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Being The American

Being “The American” among the locals while studying in France is certainly a unique experience in itself. You’re from a place that gets talked about a lot in the media, so everyone has their thoughts and opinions on where you live and what you experience. You’re similar enough to everyone else that you can fit in pretty well, but then something very culturally specific will happen and you’ll be lost.

In any case, I’ve become aware of several pros and cons of being “the American”.

Some pros:

1) Getting fed a lot.

You’ll be offered specialties from the region, given histories of certain staple foods and food-centered traditions, guided through cooking workshops on “crêpes flambées” (beware American kitchens, Alex’s crêpe flambée is coming soon!), and given taste tests of… just about everything. Big thumbs up.

2) Always having something to talk about.

The accent gives you away rather quickly, but thankfully for you, that means people will immediately either think you’re adorable, or their interest in your life will suddenly spike! There’s a potential for this to get annoying, but usually it makes conversation nice and easy. Besides, it can be a relief to talk about the states since it’s something you know so well compared to everything that’s going on in France.

Some cons:

1) Being assumed to not speak any French.

Once people find out you’re American, they will often either start speaking in English or they’ll say in French “oh that stinks for you because I’m terrible at English”! If you’re in France to speak and learn French as I am, this can be rather annoying. It doesn’t last for long after you continue to speak in French, however, in which time you will have created something else to talk about (your accent, the fact that you’re American and can speak French, etc.)

2) Being assumed to live off of McDonalds and Coke.

This is just an annoying stereotype that has to be dealt with. There are also the stereotypes of being extremely conservative, or only living in New York City. You just have to take pride in being proof that stereotypes are just stereotypes, while continuing to avoid stereotyping the French.

And to get a little deeper…

Being “The American” makes me realize how very American I am. I lived in Saudi Arabia for the first half of my life and though I was born in the states and my parents are both American, I barely had any American friends and only visited the states during vacations. Since moving back to the states, and especially since going to college, I’ve gained an extremely American accent and picked up rather American mannerisms, mindsets and routines. Being in France has really pointed all this out to me.

Being in France has also made me realize how much of a presence American culture has abroad. You’ll get asked by a French person what type of music you like, you’ll give a genre, and they’ll list several American artists from that genre to see what you like more specifically. Better yet, you’ll hear an American celebrity mentioned in the media or in conversation here and then watch as it sparks a discussion about that celebrity’s personal life and career decisions. Most French people I’ve come across seem to know more about these things than I do.

Sometimes all this “being the American” business can be a little tiring or get a little old. That’s when you start to get a tiny bit of perspective on how it can suck to feel like a minority in a group. Thankfully for me, that’s also when I have either my American friends to go to or my French pals who are interested in me beyond the surface of my Americaness: people that I can just chill with on a couch to watch their favorite shows – whether it be the dubbed version of How I Met Your Mother, or the French subtitled version of Game of Thrones.

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About Alexandra Smith ʼ16

Alexandra is a Junior from Corvallis, Oregon who is currently studying abroad in Clermont-Ferrand, France. She is a double major in French and International Studies with a minor in Economics. Sophomore year, Alexandra led a program for the Center for Civic Engagement at K and was a Co-President of the club Zookeepers. She loves dancing, painting, writing, eating, and travelling.