Sitting in a cafe in Nyon a couple of days ago, there was a group of four twentyish Americans nearby. They took over in that confident way young people – and Americans – will. Plugged themselves into their various electronic contraptions, presented an arse to us for a while as one of them tried to plug the other end of hers into a powerpoint.
At some point a waitress came to see if they wanted anything else, one of them asked for something in not the correct French way and the waitress gave them all the rounds of the kitchen for not knowing French well enough. You come to this country, you should speaka the language properly. You can imagine the content of the tirade.
I sat there thinking, yeah. Damned Americans. Just come over here and think they can get away with anything. Like THEY don’t have to learn, something special about being American.
I might add, all this was from the entirely hypocritical viewpoint of being an Australian in Geneva who, after five years here, can not yet string a sentence together in the local lingo. In fact I’d already encountered this very same waitress, asked for cold milk with my tea in a way that completely mystified her no matter how I rearranged the three or four necessary words, but she wasn’t fussed by me at all. I have no way of determining if that was because of my grovellingly apologetic attitude, or if it was because I was with two accomplished French speakers, or because I’m Australian, and if she didn’t know that, perhaps she could at least figure I wasn’t American.
It’s just so easy, isn’t it? Hating Americans. Not specific ones, I have lots of American friends and my life would be a diminished thing in their absence. But in general. On principle. When you see them stomping around Europe coming into your cafe because they can’t see a Starbucks nearby.
I’m thinking all that, but then after the waitress leaves, and the kids start smiling at each other in some discomfort, one of them said ‘Geez. Can you imagine saying something like that in the US?’
And indeed one can’t. If the ‘we like being nice on facebook’ brigade got hold of that story ‘American tells foreigners to piss off home if they aren’t going to learn American’ there’d be hell to pay. Their President would probably have to offer a public apology and stress that nobody in the US has to know American. But in fact, it wouldn’t get that far, would it? I expect it would be a sackable offence in the US for a waitress to say such a prejudiced thing.
So it seems to me, they are stuck behind a rock and a hard place. And I’m feeling just a little bit bad that I don’t feel bad about that.