Picture this scene, about three weeks ago: My daughter and I were walking hand and hand on a street in the Quartier l’Europe, part of Paris’ 18th arrondissement. We had just gotten off the Metro after having a great time at the carnival in the Tuileries Garden.
We were jabbering happily when a man in his 60s, who had been walking in front of us for about a block, turned around and asked (or said?), in English, “You need more enemies.” I asked him to repeat himself ... “America needs more enemies,” he said.
There was no use engaging the guy. First of all, he seemed nuts (every major city has its share of lunatics.) Secondly, his English wasn’t much better than my French, which is terrible. A meaningful conversation seemed highly unlikely. Of course, I wanted to tell him that he was talking to the wrong people. We’re not the Americans he hates. He may not realize it, but the kind of Americans he hates probably don’t spend a heck of a lot of time in Paris. We’re the good ones … the ones that go to Save Darfur rallies in Central Park and badmouth John Boehner at our local independent coffee shops. I wanted to tell him that we went door to door as a family registering people to vote during the Obama campaign.
My daughter was a little freaked out. She asked what the man was talking about. “He doesn’t like America,” I explained.
I mumbled something about George Bush. It was all too much to get into, the long history between the U.S. and France … the U.S. and Europe … the U.S. and the rest of the world. I didn’t want to get into uneasy alliances and misguided adventures.
It made me sad. When I was a kid, we’d travel anywhere we wanted with our heads held high. After all, I was born just a couple decades after the U.S. helped save the world from Fascism.
Now our kids are clipping Canadian flags to their backpacks and telling anyone who asks that they’re from Toronto.
There’s a point in everyone’s life where they realize some hard truths, like the fact that your country is not universally beloved across the globe. It’s part of leaving the simple world of childhood, and entering the messy, complicated, often ugly world of adulthood. It gave me pause to be there when my daughter had to have one of those moments.