I was in Paris the other week. Unfortunately, it was business, not pleasure, although I did manage to get in a decent amount of sightseeing (if only from the street level). As proof of my ambulatory exploits, I imported a genuine Parisian blister to Finland with me. It was worth it.
Anyway, I wasn’t there alone. In addition to our hosts — very friendly and helpful people, I’m glad to say — there were also other journalists, including a bunch from the United States.
That was kind of the problem. There’s that old “loud ignorant American” stereotype that always does fairly well, but it’s not one I actually have to deal with all that often; my American friends tend to be a far cry from that. Even the people I occasionally run into who conform to it a little better are still recognizably human; in all seriousness, the “READ MY LIPS PIERRE WHERE’S MY KETCHUP” type tends to be pretty rare.
Guess I had to run into it sooner or later, though. Some of these guys… well, they were all fairly nice, really. I’m not saying they were rude or nasty or terrible people as such. But the following anecdote kind of illustrates the experience. Unfortunately, I only caught the tail end of this conversation, so I suppose it’s possible that what was said earlier somehow made everything a lot better, or contained a seed of humor or wit that converted what came afterwards into a funny and clever quip. You understand that I’m not pretending that this was the case, I’m just saying that it’s not entirely impossible. Anyway:
“–the French say no to the Japanese, but apparently Nazis are okay,” the American woman in question loudly proclaimed.
“Uh, Nazis are okay?” I asked. Well, I had to. “I don’t — what’s up?”
“Well, they just surrendered to them before, didn’t they?”
“Uh, yeah, I don’t think that’s quite how it went, actually. I kinda seem to recall there being something of a war in there, too. As a matter of fact, I think they have a couple of cemetaries’ worth of dead guys around here somewhere because of that war.”
She just looked kind of confused. I think she honestly believed that the Nazis showed up one day and the French just threw down their arms in a national race to demonstrate cowardice or something. I guess the Germans having them severely outnumbered and this newfangled blitzkrieg thing pretty much taking them — and the rest of the world — by surprise didn’t enter into it. (Never mind the French cowardice and tendency to surrender that made the French Resistance a household word and still pretty much the textbook example of partisan warfare…)
To top the whole thing off, the French hosts were standing right there, not saying a word.
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