The France I Know MAG

By Kristin D., Hingham, MA

     Last April I went to France. No one could really understand why I was going, because since the war began in Iraq, the world was convinced the French hated Americans. I, however, have a different story.

I went to France with my parents and four other students for a fantastic five days in Paris and four with a French family in Pau. With all the amazing things we did around Paris, not once did anyone glare at us or be condescending about our imperfect French.

Pau is a beautiful town close to the Spanish border where we went in different directions to stay with our French families. Although I had emailed my French sister a few times,

I was still very nervous. I was overwhelmed by how much French I heard that first day, but my family was very understanding. They spoke slowly and even translated if I didn't quite understand.

The school system is very different in France - classes are each an hour long, and school is held six days a week. Luckily, they have two half-days. Some of the students, like Elsa, do not live within walking distance, so they take public transportation or have a parent drive. Even with the differences, the teachers and students are similar to my experiences. Elsa's friends were kind and constantly asked about the U.S. and me, even though it was difficult for me to communicate.

After school on Saturdays, we would meet and go shopping, every American girl's favorite pastime and, evidently, every French girl's, too. We went to many clothing stores, and I bought some outfits. The only momentarily confusing experience was that the prices on the cash register were in both the new euro and the old franc. So, for a shirt that cost 18 euros, the price came up as 118 francs. I was terrified, thinking I didn't have enough money, but a split-second later, I realized my mistake.

I did not meet any French people who hated Americans. People seem to think that they all hate Americans because many of the French (including France's president Jacques Chirac) opposed the war in Iraq. Those people do not realize, however, that you can dislike a nation's politics, but still like its people. Not all feel like Chirac, just like not all Americans agree with President Bush. Politics is politics, and I'm happy to report that we, as Americans, were judged on our merits, even though the politics of our country may conflict with France's.

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