An Alternative 4th of July

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays.  Not because of the American flag cakes; the ‘appropriate one time a year’ red, white, and blue bathing suit; or because of the red food coloring that turns every bland drink into a truly American beverage. But, because it is a day that I have always spent amongst friends and family, enjoying the heat at the beach together, not having a worry in the world (to appropriately quote Zac Brown Band).  Thus, when I woke up on the 4th of July to the garbage truck at 6:00am outside my window, sweating from the mini heat wave that we’re all suffering through without air conditioning, my heart started to ache a little bit for home.  Nonetheless I decided that I would take on my last community interaction task and spend the 4th of July striking up a riveting conversation about foreigner’s perceptions of the United States (if I can’t spend the 4th in America at least I can justify talking about it for the day!).

Posing questions on the United States, or really even telling anyone you’re from the United States, will frequently invite many questions on the political environment.  More times than I can count I have been asked about President Trump from my friends and from any French person I meet.  For a group of people who truly dislike everything about the American president, they also really love to talk about him.  Thus, openly asking questions looking for perceptions was something I was a bit weary to do but, while we were all sitting after class having a coffee I decided to ask  two of my friends, Anna and Lara, who are both from Switzerland.  Lara (20 years old) and Anna (24 years old) both had the expected first response, a severe dislike for President Trump.  Lara commented how the one question she always wants to ask Americans is “Why? How could he become president?”.  She then brought up the political structure and voting process and thought that the Electoral College was a “stupid” way to vote and that having a popular vote, like Switzerland, was a much more logical system.  Having been to the United States before she noted how unfortunate it was that Trump was president as she was in love with the natural beauty of the United States and the diversity of our landscapes and national parks but felt that she would not return until Trump was no longer in office.  Anna, after having agreed with Lara throughout the discussion, piped in that she always dreamed of going to the United States (particularly Disney World- random, I know) but that she also would not go until Trump was not the president.  After the topic of politics they started moving into a more cultural discussion.  The Institute where we study has a fare share of American students and they started talking about the two different groups of Americans they observed and how they thought this applied to the larger country itself.  The first group were those they described as being superficial.  These were what they characterized as being the “stereotypical American” meaning they were in France to not actually learn French but to go out every night and drink because it is legal for them here (sidenote: the American drinking age is something they both thought was so bizarre).  These Americans are loud and obnoxious and travel in a pact so to only stay with other Americans.  The second group of Americans they commented on were those who had “their feet on the ground”.  People who were here to actually learn, not only about France, but about other cultures as well.  Though the stereotype of the loud, obnoxious American exists here, it’s interesting to me how this small group of people sets the precedent for such a large and diverse population of the United States.  The final comment they made about America was how “developed” it was.  They didn’t mean it in the sense that we were more industrially or educationally developed but that the United States will have things before everyone else does.  For example, movies will come out in America and people in Switzerland will have to wait two more months to watch the same movie.  They perceive the United States as setting a precedent for popculture and what is going to be the “next big thing”.

Later that night at dinner I continued the conversation with my host mother, Brigette, and her friend (both in their 60’s) who had come over for dinner.  The conversation started very naturally as the friend was asking my host mother if her son, Mathias, was going to be joining us for dinner.  She responded that no because he always eats in front of the computer.  After the friend and her discussed this she turned to me and commented that “comme les Americains” (“like the Americans”).   Slightly ‘offended’ I saw this as the perfect opportunity to continue my discussion of American perceptions.  To her, she thought that all Americans sat in front of the television with their microwave meals and watched American series.  The friend then commented that it was either our microwave meals or our McDonalds (this truly made me laugh because I opened the fridge the other day to find a BigMac).   Basically, she culturally stereotyped all Americans into being a group of people who enjoy eating fast food and watching t.v. all day.

Really though I can’t blame her because as I was sitting there eating goat cheese and a baguette for the 50th day in a row all I really wanted to be doing was eating a hamburger laying in an air conditioned room!!