us and them.

After we got back from France, a friend was asking us about how we were treated. He'd recently gone on a trip to London and Paris, and he said the French were just as nice as could be, but the Brits were rude.

"Yeah, they just don't like us over there." He couldn't understand it.

See, this is a case of pronouns. He said "they" to mean British people, and "us" to mean Americans. But really, "they" means the British people they encountered on their trip, probably just some of them, and "us" means his particular group of traveling Americans. I don't know what kind of traveler he is, but I saw some who were going to go home thinking the French don't like Americans. At the train station one morning, a woman went up to the pastry counter and bellowed, "SPEAK ENGLISH?" The cashier nodded, and the customer went on to say her order in English, very loudly and slowly. See, if I had to go to work at a busy station every morning and be yelled at like I was a moron, I might not always be my cheeriest. And then a tourist would go home and say that all my countrymen were jerks. I would go home and complain to my spouse about entitled Americans, completely forgetting about the nice young couple I encountered earlier that same day.

Those generalized pronouns work the other way, too. While we were staying in the countryside, I helped our host hang up some laundry on the clothesline. "I bet you don't do this in America," she said.

"Sure, we do. Well, we personally don't, but there are people who do." I know, it's a confusing statement. I felt the need to defend "us," meaning Americans, even if the comment was true in regards to "us," meaning Josh and me. But later, she did the same thing, saying that "we," i.e. the French, have gardens. Except that they personally don't. I told her that many Americans did, too, but again, we do not.

It's hard to represent your whole country. A man in the bar told me that he liked the American people okay, but he had some problems with its government. I told him that was a common feeling over here, too. Another person we met seemed to have developed his ideas about Americans from television, and he did not come out with a good impression. I wondered what shows he'd been watching. Another seemed to think that we eat only fried food, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

So I hope we did alright, being abroad. The people we interacted with probably still have their own ideas about Americans, picked up from who knows where. But maybe there will be an asterisk next to that thought that says some of them are okay.

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