The American in Paris: An Introduction
A new Autumn is approaching in good old Oberlin, Ohio. The leaves are turning beautiful orange and red and yellow before drifting slowly through the brisk air to lay a thick, soft carpet on the ground. Red-cheeked and sparkle-eyed students laugh through town, enjoying the last few weeks before the bitter cold descends and campus is sheeted in snow.
At least, I assume that’s what’s happening. You see, I don’t actually know because I am not, in fact, in Oberlin, Ohio, and I feel sorry for all you jokers who are. Because while you’re sitting on the Tappan gazebo eating take-out Dascomb, I’m sitting under the Eiffel Tower eating crepes.
As fun as it is to grab some beers and shake your moneymakers at the ‘Sco, I can assure you it’s not as fun as partying at the infamous Moulin Rouge. And I know the Modiglianis at the Allen are nice, but the “Mona Lisa” won’t be smiling at our quaint town any time soon.
That’s right, folks, the City of Lights itself. Jealous?
Don’t be. Because, dear readers, you are here with me. I am not simply myself, a mere tourist in a city already glutted by transient foreigners. I am all of us. I am the college we all attend, the community we all live in.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am America.
How can I make this grandiose and seemingly preposterous claim? Two reasons. Reason one, I am an American in Paris, and like it or not, I represent you and yours and every other American while I’m here. Reason two, I write a column in The Oberlin Review, which means that through the great invention of written language, my experiences are yours. You, America, live vicariously through me.
As America, it is my responsibility, as well as my great privilege, to share with you our experience in Paris, France. How are we perceived here? How do we fit in? Are French people really the cowardly, smelly, arrogant, freedom-hating upstarts we know them to be? Don’t they show any gratitude for our having saved their derriere from the Germans, twice?
In this column, I will answer these questions (and others). As an American exchange student in Paris I am able to have a unique perspective on society, culture, politics, language, academics, etc. I participate actively in Parisian society while retaining American perspectives and norms and most importantly, being acutely aware of my Americanness. I think that this isolation and displacement of American culture will allow us not only to learn about Paris and the French, but also to clarify aspects of our own culture that we would otherwise not be aware of.
So, fellow Americans, we find ourselves in a very interesting social situation, one in which we can study (solve?) the ancient and infinite questions of cultural dynamics, linguistic differences and how to pick up foreign chicks (or whoever you’re into). With the help of Gershwin references and jokes about Freedom Fries, George Bush and frogs’ legs, we will navigate the intricacies of cultural collisions on a magical and impossible journey to uncover answers to age old questions. Who are we? What is our place in the world?
The format of this discussion will be me writing about cool things I notice. I will not write as a reporter, nor as a sociologist. I will not attempt to be objective.
Au contraire, I will embrace my American viewpoints and biases. Through my experiences, we will be exploring phenomena such as the criminal disorganization of the Parisian university system, the French love of Gnarls Barkley, the French hatred of George Bush and French peoples’ grudging but prominent admiration of all things American.
So let us don our berets and turn up our noses, because we find ourselves now across the Atlantic. But as we eat patê and stroll the ‘petites rue de Paris,’ let us never forget that a Royale with cheese is really a Big Mac.
America, welcome to Paris.