Editor's note: Michelle Monroe is a former Daily Wildcat news editor and journalism junior, writing about her experience studying abroad in France.
On my way to France, I read a book about cultural misunderstandings between Americans and the French. So you can guess my amazement at how different the book was from reality.
The bonding nature of alcohol
La Fete de la Musique is a countrywide music festival. In Paris, depending on which district you are in, different styles of music are played. But the alcohol is the same everywhere. It seems as if every person on the metro has a bottle of wine in his or her hand, two in the purse (man purses included) and a six-pack of beer under the arm. There were the same cries from the crowd when someone knocked over a bottle of wine — the French equivalent of an epic party foul. When the Arizona group collided with a Parisian group, there was an instant connection if one was drinking the same type of alcohol, although the type of wine was of much more interest to the French.
It seems every Frenchman over the age of 13 knows how to say, ""I love you."" It might be their only English phrase, but if they hear you speaking English they cry out, ""Anglais (‘English' in French)! I love you."" Whether in the street, alone, with friends, in the metro, museums or in the crowd at a soccer match, it is always ""I love you.""
I was surprised at the forwardness of the men here. ""I love you,"" is followed by ""I'm (insert name here),"" and then ""Do you want to kiss me?"" Mind you, they haven't even asked your name yet.
A common trick is the ""French kiss,"" where they point to their cheek and say ""French kiss?""
After the first cheek kiss, they go in for the lips. Clever, but easily avoided.
But never have I seen such persistence. Saying ""no"" or trying to leave is not enough. They follow you, find you, keep trying, never ceasing to amaze with their brazen forwardness.
Insults fly past them as they laugh them off.
Men were hitting on my roommate and me as we helped our sick friend home. They ignored her completely and shouted, cajoled, sweet-talked the other three of us the entire walk across the city.
Another member of the group was walking home from school in her neighborhood when a man said, ""I love you, I want to fuck you."" A response from the woman will only increase the persistence. Ignoring is truly the only proven method to decrease your chances of a pursuer — though it's not assured they will stop.
I've heard people say that the French seem snobby and rude. But in order to deter constant hassling and a bombardment of male suitors, one must not make eye contact, smile without a reason or speak English loudly.
A touching exchange
The most uncomfortable part of the French courting routine for me is that there is no touch barrier. In the United States, when someone breaks the touch barrier it means something.
A girl giving your shoulder a nudge with her hand is an invitation to interact without speaking. In France, the men just grab. Random drunk men grabbed two girls in the program during the festival, in two separate places in Paris. At the bars, they immediately put their arms around women's shoulders after introductions. At the music festival, men grabbed women they didn't know and began dancing with them.
A fight almost broke out between a group of French men and a group of American men defending the personal space of their accompanying American women. The French seemed confused by the conflict, assuming that since the women were there it was acceptable.
A stranger having the ""right"" to touch me makes me uncomfortable. I have to constantly remind myself of the difference in culture and give slight leeway to the overly inebriated.
After the Algerian-American World Cup game, I rode the metro and an Algerian man got on a few stops later. He was shirtless, mid-30s and drunk. He asked every person in the car ""Algeria?"" He asked a French woman sitting across from me the question, and she merely looked away and he turned around and left. She got off two stops later and now the attention was on me. ""Algeria?"" he asked and I continued to watch the season finale of ""Glee"" on the screen in my lap, refusing to make eye contact or listen. He asked three more times, once grabbing the ear phone from my ear, once taking the can of Coke from my hand and lastly touching my face with his two fingers — forcing me to look up. Another Algerian man saw the terrified look on my face and grabbed the man's jeans, pulling him down to a seat. I doubt he would have done anything if he had not seen the shock and anger in my eyes.
People can say what they want about Americans. But we can smile, laugh, joke loudly and live without the expectation that these actions will immediately be followed by catcalling and physical harassment.
People can call the French snobby for not smiling or talking, but it's what it takes in this city to avoid an assailment of suitors and to maintain personal boundaries.
While Americans aren't perfect, we do respect the bubble.
I've been to France before, when I was 16 years old. I was too afraid of screwing up to practice my French and I let all the French speak English with me because they were more than happy to practice.
This summer I made a promise to myself to try and speak as much French as possible when I arrived, no matter my accent or situation.
I found that the majority of people in Paris speak English even when I speak French. No matter what the question is, they almost immediately respond with ""It's OK, I speak English."" The fun part is, once I explain I'm in Paris to study French, they become very excited and begin speaking French, even helping to correct pronunciation when I respond.
As a perfectionist, it's difficult to open myself up to constant criticism. But the heartfelt nature of the Parisians makes the process easier.
They say the French are nicer when you attempt to speak their language, but I think the French are nicest when they know how much you appreciate it and want to learn more of it.
The family I stayed with has four children, two teenage boys and two girls, 9 and 6. With so many people in one house, it's easy to slip into the shadows and just remain quiet, but it is much more satisfying to initiate conversation.
The girls get so excited with their stories that they begin speaking quickly, and either their mother or myself has to ask them to speak slower. I'm lucky they're dramatic and partially act out all their stories.
When I tell a story, they have infinite patience. Sometimes I have to use the blackboard in the kitchen to spell a word that I'm butchering with my American accent.
— Michelle Monroe is a former news editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat and a