Monday, September 12, 2011

"But they don't like us . . . "

When people find out that I really like to visit France, I don't know how many times I've heard, "The French don't like us," as a statement of fact. Often this comes from a person who has never been to France, or traveled there only within the coccoon of a mammoth tour group, isolated from contact with any actual French people.

In 15 trips to France over the past 13 years, as well as several ins-and-outs of the country over a period of 11 weeks in 1959, I have not found the purported enmity to be the case.

Still, I'm only a tourist. Let me bring you an excerpt from Adrian Leeds' Parlez Paris newsletter, which addresses this topic directly. It was written after she attended a commemoration near the Eiffel Tower of the ten-year anniversary of 9-11, put on by an association founded in 2003 called "The French Will Never Forget." Adrian has lived and worked in Paris since 1994, providing French property consultation, conference coordination, and lectures. She's in the process of expanding her services to Nice, France. Thanks for these comments, Adrian.

Excerpt from Adrian Leeds, Parler Paris, “Like Two Children We Equally Love,” 9-12-2011.

In the on-again-off-again rain Sunday, September 11th, both the French and the Americans in Paris came out to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with an impressively tremendous showing, thanks to an association called "The French Will Never Forget" (TFWNF). The association "was created in 2003 in reaction to the anti- French sentiments which prevailed in a large portion of the American population, following the diverging analysis of France on the situation in Iraq and her ensuing refusal to commit troops to operation 'Desert Storm.'"
Funny, isn't it, that while there are those who think the French dislike Americans, there are others who think Americans dislike the French...and of course, these people with little insight do exist. But ask any Americans living in Paris if they feel any contempt from the French and they will tell you stories "au contraire!" This was quite evident by the grand showing at the Trocadero yesterday afternoon with a long list of dignitaries and a stunning performance by accomplished musicians, not to mention the amazing structure designed to resemble the twin towers backdropped by the Eiffel Tower.
Security was tight. Areas were roped off. Our bags were searched. Armed guards were very present. Speeches were made, songs were sung, umbrellas were opened and closed as the weather changed its tune. On the towers were imprinted the names of the 3000 plus victims of 9-11. Two large screens broadcast the entire event from many angles visible from as far away as the cafés on the Place du Trocadero.
At 2:46 p.m., a minute of silence was honored, commemorating the exact moment of the first impact of the first plane into the first tower. My tears had started many minutes earlier, but the silence broke our hearts and I could hear the sniffling all around me. They weren't just Americans...they were the French, too.
I didn't know anyone who had lost their life in 9-11, but it didn't matter. What was really important was the open union of France and the U.S., the friendship between nations and between their peoples -- those of us (both French and American) who have one foot on the soil of each and our hearts, not divided into two, but wholly taking in both, like two children we equally love.
A la prochaine...
Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

 See you soon.



  1. We. too, love our French friends and have had no difficulty in France. Of course, in any country, there can be people who are not the friendliest, or waiters who "take you for a ride", but France is no different.

  2. This is a beautiful story. I had no idea how tightly bound the alliance between French and American was over this tragedy. I studied abroad in London in 2002, when tensions were still high following 9/11. I traveled to Paris and Nice on my weekends off. My experiences, unfortunately, were of the negative kind. I felt very much disliked as an American. I did not feel welcome, felt looked down upon, was treated rudely. I had forever heard "the French do not like Americans" saying before traveling abroad, but I didn't believe it. I chalked it up to arrogant Americans who mistook not catering to them for dislike. Turns out, I was wrong. I am glad to hear that your experiences have been positive ones, and that the Americans living in France feel they are welcomed. My experience is very limited. I guess I must have had a bad one in a sea of good ones.

  3. @Laura, I'm sorry your experiences in France didn't go so well. I hesitate to speculate on differences in what we encounter and our own perceptions of an encounter: urban vs the more rural, situations, ages, language facility, personal support (i.e., are you traveling with someone who can relieve you of the full burden of interacting in an unfamiliar environment). I've become more mellow and adaptable as I age, so have more fun.

    Another blog with a report from Paris on 9/11, from a way different perspective than Adrian's but also very touching: .

  4. I'm glad you put an excerpt of this in your post. I almost added it to my 'A Big French Kiss' post. I find that it would be a challenge to go anywhere - even in the US - and not come across at least one or two arrogant or rude people. The city I have had the worst experience in was our very own Washington, DC! France - gotta love it!

  5. As an American living in Paris, I agree they're much more friendly to us than people assume. The problems are probably due more to being a tourist than being specifically American. Paris in particular is bombarded with vistors from May-September and maybe it's hard for the locals to be patient with all of them all the time (like in any city). But the French have respect, wonder & curiosity for American culture, and just as we dream of Paris, they dream of whisking off to live in the New York they've fallen in love with in movies and tv shows.

    Speaking of the twin towers, the French still remember how we helped chase Hitler out of their city not even 70 years ago, and I always feel that has something to do with their support of our 9/11 tragedy.

    For any first-time travelers to France looking to put their best foot forward, I'd remind you that the cliché of Americans here is that they're loud, a bit self-absorbed, and have no respect for the French language. And let's face it--sometimes it's true. As long as you take simple steps to counteract those stereotypes, you'll be well-received 95% of the time.