I was sort of worried before I left to study in Paris this spring. How was an American supposed to behave in Europe? I had mastered the proper attitude for a New Yorker in Chicago (for every venue, restaurant, event, and personality in Chicago, frequently remind your friends that several vastly superior counterparts can be found in New York City). But surely this wasn’t the proper attitude for an American in Paris. Rather than rubbing in my place of origin, I assumed that the proper course would be for me to blend in, to perhaps become a little more French in the process.
Two weeks of observing my fellow Americans in Paris has made me realize, however, that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. To counter the dreadful idea that Americans need to lay low while abroad, I have created a sample itinerary for the first day of an American in Paris (inspired, of course, by observations of my fellow freedom-lovers abroad) to help any and all future study abroad students behave properly. Forget fitting in with the French; it’s time to fit in with the American tourist community.
First, hit up the Notre Dame cathedral. It’s beautiful, historic, holy, and a wonderful place to announce to Paris that you have arrived, you only speak English, and you only speak it rather loudly. Or, as one of my fellow tourists who bleeds red, white, and blue put it recently while yelling into a cell phone during a church service at the cathedral: “Hey, Ma, we’re in the cathedral. The cathedral, Ma, it’s the big pretty building...Notter Damn, you know, the church. Yea, like the football team. No, I don’t know if the football team got its name from the church. Ma, I gotta go, I think there’s a service going on or something. Just come meet us at the cathedral. What? No, Ma, the cathedral.”
Once you’ve properly informed the Catholic mass–goers of Paris that Uncle Sam’s in town, be sure to check out the Louvre, where some of western civilization’s most important pieces of art are housed. But don’t let that deter you from treating the sacred ground like your home turf. If you’re by yourself, be sure to whistle loudly while walking through the hallways and looking at paintings. Or, like the helpful American teenager who stood next to me as I was looking at an exhibit on Islamic art, you could simply lay down a beat while perusing the galleries. If you’re with company, the Louvre offers a perfect opportunity to have loud conversations about America. Or, as two other American tourists put it in my most recent visit (as we walked by the Mona Lisa), “No, George Clooney was definitely the worst Batman. I mean, Batman’s not a ladies’ man!”
“But you forget,” implored the other, “Bruce Wayne is a ladies’ man. And therein lies the paradox of Batman’s character.” Not to be deterred, the first replied, “True, but Clooney still sucked.”
All of this touring has probably made you hungry, so feel free to stop at one of the many places along the street that sell gelato. Ordering can and should be a conspicuous event. Or, as an American lady in front of me purchasing gelato recently put it to a store employee, “Excuse me, which ice cream flavor here is the most French?”
“They are all French,” the slightly befuddled employee replied.
“But which one is the most French? I want to experience France.”
“The chocolate’s pretty good.”
“But we have chocolate ice cream in America. Don’t you have something French?”
“It is all French.”
“Fine, just give me strawberry.” At this point in the transaction, the lady turned to me and vented in frustration, “Can you believe this?” Still under the misguided impression that I should blend in, I refused to respond, and instead pondered what exactly the woman was hoping to get out of the transaction. Escargot ice cream sprinkled with frog legs? Or would she have been happy if the employee had given her French vanilla? But I digress.
And so, prospective and current study-abroad–ers, discard the travel books and University of Chicago propaganda that advise you to fly under the radar or blend in. Listen to no such nonsense. Remember, you are American, and we are still number one. If we have to remind every single surrender-loving Parisian of this fact, well, I am finally on board, even if I was slightly delayed.