Monday, October 18, 2010

exceptional stereotypes

between the strike and two professors being out of town, last week i only had 6 of the 12 classes i will normally have. “normally” assuming the strike actually ends at some point.

the classes i had last week were my first time with those students and were mostly just an introduction and observing the professor.  for my introductions the students asked me questions about myself, which included where i come from, how i like france, and how old i am. i was hoping to avoid the age question since some of the students in my bts classes are near my age, and one is actually older than me. but given the fact i still get asked if i’m majeure (over 18), i understand their curiosity. i tell myself it's just that french teenagers look so mature. 

a few of the professors asked the students to say what their idea of a stereotypical american is. this proved very informative. turns out that in addition to probably carrying infectious pulmonary diseases and warranting a separate scale of attractiveness, americans are FAT.

all of them.

americans are fat because they are always eating mcdonald’s.

americans have to retire later in life because if they stopped working when they were younger, they would get even fatter.

a typical american is a teenager eating a cheeseburger.

the professors invariably countered with “well, here you have an american right in front of you. and anna is not fat.” (i’ve resigned myself to being named anna for my 7 months here. just like you would go by pablo in spanish class or greta in german class, while in france, i am anna.)their response to a real live non-fat american right in front of them tended towards “oh well yeah but she’s an exception” variety.

and that’s part of the odd and difficult thing about being a cultural representative and teaching about america; in a lot of ways, i am an exception. i’m just one person and i can really only speak to my personal experiences. and not all of those are typically american experiences, if such a thing even exists.

so no, i’m not obese, but america does have a problem with obesity. and yes, students didn’t makeout in the hallways of my small private high school like they do in this lycée but that doesn’t mean all americans are prude.

more than trying to tell them that some of their conceptions of america are wrong, i’m trying to say that they’re overly simplified. that for any country, and especially a country as large and varied as america, blanket statements don’t work.

however, nuances are not usually funny and a lot of the time we might just want the absolutes we've been told to be true.

it’s just kind of a bummer the french get to be the skinny romantics while americans are fat prudes.