October 24, 2009

Standing Up

Being away from my homeland has taught me many things, but the one specific thing I want to write about now is how being an American has impacted my life abroad.

The other night, I was sitting in a brasserie with a mixture of Americans and Parisians, and we started a conversation about patriotism. Patriotism in the United States makes me think of flying the flag, voting, celebrating the 4th of July, supporting our troops, and practicing and protecting our freedom.

Well, my Parisian conversational counterpart described the fact that, in her opinion, patriotism in France does not really exist. She had not felt patriotic in years until the other day when she participated in a grève, what we call a strike. Most people know strikes to be a preferred pastime, if not a national sport, in France. She also noted that flags only fly at City Hall and other government buildings, not out the windows of her French neighbors.

This made me think a little bit... that maybe citizens of different countries simply have a different idea of patriotism and different ways to express it. I have learned so much about how much French people love Frenchness - more specifically: French wine, French food, the French language, French art, French fashion, French cheese, etc. So who's to say that loving the cultural things of one's country does not show patriotism? Aha! I found my argument. I proposed this idea to her, and I was surprised when I got her response. She said (and pardon my French), "We don't really give a shit about those things. You see people here going to McDonald's all the time here, and no one goes and visits the museums." GULP. What?! Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure that French people have an appreciation for French culture. I didn't know what to say at this point, but I still stand by my argument that the French appreciate their own culture.

Furthermore, Miss Parisienne explained how the movies and media portray an American idea that we all think that America is going to save the world. We think that everyone needs the "Americans" to help them, because American is the best and only way to be. Pardon moi? She continued to explain how we should just look after our own selves and not worry about everyone else. I saw a problem in her logic, so I begged further explanation by asking, "What's wrong with wanting to help other people who don't necessarily live in one's own country?" She was a bit stifled by this question, luckily. I continued to explain how her idea may be skewed because yes, many Americans want to help other people, but that doesn't mean wanting everyone to be American. I myself am a firm believer in philanthropy, whether you're helping an American or not. I don't think we should see borderlines as barriers when it comes to reaching out. I'm an American, but I don't think wanting to help people in the world means that I want everyone to abide by the rules of American democracy or even adapt an American way of life. This was the idea that she had. I was disappointed, to say the least, that Miss Parisienne had this view of my country. Luckily I was given the opportunity to offer my perspective, and have a real exchange about cultural differences and perceptions.

One thing I've learned while living abroad is how to stick up for what I think. The people of this world are so quick to challenge my foundation, my country, my faith, my personality, and my general way of life. I'm okay with this, because not only does it make for interesting conversation, but it also breaks down stereotypes and the barriers that stand between me and someone different.

I've come to notice that citizens from all over the world are misunderstood. What it takes is a true exchange with an individual in order to find out who they really are. Forget the guidebooks, the textbooks, the journals, the media, and especially the political representatives - the only way to really find out about a place is to get to know its people through true face-to-face interactions.

1 comment:

Vincent said...

I'm surprised at the lack of comments, I'll break it down into groups.

I agree that there are different forms of patriotism, and I would argue with her lack of conviction that Parisians aren't patriotic, because simply looking at Bastille Day in July and you see they celebrate being french. I think however, that a bigger part for the french isn't waving the flag, but simply the lifestyle. I know that in being Canadian, I rag on one of my american friends all the time about patriotism all the time. The difference, is in Canada, people don't really seem to care much about the troops or even so much whats happening to support to government, however, there is no doubt people are proud to sport the little canadian flag on their backpacks or maple leaf tattoo's. That being said, I don't know a single person other than at their cottage who have a canadian flag.

Then for your second argument, not to back her statement because its obviously a little close sighted. But I think instead of in general, she was drawing reference to the Wars in the middle east, from an international standpoint it does seem like America is trying to force democracy on other countries, and I agree democracy is great, but there are some places that don't use that system and work great as well. Now don't get me wrong, I think that Saadam being out of Iraq was a good thing but... nevermind, not even getting into this topic. Can of worms for another day. Just saying I can somewhat see her point.

Hope your having a great trip!