Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vive les Vacances !

Les vacances de noël, or Christmas break, ended less than two months ago, and it's already time for the third 2 week break of the year, and not a moment too soon either (Budapest, here I come!). A month and a half later, and it will be time for les vacances de Pâques--Easter/Spring break. Right about now you're probably asking yourself, "With all of these vacations, how do they get any work done?" Fair question. But the more important question you should be asking is "With how little vacation we get, how do we get any living done?"

good luck smelling these roses...
In case you're still worried about those poor French students, they have longer hours and a longer school year, so no worries, they learn things (theoretically anyway...).  In the US, we live to work. We work at least 40 hour weeks, sometimes even giving up our weekends to put in overtime. I can't imagine asking a French person to give up their weekends, especially Sundays--the day for family, big, long lunches, and strolling down Rue de la République or along the banks of the Rhône on those (oh-so-rare) sunny days. Our ancestors planted an unrelenting Protestant work ethic into the soil of our nation, making it an essential part of what it means to be American. If you work hard enough, you'll achieve the great American dream. One of our greatest presidents, good ole Honest Abe, incarnates this spirit, pulling himself up by his bootstraps from a log cabin to the White House. Of course, this dream has often proven more myth than reality, but it's still there, beckoning to people all over the world who come here to begin their pursuit of happiness. It is that pursuit that we thrive on. In France, they tend to focus more on the happiness part--despite their reputation for constant striking and being incessant râleurs.* Though if you've been paying attention you'll realize that some of this complaining is against things that try to mess with their happiness, with la belle vie.* (not that it's not sometimes quite embêtant. I mean, they even complain about how much they complain.)

Unlike us overstressed, overworked and overcaffeinated Americans, les Français work to live. This has nothing to do with how they feel about their job; they just don't sacrifice good living to make an extra buck or satisfy an overly-demading boss. They take 1-2 hour lunches versus our half hour (which many of us spend at our desks), 5 weeks of vacation versus our 2 (which many of us don't even take). When my French friends asked me how much vacation the average working American got, I'm pretty sure they thought I forgot my French  numbers when I sheepishly responded with 2 weeks--if they're lucky. "But you have shorter work days right?" Ha, no. "We just have this work culture..." I started to explain, when one of them quickly laughed, "Oh yeah, we don't have that here." A French girl I met in the US told me that she never felt stressed until she moved there. Apparently no matter where you come from, it's impossible not to get swept up in the great American rat race. They really know how to enjoy life here, not the least of which is exemplified by their cuisine and the culture around it. This country produces such good, quality food that takes time and care to prepare properly, that it's almost one's duty to take the time to really savor it, rather than gobbling it down between emails. Eating well (in all senses of the term) is an integral part of living well, a truth the French have long recognized and continue to master. Whether or not you're a fan of la cuisine française, which to be honest, it's pretty hard not to find something delicious among their vast and often mouth-watering repretoire, you at least have to appreciate the exhaulted place food occupies in this culture and the restorative powers of a good meal (in fact, the word "restaurant" comes from the French verb "restaurer," a word that means to feed or to restore--a tidbit to help you on Jeopardy.).

In case you're still skeptical about these cultural differences, here's an example from ma vie quotidienne.* Every Thursday, I leave for work at 7am for an 8am class. I spend an hour in public transportation surrounded by university students and people commuting to work. Despite this early hour--when the sun is even still asleep--I am the ONLY one with a thermos of life-saving caffeine in my hands. It's been 5 months and I have yet to see anyone else with so much as a to-go cup of joe. The first day I walked into my 8am class with my Sur La Table thermos clutched between my fingers, my teacher immediately asked me about it, beginning with: "Oh, you must have gotten that in the US." Seriously?? What was so bizarre about a portable cup of tea? Apparently, a lot. On another morning, a contrôleur,* as I handed him my pass, grinned and asked, "C'est du thé?*" still only half-awake, in a rush to catch the tram, and so not ready for the French Inquistion, I stared at him blankly for a second before muttering "euh...oui" before hurrying confusedly away.  On the New York metro, you're the odd-man out if you're not holding onto a pole with one hand and coffee with the other--both of them keeping you from falling over at some time in your day. My 9am 19th century French history class meant a coffee cup/thermos for every student. It's not that they don't take their morning caffeine (and their obligatory post-lunch espresso, late afternoon jolt etc), they just do it at home or once they've gotten to work--if the 10am huddle around the coffee machine is any indication. We spend our lives multi-tasking, doing things on-the-go, looking for convenience and ways to speed things up (we invented the vacuum cleaner, electric washing machine, the assembly line and the fast food industry--refer to late-night infomercials for more), while the French take time to slow it down--and yes, smell the roses. I think the French equivalent pretty much sums it up:  prenez le temps de vivre. Take the time to live.

But, before you go away thinking I've just spent yet another post vaunting the French and attacking America, let me say a few words in our defense. Our tireless work ethic built the world's most powerful and wealthy nation from nothing. While the means were sometimes, um, problematic, our achievements our nonetheless undeniable. Like I said, we invented the vacuum cleaner, electric washing machine, assembly line and fast food industry. We always strive to be better, to do better, to want, hope and dream for more and we work for it. Maybe the real achievement is in the pursuit, and the happiness is just la cerise sur le gâteau.* Half the fun is getting there, right? Still, we could stand to lead life a little more à la française.

See you after les vacances!
râleurs: compainers, moaners
la belle vie: the beautiful life
embêtant: annoying
ma vie quotidienne: my daily life
contrôleur: the people who make surprise appearances on public transportation to check your tickets, even at 7am. Lyon is serious about ticket control. (Also the word for train conductors, the people who check your tickets on trains.)
C'est du thé?: Is that tea?
la cerise sur le gâteau: the cherry on top

Saturday, February 12, 2011

This Little Piggy Went to Market...

Fabulous market in Old Nice
 "To market" should be a verb in France. It is an important activity of everyday life, one most Americans are completely unaccustomed to (and in my opinion, missing out on), doing the entirety of their shopping in a grocery store, a supermarché or the even larger "grand surface," a place detested by my "bobo de gauche"* slightly baba cool* hostmom. I imagine she would péter un plombe* if she ever stepped foot inside a Costco, though I'm sure any self-respecting French person would wonder who could possibly need/consume 10 pounds of ketchup, a crate of mac-n-cheese or a bucket of chicken salad? Open-air markets are a staple of every French city and town; the larger the city, the greater the amount of markets. Lucky for me, I live in lovely Lyon where everyday there is an excellent market right along the Saône river (Sunday is the best--and busiest--market day). I even already have my preferred chicken man, whose adorable old grandmother (??) wraps everything up for you, and gives you (for free) a heaping helping of potatoes or rice to go with your delicious, free-range roasted chicken. With the sun glinting off the river, the stately 19th century buildings lining the banks, and the impressive Fourviere Basilica keeping watch from its hill, "marketing" here is a feast for the senses from the moment I step off the bus, even before reaching the actual market itself.

I say this activity deserves its own verb because it is an integral aspect of French life and there is a real art in it that requires a certain amount of experience to get right. (In case you're wondering, I'm still working on it.)  France has the best open-air markets I've ever seen, and they are a quintessential part of the France experience--if/when you come to France, you can't miss out. Find out when market days are in smaller cities and where the best ones are in larger cities. They're the perfect place to grab a cheap and delicious lunch of local treats. When my mom and I were traveling through Europe in 2009, we were so thankful for the amazing market in Nice--we hadn't had a piece of fruit in over a week and we had gobbled up a barquette* of sugary-sweet strawberries before even reaching the end of the market.

Pretty in Pink in Paris
It might be can't-miss, but "marketing" can be an overwhelming, intimidating experience, even if you speak the language. Your senses are overloaded with colors, smells, and foods you've never seen before, stall after stall of fruits, vegetables, pastries, candies, locally made soaps, olive oils, flowers, spices, roasted chickens, cheeses, etc, all of which you are ready to impulsively purchase--but, before you know it, you could find yourself with an empty wallet, too much food, and an owl-shaped honey-comb candle that two days later, you'll wonder why in world you bought such a thing. Besides the food and products themselves enticing you to buy them, the vendors are there to give you that extra push. "Mademoiselle, mademoiselle! Deux barquettes de fraises, deux euros, seulement deux euros! Les meilleurs sauscissons secs, deux pour sept euros! Poulet rôti! Poulet rôti! label rouge!"* A mere glance towards one vendors table, and you're roped in. If you're unprepared, you could just end up buying something you didn't even really want, sucked in by the smiling vendors and a feeling of guilt--well, I did try like 3 kinds of their cheeses, I have to buy something. Oh, I looked too long at her clementines, I guess I'll buy a couple...

Cavaillon melons in Arles

Be strong! Come prepared, with at least a half-formed idea of what you want. If you're on vacation and not "grocery shopping," at least make sure to...Shop around! Wander the length of the market before committing--scope out the best-looking, best-priced strawberries, find the widest selection of cheeses, the most mouthwatering tartes. Buying too quickly could rob you of a better deal in taste, price and selection. Then narrow down the options to the few things you actually want to consume and the best local items to buy as presents for family and friends back home. A packet of herbes de provence, lavendar-scented soap made in Marseille, a jar of honey or confiture,* olive oil--a must in Provence. Just make sure the olive oil is labelled "AOC," "appellation d'origine contrôlée," meaning that its production is heavily controlled--it must come from olives from the area specified on the label, for example, ensuring it's not actually made in Spain (I actually saw a special on this a few weeks ago, where some vendors had a vague label that simply said "made in Provence," but it actually was imported from Spain). And of course, have fun and most importantly, look out for samples! It's a great way to taste new things (without shelling out the cash) and find the sweetest melons or nuttiest comté. Also, make sure to bring cash and especially to have change on hand, if possible. Many vendors probably won't appreciate a 50 euro bill when you're spending...3.

Markets are also a great place to chat with the locals--especially about their products. Show an interest in their products, and you'll likely make a new friend. At the Saturday Bastille market in Paris, I once had a delightful conversation about salt with a man selling different kinds of flavored salt that he made himself--one of which he even lovingly called his bébé and was excited to hear it would be traveling all the way to the US. While collecting food for a picnic lunch in Arles, Joy and I made a detour at the soapman, and while I was choosing scents, Joy won his coeur*--a small, heart-shaped lavendar soap.

Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, whose Thursday market
winds around the entire center of town
 My last bit of wisdom involves cheese. One of the best things to go to the market for is the cheese. You won't find cheese this fresh and flavorful in the grocery store, even if they sometimes have a comparable selection. At first, I was too intimidated to venture a purchase. I didn't know how it worked--in the US, when I go to the deli section in the grocery store, I ask for 1/4 pound of swiss or 1/2 pound of provelone, but being outside my English units comfort zone, and normally only desiring a small piece to last me for a few days, I wasn't sure how to go about it. Finally, I could resist no longer and just dove in. " voudrais un petit morceau de comté s'il vous plaît." And like that, I was in. "Comme ça?" he asked, indicating the perfect sized chunk with his knife before cutting. "Oui, parfait!"* I smiled. After learning the hard way, I also now make sure to verify the cost before paying--once I spent way too much for some emmental that wasn't even very good. A simple request to taste it first would have spared me both euros and disappointment. Little by little, I am gaining the confidence to speak up and get what I want (though success is never guaranteed), rather than meekly giving in. Despite the fact that I speak the language and the culture, I still operate on a diminished self-confidence when in France when I really need an extra dose to get past the barriers. "Marketing" is just the activity to gain back this lost sense of confidence. Yes, I just spent 10 minutes trying 5 different types of your saucisson sec, but no, I will not actually be purchasing anything. Merci et bonne journée.*

bobo de gauche: this term encompasses an entire mindset and lifestyle (it is often used pejoratively, but here, I just state the facts, plus my host parents use it in self-reference all the time): "bobo" means "bourgeois-boheme" meaning someone from a bourgeois (money, conservative) family who has chosen to lead more of a moulin-rouge-bohemian lifestyle, sort of revolting against his/her upbringing, or just thinking it seems romantic to pretend to be a penniless artist (I kid, sort of). They don't like to conspicuoulsy or needlessly spend money, though they are generally fairly comfortable, care about leftist issues like the environment and lower classes. In my host mom's case, it's actually a revolt against her conservative family, as she is de gauche (on the left) through and through and in many ways rather hippy-like (ie very anti-microwaves).

baba cool: hippy

péter un plombe: go crazy/lose it
barquette: basket for fru
Mademoiselle, mademoiselle...: 2 baskets of strawberries, only 2 euros, the best dried sausages, 2 for 7 euros, roasted chicken! red label (mark of high quality)!
confiture: jam--often of the delicious, homemade variety, especially when found in Provence.
coeur: heart
Euuh je voudrais...: "Umm I would like a small piece of comté (French version of the Swiss gruyère), please." "Like this?" "Yes, perfect!"

Merci et bonne journée: Thank you and have a nice day.

PS. Besides the general food/flower markets, there are also marches de puce or flee markets, and also, at some markets, especially the larger ones, you will often find cheap clothes, kitchenware and other household items, jewelry and more. Some markets (like the Saturday Bastille or Arles markets) can really be a one-stop shopping experience.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Annie Get Your Gun

From our Founding Fathers to the Wild West to
Hollywood to Columbine, guns have always
been a particular part of our society. In fact, Annie Oakley herself traveled to Paris during the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) to perform her gun show as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show--to great acclaim, I might add--as representatives of American culture and society. Even so, I never thought so much about our Second Amendment until I came to France, and more specifically, until I started working here. Apparently, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" in the US is big news here, and is often the burning topic many lycéens* are dying to discuss with the innocent and unaware American assistant, caught off guard by their obesession with our obesession with guns. Of course I knew about this staunchly defended right, the NRA, gun violence across the country, etc, and being on the left, I certainly believed in increased gun control, but I was unaware of the image all of this created for us outside of our great land of liberty. It was just all kind of there, an accepted fact of life--but a specifically American fact of life, I now truly realize. School massacres don't just occur everywhere. We're special--maybe not singular, but as a highly-developed, rich, powerful country, that spouts ideals like none other, it's really shameful. The proliferation of violent American movies and tv shows, a great majority of which are exported around the globe, as well as heavily mediatized events such as Columbine already give the outside world, or at least the French, an extremely violent and image of our country. I certainly never thought about being afraid just living in the US, day-to-day, but given the things an average French person sees and hears, I would completely understand if they had to think twice--or maybe three or four times--about coming for a visit.

During my first couple of weeks here, when I basically spent my time introducing myself to my various classes, one of the most recurring questions was something related to guns and/or general violence/danger in the US. These questions didn't entirely shock me (I mean, I was aware of the sort of tv shows and films they were exposed to), but they did dismay me. After an "uhhh" (oh dear how do I spin this...) I would go on to explain that while yes, some parts of large cities, like LA, Chicago, etc could indeed be quite dangerous, you would not get shot just walking down the street (well unless perhaps you are walking down the street of one of these neighborhoods, ahem, Compton, ahem). Just like in Paris or Lyon, you know the areas to avoid. And ps, gun violence is not the only type of violence, though it certainly can facilitate it. Whether you are pro or anti guns, it's hard to deny that they have helped create a culture of violence in the US.

Several of my classes have gone through a "Second Amendment" lesson. Luckily for the image of Americans in France, it seems to be a favorite on the English curriculum. Hmm we should discuss something about American culture, they speak English too. Oh, I know, GUNS!  Then, while I get to teach about the peaceful creed of Martin Luther King, Jr in one class, in another we're discussing the dangers of keeping a gun in the home. We have such a rich and interesting history and culture, and yet before my eyes, I see our country being reduced to this one thing--this one extremely negative thing. They find it fascinating and almost incomprehensible because in France, they don't have this "right," and as a result, have a much, much lower gun violence rate and it is much, much more difficult for criminals or potential criminals to acquire arms, unlike in the US where two sick high school students can LEGALLY purchase the fire power to commit a massacre in a school in Littleton, CO.

When the lesson inevitably turns to guns, I must simply sigh and do my best to explain that the US is not generally a dangerous place, that I have never seen anyone get shot, not everyone in America owns or carries a gun, etc. I was absolutely bouleversée* to find that not only do we by far rank #1 for gun ownership, but that for every 100 people, there a 88 guns! That doesn't mean that 88% of Americans own a gun because of course, some people own multiple guns, while others own none, but quand même!* Until a couple of days ago, I had also been proudly repeating the "fact" that I didn't own a gun nor was I aware of anyone who did. Upon relaying this to my mother, she revealed to me (or maybe just reminded me) that in fact my father has two guns, his father's hunting guns that he got when he died. While I sputtered in shock, she said, "Well, at this point, it would probably be more effective to hit someone over the head with them then to actually try to shoot with them..."
Yesterday I sat down with one of my classes while they watched Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. I had never seen this documentary, but from the hour I watched with them, it made me a little bit ashamed to be American and extremely depressed at the vision it was giving them of my country. It's one thing for Americans to watch this film, but it's another thing entirely for foreigners, with no experience in America, to see it. They literally were asking, "but, it's not really like that in the US, is it?" after seeing clips of Columbine and of other "average" Americans shooting of guns left and right, proudly exercising their Second Amendment right (at least they had the sense to ask and not just assume). "NO! I exclaimed. Please don't be afraid of coming to the US!" Of course Moore interviews a few wacko backcountry radicals, one of whom literally keeps a gun under his pillow, so that's not very helpful. When Moore mentioned that Gandhi defeated the British without the use of arms, the man replied, "Oh, uh, I'm not aware of that." Another said he was disappointed that he had only made it to #2 on his high school's post-Columbine bomb-watch list. Huh??? Once again, I found myself constantly sighing and shaking my head at the ignorance and bull-dogged...for lack of a better word, "American-ness"(ie I'm Amurrican, this is the way things are in Amurrica, we must save the world from Communism, terrorism, and Obama, owning a gun is my right as an Amurrican, God bless Amurrica!) that exists in the "land of the brave and home of the free." Those are the kind of people that make me glad to live in France, even if it's only for a little while. And those are the kind of people that make my job--essentially that of a cultural ambassador--much harder. Alas, I can't see our country ever overturning that cherished Second Amendment, too many people hold much too tightly to what they see as a "fundamental" right, next to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but maybe someday we will regulate this right more effectively so that tragedies like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, and the countless other examples, will stop occurring with such alarming frequency. Yeah, ok, "guns don't shoot people, people do," but without guns, no one and nothing would shoot anyone. And some people just shouldn't have access to guns. Period.

It's not like I'm trying to hide the ugly side of America, I would never try to present a shiny, perfect vision that just doesn't exist, and I'm happy(ish) to talk about our history of slavery and segregation, but really, I think they already have enough negative ideas about American and Americans without adding this fuel to the fire. I would much prefer if students would learn about our First Amendment instead. Or even the Fifth. It might be less interesting, but at least it wouldn't add to our international smear campaign.

*lycéens: highschoolers
*bouleverser (verb), bouleversé(e) (adj): great French verb/adj which describes a feeling of being completely bowled over, super shocked, staggered, shattered, distressed, etc. A real emotional catch-all with no perfect equivalent in English, in my opinion.
*quand même : still!

**disclaimer: these obviously aren't my pictures/cartoons, but I found them on a simple bing search while looking for images to use in one of my classes. The first one is from and the second is a cartoon by someone of the name Margulies. Please don't sue me! thanks.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Kings, Wings and Magic Things!

 The post-Christmas season brings its own special batch of goodies to every French boulangerie and patisserie. Just when you thought you could start the New Year with a diet, think again. January means (besides lots of bleak, cold days) it's time once again, to crown a king and queen and enjoy the golden flaky crust and soft, almond-y interior, called frangipane, of the galette des rois, or king's cake, as it's known in the US (where it's also more associated with Mardi Gras because of traditions from Louisiana). However, the French version is a completely different dessert, which you will only find if you're lucky enough to have a traditional French bakery pres de chez vous. The galette is baked to celebrate the Epiphany, a holiday which celebrates the visitation of the Magi to Baby Jesus. The holiday is historically on January 6, the day after the Twelve Days of Christmas, which begins on Dec 25. However, in some countries it is celebrated on the Sunday after Jan 1, which was the day I enjoyed my first real galette des Rois (Jan 2). The cake usually comes with one or two crowns so that whoever finds the fève (the hidden trinket, usually a baby to represent Jesus), is crowned the king/queen. Traditionally, the youngest is supposed to go under the table, and while someone else cuts the cake, dictates who gets each piece to ensure a fair game. However, since the youngest was 18, we didn't make him go under the table. I didn't have beginner's luck that day, but while enjoying my second galette, I saw something solid peaking out, and sure enough, I had found the fève! After staring at it oddly, I showed it to my host parents and asked them what it was. Since my host mom had picked up the cake while shopping at Ikea, instead of a baby Jesus, I got a small tile with Ikea's logo and one of those L-shaped screwdrivers on it! Oh the shameless self-promotion. This delightful treat also gave the teachers at my school another excuse to have a potluck lunch in the teacher's lounge! Cheese, bread, homemade quiches, desserts--and of course, wine (yep in the middle of the school day!). I do love a good French potluck.

Luckily, these delicious cakes are available all month long--and maybe even longer! Today I still saw a few bakeries with galettes for sale.

oreillettes (crispy version)
  The second seasonal treat is apparently another Lyon specialty, but which can be found in various forms all over France at this time of the year. They are called bugnes, which means angel wings, and they do indeed taste quite heavenly. I knew they were a lyonnais specialty, but I didn't realize they were a seasonal specialty for the Mardi Gras/Carnival season until about a week ago when my host mom came home with a box of these pictured on the left. I had always seen the crispy version in a couple of boulangeries in Vieux Lyon, ie tourist central, but had recently starting seeing them pop up in other boulangeries as well, along with the previously-unseen soft versions, which are very similar to the beignets of New Orleans (which are alone worth a trip to the Big Easy), a better version of your average powdered donut, especially when warm and
bugnes stéphanoises (soft version)
freshly fried. Of course I lost no time in sampling this curious new delicacy, and soon after my host mom explained to me that they were for Mardi Gras. With a little help from wikipedia, I learned that they already existed way back in ancient Rome where they were enjoyed during Carnival. The word bugne actually comes from regional French to designate the beignet, but today the two are distinct, with the word bugne referring specifically to this regional/seasonal specialty and beignet referring to other types of donut-like products available anywhere anytime. The crispy version, known as oreillettes originated in Lyon, whereas the softer version, called the bugnes stépanoises came from Saint Etienne, a small city in the Lyon region. I have already made sure to pr ofiter bien from this limited time offer. Oh quelle joie to live in a country already overwhelming in its selection of sweet sensations year-round, plus unexpected seasonal treats as well! I love it not just beca use I get to stuff my face with more delicious desserts, but because these specialties also have anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years of history and tradition behind them, and a couple of them, the bugnes and the papillottes from the Christmas season, even originated right here in la belle ville de Lyon! Eat your heart out America. This is what I call soul food.

What will they come out with next??

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

C'est à cause des Américains!

I begin with an anecdote. Today in class, a group of garçons were chatting away, heedless of the fact that I was trying to teach (well ok, in spite of this fact), so I stopped and asked them what was so interesting, what were they talking about. "Oh," one of them responded, "we were just talking about the economic crisis. C'est à cause des Américains." (It was caused by Americans). "Well, yeah. Sorry," I shrugged, matter of factly, after trying to make him repeat all of that in English.

Here, everything is blamed on America. (Naturally, I exaggerate, but bear with me). The economy (ok true), globalization (ie global uniformity), even bin Laden has begun targeting France because "the refusal of your president [Nicolas Sarkozy] to withdraw from Afghanistan is the result of his obedience of America." Bush was universally hated and luckily, Obama is just as universally worshipped (despite his problems at home). McDonald's is making the world fat and Sarah Palin is a psychopath. I paint a bleak picture here--but of course it's not as black and white as that. I'm not saying France hates the US--it's certainly more of a love-hate relationship, if anything. Mcdo (en francais: Mac-doe) is always crowded, wearing Nike (pronounced to rhyme with mike rather than nik-ee ) shoes or a North Face jacket is a sign of la classe, and of course, everyone loves American movies and prefers American series to French ones. We are often the butt of jokes, but hold a certain fascination for the French-especially for their President, Nicolas "Rockstar" Sarkozy.

My students are fascinated by the fact that I not only come from the US, but from the ultimate dreamland, CALIFORNIA!! Naturally, I'm friends with moviestars and know how to surf--but oh yeah, Arnold Schwarzinegger is (now officially was) governor and Los Angeles is a hotbed of violence (though I explained that as long as you avoid Compton, you should be safe, at least from Trojans).

We've been allies since the beginning--France helped us win the Revolutionary War. Her rivalry with Britain outweighed ideological issues. Considering that France was still a monarchy at the time, it seems counterintuitive--and ultimately counterproductive given the outbreak of the French Revolution 8 years after the conclusion of our own--to support such a cause. This was simply the beginning of our complicated, but ultimately fruitful and generally friendly, relationship.

Of course, with a few exceptions, this "blame" doesn't translate to out-and-out anti-Americanism or hostility towards actual, real-life Americans. First of all, most French people don't actually know any Americans nor have they been to America. Clearly, their judgement--like ours towards them--is mostly based on stereotypes, snap judgements and that formidable beast, the MEDIA. In all of the time I have spent in France I have felt next to no hostility towards myself for being American (not that I haven't sometimes experienced hostility--it just wasn't for being American. Usually it was for making someone do their job, oh the horror.) Most people, like my students, are pleasantly surprised to find out I'm American. I say surprised because they immediately wonder what I am doing here--what could an American find so fascinating about France? In fact, it is the many ways that France is different from the US that I find fascinating--the many ways that France isn't the US or even a wanabe US (well, at least not in every aspect). I mean sure, they copied us with a revolution a few years after the success of our own, but they made it their own. Each of our respective revolutions defined the future route each nation would take, and though we both (eventually) ended up as democratic republics, there are reasons we sometimes rub each other the wrong way--two very different histories have shaped two very different mentalities. Maybe instead of getting offended, turning to xenphobia or setting up camp inside our own inflated egos, we should just realize that "Americanization" and all of its reprecussions don't please everyone. There are in fact functioning worlds outside our own. Our way is not the only way or even always the best way--universal healthcare hasn't caused Europe (or dare I say Canada) to crumble. Hopefully we'll begin to recognize the importance of our global image before we find ourselves the subjects of the Queen of Fools, Sarah Palin.

Yes, we're important, globablly so. We're a great hulk hovering over everything. We're the number one financial and political power, have the most billionaires, our President is the most powerful person on Earth, people everywhere munch on McDonald's fries and sip Startbucks' coffee. Our movies and television shows spread our language and culture around the globe. We have indeed provided much of the force behind globalization--a word often considered synonomous with Americanization. Ok, that's all great. But, like Peter Parker, we too must remember that "with great power comes great responsibility." And perhaps a nice slice of humble pie.

*C'est à cause des Américains: (negative connotation) It's because of/thanks to/caused by Americans!

The title of this post was also inspired by the favorite quote of my host dad (who, btw, loves Obama, likes America--especially our blues music--and has no problem at all with Americans), who likes to tag it on jokingly as he smiles and nods in my direction. Really though, sometimes it's true and it is both humbling, exasperating (because as an American, I can't help but feel partially responsible), and kind of frightening to realize just how much the domestic affairs of the US can affect the entire world--and what the world thinks of this. Traveling--and especially living--abroad somehow makes you, or at least me, feel both prouder and more ashamed of being an American, depending on the context. At any rate, it most certainly makes you extremely aware of your nationality. Nothing has ever made me feel more American than living in France, for better or worse. So, as the ink from the "Made in America" stamp stubbornly darkens on my forehead, in response to this oft-repeated exclamation, I must reply, defiantely, tant pis, c'est la vie! (too bad, that's life!). Now someone find me an American flag so I can do the pledge of allegiance and sing a little "Oh say can you see." The one flapping in my host family's backyard has seen better days...