Stereotypes and the Fête des Lumières

“One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.” –Henry Miller

Last week and this week, I focused on the topic of stereotypes in my Seconde classes (sophomores).  Having heard many American stereotypes and traveled abroad before, I definitely went into each lesson with certain predictions of what I would hear from my students: Americans are fat, only eat McDonalds, own big cars and houses, waste lots of energy, are fat, are loud, get involved in everyone’s business, don’t dress up, are fat, eat a lot, etc.  These are the stereotypes I’ve come to associate with America, and they were what I was expecting from my students.

I asked my students to do different activities involving stereotypes, including listing stereotypes, drawing their associations with America, and drawing a “typical” American.  While I did get many of the traits I listed above (particularly hamburgers and sweatpants), I was quite surprised by their image of America.  Instead of associating it with McDonalds and fat people, my students had come to think of the states as a glamorous world where every town is a bustling city and celebrities are seen on a daily basis.  When they thought of the US, they thought of New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Las Vegas, the cities where many of the TV shows they watch take place (they love their Desperate Housewives, Gossip Girl, and CSI).  Below are some of the drawings I got when I asked students to draw American clichés and then an American:

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Many of my students were very open-minded when it came to stereotypes, bringing up the fact that not everyone in the country fits the stereotype and that they were aware of that.  We discussed how stereotypes are a product of culture and history, and how traveling to those places and meeting new people can diminish stereotypes.  While very few of my students had visited the U.S., the majority expressed an interest in one day going there, although I’m sure they will be in for a surprise.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a celebrity walking around!  Anyways, it’s definitely something I’ve come to see: you can only get rid of stereotypes by traveling and meeting people.  It’s why I encourage everyone to be open-minded and try new things!

Next I asked my students to list French stereotypes and clichés.  The majority of them were spot-on: a man with a striped shirt, beret, and moustache carrying baguettes, smoking a cigarette, and drinking a glass of wine.  I also got the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe a lot.  They also think we know a lot about the French president, François Hollande, who I sincerely doubt many in the U.S. have heard of.  I listed off French stereotypes and asked them to tell me if they believed them to be true or false.  I think they were most shocked by the stereotype of French women not shaving, as that caused a ruckus in many a class.  Also, for all you single ladies looking for a European man, French men are not very romantic according to the girls in my classes.  They informed me that the British win in the romance department…

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, one thing that surprised me upon coming to France was seeing how many people, particularly high school students, smoked.  When the bell rings for their 15 min break, you can see a stream of students heading towards the gates, and my students estimated that around 60% of them smoked.  When I explained that a lot fewer people in the U.S. smoked, they were surprised.  I asked them why they thought the percentage was so much higher in France, and they told me that French students cared very much about fitting in.  As can be seen by their attention to style, the French pay very close attention to the behaviors of those around them, which includes smoking.  It was definitely a debate I found interesting.

As for non-school related stuff, I finally got a chance to go back to Nantes last weekend! I stayed with my host-mother from when I studied abroad there and met her new student, Emma.  I also got to see Nantes decorated for Christmas, which was beautiful.  They even had two Christmas markets, which were huge! They were mostly food items with some specialty kinds of gift shops, and lots of mulled wine (apparently that’s the thing to have at Christmas markets).  We also got to go to the top of the Tour de Bretagne, which is the only “skyscraper” in Nantes.  There is now a café on the 32nd floor called le nid (the nest).  Despite being too expensive and busy to sit there, it was fun to go up in the tower and see all of Nantes lit up at night.  AND we had crepes at the Creperie Saint-Croix.  It was a very successful weekend, and I’m so glad I went.

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Bouffay with Christmas lights

This weekend was a lot of fun too.  We started off Friday night with the Chalon basketball game.  Chalon is surprisingly good at basketball and made it into the Euro league, so we went to see their game against Siena, Italy.  It was a lot of fun, and we won!  It also snowed big fluffy snowflakes in Chalon that reminded me of home, even if they melted later that day.  On Saturday we set off bright and early for Lyon, the third largest city in France, for the Fête des Lumières.  Essentially, the festival celebrates Mary, the mother of Jesus, and involves a number of light shows and sculptures that have become a tradition and stem from a candlelit parade which gave thanks that the plague did not come to Lyon in the middle ages.

The streets were packed and the festival was really crowded, but it was a lot of fun.  We explored the city and went on top of the big hill to see the basilica that overlooks the city.  We also did some shopping and exploring.  When it finally got dark, the streets were all lit up and there were crowds of people everywhere.  We essentially tried to stay together as the crowd carried us around the city of Lyon to the different shows.  We saw two shows that were projected onto buildings, and those looked really cool (I’m going to try to upload the videos).  There was also a fireworks display, which was a near disaster for us.  We were trying to reach the train station to catch the last train of the night to Dijon when the fireworks started.  We literally could not move going across the bridge, and got stuck for several minutes in a crowd of people.   There are apparently about 4 million people who come to the festival each year, and it seemed like they were all on the bridge with us.  Eventually we did make it across and to our train to Dijon where we stayed for the night, but it was a fight!

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Jumping picture in France’s largest enclosed square

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The light show by the hotel de ville

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The light show projected onto one of the churches

In conclusion, the Fête des Lumières is really cool and definitely worth it, but for God’s sake, don’t bring a stroller!

French word of the day: rayé or à rayures.  It means striped (as in that French man with the striped shirt). I had to look this one up for my lesson!

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3 thoughts on “Stereotypes and the Fête des Lumières

  1. Samuel! Very interesting post, hearing people’s stereotypes about the U.S. is fascinating. Your students seem like a creative bunch! Sounds like it’s going well over there, which I am thrilled to hear. We miss you!

  2. Dear Sam, I love these stereotypes, mostly because they make me smile and laugh, which might defeat the purpose of the stereotype, but yeah. You know what I mean. These lights are super gorgeous, and they remind me of the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights that we’ve got here over at Hollywood Studios, although these are significantly more French, of course. :^P Missing you like crazy, but happy to see you’re off having adventures! And thank you again for the postcard! Love, Brianna

  3. So glad to see Nantes was a success! (of course!) Even though I love teachin’ my little kiddos, it’s so cool you get to talk with your students about things like stereotypes and learn more about them in that way. Keep on keepin’ on and enjoy the holiday season!

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