(Or How I conquered Racism, all by myself)
Far be it from me to take time on a simple blog to explain my own convoluted ideas, or preconceptions. But one thing I’ve always hated, as a vague patriot of our unsettled country , is the French. I don’t know where my hatred of them stemmed. It could be when I was young and countless people told me Jerry Lewis was funny and I kept not laughing. It could be other people’s negative opinions and insights about their lack of military victories, personal hygiene, lack of ethics,etc.
I guess I just never gave it much thought that I despised the French on principle. Every traveller I’ve ever talked to said they hate Americans, and I assumed it’s perfectly sane to hate them right back. My only real experience with a french person prior to about a year ago was an effeminate coke-head who was my friends roommate named “Stefan”. Strangely enough he was actually pretty likable. But then again he literally wore horizontal black and white striped shirts and berets. Is that the US equivalent of a “Wolf” t-shirt in France?
So Stefan didn’t strike me as a usable example of the French people. While pleasant enough, he seemed too much of a stereotype to be authentic. My guess is that he bought into US Stereotypes to be funny and fit in, and did coke because it’s fun. So I was left continuing with my general ignorance and random dislike of Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, and anything to do with Quiche.
What really made the turn was this little cafe right downstairs from my work. For the sake of not naming names let’s call it “Le Cafe” because the name was similarly unoriginal. It is owned and operated by extremely french people. The owner, the waiters/waitresses, the host, everyone except some of the Mexican bussers were all fluent in French and favored it above English. Most of the time the only words I’d hear from them in English (or American, as my retarded fellow patriots call it). Were “what would you like” or “more coffee?”.
Then as the restaurant was by my work I’d go every couple weeks and after the fourth or fifth time I put in an appearance there was a world of difference. Suddenly I was greeted by name, given priority to tables, comp’d free coffee etc. At first I put it up to just being a ‘regular’ but finally I managed to engage some employees in conversation and they explained that they treated strangers like strangers and friends like friends. Since I’d been there, met them, joked with them a little they switched to ‘friend’ mode. After that, there was no warmer or more friendly people on the planet.
In retrospect, they were rather distant and cold when I first started going there. Making the transition more dramatic in comparison. No one wore a beret, or stripes. They all DID have a knowledge of fine wines, but I think we can give a stereotypical pass since they serve it at the restaurant. Now, just becoming a regular at a French restaurant didn’t make me a convert to gay old Paris. I’m sure I’d still be treated like shit in France. It did make me realize that a lot of stereotypes that I would outspokenly debase in public are pretty rampant in my mind.
My history in life didn’t include an Anti-Frenchman, Dad didn’t hate the French, at least not outspokenly. He was sort of generically racist and never made any attempt to convert me to a particular way of thinking…
(To Be Continued….)