Why French Locals Think American Tourists are Rich
After moving to Paris with only what I had in my closet in the US, I discovered two things. First, that when I dressed like the American tourists (jeans, t-shirt, backpack, headphones, etc) I was ogled while walking down the street and consistently targeted for tourist traps and begging. Second, that when I dressed slightly less like the American tourists (jeans, nice top, blazer, handbag, headphones), I was still ogled, but also suddenly not as interesting to the people trying to vend their touristy wares.
The ogling is pretty par for the course. I got used to it surprisingly quickly. See my other post about sexism and women wearing headphones for one survival strategy. Being a target for tourist wares gets old (and expensive) very quickly.
So far, being a foreigner in Paris has had only one effect on the local’s perceptions of me that I can discern. As soon as American English comes out of my mouth, the people nearby are reminded of some other Americans who once came to France in the 1940s and did not spend a lot of money.
Being a target for tourist wares gets old (and expensive) very quickly.
In fact, while in Normandy, one of my coworkers used this expression, “Nous ne sommes pas Américains” to describe how the French were different than Americans. It literally translates to “We are not Americans.” He turned in horror, to see if I had caught the phrase. I had, and he explained it to me. It seems like a strange phrase, until you remember that when the American GIs landed in Normandy, they had American money to spend in a decimated economy following World War II. They could spend far less and get far more, becoming what we would call today “big spenders.” This impression of Americans is not always at the forefront of Franco-American interactions, but it does occasionally rear its ugly head.
I have a personal example of this. While at dinner with some French colleagues, we joked about who would pay the bill. They all looked at me. I looked at them. “You’re American, can’t you just pay it?” We laughed it off, but that assumption had lingered there for a moment. I explained student debt to my colleagues. Their eyes went wide, but that is a topic for another day. We split the bill, and everyone learned something that night.
“You’re American, can’t you just pay it?” We laughed it off, but that assumption had lingered there for a moment.
As a foreign woman in France, I am treated much the way other women are treated here, with this one assumption underlying everything: money. Being foreign, it seems, is a far more ostracizing experience than being a woman in this city.