Americans in Paris (part deux!)

by jemma margaret

HELLO, I AM AN AMERICAN.

This is the way all English words overheard from those from les États-Unis in Paris should be transcribed. Because either my ears are especially attuned to pick up the voices of my countrymen and women or Americans are simply loud. I fear it is the latter.

For a case in point, I direct you to David Sedaris’ story about being mistaken for a French pickpocket. Americans love to talk and they don’t care who is listening.

I went to a French conversation group at the Bibliothèque of the Pompidou on Friday. There was another American there, a visiting economics professor. We were introducing ourselves and a woman from Mexico mentioned that she worked for a bank.

“Oh, you must make a lot of money.” said the American.

I hadn’t introduced myself yet, and I thought momentarily about pretending to be Canadian.

Any American who has been in Paris has surely faced the somewhat embarrassing situation of struggling hard to speak in French and receiving an English response.

“Please, please, stop butchering my language. Let us speak in yours instead, since it cannot be butchered.”

Of course different words are being spoken, but we all know the underlying subtext.

However, I learned recently that Spanish, Portuguese and Italian natives receive the exact same treatment even though they are clearly not Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps I just sound “foreign”–which seems like a more exotic label.

Ah, no. Later in French class we listened to a recording of a French Canadian being interviewed.

“Where is the interviewer from?” asked the instructor. I had no idea, he sounded…French? Nope. It was obvious to the Brazilians, Chinese, and Hungarians that this man was American.

The librarians may not know that I am American because I am always whispering. Americans are not known to whisper. This morning at the market the apple man asked me if I was American or (after a pause) English?

Oui, I said, je suis américaine.

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