In last week's post, I mentioned cultural stereotypes, and many readers responded to that story. As Le Husband, Junior and I are about to embark on a 3-week+ European vacation, it made sense to re-visit some of the most well-known clichés, about the French, the Americans, and a few other nationalities as well. This is a light-hearted post, folks. Do not go searching for hidden messages that may not be there.
I thought I would introduce the different countries in our itinerary through popular stereotypes. Ready? Allons-y (let's go.)
Chapter one: Leaving the Land of the Free, the Home of the Brave
I live in an interesting country, a big one by European standards. It is called the United States of America. Many different people live this country. You might say there is a lot of diversity in the U.S.A.
The country is ruled by an interesting character. His name is Uncle Sam. He is old and dresses in colorful outfits. He is a bossy. His sentences always start with: "I want you..." Didn't his mom teach him that it is more polite to say: "I would like"?
Even though people do not have to listen to him, many do what he tells them to do. Why? He plays baseball. This is the number one sport in America. I find it the slowest, most boring game on Earth but what do I know? I am just a foreigner.
|Smart old man. If you play baseball, they will love you|
|He got it!|
|D. Strauss Kahn wishes he had learned baseball in French schools|
Uncle Sam interferes in just about every aspect of American life. Illustrations:
|This one gets American people really mad, in spite of baseball!|
|Even children have to listen to Uncle Sam!|
As you can see, Uncle Sam is quite concerned about Americans' health and their well-being. Some listen to him and grow their own organic vegetables.
A lot of people don't listen to Uncle Sam, though. That is because in the United States of America, many think big is beautiful.
|Tssss... What would Uncle Sam think?|
At first I felt bad because my family and I are going on a fun adventure and I have to leave some of my best friends and favorite students behind. Now I realize they will all be fine as most will likely indulge in favorite American summer activities...
Chapter two: A short stay in the land of Shakespeare and the Beatles
When we leave the United States of America next week, we will be heading out to another continent. Americans like to call it "Old Europe." Our first stop in Old Europe will be a country known for its royal family, pubs and eccentric people. Can you guess which one? Hint: It is located on an island.
|English gentleman with his bulldog|
|How the English mind works... It's all concealed under the famous bowler hat|
|The pub: cornerstone of English life|
|Fish and chips. A local delicacy|
We will be staying in England's largest city, London. This has always been a favorite of mine. Most French junior high or high school students have fond memories of their early trips to England. London. The Lake District. Brighton and the South Coast. I have not been back for many, many years and I can't wait.
Thanks to recent current events, there will be some good shopping to be done while in London.
|If I find one of these...|
|I can use it to sample some of this...|
Let's not forget sightseeing. London offers a wide selection of amazing monuments.
|Le Tower Bridge.|
|I am sure I will find them if I go to Abbey road|
After England, we will be heading to my homeland, France. England and France have never gotten along very well. They dislike each other so much that a long time ago, they engaged in a really, really long war. It lasted 100 years! The English call the French "Frogs" (because the French enjoy eating frog legs.) The French call the English "Les Rostbifs" (because roast beef is a traditional dinner in England. The nickname also refers to the English tourists' pale skin turning crimson red on French beaches in the summer.) French and English soccer and rugby teams compete every year. It is a miracle when the teams' supporters hold it together without causing material damage in the cities where games are held.
|Old 18th century illustration:|
English / French dispute
When you compare a typical English breakfast and a French breakfast, you can tell the two countries have different values.
|I like hearty breakfasts but baked beans at 7:00am?!|
|This is more my cup of tea... I mean coffee|
What is amusing in this story is while the English dislike the French, they adore France.
It is not uncommon to meet entire villages of British retirees while visiting my homeland. Provence and Dordogne are big on their lists. As a French teacher and a cross-cultural trainer, I see a huge business opportunity for someone like me in those areas because many English transplants in France allegedly do not bother learning the French language. I imagine they live entrenched behind high (village) walls, sipping [English] tea, nibbling scones, and waiting for the milk delivery they ordered over the Internet.
When we leave London after a few days, we will be riding the amazing Eurostar train to Paris. Inaugurated in 1994, the high-speed passenger train sets new speed records on a regular basis. Currently, it takes 2:15 to travel from London to Paris and 1:51 to go from London to Brussels (Belgium.) I can't wait to take Junior on that wild 300km/h (186 mph) ride in a couple of weeks. He was born in the United States and is not as familiar as Le Husband and I with the remarkable European train system. I bet his favorite part will be the 20 minutes spent undersea as we cross the English Channel in a state-of-the-art tunnel.
When I went to England way back when, there were two options; by air, or by sea (riding a ferry or a hovercraft.) The Hovercraft was my favorite.
|Mountbatten class hovercrafts were retired in 2000... Dommage!|
Chapter three: La Belle France
|Bienvenue en France!|
|French Frog (get it?)|
|Eiffel Tower, Trocadero water canons|
|French cheese I do not have to spend Junior's college tuition on, finally!|
|To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: |
"Slippery little suckers!"
|Frog legs are enjoyed by gourmets worldwide|
During our second week in France, we will drive South to a beautiful area, La Dordogne.
After hanging out with Les Parisiens for a few days, we will meet other French people along the way...
|If we run in trouble, the French police will protect us|
|Gas mileage is excellent with this vintage "2 CV"|
In La Dordogne, we will visit the Valley of the Five Castles (built by the French and the English during the 100-year War,) prehistoric caves, and quaint villages perched on hill tops. Le Husband and I were there three years ago and have been dying to return.
|Beynac, Dordogne, France|
Driving South, there will be overnight stops along the way, including Collioure, the charming Mediterranean village that inspired artists like Picasso and Matisse.
Finally, we will drive across the French-Spanish border, and spend our last week in Spain.
Chapter four: Viva Espana!
When most Europeans think of Spain, they think of...
|La Corrida (bullfight) - Olé!|
To me, Spain is all of the above, certainly, but it is also the unspoiled Northern section of the touristy Costa Brava (Rugged Coast) where my parents own a small apartment. We will be staying in La Escala, a small resort town in the heart of Spain's Catalonia region. Catalonia has its own dialect and my rusty Spanish learned many years ago in French public schools proves completely useless if I meet a local who throws in Catalan expressions. Even Rick Steves, the Edmonds-based European travel guru, would be stumped if that happened to him.
|La Escala, our homebase, is in the Cadaques bay|
|Secluded cove on La Costa Brava|
|La Costa Brava, near Begur|
You know I am a firm believer in the need to interact with the natives while abroad. Spain is where I may hit a snag. In touristy areas such as la Costa Brava, locals are notoriously reclusive or at the very least standoffish. Visitors often gripe about Spanish shopkeepers and waiters the same way they complain about Parisian sales people. One thing I know for certain is that wherever we go (especially in the evening) there will be loud and poorly-dressed groups of rambunctious "rostbifs" and "froggies," Germans and Dutch tourists who came to Spain to party and will instantly forget their good manners and their sense of style (for those who had any) as soon as they hit the sangria pitcher. Dommage. Too bad.
There is one Spaniard I would really like to talk to, en français, in English, in Spanish or in Catalan (I just know I would find the words.) Even though he has lived in the United States for a long time, he has remained 100% Spanish: dark, passionate, hot-tempered, irresistible. Ah, Antonio.
|Antonio Banderas - Best Spanish Ambassador EVER!|
To all of you who follow this blog, happy travels this summer. If you decide to stay home, enjoy your staycation. There is nothing quite like summer after such a long, cold and wet winter, is there?
Stay in touch, won't you? My fairthful MacBook Air will be traveling with me, and you know what that means.