It’s one thing for the French to hate Americans. There’s a lot to hate. Americans whine when the sun’s too bright, when lines are too long, when subways are crowded and stink of dead pigeons and rotted cantaloupe.
We don’t like it when smoke rings hover over our Croque Monsieur, or when we’re sold travel guides with gum stuck in the binding. We talk too loudly, sneeze without covering our noses, and make fun of what we don’t understand (“I didn’t ask for foam on my sea bass. Do they charge extra for that?”) We have big feet and big asses and when we get drunk we stumble around the Notre Dame courtyard shouting things like, “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” We like wealth so we can buy lots of things, and the French hate all that. The French think that wealth is gauche and that poverty is romantic, which is why French people are pale and underweight and appear generally anemic. It’s also why the French government taxes its most creative and entrepreneurial citizens until they smarten up and flee to Belgium, where they’re not fleeced for creating cheaper food and better technologies and replacing the rags on quaint countryside bums for a nominal fee, those evil capitalist criminals. But I digress.
It’s fine for the French to hate Americans. They can hate us until they grow scales and fall into the ocean, for all I care. What chaps me are self-loathing Americans in France—those angry, dirty-haired hipster types who spend the bulk of their Parisian vacation insulting other English-speakers so the French will like them better. I don’t get that. Like the French give a damn if we shove some kid wearing a USA soccer jersey, or hiss at the bow-legged guy swaggering around the Louvre in his cowboy hat; it’s not the French who think the entire state of Texas should be punished for siring a president who thinks that Sartre is a river in Idaho—it’s us!
Funny how so many of us are still swayed by faux-bohemian snobbery. Didn’t we learn anything from high school, when we ditched our nerdy, loyal, slightly grade-obsessed friends to chain-smoke with the self-cutters beneath the bleachers out back? What were we to the cutters but an additional source of lighter fluid? We must be gluttons for punishment to pander to the French, who treat American tourists like little puking yip dogs meant for small children to kick. We must feel we deserve it when, after standing in a two-hour line at The Catacombs, we watch the ticket agent stub out her last cigarette and close shop an hour early. But are we really okay with that sort of attitude? Is it really “totally cool” when our hotel shuts off the water supply for reasons the manager refuses to divulge, which means we get to stand in the tub and splash our scum-coated bodies with the pint of water we were hoping to drink—the one we bought at the closest corner store, sixteen blocks away?
My Missouri-born boyfriend used to suffer from such pro-French pretensions. On our second night in Paris, we dined in a brasserie and I ordered three courses with extra sides of everything, as usual. Before scribbling out my order, the waiter— an enormous man with sweat rivulets puddling in his suit collar— raised an eyebrow and looked me up and down. Perhaps my smallish frame confused him; did I really want the seafood tier and a salad to start, with swordfish and fries for the main course, plus a side of blanched spinach?
“I’ll eat it,” I said happily, “I promise!”
My boyfriend hid his face in his hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. “She’s from Kansas.”
The waiter shrugged and walked off.
When the seafood tier came, the only dipping sauce was some repulsive mayonnaise and horseradish mixture. Even the boyfriend couldn’t help but comment, “Ew.”
I raised my hand to ask for cocktail sauce, but the boyfriend grabbed my wrist and held it down. “Elizabeth,” he yell-whispered. “Can’t you just do it the way French people do?”
“French women eat their own placenta. How does that sit with you?”
“You’re the reason they hate us,” he muttered.
The waiter must have sensed my displeasure. When I looked up, there he was, with a six-pack of condiments cradled in his arms: ketchup, mustard,Worcester, BBQ sauce, and a bottle of Tabasco.
“Bien?” he asked.
“Perfect-o!” I squealed.
That night dessert was on the house.
I think self-loathing Americans have it all wrong. The French don’t need protection from fanny packs and southern twang, and we won’t win any points with the French by biting the hand that feeds us. It’s not like the French are going to welcome us into their clique. Quite the opposite. We could tattoo “I heart Paris” across our foreheads and they’d hate us for being too obvious. Which is precisely the point. The Frogs want to hate us, and for us to hate them, because the entire French culture is built around snobbery— the city walls may crumble without it. So, if you really love the French, give them something to gossip about. Complain of dairy allergies and demand that your food be steamed and separated by color. Be as American as you can be. They’ll like you better for it.
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