Faux Pas in France: Four Americans in Paris

Faux Pas in France: Four Americans in Paris

By Lisa Earle McLeod

We didn’t wear our big white tennis shoes, we didn’t complain about the lack of ice, and we never once asked where you could buy a big Gulp. But they could still peg us as Americans, even from the back pew at Notre Dame. I’m in Paris with my family. I often travel for my speaking business, but I usually leave the kiddos and hubby at home when I jet off for exotic locales like Omaha or Des Moines. However, this time the gigs were in Paris and Nice, and so, like the Clampets, we loaded up the airplane and moved to Paree. Well, OK, we didn’t move here; we’re only trying to assimilate for two weeks. Now, I know the French have a reputation for being snooty. But I suspect that this insidious rumor was spread by two tourists who got frustrated when a vending machine at the Louvre ate their dollar bill. Honestly, I’ve been here twice and I find the French to be incredibly kind, gracious and helpful. It’s true, they do speak another language. And should you even find a vending machine – which is highly unlikely since the French prefer real food – you’ll be hard pressed to find one that will sell you a cellophane-wrapped Honey Bun for 75 cents. But just try going into 7-11, plunking down a few Euros and asking for a caf au lait and see how far you get. Hello? The reason you to go to a different country is to experience the differences, not complain about them. But back to my family and our valiant attempts to fake French. The French might not think they’re better than us, but they sure do dress, talk and eat better than us. Or at least better than anyone I know. Where are the chubby moms in the shiny warm-up suits and over-sized sweaters? And what about the loud-mouthed guys with their shirttails sticking out, bellowing for more ribs on the All-You-Can-Eat buffet? And pray tell, where are all the whiny kids screaming for more Skittles? Everywhere I turn all I see are skinny, well-dressed people in tailored clothes talking in hushed tones as they delicately nibble on some fancy cheese. How the heck do these people stay so thin? I’ve only been here 48 hours and I’ve already drunk more wine and eaten more chocolate than I usually do in a month. Sure, my 6 foot 2″, 250 lb husband doesn’t fit in the shower or bed. But who needs cleanliness and sleep when you can get Beaujolais at lunch? Another thing that strikes me about France is there’s no clutter. I’m not kidding, I’ve been to a few homes here and these people own, like, twelve things. They’re fabulous things, like cashmere sweaters and good books, but the ‘more is better’ concept appears to have contained itself within the continental US. I don’t know if they can read our cluttered kitchen counter on our faces, but apparently it takes more than a black turtleneck sweater to look French. Everywhere we go, waiters, hotel staff, and even the cute gal working the crepe stand outside the Eiffel Tower, take one look at us and say in English, “Hello, welcome to France.” Was it the mom jeans, the fanny pack or my husband’s southern accent? I’ll never know, but one thing is for sure. For better or worse, we remain Americans.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a syndicated columnist, author, keynote speaker and business consultant who specializes in helping individuals and organizations create happiness and success. Her latest book is Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear – For more info – <>

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