Complain about the fact that someone else, for the benefit of the 15 other peopme waiting, answered for you while you were searching for the answer
  • Do not try to pronounce French words correctly (just because other people pronounce the French "r" differently than the English "r" doesn't mean that you have to!)

Seriously, it's bad. I regularly observe better behavior from the French high school students that I teach and they 1) aren't paying for their school and, 2) are required to be there. The worst aspect of this is that the rest of my class is filled with people who are making a considerable personal investment in terms of time and money to be in this class. They are in the 24-35 age range and have either lived in France for some time or have recently relocated here. The Americans come off as a bunch of ungrateful buffoons, seeing the world on their parents dime and getting nothing out of it. Some concrete examples:

  • When asked about traveling, one American replies that he has been to Mexico. The professor asks where and if he saw some of the ruins of the previous civilizations. He replies that he was in Cancun the entire time, didn't leave his resort, and spent the majority of the time drunk. (Remember that a good number of the other students in my class are proud Latin Americans, I imagine that his response didn't demonstrate "respect" for their cultures.)
  • An American girl who never follows along in class constantly shouting, "What does that mean?" immediately after the professor explains what something means.
  • An American girl wears a big, stupid hat to class. France has a more traditional approach to education so wearing a hat in class is looked down upon. You are expected to come to class, sit up straight, face forward, and work hard. The professor asks why she is wearing a hat and she attempts to directly translate "I'm having a bad-hair day." Naturally no one understands this idiom so she puts her head down on the table. A few minutes later she takes off her shoes and socks and puts her feet up on the chair next to her so that her bare feet hang into the aisle, obstructing the movement of the professor as she passes out papers. Not exactly appropriate behavior by American standards, let alone French standards.

Now, I don't want it to seem that I'm getting down on Americans, but the six Americans in my class are doing nothing good for our image abroad. They act according to one of the worst stereotypes of Americans, that we have no appreciation for foreign cultures and behave if we are at home even when we are guests. I don't understand why they are wasting an opportunity that such a small portion of the world would ever have the chance to enjoy. It's unfortunate for them and unfortunate for our national image. Esther told me that her university had a big seminar before she came to the United States for her year abroad. They told her to respect local traditions, be generally non-confrontational, and to work to improve the image of France. I'm not sure if the American students had anything like that before they left, if they did it certainly had no effect. Bottom line, I'm embarrassed to be associated with them.



  1. "old-timey oil barons"

    Kurt, you're the best.

  2. unfrozencavemandad4:32 AM

    It is indeed an embarrassment. Like most negative things in any society, it is typically the tiny minority that that get the attention of the majority, and opinions are formed. A much more accurate image is depicted at the link below.


  3. I'm always confused as to whether to shoot on the "yee" or the "haw", I feel that it came more naturally in the US, but I must have been in France to long.

  4. Andrew1:49 AM

    a friend brought your blog to amy attention.

    I spent a year in London and found the same to be true. Most of the Americans we're never aware:

    1.) how loud they were talking on the street

    2.) how bright their northfaces coats were

    3.) how excessively more drunk they were than everyone

    There are a few good ones in the lot, but general the Americans stood out painfully, in a Animal-House-in-Europe-Wanna-be kind of way.