The USA vs France #3: Some Mixed Wins

Well, I've now decided to finally write my third part to accompany and complete my earlier posts: USA vs France #1 (Some French Wins) and USA vs France #2 (Some American Wins). Unlike the previous two, this post will just be in English, but I won't discount doing some more blogging in French in the future.

Also unlike the previous "USA vs France" posts, this time I won't be laying out clear-cut "wins" for one country or the other. This time I feel I should address issues that are mixed bags, things present in each place where I couldn't choose the American or the French way as best. I hope you enjoy.

  1. Multiculturalism: I feel that multiculturalism is a much different phenomenon in France than it is in the U.S., but those differences are not always clear, nor is it always clear what is best. On the one hand, it's pretty sure, despite difficulty in determining statistics, that the French have higher levels of inter-racial or inter-ethnic coupling than in the U.S. I could guess as much just from what I saw around Strasbourg - and the fact that different-looking couples were so noticeable to me is perhaps more evidence of its relative scarcity in America. On the other hand, I think France has a very effective and speedy level of acculturation that renders immigrants "like every other French person" much faster than immigrants to the U.S. might become "like every other American." In large part I think there would be many similar experiences for immigrants to each place, but I believe there is a much larger set of expectations for what it means to be French than there is for being American. Perhaps I'm wrong, but that's just my impression.
  2. Language: Very clearly, France - at least its government if not its people - fights against English as a dominating language. Examples of this are apparent in advertisements, for example, which are required to show translations of any English words. This is probably a good thing, as I imagine the world would be quite bland indeed with a single language dominating business and other sectors of life around the globe, even if people continued using many languages at home. France is also, however, very clearly and quietly oppressing its own many minority languages, such as Occitan, Breton and Alsatian, among others. With the negligible support that they receive, these languages are well on their way to silent generational deaths, as it is already just the elderly who speak Alsatian, their children and grandchildren persuaded (at least in action if not in thought) that French (and other "useful" languages learned at school) are the only tongues to invest in. I also think of languages such as in West Africa that don't receive very much recognition or development as legitimate national lingua-francas because they play second fiddle to their governments' official use of French. In many ways, French continues to be an imperialist language - but then again, so is English, and it doesn't even try. (There are also many issues with minority languages in the U.S. as well, but this paragraph is already too long.)
  3. Dogs: This issue is short, sweet, and not so serious as the two before. The French allow dogs to be in a lot more places than Americans do, and I think this is a good thing. I would for example see dogs of every size in shops and other public places, clearly just pets and not helpers. It's pretty nice to have them around. On the other hand, the dogshit stereotype of France is absolutely true: it's everywhere. In Alsace and Strasbourg, however, this wasn't the case, and everything tended to be cleaner in general than it was in Paris, Nice or elsewhere.
  4. Talking: Americans talk too loudly and French talk too little. I was often self-conscious when with the other students from Georgetown, not because we spoke English, but because we spoke so loudly. The same seemed true for the American tourists that came to Strasbourg for the Christmas season, although it may just be true that it's easy to hear one's own native language stand out in crowds of others. In terms of explaining how the French talk too little, it all comes down to the idea of explicitness. It often seemed to me that people would speak with all these sorts of linguistic assumptions, like when a woman asked me on the tram "Can you push yourself?" when I would have understood much better if she'd said "Can you push yourself to the other seat?" (At first I got out of my seat.) My host mother would also always ask me "You can manage?" when what would have helped would have been "You can manage making dinner without me, right?" Perhaps this happens just as much in English, but I feel like in French it's more egregious.
  5. Capitalization: Capitalization seems to be kind of a mixed bag in a lot of languages, but French seems to be a bit more consistent than English in everyday use, as nouns are more stringently kept uncapitalized (unless of course they are clearly proper). When it comes to titles, though, the French rules are unclear or nonexistent (just the first word? the first and second? important words?) while the English rule "every word except small ones" works quite well.
  6. Chip flavors: While in France and Germany, I had the pleasure of acquiring, tasting and devouring mustard-flavored chips, bolognaise chips, roast chicken chips, Thai curry chips and cheeseburger chips. All were delicious, but my favorite was probably mustard - simple, spicy, wonderful. Many of these chips were even produced by Lays, and yet I have never seen them available in the U.S. America is indeed the home of the chip, however, and I believe we will see further diversification of our flavor options at home.
an Alsatian (German shepherd) in Alsace
Well, there are some more issues I might address, including health care, banks, or things my readers might suggest. For now, though, I'll leave it at this. Please leave a comment with what you think!

Comments