By now you would think that I would have learned that you can't paint with such a broad brush. I mean, I have frequently cautioned my children against succumbing to the stereotypical mish-mash that seems to be the norm. The truth, however, is that I find myself far too vulnerable to generalizations in people.
That is why I am so grateful for Claire. Claire is the French exchange student who has put her feet under our dinner table and otherwise shared our lives for the past several weeks. She is, in every way, a delight.
Before Claire, I admit that I often bought into the anti-French sentiment that I have been fed my the media (conservative and liberal), our government, and the red-neck horde who advocate renaming French fries "freedom fries." While not exactly vocal about it, I nevertheless held some pretty patronizing views where our transatlantic brethren are concerned.
Claire changed all that. She is one of the finest young people I've had the pleasure to meet. She is down to earth, kind, and considerate in every way. She likes to sleep late, eat chocolate, watch movies, and complains about school being boring. She loves our dogs, teases our youngest son, and shares clothes with our daughter. When I pass gas, she says in her lilting French accent, "You're disgusting! You are a pig!" In short, she is one of us, or more accurately put, one of our own.
I realized how thoroughly she has captured my heart when she came home from school the other day and mentioned that her "history" teacher suggested that she should be grateful that "we," meaning the United States, "bailed your butt out" during World War II. I bristled as she recounted what happened.
I suggested to Claire that the next time Mr. Moron makes such a remark she might want to remind him that there wouldn't be a United States had not the French come to our aid during our War of Independence. Perhaps she might ask this golf coach they hired to teach history why he thinks we have a city in our own state named Lafayette? Maybe he could explain to her from his vast knowledge of Americana the contribution that General Rochambeau and his 60,000 French troops made at the deciding Battle of Yorktown. While he's at it, he might want to show her a photo of the French-gifted, majestic, green-hued lady that welcomes the "tired, poor, huddled masses" to New York harbor. Then, after he's done all of that, he can talk about our contributions to the French cause, indeed the world-wide cause, that Lady Liberty symbolizes.
But listen to me go on. Six months ago, I wouldn't have given a second thought to such an insensitive remark. Why the change? Claire.
She reminded me that good people are everywhere, if I slow down long enough to look for them. She has wound her way into our world. And, she has given me hope that maybe our two nations and indeed all the world can get past our pigeonhole prejudices if we care enough to confront them one Claire at a time. Frankly speaking, if France is turning out kids like Claire, then our Gallic cousins must be doing something right.