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.