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Faux Pas in France: Four Americans in Paris

Posted Tuesday, November 25, 2008, at 4:30 PM

Lisa Earle McLeod, www.ForgetPerfect.com

We didn't wear our big white tennis shoes, we didn't complain about the lack of ice, and we never once asked where you could buy a big Gulp.

But they could still peg us as Americans, even from the back pew at Notre Dame.

I'm in Paris with my family. I often travel for my speaking business, but I usually leave the kiddos and hubby at home when I jet off for exotic locales like Omaha or Des Moines. However, this time the gigs were in Paris and Nice, and so, like the Clampets, we loaded up the airplane and moved to Paree.

Well, OK, we didn't move here; we're only trying to assimilate for two weeks.

Now, I know the French have a reputation for being snooty. But I suspect that this insidious rumor was spread by two tourists who got frustrated when a vending machine at the Louvre ate their dollar bill. Honestly, I've been here twice and I find the French to be incredibly kind, gracious and helpful.

It's true, they do speak another language. And should you even find a vending machine - which is highly unlikely since the French prefer real food - you'll be hard pressed to find one that will sell you a cellophane-wrapped Honey Bun for 75 cents.

But just try going into 7-11, plunking down a few Euros and asking for a café au lait and see how far you get. Hello? The reason you to go to a different country is to experience the differences, not complain about them.

But back to my family and our valiant attempts to fake French.

The French might not think they're better than us, but they sure do dress, talk and eat better than us. Or at least better than anyone I know.

Where are the chubby moms in the shiny warm-up suits and over-sized sweaters? And what about the loud-mouthed guys with their shirttails sticking out, bellowing for more ribs on the All-You-Can-Eat buffet? And pray tell, where are all the whiny kids screaming for more Skittles?

Everywhere I turn all I see are skinny, well-dressed people in tailored clothes talking in hushed tones as they delicately nibble on some fancy cheese.

How the heck do these people stay so thin? I've only been here 48 hours and I've already drunk more wine and eaten more chocolate than I usually do in a month.

Sure, my 6 foot 2", 250 lb husband doesn't fit in the shower or bed. But who needs cleanliness and sleep when you can get Beaujolais at lunch?

Another thing that strikes me about France is there's no clutter. I'm not kidding, I've been to a few homes here and these people own, like, twelve things. They're fabulous things, like cashmere sweaters and good books, but the 'more is better' concept appears to have contained itself within the continental US.

I don't know if they can read our cluttered kitchen counter on our faces, but apparently it takes more than a black turtleneck sweater to look French.

Everywhere we go, waiters, hotel staff, and even the cute gal working the crepe stand outside the Eiffel Tower, take one look at us and say in English, "Hello, welcome to France."

Was it the mom jeans, the fanny pack or my husband's southern accent?

I'll never know, but one thing is for sure. For better or worse, we remain Americans.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.

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I too found the French courteous and helpful; however, their driving freightens me. I was amazed at how large the Eiffel Tower is and how interesting the Museums are. I loved their food and hope to return to Paris soon.

-- Posted by Mister-D on Wed, Feb 11, 2009, at 3:29 AM

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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.