By Emma Buchman
Don’t you hate it when a couple just can’t seem to work their problems out? Why does compromise always seem so out of reach? You would think I’m writing an advice column for troubled teenaged lovers. Instead, I am writing in regards to the rather juvenile way that the United States and its partners handle the way that they treat each other.
When my friend Mathilde came from France to live with me four years ago, I asked her at one point if the people of France hate America, knowing that this is a view many Americans believe the French have. She immediately told me the contrary; many of her friends wished that they were in her shoes, spending a year in America. Ever since then if someone tells me that Europe hates America, I have always tried to correct them. I tell them that Europe does not hate us, that many in fact truly do like us. In my opinion, if they do dislike us, it is only because of the ethnocentric way we act when we visit their home countries when we go there on vacation.
However, after living in France myself in 2012, I realized that these perceptions are much more complicated than one can anticipate. As with any relationship, there is more to it than simply liking or disliking America. This became the most apparent to me when I was staying with Mathilde in Nantes, the day after the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012. My friend Mathilde, her sister Cléo, their friend Emmanuel, and I were eating lunch and watching the news, and the main focus for pretty much the whole day was, ironically, the re-election of President Obama. We had been watching for a while, and at one point they aired a clip from Obama’s acceptance speech at the moment where Obama declared that America is the best nation on the planet.
That was when Emmanuel said that this was the problem with America, we think that we are the best in the world and that we are better than any other country. Cléo and Mathilde agreed with him. I listened to their opinion, and I tried to say that France probably thinks that it is the best nation in the world, to which they gave an enthusiastic “No.”
They told me that you will never hear a French politician say that France is “the best;” because they know that that is simply not true. For Americans to say that, well, they find it offensive to be honest. There is no one perfect country. There is no nation that is “…the best.”
This greatly surprised me. I was surprised that even Mathilde, one of America’s greatest supporters, agreed with this sentiment. A sentiment which I have discovered is not exclusive to these three college kids. While doing research for a project I found that this is a general problem that the French have with us. Whether it’s because we believe we’re better than France or better than anyone, this is one reason why anti-American sentiment is formed.
The point is, it is impossible to define Franco-American relations simply through the lenses of love and hatred. It is essential for us not to give up simply because of stereotypes or a lack of effort to work through our problems. If the United States understood the French better, or vice versa, we might be able to open more dialogues and explain our points of view. It won’t change every feeling one has towards the other, but it will be enough to strengthen the incredibly strong alliance that we have had.
This goes for our relationships with other countries as well. Save for extremist groups, it is possible to work through our problems if each country is willing to understand matters from the other’s perspective. Nothing works out when we regard only our own self-interest.
As far as France goes, one thing is certain, we were true allies at one point, and we remain friends today. I’m hoping we can get there again.