World Events and Wine: an American’s Perception of Western Media as Portrayed in Paris, France by Ashten Scheller

 

Let’s be upfront, you and I: Paris is pretty darn dreamy. As cliche as most study abroad programs seem to be, I can now confirm (with some sheepishness) that most cliches are steeped in reality. You know the “It changed my life!” or “I left my heart in [insert location here] or “I ate my weight in cheese!”

 

To be fair, I did eat my weight in cheese. And baguettes. And chocolate. And duck (guys, I didn't realize the beauty that is the French duck. Life-changing.).

But in all honesty, it wasn't the cuisine or tourist locations that made such a lasting impression--that made me realize my own “American-ness,” position of privilege, or edge of my comfort zone (sorry, duck). What struck me was the sense of information-sharing, government funding for the arts (and really everything--thanks socialism), public transportation infrastructure, and what the French consider to be “excessive” (hello, short showers).

Let me explain. Every day, on my commute to class, I entered the Gare de Lyon metro station, gave my “Bonjour” to the CNewsMatin metro newspaper man, and promptly scanned my metro Navigo card to take the same line, day in, day out. This is not a unique routine, mind you, as every other Parisian or convincing tourist did the same; once on the metro, a quick glance lets you see the many books or newspapers read by every other commuter compatriot.

 

Every. Single. Morning.

Reading is such an institutionalized past time that, I kid you not, I passed multiple pedestrians with open books in front of their faces, not paying much attention to traffic or their fellow passersby. Yes, France is a “Western” nation and inundated with smartphones, but bookshops are around every corner, and free newspapers are available at practically every station. In this sense, Paris was a highly-informed city regarding both classic novels and current events.

This isn’t to say that many Americans aren't also informed on current events (thanks, technology), but the level of ease with which I was able to keep up with world news was incredible...which also included American news. Donald Trump made the cover of the newspaper multiple times while I was in Paris, as well as the shocking and deeply-saddening Las Vegas shooting of this past year and the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Because of America’s status as a cultural hegemon and global power, its news was readily available even in France and often the main event. I overheard many cafe conversations in which American names were thrown around, and almost every store plays American pop hits. Though France is deeply proud of its own history and language, it became even more clear to me how “mainstream” American media truly is on a global scale.

Paris is by no means a perfect city within a perfect country (as dreamy as it may appear), and struggles with its own political discrepancies--immigrants and refugees are often discriminated against, rent is absurd, unemployment and sexism certainly exist, and bureaucracy can often seem more hindering than helpful. However, the Parisian population is certainly an informed one, and world news is often center-stage.

While cheese festivals, wine tastings, art gallery openings, and nights at the theatre are totally commonplace, so are political strikes and town hall meetings. Studying in Paris as a non-citizen, it became clear to me that this incredible city was not exempt from the problems we experience in America, nor are most European cities.

Will I aspire to emulate the seemingly-unattainable French woman’s style? Absolutely. Will I be able to rekindle my love affair with French duck? Only time will tell. But you can bet that I’ll be doing my best to maintain my level of political knowledge and involvement even as a college student, Paris or no Paris. It may have taken me traveling 2000 miles to come to it, but hey--c’est la vie.