March 25, 2005

An American Student in France: Reflections from Bordeaux

By Monti Datta

I recently had the opportunity to interview Tracy, an undergraduate student from the University of California, who has been studying in Bordeaux, France since last October. I posed several questions via email to Tracy, to inquire about her experiences living as an American in France. What follows are some of my questions and Tracy's candid answers.

Q.To what extent do you find French public opinion positive or negative toward the United States government?

The French will make the distinction that their perceived animosity towards Americans (their so-called anti-Americanism) is directed, for the most part, at the Bush administration. The French public has very negative opinions about current and future American foreign policy, noting specifically policies dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan and lack of signing key treaties like the Kyoto Protocol and ICC [the International Criminal Court]. The newspapers are critical of decisions that the Bush administration makes, and they will continue to be. I've found that peoples' levels of negativity [vary] by generation: those of younger generations and who have high levels of education are more apt to be diplomatic and more understanding and open-minded (though not more willing to compromise, of course) of American policies as opposed to older generations who are more hardline in their opposition. This is a broad generalization that has its exceptions, but holds up on most accounts.

Q. To what extent do you find French public opinion positive or negative toward Americans living in France?

On the whole the French public is kind and respective to Americans living in their country. They see that we (Americans) are speaking their language and learning about their history, culture and heritage--thus making a huge effort to understand and appreciate everything French---and in return they respect and encourage our endeavors. It would be extremely hypocritical for the average French person to say they didn't like Americans or American culture because wherever you turn there's evidence of American culture (and the effects of globalization). Whether it's the obvious McDonalds, Hollywood blockbusters and Billboard hits, the "American" style sandwiches at the local boulangerie, or the western cowboy fashions in season this spring and summer, the French flock and buy-up anything and everything branded American. It's really a love/hate relationship between our two countries: they loathe our president yet love our culture.

Q. Are there any personal anecdotes or stories you could share regarding your experiences of how others have perceived you as an American living in France or anywhere else abroad?

I found that after Bush's re-election I had to explain myself a lot more to strangers. Before Nov. 2, I would introduce myself as either American or Californian, and either way I would be asked questions about what I thought of our president and what I hoped would happen in the election. After Bush's re-election I now call myself a Californian, which has a heavy importance since most French people understand that California was a "blue" state, therefore most citizens were in favor of Kerry. It's a sad state of affairs when perfect strangers judge me on who I voted for in MY country's presidential election, but it's the only way that we can achieve a level of understanding and find a common ground--that we both don't like who's president.

I want to thank Tracy for sharing her experiences. Please feel free to comment on your reactions to Tracy's thoughts on life as an American in France.

Posted 11:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2005

An American Student in Spain: Reflections on Anti-American Sentiment

I recently had the chance to interview Carmen, a student from the University of California, who has been studying abroad in Spain since last fall. I posed a series of questions to Carmen, who responded to me via email. At times Carmen wrote eloquently yet painfully of some of her recent experiences as an American student living in Spain. What follows are some of the questions and answers from my interview with Carmen.

To what extent do you find Spanish public opinion positive or negative towards the United States government?

I have found Spanish public opinion to be extremely negative towards the US government. It is a daily topic of discussion in the streets and on the news. The incumbent president, Zapatero, is noted as one of the most Anti-american presidents Spain has ever had. During a Spanish congressional hearing, the President was asked about US relations; he stated the the US and Spain have always had good working relations, but due to US bigotry, Spain was deciding not to have relations at this moment. During another hearing, he made a few jokes about not needing the US. Though most people are fed up with the incumbent president, his Anti-American resonance lives in his people.

To what extent do you find Spanish public opinion positive or negative towards American citizens living in Spain?

When I arrived, I believed that I would face Anti-Americanism towards our policies and not towards our people. This I found was a mistake. ...When I voiced that I was American, they turned their backs on me. I volunteered for a language exchange program to help Spanish students practice their English. When I began speaking they noticed I didn't have a British accent; they immediately closed up and began voicing back every American stereotype that existed that they believed would be indicative of me. For example, "you're from the states so you have a lot of money and don't care about us poor Spaniards", "all Americans are conservative oil grubbing people, especially if they're from Texas", and "Californians are idiots because theyre being led by movie stars." I was also knocked for my "American" accent a few times for being unrefined. I thought that this might be a big city view of Americans since I am living in Madrid. However, I went to a tiny town in the southern region called El Campello in the region of Jaen. This town has about 400 people in it. ...Once I was discovered to be American, people closed off to me. ...It was hurtful because they knew me to be a nice person, until they found out I was from the US. I encountered the same in the northern region of Spain as well.

That Carmen has felt a strong wave of Anti-American sentiment in Spain is unquestionable. As to the extent to which we may generalize about her experiences, I am unsure. On the one hand, there clearly seems to be deep-seated resentment against Americans living in Spain. On the other hand, perhaps the wave of Anti-American sentiment is only temporary. It still remains to be seen if other students such as Carmen will continue to feel the sting of Anti-American sentiment, or if the tide of negative public opinion in Spain will eventually subside.

I want to thank Carmen for her comments and insights. I hope the experiences she has shared can serve for further discussion. What do you think about Carmen's experiences? Please post your comments.

Posted 11:59 PM | Comments (1)