The war in Iraq confronts University students studying in Paris everywhere: in the subways, cafes and even the homes of their French host families.
Four out of five conversations for theatre junior Lisa Winter revolve around the war, she said.
“Everyone I meet, it’s their first question,” Winter said.
During her six months studying in Paris, she said she has not met one person, not even an American, who supports military action in Iraq.
The most recent antiwar protest in Paris attracted 90,000 people.
Against her French school’s recommendation, Winter participated in an antiwar protest in Paris that she said had the “intensity of a death metal concert.”
Winter, who watches CNN, said the U.S. media played down the protest, which attracted thousands of Parisians.
Winter said she did not feel uncomfortable at the protest, and the vast majority of French people do not dislike Americans. But sometimes the growing anti-American sentiment bothers her.
“Sometimes I feel like when I walk down the street, every time I open my mouth I’m going to be judged because I’m American,” Winter said.
In the Metro, the Paris subway system, Winter said she encountered a man yelling “at the top of his lungs” about his dislike for the United States and walking up and down the aisles asking if people agreed. Winter said she was thankful her stop came before the man reached her seat.
Theatre junior Tera Jansen experienced a similar incident in a subway headed for Fontainebleau, a castle outside of Paris. When another passenger overheard her and her friends talking in English about the war, he began yelling at them.
“He went off on us about how we are responsible for Baghdad and how we are responsible for Vietnam,” Jansen said. “He just heard ‘war’ – he didn’t even know English.”
Once they reached the castle, a group of French teenagers hurled insults at them in English and yelled, “Go home, you’re not welcome here,” Jansen said.
Incidents like this have happened more often within the last two weeks leading up to war, she said.
“It’s just like America after Sept. 11 (2001) when people from the Middle East felt threatened,” Jansen said. “Wherever you go, there are going to be people who hate you for where you’re from.”
Even with the rise in anti-Americanism, Jansen said, there are still people who love Americans. A homeless man in the Metro hugged Jansen and her friends and told them he loved Americans, she said. Another man at a bar told her, “I love America. Bush is a genius.”
There is a contradiction within French culture, Jansen said, because regardless of how much the French dislike U.S. foreign policy, P. Diddy, Jennifer Lopez and Levi’s jeans are still as popular as ever.
“As much as they detest our country, they also embrace it,” Jansen said. “They buy the latest Christina Aguilera CD and talk about how America’s ruining the world.”
Urban studies sophomore Joe Sortland was so worried about the possibility of anti-Americanism that he attached a Canadian patch to his backpack before his weeklong trip to Paris.
He never said he was Canadian, and he didn’t feel uncomfortable in Paris, he said.
A French waiter at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter spent about six minutes explaining why he was in favor of the war after he and his companions told him they were against it, he said.
“Television and the media make the people in America think that everyone overseas is ballistic about what America is doing, and it’s not quite as bad,” Sortland said. “If you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to you.”
Patricia Drey covers student life and
welcomes comments at [email protected]