An American Abroad

The Ugly Americans

Oh I know what you’re thinking.  This won’t be me. This is a tired stereotype of how American’s use to look when traveling anywhere, but I know I’m not going to have this problem.

You’re right, you probably won’t have that problem. That problem being middle aged with bulky camera’s hanging down from your neck, dressed in “vintage” vacation clothes that went out years ago (well at least that goes for the guy, but I don’t care if it’s a vacation or not, that woman shouldn’t leave the house dressed like that period.) and yes, I’m confident that you are worlds ahead of these fashion “trends” and hanging paraphernalia. The classic ugly American may still venture out in the forms of older relatives you rather not be seen with in public, but not you. You’re too smart to fall into those old traps.

^ Explicit content, cover your ears

Meet Dom. Dom’s the new Ugly American, and Dom here represents the real traps that you may fall into during your escapades through Europe, and in particular, Paris.


Dom, like the Ugly American, is ignorant. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, we tend to treat foreign counties like Disney Lands, as if they were created and exist for our entertainment. Take language barriers for example. In France, the French, speak… French. Ugly American’s understand this concept, but still seem to get frustrated when they actually encounter this dilemmas in the real world. After all as our friend Dom reminds us, “People that don’t speak Engish are less human then I am.” They also tend to rely too heavily on the notion that “Well they all took English in school, they should all know it. It’s important to know English!”

How’s those Spanish classes you took in High/Jr/Middle/Elementary School treating ya? (That’s different!) It’s not different.

To be fair, there are a good amount of Parisians that understand a decent enough amount of English and can hold a simple conversation (As the age group gets older, these odds diminish), but if you come across a group of Parisians that can’t understand you, that’s not their problem. And when you feel the urge to kick and scream over it, take a second and recall how many times back in the good old U.S. that you heard somebody bellow out “Well they’re in America, they should learn American!” The truth is I knew very little French including none when I first touched down in Charles de Gaulle Airport, and I managed fine. It goes without saying that the more French you know the better you will be ( I still said it), but if you stumble across times where the language barrier is too hard to cross, be humble about it. Accept that you’re in somebody else’s backyard and can’t explain how you got there, and do you best to move along. If you feel like this could be too much to handle for you, then look at study abroad programs in Britain. Just stay away from Wales. Nobody knows what the hell they’re saying.

Oh and yes, I said “…learn American”. On purpose. Hopefully it paints a picture of how intelligent I think those people are.

Dom also wants to know where the Italian dressing is. You may also want to know where a lot of your creature comforts are that you are use to back at home, or why are they so different/so expensive. A little story you ask? Sure. I was picking up sushi at La Grande Epicerie (best supermarket sushi you’ll ever have, by the way) and passed by a floor display of Oreo’s. I haven’t had Oreo’s in forever, including back before I left the states. But seeing those delicious sandwich cookies of sugar made me slightly home sick, and considered picking up a package. Triple Double stuffed?! Is that even legal in the states?? (Apparently they’ve been sold here the entire time. Not the point) I’m in. So I pick up my Oreo’s, my sushi, and whatever else I had at the time and checked out. I remember the price being rather steep, but I blamed in on the sushi. Getting back to my room, I took a glace at the receipt.

Oreo’s. 10.00 Euro.

WHAT? That’s like 14 dollars I just spend on Oreo’s?! Who the hell is running this country?? And don’t even try to dunk them in milk. Have you seen this stuff? Where’s the fresh milk anyway? There’s no fresh milk anywhere? I’m not drinkin’ this boxed crap.

Oh, see what I did there? I got all bend out of shape because in France, most milk is boxed instead of fresh because they have no real tradition of drinking milk by itself or putting it in coffee, and Oreo’s are imported, causing the price to be skyrocketed. Oh yeah, and that coffee I mentioned? In the morning, it’s served in a bowl. The Ugly American isn’t gonna have any of that, but if you come to another country expecting certain things to not be the same as you find in your home kitchen, you’ll live and might actually learn to like a new thing or two.  Hey, at least they have Red Bull.

Dom also thinks he could have just seen the iPhone Tower in Vegas rather then fly to Paris twice. There’s little life lessons about studying abroad to be taken out of this one. Dom’s just an idiot.

A bientot!

Bienvenue à Paris!

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that if you are planning to study abroad in Paris, your expectations are engulfed by thoughts of  laying under the Eiffel Tower, strolls down the Seine river overlooking Notre Dame, Shopping down the Champs Elysees until you’re broke (which won’t take long), Baguettes, Romance, and being surrounded by some of the greatest works of Art found in the world… It’s practically living in a Disney Land. And it’s true, you can and will have everything I just listed, but it’s important to know what it’s not as well. It’s not an artificial Disney Land. It’s the center of the world according to the French, much like New York is the center of the world According to Americans… well, New Yorkers.

And if you were going to showcase New York City to somebody new, you would probably show them all the sights and wonders of the Big Apple that we’ve all grown tiresome of before you show them Bed-Stuy Brooklyn or Jamaica Queens.

The video above I wanted to show you is a rather harsh reminder that before you fall all over everything there is to fall all over for in the City of Romance, Paris is a real urban city with real urban city issues…. and if there’s one place you may want to skip in your plans to scour the city, it’s the suburbs. If you think the NYPD may have tough times in certain parts of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx (or vice versa depending on which side of the fence you’re on) then you should talk to a French police officer about the 2005 riots in which 126 Police and Firefighters were injured in 20 nights of violence. And then it repeated again in 2007 after 2 kids were killed after being struck by a speeding police car. Tensions between the police and the communities in the subs are so high that police presence is far more dangerous to the officers safety then it is a typical NYPD officer patrolling a “impact zone” in NYC. Less police presence in these parts of Paris usually mean less overall unrest in these areas as well. I definitely recommend taking a look at the video as it gives a great account for why there are so many problems between the French government and the immigrant/no-so immigrant communities that live in these decaying, forgotten suburbs (There, gave some of it away right up front) that surround the city of Cafe’s, Lights, Love, and whatever other cliche you can think of. Be warned however, it runs a little over 20 minutes, but if one really wants to learn about EVERYthing Paris, then I’d call it a must watch.

I however am done scaring  you away from my home away from home. My purpose was just to give a little shock value, especially when you expect a blog about going to Paris to be jammed to death with nothing but where this cafe spot is, or where that gallery is, or how about those crepes?? I want you to know, again, that among all it’s greatness, Paris is a city just like any other. There is plenty of things to see and do that tourist love, but the city itself is not one giant tourist attraction. There’s crime. homelessness. ghettos. corruption. And anything else you can think of that would describe a major city in any well developed country. There’s people that love American’s, and people that do not. It’s what makes Paris real, and if you can respect all of it’s flaws, you will have an unforgettable time. In all the good ways, of course.