Archive for October 2007
I’ve always heard that people all over the world love our culture, and hate us for our foreign policy; the implication when people say this is usually something like ‘the rest of the world is right; our foreign policy is terrible and our culture is great’.
I’ve always thought that American foreign policy, in spite of its very numerous shortcomings, rarely deserves the sort of rich, deep hate people manage so often to conjure up about it.
But I had also believed that American culture was as great as the rest of the world is supposed to think it is.
In a way this is true; there are many wonderful facets of our culture, truly great music and literature and film.
Unfortunately, these aren’t the things that other people love about our culture. They like films that speak the universal languages of sex and big explosions. They love celebrities.
Most of all, they like club music.
I’ve heard more American hip-hop and rap in a month and a half around French teenagers than I did in two years in college in the US.
It’s as if the rest of the world can only reach the golden streets of American culture by crawling though or gutters.
Aparently North Korea’s ban on nosy journalists is crumbling along with the rest of their infrastructure…
The rude Frenchman is one of our most cherished stereotypes, but I’m afraid that it is only very loosely based on reality.
In fact, if you speak their language and you know how to treat them, they’re just about the politest people in the world; they always say hello and goodbye, please and thank you, and generally seem more genuine about it.
I certainly wouldn’t call them the nicest people in the world; but very polite, very much not rude. Unless, of course, you really find a way to provoke them. I think of Americans in the South, who are normally both nice and polite- right until you and your yankee accent start talking smack about the Confederacy, the church, grits, or whatever it is they hold dear.
I saw an incredible counter example last weekend in Paris. We were eating lunch in a working-class neighborhood near the northern gates when an old woman fell crossing the street. The local French people leapt into action- one making sure she was alright, another stopping traffic, another picking up the groceries she’d dropped. I would have impressed to see such quick, competent kindness in the US; I was stunned to see it in Paris, purported to be the rudest city of France.
Glad to be wrong about this one!
Most people in the US have never heard of Carrefour; but it is after Wal-Mart the biggest retailer in the world, and it was started in France.
The one in Antibes stretched my imagination.
I’d been in France for two weeks or so; I’d seen innumerable small shops, bakeries, restaurants. The biggest store I’d been to was the grocery store, which is tiny by American standards. I thought that was just how France was.
Enter Carrefeour- a big box store twice the size of a super-Walmart, with 70 checkout aisles and just about every sort of product imaginable-food, clothes, books, computers, furniture, appliances, dirt bikes and motorscooters, and most importantly the most wine I’ve ever seen in one place. If this way of shopping isn’t classy enough, it’s surrounded by a mall.
I was baffled by how the French could build something so out of keeping with what seems to be their national character; I guess when a nation takes something to an extreme it will inevitably provoke a reaction, and in this case the reaction looks like Carrefour.
I can’t think of any contrasts quite so sharp in the states; perhaps because regionalism and federalism allow for more diversity. Looking for them though…