No one likes a tacky tourist. I know because I go to a historic university; one frequented by fanny-pack sporting, photo-snapping, finger-pointing middle-aged couples who visit in April and ask questions like “Did Thomas Jefferson condone the creation of fraternities?” or “Was the House of Usher Edgar Allan Poe’s childhood home?” I know because I’ve been to DC where women in Mickey Mouse ears pose by the National Monument as if it were the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I’ve witnessed visitors buy postcards in Lynchburg, Virginia. I also know because sometimes I am one.
A little over a month ago I arrived in Lyon, France where I’m spending the semester taking courses, traveling Europe, and eating (maybe too much) wonderful food. It’s been an incredible experience, but learning to integrate into an entirely different culture is hard. The language is different; dinner is served two hours later; smoking is cool and motorcycles are cooler. As if my imperfect French and blue jeans aren’t enough to give me away, it seems that I’m always able find a way to remind the inhabitants of Lyon of my Americanness in almost everything I do.
While I certainly respect the French cultural norms and wish to emulate them myself, I’ve learned that sometimes I’ve just got to let my (American) freak flag fly. And that’s OK. Here are just a few instances in which I was proud to be an American though I wasn’t always free from judgement.
When I screamed after almost stepping on a pigeon.
French pigeons are terrifying. Think squirrels, but worse because they can fly and crap on you and infect you with unmentionable diseases simply by making eye contact. These little bastards are everywhere and no matter how many times I see them I can’t get used to their evil presence.
When I bought popcorn at the movie theater (and proceeded to giggle through every single sex scene in the film).
OK, apparently the popcorn in French movie theaters is just for show, because no one in the entire theater had popcorn but me. I made quite a show of enjoying it, too—that is, until the protagonist and her lover stripped down and started going at it at which point I started giggling uncontrollably and choked on a kernel.
When I promptly whipped out my bottle of hand sanitizer upon exiting the metro.
Ah, public transportation. There’s nothing like holding onto the same rail that the old man grasped after scratching his crack—the very same that kid with the cold sneezed on. Every ride on the metro is a 10- or 20-minute tour through my personal hell and I wish I could rinse the smell of B.O. from my nostrils as easily as I can rinse the impetigo from my hands.
When I smiled at a police officer and made him visibly uncomfortable.
Smiling at strangers, I’ve found, isn’t quite as common in France as it is in the U.S.; in fact, it’s quite literally frowned upon. After greeting an officer outside my apartment with a friendly nod and a warm smile, I could have sworn his hand inched a little closer to his holster. At ease, sir.
When I asked if my salad came with fries.
Because I’m only ordering the salad if it does.
When I went to Starbucks (ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte, and asked for the wifi password).
I don’t know what was stronger: my yearning for the taste of autumn in a paper cup or for the ability to check Facebook. For the record, the latte was on point and the wifi was not. I’ve had my taste of fall and the earth can resume spinning.
When I got shushed in a restaurant.
I did feel pretty badly about this one, but in my defense, I wouldn’t have been speaking so loudly if the other customers hadn’t been doing the same!
When I wrote postcards in the school cafeteria.
It’s like when the new kid in school brings Pokemon cards to the lunchroom. But she’s in college and speaks a foreign language and will soon exit the cafeteria to mistakenly enter the men’s restroom.
When I used the gourds I bought at the market not as stew ingredients, but as Halloween decorations.
The woman who sold me my pumpkin instantly rattled off a list of spices and other ingredients as I handed her my change. I couldn’t hear her over the sound of my wondering what I’d name my pumpkin and where he would live for the next three weeks.
When I sang “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” theme song at the tram stop.
Because females are strong as hell.
When I tried to order Sex on the Beach, but accidentally asked the bartender if he wanted to have sex. With me. On the beach.
Be warned, after a couple of glasses of wine, the distinction between “May I have a…” and “Do you want to have…” becomes impressively blurry.
When I brought a personal jar of peanut butter to school (and ate it off of a plastic knife in the hallway).
I won’t apologize for adding a little (or a lot) of protein to my diet. I will apologize for smearing peanut butter all over my notes and on the sleeve of my sister’s cardigan.
When I took a picture of my dessert… and every other meal.
It’s Europe, food = art. And my Instagram followers await.
When I ate pretzels on the metro.
There’s something about fluorescent lighting and the rumbling of steel wheels on steel tracks that makes a person’s belly rumble too. I also live nine stops away and I refuse to faint on this metro, thank you very much.
When I meant to say “cool,” but said “ass” instead.
Vowels are hard. French vowels are harder. I’m sorry, ma’am.
Living abroad or have culture-clash stories of your own? We wanna know! Tweet us @LitDarling!