It wouldn’t be fair to issue 10 statements from the Americans, explaining their somewhat clichéd view of the French without having a little payback. According to TF1, this is what the French think about the Americans. I’m wondering if it is very much different from the English view of the Americans.
Having just spent two-and-a-half very pleasant hours watching Skyfall in Angouleme with friends, seeing London in all its finest ‘made for international broadcasts’ glory, I certainly think that some countries indulge in a little stereotyping because it’s how the world wants to see us.
So what do the French think about Americans?
1. They’re all fat. With their Big Macs and super-sized meals, McDonalds and KFC, it’s not surprising the French imports give the impression that the United States of America are led by their stomachs. The idea of free refills and brownies, food at any time, eating in the streets, snacks between meals and huge breakfasts, lunches and dinners is rather different from traditional French life. I still can’t buy a 500ml or even 330ml bottle of chilled, ready to drink, coca-cola on my 200 km route delivering magazines, and most supermarkets haven’t geared themselves up to feed people on the move at lunchtime. I carry a penknife and a spoon with me and that way, I can buy a baguette, some cheese and a tomato, and make my own lunch. If I want a drink, I either have to bring it with me on my route, or buy a warm one off the shelf. So with most food being the kind you prepare yourself in the kitchen, it’s not surprising it’s not quite so easy to get overweight in the first place, although that’s not to say obesity isn’t a problem for the French. Certainly, in the countryside, there aren’t so many people who are fashionably thin.
2. Americans are stupid and really bad at geography. Perhaps the Republican president George Dubya Bush and his runner-up vice-president Sarah Palin have a lot to do with this. When the person in charge of your country refers to Africa as a nation, and refers to border relations between Canada and Mexico, you might be assumed to be just as geographically unaware. Whilst it’s true that in 1989, less than 3% of Americans had passports, that percentage is now 33% – so perhaps the USA is interested in expanding its horizons once again. Like France, though, when you have beaches and ski resorts, monuments and history, perhaps Americans feel like there’s not much need to leave the country.
3. The Americans consider themselves to be the kings of the world. With leading feminist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, saying that it’s hard for Americans not to consider themselves the centre of the universe, you can understand why the French might be in agreement with her. It’s not just politics, but the domination of American corporations in France that particularly piques les français - funny to think that, outside of the UK, there are more McDos than any other European country.
4. Americans are vulgar and talk too loudly. As a noisy little Mancunian myself, I know how that accusation might feel.
5. They’re incredibly welcoming. They’re warm and friendly like few other countries (once you get out of the airport and past airport security, I guess!) and their customer service is second-to-none.
6. The French find it very hard to become friends with Americans, once past the initial pleasantries.
7. The USA is the land of puritanism. They’re prudish, easily shocked and afraid of a little nudity. Funny to consider that it’s also the land of the blue film and the adult film industry does so very well in California, considering Americans are such prudish people, but there you have it. I confess to feeling a degree of shock that so many state legislatures forbid the teaching of evolution and favour creationism. I also confess to feeling a little overwhelmed by the amount of sects and cults that exist there, but it is the land of the free after all.
8. Americans are obsessed with money and materialism. Coming from the UK, where people seem to shop like it’s going out of fashion (including me) and having been to Japan, where rubbish dumps are filled with almost-new phones and televisions, France does seem a lot more thrifty. Often, I rail at the prices. Don’t get me started on why something in Germany might be one price and things in France might be another, but it’s fair to say the socialist ideal lives on in France. It’s unsurprising then that the sheer volume of shops, commerce, industries and consumerism is a little bewildering to the average French person.
9. The USA is a land of violence. With guns everywhere, prisons, violence and the death penalty, Americans seem a whole lot more violent to the French.
10. Finally, Americans are very patriotic. It’s funny that they say that because on my travels, I’m always very conscious of who’s flying a flag and from where. Japan had the fewest flags, and the only one I saw flew at Hiroshima. Flying the St George Cross in England is practically a symbol of racism beyond certain sporting events. America and France, however, are right up there with the most flags you can see flying in the wind. The fact that every single mairie has a flag somewhere hanging about significantly ups the numbers, but I’d say, given the Franco-centric education children receive and the pride there is over ‘Made in France’ labels, that there’s not much between an American’s patriotism and that of a Frenchman.
I am unsurprised by the top ten prejudices on either side of the fence. As with many prejudices, sometimes there’s a real element of truth in it. But as is true of life, I think it’s always interesting to see the things we share as nations and the things that divide us. My top three in France would be customer service, the view of consumerism and capitalism, and the love a Frenchman has for his country.
What about you? What are the biggest differences you notice between your home land and your adopted country?