Leaving the American Way at the Door


Two weeks ago, I was sitting at home in Washington DC impatiently waiting to start French classes in Paris. I pinched myself as I packed and continued to ask myself if this could actually be real life and not a dream. It is unbelievable to think that here I am having completed more than a week of class. At this point, I have walked all over Paris, eaten at countless boulangeries, travelled by train to Strasbourg, and visited Monet’s home in Giverny, France. I have visited Paris several times in the past so it has been incredible to live like a local without the need to visit all the tourist attractions.

I have already learned so much about French culture and the patience and adjustment it takes to live in a foreign country. There is an air of respect here for the importance of a mid-morning break and a two hour long dinner. The Parisian way prioritizes face to face conversations and the art of the baguette. Despite only being here a week, the French have taught me that you have to approach travelling and all interactions while abroad with humility and respect. A simple “Bonjour” with a smile will get you a long way in France. 

Luckily for me, I attend Alliance Française which is located in the heart of Paris. My professor is tough but I can already sense how much my French is improving. The most interesting part has been getting to interact with my classmates who come from all corners of the world. Over the customary mid-morning coffees, I have grown great relationships with them, and we have exchanged thoughts on cultures and countries. These conversations have been the perfect opportunity to learn about their opinions on the United States. 

My first conversation was with a 19 year old Spanish boy named Bosco who had a rather interesting take on the United States. He said that he knew right away that I was American because of my tendency to smile. He said Americans are far too optimistic compared to the French or other Europeans. Bosco continued to say that interacting with Americans has always been interesting because he finds them all too friendly but absolutely loves visiting the United States for this reason. He said that Americans do not have quite the same appreciation for history like Europeans due to the fact that the United States is an infant nation when compared to Spain or France. Despite being shocked by some of his opinions, I came to realize that he made some valid points. 

My second interview was with a 22 year old German woman named Sara who revealed to me she spent a whole semester studying President Obama’s Obamacare initiative while at university in Munich. She discussed with me how for such an advanced country the United States is way behind when it comes to healthcare. She said she fears for the American people with President Trump’s idea to repeal Obamacare. 

Finally, I had the opportunity to talk with an American born woman named Valerie who is now retired but has been living in France and Mexico for all of her adult life. She said that she wishes she had left the United States earlier than she did. In her opinion, Americans are far too sensitive whether it be to criticism or judgement. She thinks American culture is too caught up in caring about what others think and that being out of the States is the most freeing feeling one can have. I thought this was quite ironic to say about the Land of the Free. From her point of view, the United States defines one’s success by bank account holdings and our country does not know how to appreciate the beauty of every day life. 

All of these conversations have prompted me to reflect and to look at my life and the lives of others with an additional lens. The American is not always the best way. There are different ways of life beyond ours, and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to learn about and experience them more.

Monet’s Water Lily Garden in Giverny, France