The French don’t hate us, after all

When I talk to friends and family at home, they often ask me if I have found the French to be hostile toward Americans. Despite the stereotypes of the snobby American-hating Frenchman, the French people I have met seem to have a surprisingly positive interest in the United States and American culture.

After telling someone here that I’m an American, I have never received a negative response. Instead I often hear, “America? Really? Which state are you from?” I tell them, “Nebraska, but I study in St. Louis, Mo.,” and while I often receive in response a blank stare totally lacking in comprehension at my not having said “California” or “New York,” I have met a few who know of these obscure areas in the vast American Midwest. For the record, I usually have more luck with St. Louis or Missouri than Nebraska.

Young French people especially seem to have a pretty good understanding of the geography of the U.S. I recently discovered that high school students have to study the American states and their capitols for the Baccalaureate, a large and very difficult exam that the French need to pass in order to go to college.

A lot of the students in my university also have a very keen knowledge of American politics. I am currently taking a contemporary religions class, and one of our assignments this semester was to present a 20-minute exposé on a topic of our choice.

Two students gave very detailed and accurate presentations on topics dealing with American politics: one on religion in President George W. Bush’s discourses, and the other on religion in President Barack Obama’s discourses.

Granted, a lot of interest in the U.S., at least where young people are concerned, stems from the dominance of our cultural exports: music, movies, television shows, fashion, etc. French kids are just as familiar with the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga, and even groups like the Kings of Leon and Band of Horses, as the average American.

They play American music in their grocery stores; they blare it from their car stereos and iPods. At least half of the films showing in theaters here come from Hollywood, and every day I see someone walking down the street wearing an Abercrombie shirt or hoodie.

But even more so t han films or fashion, my French friends love American TV. There are very few French sitcoms or dramas, so many turn to American shows instead. Some of the most popular ones here I have noticed are House, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Gossip Girl, The Simpsons and Chuck.

I have even stumbled upon French-dubbed episodes of Walker Texas Ranger and MacGyver while channel surfing on my French TV.

I often feel guilty that French people my age know so much more about my culture than I do about theirs. I have learned so much since I arrived in August, but I know there is still a lot more to discover. I am so thankful that I have felt welcome as an American here and have made so many great French friends.