Before my story, a Picture for the day:
This is the Notre Dame Cathedral in Amiens, lit up against a starry background, which was a stunning sight (although my photo is poor). One of the things that is so unusual in France is that you can be in a small, rural, otherwise unremarkable town and then suddenly see THIS – the biggest cathedral in France. Incredible.
So its not that I would ever try anything so futile as passing for French, but I do want to blend in as much as possible and not stick out like a sore thumb. To that end, I left my beloved Asics at home (I heard they are the dead giveaway that you are an American tourist) and I have dressed in neutral clothing.
(SIDE NOTE: Don’t make this mistake. I don’t care what all the websites say, lots of people in Paris are sporting sneakers out in the streets and the majority of them are French. Perhaps this myth is a massive prank the French are playing on Americans to get us to leave our sneakers at home so they can laugh at us while they walk around in comfort.)
Anyway, my first morning in Amiens I walked to a nearby supermarket to get a few things I needed. (I was not wearing sneakers, a baseball cap, American flag clothing, or any other dead giveaway to my nationality.) When I went through the checkout line I said “bonjour“. When the cashier asked me if I wanted any bags for my groceries – which they dole out and charge you for – I responded, “Oui, deux sacs s’il vous plaît“. Then when I paid by credit card, the cashier asked me to “sign here, please” and told me “thank you, have a nice day”.
So he not only spotted me as an American, but answered me in English although I addressed him in French. This right here is why it is so hard for us to assimilate. The French evidently have a finely tuned “American Radar” and can spot us coming a mile away, with or without sneakers, and then simply address us in English. I have to give them points, though, for even being able to do this since they probably aren’t going to get the same treatment when they come to the U.S.