Dispatches from the Road: Anti-Americanism AbroadDispatches from the Road, France, Health & Safety — By Lost Girls on April 28, 2010 at 6:00 am
Our European Correspondent, Lost Girl Jessica Szewczuk, shares her eye-opening experience encountering a group of Anti-Americans during her recent visit to France.
“Shut up you stupid American.”
Talk about a wakeup call, right?
I came to Barcelona to study abroad in order to experience other cultures and become just a little more “worldly.” However, my recent trip to Nice on the French Riviera was a little more than I bargained for. Anti-Americanism is a term that we hear often on the news, and although I was aware of the increased tension between the French and US governments in recent years, I did not expect to experience it face-to-face.
My roommates and I went to Nice for Carnival, one of the biggest celebrations in France. Tourists are the number one target for pick pocketing and muggings. As a traveler in a foreign country, you always have to be aware of your surroundings because muggings will happen in an open square surrounded by dozens of people—trust me, I know.
After being surrounded by ten French boys in the main square, my roommates and I were thrown around, mocked and mugged. Although this sounds horrible, and trust me it was, the true horror didn’t come until after, when the five French police, who were only a few meters away, finally decided that they should probably step in. After being thrown to the ground and mugged, I’m sure you can imagine my state of hysteria. After screaming to the officer, “how could you not step in sooner,” do you know what I got?
“Shut up you stupid American. File a police report tomorrow.”
Yes, Dorothy, I am NOT in Kansas anymore.
Walking home we were pulled aside by two French girls who saw the entire incident. They told us that speaking English makes us a target, and we should probably not talk on our walk back to the hotel. This was when I realized just how naïve I’d been. The fact that I couldn’t even speak my own language because it made me a target simply blew my mind. My roommate, Lindsay, kept saying, “this would never happen in America.” Well, hello, we aren’t in America. The reality of the situation is this: the “stupid American” stereotype is very much present, not just in France, but in all of Europe and we need to realize what this can mean.
Opposition over the War in Iraq has caused increased anti-American sentiments among the French, and this has unfortunately added to the already established anti-American views. I asked my friend, Esther, a native Catalan, how Americans are viewed here in Barcelona. She told me that Americans are viewed as ‘stupid’, but not because we are dumb, but because we tend to think of ourselves as better than everybody else. She also explained that because most Americans do not make an effort to learn about other cultures, we are seen as easy targets to take advantage of. This happens a lot in taxis because some drivers don’t think we will catch on if they drive slower or up the fare unjustly.
So what do you do when faced with these situations? Be aware of the stereotype. My trip to France was a wakeup call that made me realize I’ve been living in a bubble; thinking that being an American would never make me a target. Now this is not to say by any means that Americans are hated by all French or everywhere in Europe. However, you have to be prepared to be met with some anti-American views. My advice? Don’t be naïve and be aware that in some places you can be seen as a target based on where you are from. American does not always equal good.
Most importantly, if you ever do find yourself a victim to an anti-American remark, you cannot allow one bad experience to affect your opinion on the entire culture. From personal experience it’s easy to allow this to happen, but you need to remember you are in their country, which may or may not present conflicting views—besides, it’s all about the experience, right?
Check out these related posts: