We’ve heard that the French hate us. That they don’t like America. It’s
not true. Don’t believe it. I haven’t been here for very long, and was
fully expecting to have to say I was Canadian to escape a hassle. I
didn’t have to. I have had a great experience with everyone I’ve met
here, both in Paris (apparently the hub of this anti-Americanism) and
here in Cannes. Most people speak English, their TV is full of American
shows, and no one has made that classic French face of disgust.
I think I also realize why most people here speak English. It’s not that
they’ve got some superior education system or we’re just dumb for not
all learning a foreign language to the point of comfortable
conversation. It’s’ that they almost have to. English is, oddly enough,
the common language not only of business, but of entertainment, and it
seems of Europe. I was watching a German snowboarding show the other
night, where snowboarders from four or five different countries were
interviewed. The German interviewer spoke to the foreign athletes in
English, and the athletes answered back.
In Paris, I went into a little boulangerie (bakery) near my hotel and
stumbled through ordering a sandwich and some beignets. The young man
behind the counter pegged me right away as American, and seemed really
happy to be able to practice his English. I ordered in my crap French.
He replied in his stilted English, and we had a laugh.
Here, in the hotel restaurant (which is unbelievably good), almost
everyone speaks English. There’s one older man who doesn’t, and seems
apologetic about it. I don’t get that. I should be the one apologizing.
I came into his country, and I don’t speak the language. I’m embarrassed
at how bad my French is, which I think has helped me get along with the
people I’ve met so far here. I try French first, if that doesn’t work, I
ask if they speak English (in French), and then thank them if they say
they do (again in French). So far, I haven’t had any trouble with people
refusing to speak English (I was warned by several people that Parisians
will watch you struggle just for the fun of it). Now, I have had some
funny experiences with us both speaking English and us still not
understanding each other, but it’s not for lack of trying, and it
usually ends in a laugh.
The French don’t hate us. There’s no reason for us to have “freedom
fries” or dump French wine. Doing so doesn’t hurt the French government
(which is who we may have a problem with), it makes us look silly.