January 26, 2011

Les Spring Breaks

The French have weird preconceived notions about les États-Unis. I’m okay with this. I’m okay with answering bizarre questions about my home country.

What I’m not okay with is after taking the time to explain to them my personal experience of being an American citizen; I am told that I am wrong.

French people constantly claim to know America better than I do! As if visiting New York City for 5 days is the same as living in the country for 22 years. As if watching the random news reports about the USA on French télé is the same as being raised in the culture. As if seeing the MTV show Spring Break in Cancun gives you a 100% accurate tale of what college students do over spring break.

Case in point: The weekend after New Years, La Maman hosted a family Christmas lunch at her house with FBF’s aunt and uncle, their daughter and her boyfriend, FBF’s sister and her boyfriend plus his two children, and FBF and moi.

La cousine and son copin (the cousin and her bf) were talking about taking a trip to Mexico with la Soeur and son copin this spring, when la cousine turned to me and asked, “C’est quand les vacances de printemps dans les états-unis? Le Spring Break?” (When is spring vacation in the US? Your “Spring Break?”)

“Oh, euhhh.. ça depend où on va à l’école,” (Oh, well that depends on where you go to school) I truthfully replied.

The boyfriend responded, “Non, mais LE Spring Break, où tous les Californiens vont au Mexique.” (No! THE Spring Break. The one where every Californian goes to Mexico.)

I repeated, “Ça depend ce dont l’école on va. Il y a pleusieurs ‘Spring Breaks.’” (It depends on what school you go to. There are multiple “Spring Breaks.”)

“Non” he insisted, “quand tous les gens à l’université vont à Cancun pour faire la grosse fête. C’est ça le Spring Break. Il y a une semaine et tout le monde y vas.” (No, when all the college students go to Cancun just to party. That’s Spring Break. It’s one week where everybody just drinks and parties.)

And so for a third time, I insisted that in the USA, Spring Break is not just one week the whole nation has off. It depends on where you go to school. It depends on if the school is on a semester system, like UC Berkeley or most private universities, or a quarter system like the other University of California schools. But even going to a UC school doesn’t guarantee you the same week off. My best friend went to the University of California at Santa Cruz, and I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara, and even we had different Spring Breaks.

And as for everyone going to Cancun, Mexico for Spring Break, what a bunch of bullshit! I’ve never once been there, and nobody I knew in college went there for Spring Break. The few people I know who actually went to Mexico stayed on the West Coast of Mexico in order to keep costs down.

But here he was, the arrogant Frenchman dining on my right. For no matter how many times I explained that we don’t all have the same school breaks, it never sunk in. It was as if my 16 years of experience in Spring Breaks meant less than an old MTV show.

How is it possible with a real life American in front of them, the French still insist on their slanted version of les États-Unis? Why is it impossible for them to reevaluate their views on America after talking with a real life American citizen?

They don’t know the US better than me! They can never know the US better than me, just like I can never know French culture better than they do! But for some reason the French aren’t willing to accept this reality. They seem to think that they’ll be able to enlighten me about my own culture! I’m the American, god damn it!

It took all my good graces and self-control not to lunge at this otherwise nice French guy with my diner knife.


  1. Very annoying. People in Spain are, in many ways, similar. They think we are all like the Simpsons.

  2. At that point of the argument, you really should've just talked to him about how French people are so ignorant AND arrogant. When he denied it, you should've stated that you knew the stereotype very well and was quite certain that it was true, even if most French people that you have met are not in fact as ignorant, nor arrogant as the stereotype goes. =P

  3. The basic premise of never allowing the facts to influence your opinion is sadly not limited to the French.

  4. Oh I can totally relate to this!! This drives me nutso!!! Before I moved to France, I met lots of Irish people who thought they new more about America than me, and I'm American too! And now in France, the same freaking thing!

  5. Kaley: I'll take your word for Spanish people. The French are obsessed with the Simpsons, but some of my students didn't realize it's an American TV show...

    Joel: Great advice! I'll definitely do that next time, haha.

    Mike: While I do realize that is true, I would never have thought it would be true for something as small and based on facts as when Spring Break is. Le sigh.

    Sara Louise: I'm so glad you feel the same way!! Frickin' French people.

  6. I had previously dipped into this post without enough time to share a similar experience:

    I do a conversation exchange with a French woman (who has since become a friend). We share many Taurus qualities - stubborn being our shared middle name! In an early conversation during the English exchange, she insisted that one could use the word "guy" interchangeably for males or females. I tried in vain to dissuade her of this notion but she insisted with ever more vigor each time I tried to gently suggest this was not the case. I finally gave up and thought, "Alrighty-then. You just go right ahead and try that one out!" As I said, we became very good friends...in spite of this! ;}

  7. Leslie: It's so frustrating when things like this happen! But I'm glad I have other foreigners like myself who can relate to this :) It's encouraging to know that you became friends with this woman. I guess I'll just have to get better at letting things like this go. Or become content with the fact that they'd be making fools of themselves if they were in my home country!

  8. At least I hope you haven't had to deal with this one: "But I thought all California girls were thin and good looking..." as they look at you doubtfully. It was a total blow to my self-esteem as well as ridiculous on so many levels.

  9. I can't believe they said that to you Becky! The assholes! Are people like that in Korea too?

  10. I just stumbled on your blog (thinking of a weekend in Lille) and have found myself reading your back posts. I'm an American living in Germany with my German husband (be glad you got the beautiful French language!) and I've had similar experiences. Germans (many, not all!) think they know everything about American culture. My favorite story involves my brother-in-law insisting that American Halloween is in late November and that Thanksgiving is in October, even when I told him 4 or 5 times that he was wrong. I finally had to pull out an American calendar my mom had sent. ARGH!

  11. Hey Jenni! Thanks for reading my blog! I'm glad you seem to like it :)

    Also I'm glad to know that this isn't just a French problem! It makes me feel less frustrated when I know that others are dealing with the same problems as I am.

    I think it's just extra frustrating because we expats tend to be people who are more open minded and willing to learn about different cultures than your average person! It's almost as if it's extra challenging for us to deal with close-minded people.

    Also I definitely recommend Lille! It's a beautiful city and worth a visit (although it is cold and rainy in the winter).


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