It is April, and this year is flying by, as usual.
In February, M and I spent a week in Brittany attending the Brittany Winter School Irish music festival, reuniting with old festival friends and meeting new ones, playing at and enjoying different sessions, and making the most of the unexpected beautiful weather in Arzon, France. I met a woman who sells violins who absolutely loved my crocheted violin toppers and I may be selling them through her this summer. How fun! I’ll also be bringing some with me when M and I head to Ireland on Sunday.
My high school’s Erasmus + project is really starting to develop. I accompanied, along with three other colleagues, thirteen of our high school boys to Gosport, England for a week in March. The students spent the week with 26 other high schoolers (a mix of British and Germans) working on their international theater project that will be performed in April and May 2018 in all three countries. This week long meeting, surrounded by the German theater team, really inspired me to start working on my German skills, again. Thanks, Duolingo. Now I know how to say things like “Ich bin Haley. Ich habe ein Hund. Er ist schön.” Very useful. But, progress is progress!
Gosport is a small, residential city of about 80,000 people. It’s located on the southern coast of England. Even though we were supposed to have cloudy, rainy weather all week, something went wrong and we had 5 days of beautiful sunshine. Yes! Our teaching team, due to the shortage of hotels in the city, stayed at the local trailer park. It was awesome. The first night, I saw a fox that I nearly took home with me. There was a bar/restaurant in the middle of the park where we could meet up with the others, and it was only 10 minutes walking distance from the school. We did have one day in London to explore the Imperial War Museum, but only saw the city center from inside the bus.
Something I noticed about being in England was the different way that British people reacted to my accent. In France, whenever I speak to (almost) anyone who doesn’t yet know me, the question nearly always comes up. “Ooh, you have a little accent… where are you from?” Now, now, curiosity is only natural, and obviously my American heritage is so exotic that it needs explaining. And once I answer the question with an “I’m from Texas,” I really don’t mind the question being asked in the first place, because the accent comment is far less offensive than what usually comes next.
Texas?! Ooh, George Bush.
Texas?! Do you have a ranch?
Texas?! Home of the racists! (Yes, I promise, this comment is real.)
Obviously, not everyone reacts in such a way here in France, but I’d say that 75% of the time, they do.
It had been a while since the last time I went to England. I think it was something like four years ago with M, but that seems too long ago. As I chatted with locals in Gosport, usually the reactions went something like…
Texas?! I have an uncle who lives there!
Texas?! I love Austin, I went there last year.
Texas?! Wow, that’s great.
I don’t really know what the difference here represents. That the American and British cultures are more similar than American and French, so we have less stereotypes about each other? I don’t know. Or that we have to rely less on stereotypes to feel more comfortable with each other? That since more British people have been to Texas, less of them have stereotypical ideas about the state? That a lot of French people only really “know” about Texas through series like Walker Texas Ranger and Dallas? That an American is more exotic in France than in England? That when you’re less “exotic”, people don’t just zoom in on the one thing that makes you interesting to them (when you first meet)?
I knew I wasn’t alone when a post about this very topic showed up in a Facebook group called “American Expats in France” this week. The discussion that followed really entertained me, even after nearly six years living here. Fellow Americans talked about how sometimes their accents are commented on almost in a spectator-sport nature. How if they’re not white, the question comes even faster. How people feel proud when they identify the accent first! Hahaha.
I’m hoping that projects like this Erasmus + exchange will encourage young people to steer away from stereotypes, to get to know each other, and to learn each other’s languages in order to better exist together. There’s still much work to do – and I saw the problems from the point of view of a chaperone (omg, I’m a chaperone now) – but they’re on the right track. And that’s exciting.