As a foreigner here in France, I am constantly asked to explain how life is in the United States. Do you have this in America? Is it legal to do that? What do Americans think about this?
Just as most Americans have no idea how small European nations are, most Europeans have no idea how large the United States is (17 times larger than France). And therefore, they have little understanding that I cannot speak for all Americans, nor do I even know what life is like in other parts of the country. I try to explain democrats vs. republicans… liberals vs. conservatives… that in fact, the country is divided into two. I try to explain the different regions, with their own accents, histories and cultures: New England, the Deep South, the Midwest, etc. I try to explain that each state can make their own laws regarding various issues ranging from speed limits to marriage.
Yet my students were still amazed that I had never been to Washington, D.C. They assume the government has centralized everything – as all roads lead to Paris in France. They couldn’t believe the drinking age was 21, yet joining the military was possible at 18. Getting a driver’s license couldn’t possibly be that cheap (more than 1,000 € here), nor could university be that expensive (I don’t even want to tell you how cheap it is here because you will cry).
Even David is still fascinated by these differences. Last month he heard about a woman in Virginia who was sent to jail for throwing a party for her 16 year-old son and his friends. Her crime was supplying them with beer. She is now serving a 27 month sentence, reduced from eight years. We watched The Untouchables recently and he constantly wondered why in the world Prohibition ever happened. To the average Frenchman who drinks wine every single day, banning alcohol for (what seems like) no reason is beyond ridiculous. And the fact that dry counties still exist throughout the Bible Belt is just too much to take in.
Equally ridiculous are the censorship laws regarding nudity. Remember Janet Jackson and the Superbowl? Scenes like that can be viewed at virtually any time of the day on French television. Skin care products frequently feature topless women and a lot of French women (of any age) sunbathe topless. Even the former franc notes featured a topless Marianne!
Spiegel reported last week that a German children’s book would not be published in the United States because of nudity. Take a look at the offending illustration. Did you spot the “nudity”???
I get tired of trying to explain how religious and conservative the U.S. government still is and that is the reason for these ridiculous laws. Europeans still don’t believe that there is a “Separation of Church & State” when In God We Trust is written all over the money. Or that alcohol could be classified as a drug, just like heroine or cocaine. Or that a cartoon drawing of an art gallery could be considered as nudity. But why would they when I can’t even convince them that France is smaller than the state of Texas?